The Castle At Koroni

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Over the past three thousand years the Messenian Peloponnese has suffered so many phases of foreign invasion it is hard to know where to start unravelling its history.  Best stick with the built remains then. This massive medieval bastion belongs to Koroni Castle, built in the early 1200s CE by the Venetians, and one of a string of Messenian coastal forts controlled by the Republic until 1500.

The Turks invaded next. After summary slaughter in neighbouring Methoni, so spurring Koroni to a quick surrender, they set about strengthening the  castle’s eastern defences, which perhaps included this tower. It is hard to track down details. One Greek writer, whose identity I am yet to discover, described Koroni Castle as ‘the architecture of hate.’ He had a point. Venice anyway regained control in 1685, and of course the Turks came back again later, staying until the Revolution of 1821, which finally ousted them.

Koroni’s historic heyday, though, was the thirteenth century. Under the first round of Venetian rule it was referred to as ‘the chief eyes of the Republic’, and as such, was one of the main ports of call for the ships and galleys of Venice’s Levantine trade. Its must-have product was cochineal, much desired by Venetians for the lustrous dye it yielded.  So now you know where that gorgeous Venetian red came from – this small corner of the Peloponnese.

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Today, you can spend many hours wandering around the castle’s 40 hectare interior. It is then you begin to grasp that before the Venetians occupied Koroni there were invader Franks on site – they of the French-Italian Crusader States. And before them, in the era of the Eastern Roman Empire of Constantinople, there was a Byzantine fort. This had apparently been built atop an ancient acropolis. And long before the Byzantine presence – that is from around 700 BCE and for a few hundred years, the Spartans were in occupation, so muddying the archaeological remains of the very much earlier Bronze Age Mycenaean period (1400-1100 BCE) and the ancient settlement of Assini.

And these are just the barest bones of Koroni’s history.

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There are also astonishing present-day aspects. The first that strikes you is that people actually live inside the castle. As you walk up from the towering seaward gateway, you find yourself on an ancient cobbled street, and next there are cottages with pretty gardens, and later we come on an olive grove and a small holding. As ever, there are many cats about. There is also a cemetery which is in current use, several churches, ancient and modern, used and disused, and a monastery that is now only inhabited by nuns. The latter has a tranquil garden and a gift shop and picturesque cottages where the nuns live, and you are free to wander around.

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This next and final shot is was taken just outside the monastery entrance, one of the several sacred buildings built cheek by jowl in this part of the castle interior. It is dedicated to Saint Sophia and, dating from the 11th century Byzantine period, overlies the ancient temple precincts of Apollo. At which point you lose all grasp of time, since there is simply too much of it to fathom, and decide that a swift downhill return to a harbour taverna and an enlivening cappuccino is definitely called for.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

castle 1688

Koroni Castle CORONELLI, Vincenzo 1688  Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation Library

 

Cee’s Black & White Challenge: Bricks or Stones

#PerouliaDreaming

The Changing Seasons ~ Peroulia Dreaming 10

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October comes and we fly out of Kalamata International – one of the smallest airports I  have passed through outside upcountry Zambia.  It has been too brief a trip, and every day for seven days I have spent much time watching the mountains of the Mani peninsula across the Gulf. They are the southern spine of the Taygetos Massif, a range some 100 kilometres long that runs the length of the third, and easterly finger of the Peloponnese.

With all the looking, I have tried to  penetrate this fortress-land of faulted scarps and scattered habitation – at least in some sense. And in hopes of admission to the interior, the provision of a path that I might follow, I’ve been reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1950s book Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese. It was written before the road was built down the peninsula, and much of the excursion involved hard hiking and catching boats from cape to cape.

But sad to say, despite high hopes, the book is not really helping. I am still ploughing through it a good three weeks later in windblown Shropshire, the leaves of ash trees dashing by the windows like fleets of unleashed arrows. Yet it is true the narrative sets off with an actual journey into the far-flung quarters of the Deep Mani. It is true, too, that  along the way Leigh Fermor conjures  scenes of ravishing detail. And conjures is the only word for it. But the problem is his accounts of meetings with the Maniates in remote  and rocky fastnesses – often preternatural in the beauty of their evocation – are too brief and too soon abandoned for lengthy meanders  into arcane matters relating to quite other parts of Greece and its history. There is too much mention of obscure tribes, too many catalogues of unfamiliar names detached from context in time or space.

The book, then, rather than admitting me, mostly keeps me at bay. I’m not in the mood for ponderings on how the pantheon of Greek deities, serially dealt with one by one, have been repackaged as Christian saints. This reconfiguration is not an especially Greek phenomenon anyway.  Tell me more of the journey through this iron-hard land, Leigh Fermor. Give me more of your magic.

