I was visiting a very famous man on the island, one who has made it synonymous with alternative health care and who has created and is in charge of an international centre for homeopathic education. The man is Professor George Vithoulkas who at 77 years still teaches in his International Academy for Classical Homeopathy and has time to write books and cast his influence far and wide in this branch of alternative medicine. The Academy is situated in a magical spot, atop a hill, about 2.5 km from Patitiri amongst olive groves, vineyards and pine forests.
Professor Vithoulkas is a very courteous, gentle man and his Greek hospitality was extended to me in its most generous manifestation. We held our discussions and dined together at Roussoum Yalos at typical Greek taverna where we ate some freshly caught fish and drank some excellent Greek wine.
I spent the day at Alonissos, one of the best parts of the day being watching the sun rise and walking through the deserted countryside first thing in the morning. The temperature was equable and just right for a walk, the smells of the summery fields absolutely amazing: Dried grass; herbs such as thyme, oregano, sage; blooming flowers including daisies, wild scented clematis, jasmine, acanthus; pine and schinum with a whiff of fig. Chickens clucking, roosters crowing, goats bleating were mingling with the sounds of the distant tinkling of bells around the necks of livestock and every now and then the chirping of birds overhead. A magical morning indeed!
Then travelling later in the day, getting back to the Athens and the hotel on schedule. A quiet night as the travel does tire one…
It is wonderful when your work takes you to a beautiful destination, even if you don’t have much time to enjoy it. It nevertheless is a great experience and one gets to see the beauty eve if it is in passing. My work took me to the islands of Northern Sporades in Greece, to Alonnisos, the third in line after Skiathos and Skopelos and the quietest inhabited island in this group of islands. It has a permanent population of around 2,500 people and is a very green and tranquil island. It offers many small, quiet beaches, wonderful walking opportunities and a rugged, natural landscape with many spectacular views. Visitors enjoy the easy-going atmosphere which blends in perfectly with the busy little harbour and the capital of Patitiri.
Patitiri, where most of the islanders live, is a bustling little harbour surrounded by steep rock formations with many tavernas, shops, cafes and even a small pebbly beach. The heart of the island is here, where the visitor can arrange all excursions, boat trips, car and bike rental or take the water taxis which leave every morning for the various beaches.
Alonnisos has many beaches which boast crystal clear waters with pine trees that almost reach right down to the sea edge. Most of the beaches have small, simple tavernas and all are pebbly with the exception of one, which is sandy! Half-way up the island, on the south east coast again, there is the little fishing village and pretty harbour of Steni Vala. Here, there are several excellent tavernas and the harbour usually is the temporary home of yachts and fishing boats that are in the area.
The Old Village is 4 km from Patitiri, perched on a hillside with spectacular views over Skopelos island and the Aegean. This was the main town and capital until 1965 when an earthquake destroyed the houses and was abandoned. Now, the houses have been restored and the little village with the narrow, cobbled streets has come to life again. Here, you can rent one of the many restored houses that have been redone in the old traditional style.
A village close to Patitiri is Votsi, and it sits around a magical bay with crystal clear waters and pine-covered hills around it. The next bay along is Roussoum Beach with a number of tavernas, bars and a pebbly bathing beach with gentle, aqua waters.
Alonnisos is also the centre for the Marine Park of the Aegean which was the first Marine Park to be established in Greece in 1992. There are 6 main islands in the park area - Alonnisos, Peristera, Skantzoura, Gioura, Kira Panagia and Piperi along with 22 rocky islets. The Marine Park is home to the Mediterranean Monk Seal (the rarest mammal in Europe and an endangered species). The area surrounding Alonnisos is its natural habitat and the Monk Seal calls this special and unique area its home. The Marine Park is also home to around 300 species of fish and around 80 species of birds. Alonnisos and the surrounding islands also are proud to be the home of other rare species such as the Eleonora Falcon, Audouin Gull and a rare type of goat found on the island of Gioura. This also makes Alonnisos a favoured eco-tourism destination.
Across Lavrion one may see the nearby island of Makronisos, the Greek equivalent of Alcatraz. However, on this island no hardened criminals, no murderers, no evil wrongdoers were imprisoned. Instead the island was a prison for people whose only crime was to think differently to the establishment. Makronisos was where many people who had fought to liberate Greece from the Germans during World War Two, met their fate at the hands of their countrymen. This is where patriots were tortured and killed because of their political beliefs. The men who lived and died here were the first victims of the Cold War.
In October 1944 the German army, which had been occupying Greece retreated. Their stay in Greece was not a pleasant one, for even though the Greek government and the army had themselves retreated from Greece when the Germans first arrived, the Greek resistance, which was predominately communist, harassed the occupiers from their camps in the mountains as well as in the cities. When the country was liberated, the Greek government returned with George Papandreou (father of Andreas) as Prime Minister sharing power with the left in a government of National Unity.
Unfortunately for the leftists, it had been decided already in Yalta by the leaders of the USA, Great Britain and The Soviet Union, when they divided up Europe, that Greece was not going to be allowed to fall under the influence of the communists. The possibility that the left would have any place at all in the Greek political system was disturbing to the leaders of the “free world”, despite the fact that the leftists had been the main resistance against the Nazis. General Scoby under orders from Winston Churchill initiated political intrigues against the communists and forced them to resign from government. On December 3rd a peaceful demonstration in Syntagma Square was fired upon by police snipers which resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians. This led to the “Dekembriana”, the December uprising which lasted until January 5th.
With the treaty of Varkiza in February the communists turned in their weapons, making them easy prey for the right-wing criminal militias, who had been collaborators with the Nazis but were now backed by the British, who hunted down members of the resistance and their families. The first elections were held in March of 1946 but were boycotted by the communist party, a fatal mistake because from that point on they were outsiders and non-participants in the Greek political system.
