In tranquil countryside outside of Athens lies the temple complex of Vravrona, sometimes called, romantically, "The Parthenon of the Bear
Maidens", a sacred site of the huntress-goddess Artemis.
Skipped by most visitors - and most tour operators - solely because it is a bit out of the way, this temple is rarely crowded and stands by a
delightful museum filled with images of the children who once studied at the temple - Artemis' "little bears" or arktoi who danced for their goddess in
sacred processions, making up for the death of one of her pet bears. The tyrant Peisistratos, hailing from Brauron, made the worship of Artemis the
official faith of Athens during his ascendency.
Even before Artemis, the sacred spring in the center of the grounds was revered. The temple was finally abandoned after wildness itself reclaimed it
- the local river Erasimos massively flooded the grounds, and the surrounding area is still moist, if not actually swampy.
The out-of-the-way location has protected the spirit of this temple, and the views from its grounds are uninterrupted by anything modern - even the
museum is discreetly hidden, approachable by a gated path from the temple (unfortunately, often locked) or by the curving road leading from the
small parking lot.
Legend has it that Iphigeneia, the daughter of Agamemnon, came here as a priestess of Artemis, bringing with her a wooden statue of the goddess
which was enshrined here for many years. While other stories claim that her father physically sacrificed her to Artemis in order that his ships could
sail to Troy, local legend insists that she was "sacrificed" to a life in the temple and lived here until she died, A broken, roofless cave is said to be
the remains of her tomb, and a small temple dedicated to her worship also stood here.
Though temples and clergy of Artemis were entirely female, served by women vowed to chastity, boy children were allowed to study at this temple,
and their statues stand in the museum along with their female classmates. Possibly boy-girl twins were permitted in acknowledgement of the
relationship between Artemis and her own twin brother, Apollo, or Iphigeneia and her own brother, Orestes, who are credited with founding the site in
There is also a prehistoric acropolis near the site, just recently excavated, and a tiny Byzantine chapel provides an oasis of cool darkness amid
scarcely-seen icons painted on the walls.
Artemis was also a goddess of the edges and boundaries, between culture and civilization, virginity and marriage, war and peace, births and deaths.
At any time of transition from one state to another, you were in the powerful Artemis' domain. Now at the remains of this temple, that wild edge still
thrives, and the transition for the visitor is between the bustling modern world and the ancient, seemingly more peaceful, past.
It's always best to honor the gods and goddesses. Otherwise, you never know if all you're going to get is a good cuckolding from a bull, as happened when Minos offended the sea god Poseidon, an arrow through your own chest or an order to sacrifice your child, as happened when Agamemnon offended the goddess Artemis. Of course it helps to know the reputation of the deity in question.
Virginal Artemis, sister of Apollo, daughter of Leto and Zeus, was born either on Delos or Ortygia. In some stories she is the twin sister of Apollo, but in others she was born several days earlier so she could help her mother with the delivery of her brother. Henceforth, although a virgin, she is one of the goddesses associated with childbirth. Artemis is also an avid hunter with a set of arrows to match her brother's. She also takes her chastity seriously, dealing mercilessly with anyone who threatens to compromise even the modesty of her attendants.