Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Blown away by Monemvasiá.

31st October

If you were a tourist from SoCal, flown into Athens from LAX, there could be all manner of reasons why you might tweet that Monevasiá blew you away. There's its topography, an ancient town clinging to a slab of rock like a mini Gibraltar; its violent history, fought over by Byzantines, Ottomans and Venetians; the spiritual legacy of its many churches, or the human tragedy of siege and massacre during the Greek War of Independence. However, we are from Buxton not Berkley, so not given to outbursts is sentimentality. We were blown away because a gale was blasting the monument. By the time we arrived at the visitors car park near the causeway to the old town, waves were breaking over the sea wall and flooding the place.

Monemvasia looks like a small version of the rock of Gibraltar.

Will Maisy have floated away by the time we return?
 We found a space away from the giant puddles and set off across the 400m causeway towards the site. If anything the blustery wind and wild sea made Monemvasiá more remote looking, a fortress city at the end of the world, like Gormenghast. At its height the town had a population of 40,000, and by turns was an important trading outpost for the Byzantines and Venetians. Under Turkish occupation it declined, then was largely abandoned after the War of Greek Independence.

In some ways even now this corner of Laconia feels de-populated. Settlements are scattered, towns few and far between, and the eucalyptus lined roads empty. It is a spectacular landscape of broad plains of olives and fruit trees over looked by rocky hills. As you approach the coast the soil becomes poorer and the vegetation more scrubby. We passed a tumbled down farm. It's owner was penning a large herd of black goats. He was dressed in a long raincoat, and sporting a straggly beard and unkempt hair, but for his beat up looking Toyota pick-up truck parked nearby, it was a scene that might have been enacted anytime over the past millennia.

The empty roads of Laconia
Thankfully, as we approached the towering rock that overshadows the old town we were sheltered from the worst of the wind. The narrow streets were calm, and despite the wild scene beyond, pleasant to wander around. Parts of the city is in ruins, but some streets have been restored, the old mansions converted into up-market hotels and the houses as restaurants and craft shops, which is the fate, I suppose, of places that have outlived their original purpose, but deemed too historically significant to fall into ruin. As the afternoon wore on the sun tried to break through, the pale light highlighted the cream coloured stone buildings and the red pantiled roofs glowed brightly against the slate blue sea.

The old town clings to the cliffs on the sea-ward side of the rock.

The restored area of the city is a warren of alleyways

Pale stone anf pantiled roofs - a beautiful combination.

The tree lined main square.

a beautiful 'roof-scape'.

There is always one idiot on hand to introduce a note of the ridiculous into the sublime...

Our plan had been to wild camp here, but we decided that the wind was just a bit too wild for a comfortable night's rest. Instead we headed back the way we had just come, then went north towards Sparti. Right now we are parked at Camping Paleologio Mystra. Fellow motorhome bloggers 'Magsbaz' described the place as 'overpriced and antiquated' which sums it up, though Gill managed to get a pitch for 18 euros, whereas the advertised tarif is 23.50. These little triumphs do matter! Issues with the place include ancient sanitary facilities, the place is pitch black after dark. The trees are overgrown making parking tricky. This did result in a slightly funny moment. As Gill directed me into the pitch she advised that it was full of exploding mushrooms. The incendiary fungi actually turned out to be walnuts scrunching under the tyres. 

A bowl of potentially explosive mushrooms....

Having dissed the place, I have just had a shower, and yes, the cubical doors were metal, the bolts ill-fitting, the hooks on the outside of the door, requiring you to strip-off in public, but the water was warm and the shower whooshes, so a great ablutions were had! So far as the lack of privacy is concerned, why am I fussing,  there's only one other van here anyway, Furthermore, there are hardly any sites open at this time, so you are stuck with what is on offer anyway. 

We are off to visit Mystras later today, another abandoned Byzantine city. It's still blustery with the occasional drizzle, jeans and cagouls not shorts and sandals I guess.


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