Since the treaty of Varkiza the atrocities committed by the right against the left rivalled the crimes of the Nazis. There were 1,289 people murdered, 31,632 tortured, 30,000 imprisoned and many raped. Their property was confiscated and their houses looted. So in 1946 while the rest of Europe was celebrating the peace after World War Two and trying to get back on their feet, Greece had entered another period of misery as Civil War erupted with the British backing the most reactionary of the Greeks. The leftist parties of the KKE, ELAS and EPON were outlawed. Military tribunals were set up all over the country. Thousands of leftists were executed. 50,000 were imprisoned and tens of thousands were exiled to remote islands, one of these being Makronisos.
In 1946 under a government directive from Prime Minister Sofoulis, communists of draft age were sent to the barren island of Makronisos off the coast of Attica. The future prime minister Kanellopoulos (who was overthrown by the Junta) had called Makronisos “Greece’s new Parthenon”. In much later years, he regretted having said this. The plan was to rehabilitate (= brainwash” and torture) these “bad” Greeks into model citizens. Despite the fact that they had participated in the national resistance against the German occupation they were considered “traitors” and “enemies of the state”.
Their “rehabilitation” was called the “Baptistery of Siloam” and consisted of torture, living in tents in extreme hot or cold weather, being subjected to hunger and thirst, solitary confinement, threats and brainwashing. When their spirit was broken they could sign a declaration admitting wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness. They were then sent to the front lines to fight against their comrades. Those who refused to sign were tried in a tribunal court, executed by firing squad or locked up in the Military Prison of Makronisos. The vast majority were left on the island to be tortured and abused.
In the northern part of Makronisos civilians and officers were held in what was called D Battalion. These were groups of 500 men crowded fourteen to a tent and isolated from other groups by a five-metre high barbed-wire fence. The A Battalion was worse and prisoners were beaten and tortured with bats, iron bars and bamboo canes resulting in broken bones, spinal injury, blinding, psychological trauma and death for thousands of prisoners. This went on even after the Civil war ended in 1949. As time wore on, many fighters from the left who only wanted to return home and recommence their lives, found that they could not go back to their villages for fear of reprisals.
In 1949 the communists retreating to the Eastern block countries issued the infamous edict that all fighters will remain ready to re-attack (‘to oplo para podas’). This of course was false but gave the right wing governments the excuse to prosecute all leftist sympathisers (not only communists) relentlessly, and many of course ended up in Makronisos. Some people who were in Makronisos were taken there because of disputes with their neighbours. Plots abounded and many innocent people were denounced as leftists over these disputes. The military junta that ruled Greece 1967-73 period repopulated the island with inmates during its reign of terror.
Now Makronisos is deserted and the torture and cruelty that took place half a century ago is an almost forgotten memory except by those who lived through it. While the Greek Islands usually make us think of summer, sun, swimming and nights in the tavernas, Makronisos shows us there is another dark side and that man's inhumanity to his fellow man can turn any heaven into a hell. Like the concentration camps in Poland and Germany the island of Makronisos should be open to the public with photos and descriptions of what went on there in those shameful days, if for no other reason so that they will never be repeated.
We went to the bus stop and waited for the bus to Athens. And waited. And waited… It was meant to come every half hour, but it finally turned up 50 minutes past the hour. Apparently there had been a traffic jam on the way up to Sounion and hence it was late. We went via another route, this time inland and saw some villages and small towns on the way into Athens. As soon as we got there we had a stroll though the Field of Mars, which is a park with assorted statuary. It is getting renovated at the moment and is one of the few parks in the metropolitan area of Athens.
When we got back to the hotel we heard about the devastating earthquake in the Peloponnese. It happened while we were on the bus, returning to Athens from Lavrion at 3:25 pm local time. No doubt we would have felt it if we were on solid ground, but on the bus with the jolts, bumps and jarring that we were subjected to, we could not have distinguished it. Apparently in Athens they had felt it and it was remarkable because it lasted for a relatively long time. The really terrible thing about it was that it affected those very villages that last year had been through the ordeal of the huge bushfires that laid the land to waste. The village of Valmi which was severely affected by fire has all but been levelled now…
The town of Lavrion is not featured prominently in many guidebooks about Greece even though it has the oldest and biggest ancient amphitheater in the country and a mysterious giant hole that would be an attraction to seekers of unexplained phenomena if they knew about it. The area is famous for its industry and mining operations since ancient times. This is where the giant columns from the temple of Poseidon at nearby Sounion were quarried.
The silver mines of Lavrion date back to prehistoric times. The elution works where the silver was extracted are still visible and currently being restored. These mining facilities are believed to be the oldest in the world. The Lavrion silver mines financed the fleet with which the ancient Athenians defeated the Persians, and financed the building of the Acropolis and other monuments of the Golden Age of Athens. Later the mines got much more industrialised, and covered the entire region with tunnels, mineral extraction works as well as some of the by-products of mining and extracting. In the 19th century, Jean Baptiste Serpieri was instrumental in reviving the mining works, something the locals have not forgotten and have raised a stute in his honour in the centre of town.
One effect of this industrialization in the 19th century was that Lavrion had the first railroad tracks in Greece, and the first proper harbour facility to load ore via a bridge to barges and ships. Another effect of this mining activity was that many different and unique minerals were discovered. These minerals bring a lot of geological tourism into the mountains and very interesting samples are displayed in the Mineralogical Museum. The Archaeological Museum gives a good picture of the development of the ancient civilization, which was hugely effected by the early industrialisation. Unfortuantely the archaeological museum was being renovated when we visited so we were unable to see it.
The tunnels and shafts dug to reach the layers of minerals created heaps of debris near the mine entrances. It is possible, to this day, to find a large variety of minerals quite easily. Despite the highly developed metallurgical techniques in the factories, the remnants of which are very well preserved in Lavrion, the Ancient Greeks could not take out all the silver from the ore and after smelting used to dump the slag into the sea. The seawater, which itself contained minerals penetrated into the slag for thousands of years and reacted with other trace elements. This chemical reaction resulted in the growth of perfect crystals of various minerals , some of which are very rare and exist only in Lavrion. In the winter, when the heavy seas deposit these crystals on the beaches, many collectors come to Lavrion to find them.
