In the previous posting I wrote about the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos (the Madonna of the Myrtle) and how a shepherd found it under a Myrtle tree. The tree was near where the Myrtidiotissa (‘of the Myrtle’) Monastery now stands.
There are a number of roads in and out of the monastery. We chose to go in the new one designed for tourist coaches and came out the original road with its arch carved through the rock. Whilst in the area we attempted to visit another well-known church of Agios Nikolas of Krassas, which, according to the legend, was built with earth mixed with wine. Unfortunately we didn’t make it as the road was one way and we were heading in the wrong direction. I suppose the question is, why would wine be used? There are two possible answers: it might have been a bad batch of wine and they used it in lieu of water or it may have been a sign of what sacrifice the builders were prepared to make in their devotion.
Another church/monastery on Kythera of some note is Agia Elessi. It owes its name to a woman who became a martyr after she was killed by her father on the mountain. The daughter of a rich Peloponnese lord, she had left home and converted to Christianity. She sought refuge on Kythera but her father tracked her down (375AD). The current monastery was built in 1871 on the spot where she was killed.
The day we visited the Agia Elessi it was blowing a gale and the mountaintop was wrapped in cloud. We sat in the car eating our picnic lunch and ahead was a power pole, invisible to the eye one second and the next standing in half sun. I called the view ‘The power pole kaleidoscope’ and since then I have seen power poles as a piece of art, not as a distasteful blight on the landscape…’art is everything, everything is art’.
The Church of Elessi is surrounded by a high stone wall so it was impossible to get a good photograph so what I shall do is put up a few examples of the unusual vegetation growing outside the church walls.
And now to the Uranus sex organs and to one of my favorite gods, Aphrodite. Kytherians claim that in the sea just offshore at Avlemonas there are a couple of rocks in the shape of testes and they belonged to the god Uranus. Apparently Uranus sired a couple of monster children and to eliminate repeats of such events Gaia asked her youngest son Cronus to ‘fix him up’, which would put an end to further monstrous offspring. Cronus did the job with a sickle and tossed the severed sex organs into the sea and from the ensuing foam Aphrodite was born, not as a baby but fully grown.
In the 1970s when Bev and I visited the big galleries of Europe we decided that Botticelli along with Brueghel and Van Gogh were our favorite artists.
Another version relating to Uranus loosing his ‘you know whats’ tells of Uranus being so vast that he could cover Mother Earth (Gaia) and easily take advantage of her fruitfulness, but Gaia, tired of the constant approaches, begged her sons to free her from the excessive demands of Uranus. All refused except Cronus. I think I will take the first version because with the Botticelli painting as backup it makes the mythical tale a better yarn!
Enough of mythical intimate relationships. I move onto a very physical relationship involving the freighter Nordland and an island just off the coast of Kythera. Under the command of a Polish master she struck the island of Dragonares near the main seaport of Diakofti. A salvage tug could not prevent oil escaping from the hull and unfortunately beaches in the area were contaminated. The Nordland was carrying Pearlite. The disaster happened in October 2000 and the wreck is now part of Kythera’s scenic attractions.
The following underwater photographs around the Nordland were supplied by Vangelis Tsigaridas from Kythera Dive Centre.
Alexander is an avid scuba diver and during school holidays spends a lot of his time on Kythera exploring the undersea. One of his next underwater adventures is to dive off the far northern tip of the island where Germans retreating from Kythera during WW2 destroyed the cape lighthouse and it fell into the sea. It lies waiting to be explored.
The island of Kythera really has a lot to offer. It has mountainous walking trails, beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, incredible architecture and history and this, combined with the friendly attitude to visitors, especially Australians, makes it a top destination. Bev and I now have another place that will always call us back, the first being East Arnhem Land in northern Australia and now Kythera. Locals on Kythera said to us on a number of occasions ‘why don’t you come and live here for awhile’. It’s tempting, I can assure you.