To be fair, near the start of the book there is the extraordinary history of the Mani village blood feuds – a pathological phase wherein the breeding of sons, referred to as ‘guns’, to wield long-barrelled rifles against neighbour-enemies, was a community fixation; this along with the building of ever taller stone towers from which to lay siege across small village squares.  Settlements bristled with these structures many storeys high. Rocks and cannon balls were hurled from their parapets on to the roofs of opposing families’ homes, causing the usual activities of village life to be suspended during daylight hours for fear of being shot or flattened.

Sometimes the feuds went on for generations. Even the local priests were involved, and mid-worship kept their rifles to hand. Meanwhile the womenfolk, the breeders of guns, extemporized long poetic dirges for the dead.  And if this were not enough, in between the feuding there was piracy and slave trading, and  oh yes, some farming, fishing and salt panning.

Then it seems the Maniates got a grip, stopped stoking local enmities and became prime movers in the 1821 Revolution so ending 350 years of Turkish domination of Greece and thereby setting the scene for a unified nation state. But then, having done this, it appears they reverted to bloody-minded type and became a troublesome thorn in the side of the new political entity.

If ever a people were bred of their terrain, then it must surely be the Maniates – tough, unyielding, unforgiving and, in their own particular way, magnificent. They inhabit territory that Homer knew, a land where gods and heroes walked, a place of resort for besieged ancient Mycenaeans, a place of disposal for the classical Spartans who took wrong-doers there to throw them down chasms and left sickly babes to die on hillsides.

And then the Mani boasts not one, but two entrances to the Underworld: in the labyrinthine caves of Diros in the north-west and at the southernmost tip of its tailbone at Cape Matapan where, guided by Athena and Hermes, Heracles descended to capture Cerberus, the monstrous ‘hound of Hades’.

Now that I am on the last lap with Leigh Fermor, I know I should not be too cross with him. In his stride he is a wonderful writer, and I treasure those transient episodes that let me meet the girl Vasilio, dine and sleep atop an old Mani village tower, quaff ouzo all but frozen from a mountain stream, walk into a desolate village and encounter astonishing hospitality. Such moments are breath-taking. Dream-like. But as for the rest…I read recently that the writer admitted to a friend that he did not know much about the Mani, and used the trip and the book as a peg on which to hang several unrelated topics that had long interested him. There is no doubting his deep regard for Greece and its peoples.

But now I am left in rainy, autumnal Shropshire with my outsider views of the western Taygetos. I have learned from other reading that this side of the peninsula is known as the Shadowy or Dark Mani because it receives little of the morning sun.

My photo at the head of this post suggests  other singular effects of locality. I was standing in the sea when I took it. Later when I looked at the result on screen I found that the only way to reveal any detail of the mountains was to darken the foreground. The more I did that, the more they emerged. It is a very odd photograph: as if two separate views have been spliced together. It is also hard to fathom the perspective. The mountains are two-dimensional, near and distant views almost occupying a single plane. In the midday light the scene looks like a mirage. Or there again like the film in a soap bubble just before it bursts; a negative not quite developed.

At other times of the day – at dawn and dusk, the peninsula solidifies flatly; a woodcut; or a paper chain of tumbled rhomboids; cardboard cut-outs.  Often there is a train of frothy cloud overhead. It looks like whipped meringue.

Another thought then. In my larder cupboard I have a jar of capers bathed in Mani olive oil, yet bought in my sister’s shop in Shropshire. I also have a jar of Mani honey, said to be the best in the region, created by bees who have foraged among the mountain flowers, and bought by G. in a shop on Koroni’s opposing Peloponnesian peninsula. As yet  I have opened neither – because another thought is brewing: to go to the Mani. Perhaps in springtime. Find out for myself what lies within.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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The Changing Seasons: Please visit Max to see this month’s fabulous photo gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peroulia Dreaming 8 ~ Greece Out Of Sync

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We’d tried to overlook the fact that rain and storm had been forecast during our seven-day trip to the Peloponnese. But here it came, quite dissolving the Mani peninsula, stilling the waters of the Gulf, giving them an ominously bruised look.

But then the drama of light and mood more than made up for the downpour, and once we had learned that the rain was responsible for boosting the oil content of the olives, and that the locals were pinning their hopes on a good harvest come November, it seemed churlish to feel resentful. Besides, Kalamata olive oil is some of the best there is. More power to its production and all who grow it is all I can say.

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P.S. I was sure I had posted this on Monday for Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Storm thus preceding Peroulia Dreaming #9 with the brolly.