Up until a few years ago Lavrion was a pretty dismal place. The unemployment was around 75% and the city was used as a refugee center for Kurds and other people. The physical state of Lavrion was so bad that Greek film director Theo Angelopoulos used the city as a stand-in for war-torn Sarajevo in his film “Ulysses’ Gaze”. In the last few years Lavrion has gone through an amazing transformation. Restaurants, shops and cafes have opened and Lavrion has new life due to the rebuilding of the port into a major ferry terminal for the Greek islands and the relocation of several sailboat charter companies and a marina.
One of the wonders of the area is a giant hole. The history of this hole is not entirely clear yet, but the most probable is that it was created by a prehistoric meteorite, which would also explain why there are so many minerals around this area. Through the heat occurring at the impact of that celestial rock, stones around the area melted, and strange minerals formed. Another theory claims that these minerals were there anyway, and the hole itself got created when a cave or the roof of an underground lake collapsed.
We had planned an excursion to Sounion today and started out quite early, walking to the KTEL bus station near the Field of Mars (Pedion tou Areos). Sounion is the southernmost part of Attica, a promontory about 70 km from Athens. One cannot mention Sounion without talking about Theseus, the Greek mythical hero.
Theseus was son of Aegeus, king of Athens, and Aethra, daughter of Pittheus, king of Troezen in Argolis. Some legends maintain that the sea god, Poseidon fathered Theseus. It is related that Aegeus, being childless, was allowed by Pittheus to have Theseus by Aethra. Aegeus then went back to Athens, allowing Aethra and Pittheus to raise his son. When Theseus reached manhood, Aethra sent him to Athens. On the journey he encountered many adventures. At the Isthmus of Corinth he killed Sinis, called the Pine Bender because he killed his victims by tearing them apart between two pine trees. Next Theseus dispatched the Crommyonian boar. Then he flung from a cliff the wicked Sciron, who had kicked his guests into the sea while they were washing his feet. Later he slew Procrustes, who fitted all comers to his iron bed by hacking or racking them to the right length.
On his arrival in Athens, Theseus found his father married to the sorceress Medea, who recognised Theseus before his father did and tried to persuade Aegeus to poison him. Aegeus, however, finally recognised Theseus and declared him heir to the throne. After crushing a conspiracy by the Pallantids, sons of Pallas (Aegeus' brother), Theseus successfully attacked the fire-breathing bull of Marathon. Next came the adventure of the Cretan Minotaur, half man and half bull, shut up in the legendary Cretan Labyrinth.
Theseus had promised Aegeus that if he returned successful from Crete, he would hoist a white sail in place of the black sail with which the fatal ship bearing the sacrificial victims to the Minotaur always put to sea. But he forgot his promise; and when Aegeus saw the black sail, he flung himself from Sounion and died in the sea that now bears his name, the Aegean.
Theseus then united the various Attic communities into a single state and extended the territory of Attica to the Isthmus of Corinth. With the Greek hero Heracles he captured the Amazon princess Hippolyte. As a result the Amazons attacked Athens, and Hippolyte fell fighting on the side of Theseus. By her he had a son, Hippolytus, beloved of Theseus' wife, Phaedra. Theseus is also said to have taken part in the Argonautic expedition and the Calydonian boar hunt.
Sounion is now famous for its marvellous ruins of the temple of Poseidon, god of the sea. It is situated in a gorgeous position on a clifftop and has commanding views of the sea and surrounding countryside. In ancient times, sailors would see the brilliant white marble columns of the Temple of Poseidon and know they were close to home.
The temple of Poseidon whose ruins we see today was built in 444 BC and stands on the site of an older temple. An Ionic frieze, made from 13 slabs of Parian marble, is located on the east side of the temple's main approach path. The frieze is very eroded, but depicts the mythological battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, the Gigantomachia, and the adventures of the hero Theseus who was said in some legends to be the son of Poseidon. The east pediment (of which only a seated female figure is preserved) probably depicted the fight between Poseidon and Athena for the domination of Attica.
Local marble, taken from quarries at nearby Agriléza, was used for the temple's 34 Doric columns. The still standing 15 columns have been restored. When the temple was built there were special features incorporated which helped it combat its unique location on the water's edge. The columns were cut with only 16 flutings instead of the usual 20, thus reducing the surface area exposed to the elements and subsequently reducing the corrosion caused by the constant sea spray blown p the cliffs by the powerful winds.
Until a few years ago one could walk amongst the ruins, but today the temple has been cordoned off. About time too, as the marble ruins have been vandalized with etched graffiti. You can even see Lord Byron's name carved into the stone (it's on one of the square pillars - the southeast one - right below a joint and not too far up). Unfortunately, Byron was not the only one to either carve his name or take a piece of the temple with them. The columns are covered with names; Roman, Turk, British or by whoever else that passed this way. At one point sailors were painting their names with black tar on the architrave blocks above the columns!
In the sanctuary, a small propylaeum can be seen to the right of the modern path through the temenos. There was also a small stoa with extant column bases in the NE corner. The whole sanctuary was protected by high walls. These were built and the area fortified by the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BC. The area was of the utmost importance since grain ships heading to Athens from the Aegean passed just below the site.
There is another temple in the area, which was dedicated to Athena Sounias. It is found on a low hill that tops the isthmus to the north of the Temple of Poseidon. The building had an Ionic colonnade along its east and south sides and was built at about 450 BC. There are also remains of a small Doric temple beside it, which was probably dedicated to the hero Phrontis. This sanctuary also had a protective temenos wall.
There is a coffee shop, restaurant and souvenir shop adjacent to the temple, but it is inordinately expensive. A kiosk a little further down the hill has more modest prices. The bus stop and parking area at the entrance of the archaeological area are very poorly kept and the bus stop doesn’t have a bench or a shaded area to wait in. We took the bus and went to Lavrion, a little to the northeast of Sounion, also on the coast.