Inland from the port of Diakofti is the village of Mitata, which experienced a severe earthquake in January 2006. A couple of locals I spoke with suggested the first official reading measured 7.1 on the Richter scale but it was down graded to 6.9 after pressure from the government. Readings over 7.0 meant the government was obliged to assist financially with the rebuilding of damaged homes. The epicenter of the quake was in the sea about 20 km to the east of Kythera, with a focus at a depth of approximately 70 km. Fortunately there were no injuries but many buildings were damaged, particularly old ones. The effect of the quake was felt as far away as Italy, Egypt, Malta and Jordan.
Look at the worn steps. Imagine the number of boots that have tramped up and down these steps to wear them to this state.
Kythera is close to the Hellenic arc plate boundary zone and thus prone to earthquakes. Many earthquakes in recorded history have had their epicenters near or on the island. Probably the largest in recent times was the 1903 earthquake, also near the village of Mitata.
My theory as to why Mitata has movements is that there seems to be different layers of materials sitting at angles on top of each other and when there is an earthquake the surface strata does a little slipping and sliding. The following photograph shows a cross section of the surrounding strata.
Regardless of the possible danger from earthquakes in Mitata the locals seem to have little fear. I expect it’s because there were no fatalities following the 2006 event and they are really a rare event. The residents have obviously weighed up the pros and cons of living in an earthquake region. The advantages of living in Mitata are the wonderful scenery, history and, from what I can gather, a strong sense of community and sharing.
One particular lady with a strong sense of community living in the village is Irene, who along with friends, cares for abandoned and homeless cats on Kythera.
Irene is the equivalent to the cat lady of Istanbul I wrote about in Part 1 of our 2012/13 odyssey.
The poster says it all. If you want to help Kythera’s cats go to Facebook Adopt-a-Cat Kythera.
Cats on Kythera with clipped ears have been attended to by Adopt-a-Cat and can no longer breed thus reducing the total number of cats on the island.
Many are aware that personally I am not a cat lover mainly because they, along with other introduced animals into Australia, have done untold damage to our native flora and fauna. The feral cat can be found in all regions of Australia (except the rainforests) and along with other introduced animals such as rabbit, fox, goats, cane toads, camels, donkeys, buffalo, carp and pigs, it has sent more native animals to extinction than in any other country in the world.
Cats are very effective in the control of rabbits and landowners in Australia in their ignorance released cats into the wild in an attempt to control rabbits. Fortunately rabbits in most areas are now under control as a result of biological measures, but the cats continue to breed as they have turned to eating roadkill such as kangaroos, pigs and foxes.
After discussing the cat problem with a Greek friend he sent me this image. If a cat and parrot can co-operate like this there might be hope for humanity too.
Thanks to the efforts of Irene and her friends some ground birds on Kythera survive.
However, having said I don’t particularly like cats, I do not like them or any animals to suffer. One thing uppermost in my mind when travelling is the way dogs are treated. To my detriment, I worry about the underfed maltreated dogs. There have been many instances I remember well: in Albania, a dog with bleeding wounds coming out of an old bunker; an emancipated dog on Kythera hardly able to walk; two men beating a dog with sticks in Italy; and when driving yesterday there was a puppy curled up asleep in the middle of the road and a little further on an underfed bitch attempting to herd her offspring off the road.
Before leaving Mitata I must relate an event. In our search for stories relating to Aleko, we called on one of his friends and shared morning tea, which included a glass of red wine. Red wine at 10.30am is very unusual for us however, because it was presented in an unusual way, we could hardly refuse.
Step 1: fill a tumbler two thirds full with refrigerated water. Place kitchen paper over the glass and down to the surface of the water and pour wine gently into the kitchen paper filter.
Step 2: withdraw the paper gently upwards and the wine will pass through the paper and float on top of the water.