But this morning I found I hadn’t. So here it is (with apologies for a few extra words) for Debbie’s Six Word Saturday

 

 

When Ophelia Came To Wenlock ~ Red Sun At Noon

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By way of a brief intermission from the on going Greek series, here is the sun over our Shropshire garden at around midday yesterday. The tail end of Hurricane Ophelia had apparently whipped up the dust of Africa along with the ash from the tragic forest fires in Portugal and Spain and so created this apocalyptic orange twilight complete with rosy sun. Nothing to do with us of course, all this global mayhem.

 

WPC: Glow

Peroulia Dreaming 7 ~ Son Of Poseidon Checks His Shell Phone?

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Well he has to be some sort of Greek god, doesn’t he? For one thing I can tell you he wasn’t wearing a stitch beyond the sarong slung round his neck though you will have to take my word on that.

We had walked down to Peroulia Beach in hopes of some good photos. It had been gloomy all afternoon after short sharp showers. Only at sunset did the sky clear and the last light bathe the Messenian Gulf in shades of famille rose. It was all rather astonishing – a pink-blushed azure sea. And if at first the son of the deity was doggedly wading backwards across this seascape, presumably making a video on his phone and thus proving rather irritating to those of us who wished to take a photograph, when he turned to check his creation I decided he very much added to the scene.

Daily Post: scale

Peroulia Dreaming 6 ~ Phragmites Sunrise

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I kept returning to photograph these grasses at the Iconpainter’s Villas. Every time I was struck by the plumed silhouettes against sea and mountains and sky. Yet it was several days before it occurred to me snap them in monochrome. I’m glad I did. I had Paula in mind when I took this photo too, so a big thanks to her for this week’s challenge ‘shape’ and thus the chance to post it.

 

Black & White Sunday

Peroulia Dreaming 4 ~ Walking Through Olive Groves To And From The Sea

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It was the quickest way to Peroulia Beach – left down the hill from the Iconpainter’s  gateway, with a quick wave and a kalimera to the old lady in the farmhouse opposite, then following the rough track beside the olive grove with the decomposing Volvo, then on through the trees to the pretty house with green shutters, whose owner we met several times out on the lane, clearing the drains in advance of the forecast storm; on into another olive grove, following the overhead power lines, then a dogleg round some more recently planted trees, a scramble down dirt steps in the cliff bottom (minding the little cyclamen) and finally picking our way through mature olive trees, pony droppings, the mish-mash of phragmites canes and onto the shore.

Phew! It really isn’t far, but it has the feeling of uncharted territory, and at least three of us admitted to losing our way on the return trip.

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There is anyway something so momentful about olive groves. For one thing there is the complete and utter stillness; the depth of leaf litter that absorbs one’s footfalls and very probably one’s soul if you do not watch out. For then there is the existential sense of earth and weather elements and human hands, conspiring over generations to train and sculpt the trees to encourage the best possible yield; hands whose deftness is doubtless informed by Athena herself, that wise deity whose spear long ago struck the barren scarp of the Attic acropolis and so brought forth the first Greek olive tree.

From fruit and seed, empires were grown and in many Mediterranean lands beyond mainland Greece. Among the earliest, back in the Bronze Age, were the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations of Crete. The olive tree was an all-provider. The timber served for tools and shelter, the fruits made good eating, their oil gave food, light, unguents, medicine and formed the basis of extensive trade networks. It is not surprising, then, that the trees were seen as sacred, to be protected on pain of death for those who would dare to destroy them. Athletes used the oil on the bodies to invoke its intrinsic power, and the victors at the Olympian games were crowned with olive leaves.

And so as you walk through a grove, the response is natural reverence. Every tree is its own self; its individual biography wrought in knotty bark and bough. There is more though. I would call it immanence. For if trees have spirits, then they are here. And if I had an olive grove, then I would worship it and none other.

Respect for the sheer potency of these trees is  also requisite. For I have read* that you should never fall asleep beneath an olive tree. Its shadow is said to be too heavy, and so may later induce bad dreams and vertigo. I can believe it. With all my heart I can.

 

* Patrick Leigh Fermor Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese

Related:

Peroulia Dreaming 1

Peroulia Dreaming 2

 

Daily Post

Daily Prompt: Believe

Peroulia Dreaming 3 ~ Wild Cyclamen

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We found these tiny Greek cyclamen growing in the most unpromising places – in rocky clefts and on bone-dry litter among the pines below Pylos Castle. We also found them clinging to the cliff above Peroulia Beach, rooted in the arid cliff path where people keep walking on them. They seemed to be thriving.

Peroulia Dreaming 1

Peroulia Dreaming 2

Travel With Intent This Sunday Debbie is in the pink. Please pay her a visit.