We wandered through the Plaka and all around the Acropolis, gradually making our way to the new Acropolis Museum at the foot of the Sacred Rock. The design by Swiss-born Bernard Tschumi was selected as the winning project in the second competition for the design of the New Acropolis Museum. Tschumi's design revolves around three concepts: light, movement, and a tectonic and programmatic element, which together "turn the constraints of the site into an architectural opportunity, offering a simple and precise museum" with the mathematical and conceptual clarity of ancient Greek buildings. The construction of the museum started on November 2004 and provides 14,000 square meters of exhibition space. This is in contrast with the old museum on the Rock, which had 1,450 square meters of exhibition space.
The base of the museum design 'hovers' over the existing archaeological excavations on sturdy pillars. This level contains the entrance lobby as well as temporary exhibition spaces, retail space, and all support facilities. Glass floors allow the visitor to view the excavations below the museum. The middle is a large, double-height, trapezoidal hall that accommodates all galleries from the Archaic period to the Roman Empire. A mezzanine level includes a bar and restaurant with views toward the Acropolis, and a multimedia auditorium. The top comprises the rectangular Parthenon Gallery arranged around an indoor court. The glass enclosure of the gallery provides ideal light for sculpture in direct view of the historical reference point of the Acropolis. The Parthenon Marbles will be displayed in the gallery so as to be visible from the Acropolis above. The design of the enclosure is intended to protect both the sculptures and visitors against excessive heat and light, and makes use of state-of-the-art glass technology. The orientation of the Marbles will be exactly as it was at the Parthenon centuries ago, and their setting will provide an unprecedented context for understanding the accomplishments of the Parthenon complex itself.
We visited the open areas of the museum and were appreciative of its design and conceptual scale. When it finally opens it will be an amazing exhibition space and worthy of the art treasures it will contain.
We had arranged to meet up with our friends Stella and George in the afternoon at their house in Aegaleo. We took the bus there and there was much rejoicing as we caught up with them and shared our news. We spent an hour or so talking and then played some cards, while waiting for the heat of the afternoon to abate and the evening to come before going out to dinner. Seeing it was my birthday, I was to take them out to dinner in one of the restaurants in the main square of Aegaleo.
It was a very pleasant evening and we all enjoyed ourselves until late, having dessert in one of the patisseries next to the restaurant. We took a taxi back to the hotel and arranged to meet our friends again next week.
A gorgeous morning today, which we started by taking breakfast in the roof garden of our hotel. We had decided to spend the day around the Acropolis today and visit the new Acropolis Museum, which is being finished right now. We walked from our hotel towards the Acropolis and in about 35 minutes we were approaching the Plaka district. This is a lovely old part of Athens and most of its streets have been closed to traffic (though one should still keep a watchful eye for a speeding motorcycle or delivery truck that are found in even pedestrian malls). In the past, the Plaka was the nightclub district, but most of the clubs closed down when the government outlawed amplified music in the area in the seventies in an effort to get rid of undesirables. The strategy was very successful and it is now an area of restaurants, Jewellery stores tourist shops, and cafés. Though it is quite commercialised it still has a small neighbourhood feel and is arguably the nicest neighbourhood in central Athens.
The Anafiotika is a part of Plaka which reminds one of an Aegean island village at the foot of the Acropolis! The area owes its existence to the wishes of Otto the first king of Greece. Upon coming to Greece from Bavaria, Otto decided to build himself a palace. Wanting this palace to be solidly built, he enquired as to who were the best builders in the country. He was no sooner informed that the people of Anafi, a small island in the Cyclades, were famous for their building skills, than he invited the best of them to the capital, to start work on the Palace. The builders had to have a place to live while works lasted. Knowing that it would be years before they set eyes on their beloved Anafi, and being quite homesick for it, they decided to recreate it, at the foot of the Acropolis. So, they built small white houses in the exact style they used in their home village. And there they remain. Anafiotika, meaning the Anafians’ neighborhood, is a unique and very charming neighbourhood at the highest point of the Plaka area.
“Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquence.” - John Milton
4/6/08 Morning in Athens. Clear blue Attic sky, balmy temperatures and even in the midst of the traffic noise and the pullulating masses, even amongst the canyons of the high rise apartment buildings one may see some of the glory of the past that has inspired millions through the ages. We stayed at our usual hotel, the Golden City on Marni Street and had our usual room up on the seventh floor. Breakfast up on the roof garden is a pleasure looking over the sprawling city, watching every year as the built up area slowly creeps up the distant mountains. Amongst the TV aerials, through the dirty white apartment blocks one may see the odd church steeple or intriguing dome, catch glimpses of shining marble or the odd low hill covered with pines.
Athens is a city of great contrasts. With each passing year these contrasts increase in their depth and one is always astounded by the beauty and ugliness that can quite happily coexist, seemingly unaware of each other’s existence. The bathos sinking to the nadir of life abutting the highest of sublime heights. Dirty streets with seeming tons of rubbish right next to the most elegant and glittering of shop windows. The stench of urine and sewers assailing one’s nostrils with one step and the fragrant aroma of freshly baked bread, cinnamon-laden syrup and crisp pastries in the next step. The glazed stare of miserable drug addicts stumbling in the street next to the almond-eyed, beautifully made-up, alluring and coy glance of a beauty that passes by and smiles. Ugly modern apartment blocks happily coexisting with mellowed marble columns of the classic age; glittering buildings of glass and steel right opposite elegant, renovated neo-classical masterpieces. Ruinous and derelict buildings, ready to collapse right next to magnificent shopping centres. Beggars – maimed, dirty and unkempt sitting on the sidewalk with outstretched hands while young, carefree, fashionable people pass them by laughing and chatting. The illegal immigrants rubbing shoulders with the tourists, the Athenians smirking at the provincials on an obvious first time city visit. The terrible traffic – cars, motorbikes, motorcycles, crazy pedestrians while in the small parks and gardens tranquility. And it all works, in this mad, whirling, noisy, lively, exhausting, enervating, annoying, never-sleeping yet adorable megalopolis…
This is what makes it always a pleasure to return here – for every minus there are pluses, for every negative a positive. We have several activities planned, some friends to catch up with, some time to rest and spend relaxing in the city but also out and about. We spent the whole day wandering through Athens, in and out of bookshops. The highlight of these peregrinations was finding my children’s book on the shelves of the bookshops. The book is just out and found in a few of the larger bookshops already, but even the smaller ones have it on order. The publication has been a long process, almost two years in the making, but it was largely due to the fact of the publisher changing hands. Now with all under control, it has been released and from what the publisher is saying it has received good reviews.