The last topic for this post relates to a visit to the village of Kato Hora and a 1565 Venetian castle. The castle was built in a strategic position between the slopes and cliffs looking towards the Ionian Sea. It is estimated that the castle was inhabited by fifty families of Venetian soldiers who were responsible for the defense of the castle and region against marauding pirates.
The arch in the above photograph has stood the test of time and it’s because it was constructed so well: the precise keystone and associated arch components are perfect. I have added this arch to my favorite arch list. I have become so enthusiastic about arches and columns I intend to devote a post to them soon.
Note the lion near the top of the wall. In the case of the Venetians a lion represented serenity and deity. In other civilizations it had numerous meanings including protector, chief warrior of a culture and protectors of a country’s royal power.
The daddy of all lions in Greece is along the old Thessaloniki to Kavala national highway. It is not known for sure who was responsible for building it. The most common story was expressed by the Professor of Archeology, Oscar Broneer (Swedish American archeologist 1894-1992) who wrote that it was erected in honour of Laomedon of Mytilen, son of Larichus and trusty friend of Alexander the Great. French archaeologist J. Roger claimed that the monument was erected in honour of Nearchus, Admiral of Alexander the Great. Finally, according to another version, the Lion of Amfipolis was erected as a symbolic monument in order to reflect power, as happened with the Lions of Delos.
We took the above photograph when we happened to stumble on it by accident. It is sited close to the large ancient city of Amphipolison the east bank of the Strymon River.
The monument has not always stood intact at the site. For many hundreds of years it lay buried in pieces. During WW1 Greek soldiers dug and discovered the foundations of its base and some parts of the lion. Later in in 1916 English soldiers camping in the region dug up more pieces, then in the 1930s more came to light when a bridge across the Strymon River was being built.
It should be noted that the above sketch is my interpretation of a drawing based on a plan on a marble plaque at the site. The height dimensions of 8.5 and 5.0 metres are guestimates. The lion at present does not sit on the pedestal as shown in the sketch but on a plain block of limestone about five metres high.
You are probably asking who destroyed the monument. According to some archaeologists, the devastation of the monument took place at the end of the 4th century B.C. It is possible that the monument was destroyed by the Roman conquerors who broke it into pieces in order to take it back to Rome. However, the most probable version seems to be the one that the lion was destroyed by the Bulgarians in 1204 A.C.
And now back to the Castle of Kato Chora as there is a little wandering still to do.
Amazing stonework. I find it difficult to comprehend the labour involved in building such a structure. I wonder how many crushed fingers there were when workers were maneuvering rocks into position and did any poor souls fall to their death during its construction. I say the ordinary man working on walls of this nature were the heroes of the century.
As we wandered through the alleyways and laneways of the city I pondered the scene of the 1560s. I saw soldiers on the parapets, people lumping firewood, artisans working on extensions to the buildings, traders plying their wares and ordinary folk going about their daily chores. To help explain my vision I turn to artist Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525-1569) Flemish Renaissance painter. One particular painting, The Peasants’ Wedding, which Bev and I saw in Vienna in 1972, might well represent the scene around the castle.
There were a number of reasons why I enjoyed the visit and they included the fact that the walkabout was an adventure. I had the feeling I was the first person to visit the castle since the Venetians evacuated. There was an element of danger too as there were no guide rails or ‘no entry’ signs. One had to take responsibility for one’s own movements. I truly hope the castle of Kato Chora remains just how it was the day we visited.
Inside and outside the walls of the castle were many churches, most in a good state of repair. Following are a few images of the holy places.
By twisting the rod (the one leaving the image to the right) it closed the chimney damper, it was operational from the building below which I assumed was a bakery as it had smoke stained walls and ceiling.
That’s it for this post. The next posting will relate to northern Kythera. I hope you stay with us as we bring Kythera to a close. Don’t forget to enlarge images by clicking on them and if you want to be alerted each time we do a post click on FOLLOW. Following is a special photograph, for memorabilia collector Umina Sue who offers comments on this blog.