I\'m back from a wonderful fortnight in Greece , some Osprey research, some culture (Athens and Delphi) and quite a lot of pure lotus-eating.  There was a major demonstration and some strike action on our first day so, eager as I was, we decided not to entrust ourselves to the public transport system, which we needed to get us to Salamis.   Parliament seemed to be well defended, but clearly the police needed elite army support, which successfully saw off any threat of disorder.  6.1 Securing Parliament

6.2 Elite reinforcements

I was a bit disappointed not to get the whiff of tear gas which has been an invigorating feature of at least two of my previous visits to the city, the earliest of them at the time of the Colonels.

We found a great little hotel, which, as its name suggests, will be very convenient for the wonderful new Acropolis Museum, not yet quite open so a must-visit on a future trip.  It was disappointing that I couldn\'t revisit the Lenormant Relief, a key piece of evidence for the successful trireme reconstruction project, or the collection's Archaic “kouros” statues, beautiful, and poignant because heavily scorched in Xerxes\' destruction of the Acropolis in 480.

We got to Salamis the next day. This is a very enlightening and straightforward battlefield walk or, rather, cruise.  You take the excellent Metro down to Piraeus and then one of the regular ferries from Gate 8 of the main harbour to Paloukia at the northern end of the straits. This sails up the eastern channel past the island of Psyttaleia and then quite close to the tip of the long thin promontory of Cynosura which protects the deep bay of Ambelaki, the site of the ancient town of Salamis, and into the 7km2 rectangle of water where the battle was fought.6.4 Passing tjhe eastern end of Psyttaleia

6.6 Ambelaki Bay

 6.5 Cynosura

It continues westward past the long bay where a large part of the Greek fleet would have been beached and moored and ends close to the causeway that now joins the island of St George to the Salamis mainland. Even allowing for the extensive 20th Century seaport infrastructure and the many large cargo and cruise ships lining the shores, it is very striking how tight the space would have been for this immense clash of several hundred triremes (and around 200,000 men and one woman), and how narrow the south-eastern and northern entrances to the straits were. This was the whole point of Themistocles\' strategy and the measure of the Persians\' colossal misjudgement that the Greeks would put up no coherent resistance to their superior fleet.  It is what all the sources, maps, analyses and commentaries tell us, but none of them more vividly than the direct experience of chugging through those same waters at not much more than ramming speed in a boat about the same length and width as a trireme and its 170 oars.

6.7 Lunch

There is a truly authentic kapheneio-ouzeri, “to Perasma”, just a few steps from the ferry station ready to fortify you with beer, sardines and octopus before or after (preferably after) the essential scramble up the hill behind.  6.8 Paloukia Bay with Ambelaki Bay behind

From this ridge there is a view across to the western side of the island, demonstrating that watchers on that shore could easily communicate by simple smoke or fire signals with the Greek command on the eastern side. Large shipping movements could possibly even have been observed from this distance in clear conditions.

6.9 The straits from above Paloukia

However the western passage is so narrow at a couple of points that it is unlikely to have featured at all in Persian planning, beyond covering the southern approaches to mop up any Greeks using it as an escape route. The Greeks would only have needed a few ships to hold these narrows.  More important is the panoramic view over the island of St George down the straits to Cynosura and Psyttaleia and Piraeus beyond, taking in the bays of Salamis and the Attic shore which the Persian ships lined at dawn, and from where on some vantage point, possibly inside the perimeter of the modern Greek naval base (which we failed to penetrate) or amongst the unromantic apartment blocks of Perama (where we got lost in the one-way system), Xerxes on his golden throne watched his disaster unfold. The map I included in my previous post certainly gives a very clear sense of the fatal congestion.

google earth view

However, it doesn\'t show the small island on the Attic side of the northern channel that the lower sea level at the time of the battle exposed. At some point in the campaign (Herodotus says immediately after the battle; Diodorus Siculus, generally considered to be wrong on everything, says before, and this makes more sense), the Persians built or, at least, began a causeway linking this island to the mainland.  This was to enable them to use a bridge of boats to attack St George and Salamis itself with their land forces, though they needed to have won control of the straits by naval action first. These two islands with the shallows and shoals on their landward sides flanked an easily defensible passage of a few hundred meters and, very likely, contained all significant action to the south of this line.

There was time to round things off with a visit to the Floating Naval Museum at Flisvos Marina where Olympias sits in dry dock, keeping a watchful eye on Salamis and the approaches to Piraeus from the Faliron shore, the Persian fleet\'s base up to the battle.

  6.10 Olympias keeps watch

This is easily accessible by tram from central Athens , or by Metro and tram from Piraeus . On the way to Delphi a couple of days later, we explored the battlefield of Plataea, the scene of the Greeks' closing victory on Greek soil in 479 - Equally fascinating and enlightening, but that\'s another story!