Inevitably we end up buying large numbers of Greek books in Athens. The same books are anything between double and triple the price in Australia, but also one does not find the variety one has here. I am constantly surprised by the large numbers of bookshops and publishing houses in Athens. People certainly read here and they read a lot! We had an early night and made a few phone calls to catch up with friends.
5/6/08 Another full day of visiting bookshops! The whole day was spent going in one and coming out of the other. Immersing ourselves in the hunt for books and chatting to the owners or the staff about books was quite a pleasurable activity. However, after several trips to and from the hotel to leave behind our shopping, we felt quite exhausted. We took count of the number of steps we had made and it was over 22,000 (according to our trusty pedometer). A tiring day, but full of the satisfaction of the happy hunter who has captured the stalked prey!
6/6/08 There is a wonderful part of Athens called Monastiraki (= Little Monastery). It is an old part of Athens which nestles under the ancient Acropolis. Monastiraki Square is a lively place around here and the main street leading off takes one to narrow streets full of tourist shops, cafés and restaurants. On one comer of the square is a relic of the Turkish occupation, the Mosque, minus minaret, built by the Athenian Moslem, Tsisdarakis in 1759. Opposite is the Metro station through which pass two of the major lines of the network, making this place easily accessible by public transport. The square is being renovated a the moment and it is all dug up, but one gets used to this type of activity in Athens, where half the city seems to be under remodeling, renovation and refurbishment.
At the center of Monastiraki is Abyssinia Square, where the Sunday flea market has been held since 1910, but which now is host to a lot of antique shops, as well as many stalls full of trash and treasure. Thousands of things are for sale: Army uniforms, old brass items, Mickey Mouse clocks, mock Roman helmets, old money, second hand clothes, furniture, shoes, books, CDs, DVDs, whatever you could imagine can be found in these narrow alleyways and winding streets. There are souvenirs galore, some of them very good bargains (while others shamelessly overpriced – do shop around!).
There are jewellery shops and furniture stores with pine cabinets stacked high among semi-antiques. Ceramics, terra cotta and marble ware, old chess sets and new ones made of silver, marble and brass, old copper pans and bronze hearth sets. There are chandeliers and phonographs, junk to high quality antiques. Bargaining is very acceptable here as it is throughout Greece and it can be good fun too if you like that sort of thing! Monastiraki shows a lot that is Greek, in its shopping habits and tradesmen, its people and variety. It hasn't changed very much in centuries. A visit will show you a lot of the capital and its people, its mixture of old and new, a fascination that will keep you busy and guessing, and inevitably, shopping.
We visited some of the bookshops here and as well books we got some CDs and DVDs at bargain prices. The weather all of these days has been glorious, with warm days and balmy nights, no rain nor wind. Perfect for walking around the city and conducive to open air living. This is something that Greeks do a lot of in summer, whether at home or out and about in the city, at bars, restaurants and cafeterias.
We had dinner at Petrino Restaurant (http://www.petrinorestaurant.gr/homeenglish.htm) this evening and we enjoyed the fish we ordered with some house white wine (non-resinated) and with a delicious summer salad of tomatoes, cucumber, onions and oregano with a simple olive oil vinaigrette. We were treated by the management to a dessert of crème bavaroise with a chocolate sauce, which was also rather nice.
We walked back to our hotel and spent the night going through the books we bought and packing them into boxes, ready to be shipped to Australia. There were about 80 kg of books to be sent and the maximum allowed weight is 20 kg in a special packaging style. We prepared four packs and the fortunate thing about our hotel is that it’s only about 200 metres away from a post office.
At about 2:00 am that morning we were woken by an earthquake. It was only a slight tremor, but enough to wake us and make us realise immediately what it was. It was a most disconcerting feeling lying in bed and feeling the whole bed, the whole room wobbling. A few minutes later, the same thing happened and we felt again the tremor. The next morning we asked people at breakfast whether they had felt it and some said yes, but other had slept right through it. Unfortunately this quake was a warning of Monday’s intense earthquake in the Peloponnese, but of course nobody could predict it.
Shortly after these buildings, which are the last two Inns in the Street of the Knights, a large Gothic loggia provides a monumental end to the street. The loggia dates from the first half of the 15th century and linked the Palace of the Grand Masters and the church of St. John. The church, which was built in the early 14th century, was the official church of the Order. It was in good order until the middle of the last century, despite conversion into a mosque, but in 1856 a bolt of lightning struck the minaret and ignited a quantity of gunpowder which had lain in store probably forgotten - in its cellars for many years. The explosion blew up the church, destroyed the arcade next to it and what had remained of the abandoned Palace of the Grand Masters, killing some 800 people. Fortunately, the drawings of Rottiers had preserved the design of the church, and the Italians were able to use them to build the church of the same name at Mandraki Harbour, near the Governor's Palace, now called the Church of the Annunciation.
Opposite the Church of St. John, at the highest point of the Castle, stood the Palace of the Grand Masters, a structure imposing both for its dimensions (80 meters by 75) and for the strength of its fortifications. These were so strong that even the siege of 1522 AD hardly damaged them. During the first years of their occupation, the Turks used the Palace as a prison, after which it was allowed to fall into ruin. The final blow was dealt by the explosion which wrecked St. John's Church. However, the Italians, wishing to provide King Victor Emmanuel and Mussolini with a worthy residence when they visited the island, rebuilt it along the lines of the old building. It was finished in 1940.
The floors are notable for their marvellous mosaics, dating from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, which were brought here from the island of Kos. The statues which stand in the inner courtyard are also from the same periods. Greek archaeologists were brought to the brink of despair by the rebuilding of the palace, for there is considerable evidence that the famous ancient, temple of Helios (Sun god) lies under the foundations, with its rich decorations, and this may even have been the site of the Colossus. Excavations in depth have never been conducted in this area.
The Palace of the Grand Masters is a worthy end to one’s visit of the Old Town as it is a magnificent building and contains much interesting detail (eg. some of the windows have thin colourful alabaster panes, which are translucent) and also some wonderful old furniture and tapestries. Room after magnificent room is linked by grand corridors, there are monumental staircases, huge fireplaces, ornate ceilings, beautiful wood carvings and much to delight the eyes. Oen can quite comfortably spend several hours here, drinking in the history of the palce, which seems to pervade the air one breathes.
As we leave the palace, Kleovoulou Square lies to our right, and beyond this we enter a fine, wide street whose plane trees cast deep shadow even in the heat of the day. This is Orpheos Street, which is lined with tourist shops, bars, restaurants and tavernas. To the right, in a wall linking the interior wall of the Castle with the main wall, is the Gate of St. Anthony, and after this, if we turn to the left, the impressive d’ Amboise Gate. Iron benches between the two gates afford an opportunity to sit and rest in the shade for a while, and even - why not? - pose for a quick sketch portrait by one of the artists to be found there. If we turn the other way down Orpheos Street, we will come to the Clock Tower (built after the earthquake of 1851), which stands on the site of the northwest tower of the interior fortifications of the Coliseum. From here, the wall ran downhill parallel to the Street of the Knights to the point at which it met the outer walls near the harbour. Almost none of this section of the inner wall has survived.
By this stage, we were very tired and ready to go back to the hotel for some freshening up and packing up, ready to fly out. We had allowed an hour to get to the airport but a nasty surprise awaited us there. Our flight had been cancelled and we were to be stranded at the airport for more than 6 hours. A word of advice, if travelling with Olympic Airways, expect the unexpected, always ring up 24-48 hours before your flight to confirm it, and even then, nasty surprises are quite likely to eventuate… There was nothing we could do but leave our bags there and take a taxi to the nearest holiday town of Kremasti. Nothing much to do there except have a wander around, past the perpetually closed town library built with money donated by locals who had made their fortune in the USA (looking very grand, but never used).
We ended up sitting in a café for several hours, drinking coffee and solving hard crosswords, until it was time to go back to the airport for our night flight into Athens. We arrived at the hotel without any further untoward episodes (not that we were complaining!) and needless to say slept like logs right through till the next morning.
Now we return by Mouseiou Square and enter the Street of the Knights (Odos Ippoton). This was the main street in the Coliseum, and is perhaps the most outstanding medieval street to be seen anywhere in Europe. Its chief feature is the degree of its preservation and its freedom from elements of a different age. During the early years of the Turkish occupation, the barracks of the occupying forces were brought here. Later, Turkish families were installed, and they added wooden balconies to the front of the buildings, spoiling the harmony of the original architectural conception. The earlier form was later restored by Italian archaeologists. At first sight, the buildings may seem austere and plain; but even a brief walk will suffice to discover the multitude of different forms and styles of detail. The street is approximately 200 metres long and 6 metres wide, and it leads up to the Palace of the Grand Masters. To the right and left stand the Inns of the various Tongues.
As we enter the Street of the Knights, the first building on our left is the north side of the Hospital. To the right, a medieval building houses the Commercial Bank of Greece. This is followed by the Inn of the Tongue of Italy, finished in 1519 by the Italian Master Fabrizio Del Carreto, whose escutcheon can be seen in the center of the frontage. Next to this is a small palace bearing the coats-of-arms of the French Masters Aimerie d’ Amboise and Villiers d’ Isle Adam. Although it cannot be verified with any certainty, it seems that this was the residence of Villiers, the Master who defended Rhodes during the Turkish siege in 1522 and was entrusted with the grim duty of handing over the city to the Turks.
Opposite this palace is the original main entrance to the Hospital. After this, behind an iron gate, is a shady garden with a Turkish fountain, whose running water is the only sound to break the silence there. The Catalan and Aragonese style of a gateway which has survived among the ruins would seem to indicate that the building which stood there was Spanish. Almost opposite the garden is the Inn of the Tongue of France, the most highly decorated of all the Knightly buildings and among the most attractive. It is definitely worth more than just a hasty visit. It was built by the Grand Masters d’ Aubusson and d’ Amboise at the end of the 15th century or the beginning of the 16th, and bears their coats-of-arms on the front along with the emblem of the Order and the escutcheon of Villiers d’ Isle Adam.
Next to it stands the Chapel of the Tongue of France, with a Gothic statue of the Virgin and Child on its frontage. The interior of the Chapel was much changed by the Turks, who converted it into a mosque. The coat-of-arms of Grand Master Raymond Beranger (1365 – 1374 AD) on the Chapel indicates that it was built during his term of office and consequently that it is one of the oldest buildings in the Street of Knights. The chapel stands next to the residence of the priest, which is now occupied by the Italian Consulate. These three imposing French buildings bear witness to the power and influence of the French within the Order.
After this, an arch with a room above it is the entry to an alley at right angles to the Street of the Knights. We pass this, and immediately to our right is the Inn of the Tongue of Provence, with the Inn of the Tongue of Spain to the left. The room above the archway belongs to this. Both Inns were built at the beginning of the 15th century and neither is notable for any particular exterior decoration.
We continued our way, under an arch, and came out in front of the church of Our Lady of the Castle, which was the Knights' Cathedral. It stands at the beginning of the Street of the Knights. In 1523, the Turks converted the church into a mosque (the Enterum Mosque) and the bell-tower, which no longer stands, became a minaret. The interior, however, was left as it was. It is possible that the original structure of the church was Byzantine; estimates of its age range from the 11th to the 13th century. The church resembles a Gothic cathedral and is very well preserved.
Right after the church of Our Lady of the Castle is Museum Square, with the Inn of the Tongue of England and the Knights’ Hospital. The Inn of the Tongue of England is on the left, on the corner of the Square and an alley running down to the port. The building was reconstructed in 1919 in its original position and in the same style as the old structure, which dated from 1443 AD and was destroyed in the mid 19th century. The Knights' Hospital stands on the right of the entrance to the square. It is in perfect condition, and is obviously suitable for the initial purpose of the Order, which was to give hospitality and care to pilgrims in need of assistance in the Holy Land, and later to the Crusaders. This large and imposing edifice, which houses the Archaeological Museum, is probably the most important monument left by the Knights in the City. Building began in 1440 AD under Grand Master de Lactic and was finished in 1484 AD by Grand Master d' Aubusson. Much of the stone and other building materials was taken from the Roman building on the site of which the Hospital stands.
The museum building is quite significant and worth a closer look. On the ground floor, arched entries to the right and left of the main entrance lead to storehouses, which are now used as shops. A similar entry approximately in the center of the building is the main way into the building and there are carved decorations all around it. Directly above the entrance is a three-sided obtrusion, part of the chapel in the Great Hall on the upper floor. This is the only break in the otherwise unrelieved severity of the frontage of the building. The entrance leads us through an arch into an inner courtyard, surrounded on all sides by a two-store arcade with low arches. This is the main area that houses the Archaeological Museum.
The Archaeological Museum houses some important ancient statuary, the most important of which is a small and elegant crouching statue of Aphrodite drying her hair. This is an Imperial Roman (about 1st century AD) remodelling of the Hellenistic Aphrodite of Doidalsos dating from about the 3rd century BC. There are some archaic Kouroi, some more Greek statues, much pottery (some very well preserved), some silver and brass and some funerary stelae and finds from graves. Very impressive are the huge earthenware amphorae that were used as sarcophagi in the early historical times.
The upper floor is reached by a wide staircase in the south-east corner of the courtyard. The eastern side of this upper floor (facing the square) is occupied by the infirmary ward of the hospital, which was capable of housing about 100 patients. Half-way along the ward is the Gothic chapel, part of which protrudes, as we have seen, over the entrance. The remaining sides of the upper floor were presumably used by the nursing staff.
“Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.” - Mark Twain
This morning we had programmed to visit the Castle of the Knights and its associated museums. We walked up from Mandraki Harbour and we entered through the Gate of Freedom (Pyli Eleftherias), in Symi Square. The Gate was opened in 1924 by the Italians, who looked on themselves as liberators of the island from the Turks, hence the name of the gate. Immediately opposite this gate are the ruins of a Temple of Aphrodite, dating from the 3rd century BC, one of the few ancient remains to be found in the Old Town. Behind the temple is the Inn of the Tongue of Auvergue, built in 1507. The outside staircase leading up the front of the building is a purely Aegean architectural feature, owing nothing to Western influence. The Inn is used today as government offices.
To the left, Arsenal Gate leads to the commercial port. Symi Square. is also known as Arsenal Square, as it was believed that the Knights had shipyards there (the word “arsenal” is derived from the Arabic word dār-as-sinā‛a for a shipyard; a Greek word “tarsanas” from the same origin is still used and has the meaning “shipyard”). The building on the right houses the Ionian and Popular Bank on the ground floor and the Municipal Art Gallery upstairs. From here the street climbs slightly to Argyrokastrou Square, a pretty spot with a fine fountain in its center. Its base, which is an early Christian font, was found by Italian archaeologists in the church of St. Irene near the village of Arnitha. The pile of cannonballs near the fountain, and the other piles to be seen here and there in the Old Town, were collected for the defense of Rhodes during the Turkish siege of 1522. Argyrokastrou Square also boasts one of the oldest buildings in the Castle - the Armeria, built in the 14th century, probably by Grand Master Roger de Pias, whose escutcheon can be seen on the left hand side of the building. Its similarities to the Hospital of the Knights (now the Museum) lead scholars to believe that this was the first building used as a Hospital. Later, it was used by the Turks as an armory (Armeria). To the left as we look at the Armeria, which today houses the Institute of History and Archaeology, is the Museum of Folk Art.
We entered this Folk Art Museum and viewed the extensive and very good collection of exhibits. There are numerous decorative plates and other ceramics, marvelously painted wooden chests and cart sides, hand woven fabrics, utensils and tools, furniture and miscellaneous items some dating back to the 17th century. The man at the ticket office was telling us that unfortunately this museum is not as popular as the other museums of the Old Town, and only a few aficionados frequented it. We certainly enjoyed seeing it and we recommend it most highly.
Our street continues, coming out in Agiou Fanouriou Street. We turn right (to the South). The small Byzantine church of St. Fanourios (patron saint of those searching for lost things) is again in free cruciform style. The Turks used it first as a stable and later as a mosque (Peial El Din Cami). Some fine wall-paintings have been preserved under the Turkish plaster on the walls. Immediately behind this, in Dorieos Square, is the abandoned mosque of Redjep-Pasha. This was built in 1588 AD, using materials from Byzantine and Knightly times, and was, in its day, the finest mosque on the island. Its fountain stands in front of it, and behind, in an archway with a vaulted roof, is the sarcophagus of Redjep Pasha himself.
Going back to Agiou Fanouriou Street, one of the most picturesque in the city, and turning right, back to Sokratous Street, one finds the busy bazaar area where souvenirs of all descriptions are for sale. On the left as one enters is the wooden Aga Cami (Mosque of the Governor). On the way down towards the harbour we pass through Ippokratous Square, in the centre of which stands a fine fountain. Also in the square is all that remains of an important building of the Knights known as Castellania, of which only the south-west section stands, with a large outside staircase. The building dates from 1597 and was a commercial centre. The ground floor was used for transactions between traders, and the upper floor for the court where their disputes were tried. Only a few yards farther on is the Marine Gate or Harbour Gate, flanked by two bastions. It is perhaps the most spectacular of all the gates to the castle. As can be seen from engravings of past centuries, the sea used to run up to a point directly beneath the gate.
To the south of Ippokratous Square, Pythagoras Street leads off to the side of the Ibrahim Pasha Cami. Built in 1531, this is the oldest Turkish religious building to have survived. It was repaired by the Italians, who also added a new minaret. Aristotelous Street, which leads out of Ippokratous Square, will take one to the old Jewish quarter and to the Square of the Hebrew Martyrs (Plateia Evreon Martyron), with its attractive little fountain, decorated with rows of shells, starfish, octopuses and so on, set on blue tiles and surrounded by three large sea-horses. The name of the square is in memory of the approximately 2,000 Jews, who were assembled here before being shipped to Nazi concentration camps, from which only a very few of them ever returned. The building whose front is on the north side of the square is the Palace of the Admirals, which was the residence of the Orthodox Archbishop of Rhodes before the Turkish occupation. Further along Pindarou Street (as the continuation of Aristotelous street is called) are the remains of the Gothic church of Our Lady of the City (Saint Marie du Burg), the largest Catholic church in Rhodes (30 meters by 18). One part of the church lies on the left side of the road, and the other on the right.
To the south of the Square of the Hebrew Martyrs, very close to the walls, is an interesting Byzantine church, the 15th century church of the Holy Trinity, better known by its Turkish name of Dolapli Cami. From this point on, there is a choice; one can continue to wander through the narrow lanes and alleys of the Old Town, with their houses reminiscent of a bygone age and their half-forgotten churches and mosques, or one can return to the crowded commercial streets to increase his collection of souvenirs. We chose the former and wandered through the narrow streets.
In addition to the tourist shops and private houses one may find in the Old Town, there are also some little hidden gems. For example, traditional workshops, old-fashioned butchers’ shops and general stores and some art and craft shops where people still work the slow, good old-fashioned way. We chanced upon the workshop of George Triandafyllou, a hagiographer, a painter of icons and church wall paintings. We were immediately struck by the beauty of his work and stopped to admire the icons. We started chatting and found him very friendly and modest about his work. He was engaged in the decoration of a new church and he showed us the way he was working. Apparently, nowadays, most wall paintings in churches are done on specially prepared canvas, which then is lacquered and stuck onto the prepared wall with a special adhesive. This way, the painting is preserved better over time, but also the artist can work in his studio at his leisure.
We continued our stroll through the old city, climbed over the old walls, went in and out of several more traditional shops and workshops and then finally made our way to the hotel to freshen up before an early dinner and an early night in.
“Tradition does not mean that the living are dead, but that the dead are living.” - Gilbert K. Chesterton
On Mondays, all the Greek museums are closed and this should be something to remember as one’s plans may be thrown awry and it may happen that one misses out seeing something that one had hoped to see. We decided to have a relatively subdued day today, wandering around the Medieval Town, going in and out of shops, exploring the back alleys, talking to the locals and stopping and starting whenever we wanted to.
One should not be misled by the term "Medieval Town" into thinking that what one will see is a ruined and deserted city, such as Mystras in the Southern Peloponnese. The Old Town of Rhodes is a bustling neighborhood of some 6,000 people, who live and work in the same buildings in which the Knights of St. John lived six centuries ago. It is certainly one of the most interesting living monuments to the past in Europe, if not the world. Even the visitor whose stay in Rhodes is for no more than a few hours should not neglect to walk around the old town. Even today, the old town is divided into the two parts which made it up in the time of the Knights: The northern part, which was the internal fortress of the Knights, known as the Castello, and which contained the official buildings; and the larger southern part, called the Chora, where the Greeks, the Europeans who were not members of the Order and the Jews lived. These two parts of the town were separated by a wall running approximately parallel to the line of Sokratous street, the old Bazaar. During the years of Turkish occupation, the Greeks were expelled from the Old Town, which was the exclusive province of Turks and Jews. Greeks were allowed to enter only during daytime and those who were caught in the old town after dark were liable to be beheaded.
The Chora begins at the top of Sokratous square, the “lug bazaar”, as the Turks used to call it. To the left is the Mosque of Suleiman (next to the clock tower), standing in a fine courtyard with plane trees. It was built in 1808 in the place of an older mosque erected in honour of the conqueror of Rhodes, Suleiman the Magnificent. It continues to operate as a mosque, despite the worrying and visibly precarious angle at which its minaret leans. The Turkish library, founded in 1794 by the Moslem Rhodian Ahmed Hafuz, is on the other side of the street. The library contains a fine collection of Turkish, Arab and Persian manuscripts, among which is an anonymous chronicle of the siege of 1522 AD. Also to be seen are two richly ornamented Korans, one of 1412 and one of 1540.
Apollonion Street leads off West from near the Suleiman Mosque. The Byzantine-Gothic church of St. George stands here, an elegant structure dating from the 15th century. It was used as a medresse (a Turkish theological school) during Ottoman occupation, and was known as Kurmale-Medresse (the school with the date palm). Walking down Sokratous street again, the first street to the right after the Turkish library (Ippodamou street) takes us straight into the heart of the old Turkish quarter, which has lost almost nothing of its medieval colour. The alleys and the houses are very much as they were in the time of the Knights: The arches beneath which the road passes every so often were added by the Turks to provide protection against earthquakes, and they add to the oriental atmosphere. To the right of the street can be seen the chapel of St. Paraskevi, in a free cruciform shape. This, too, became a mosque (Takkeci Cami) during the years of Turkish rule.
The first street to the left after the mosque (Archelaou Street) leads to Arionos Square, where stands the Sultan Mustafa Mosque, built in 1765, and the public baths. These are the old Turkish baths (hamam), which have been restored since being destroyed in the last war. The doorman tells visitors of an old Turkish custom associated with weddings: When a couple was to get married, it was the tradition that on the Friday before the wedding (which took place on Sunday) all the relatives and friends of the couple were provided with tickets for the baths, so that all could prepare themselves in a comradely atmosphere (the two sexes separately, needless to say) for the ceremony to come. A lane runs down from Arionos Square between the mosque and the baths to the outdoor Theater of the Old City, where performances of folk dancing are held every evening during the summer.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.