Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Byzantine Roads to Arcady.

Sunday, Ist November

Mystras is an old city founded in 1256 by a Frankish king, conquered by the Byzantines and then held by the Ottoman Empire until the 1820s. Soon after Greek Independence the population moved to the new town of Sparti, and Mystras declined. The last permanent residents were moved out in 1953, and the city declare a historical site.

The setting is spectacular, a steep rock topped by a castle, then the remains of the city spread down the cliff-like slopes. The remaining buildings are mainly ecclesiastical, with fragments of medieval frescoes. A substantial remnant of the rulers' palace is still standing, but was closed due to restoration work.

The extensive ruins are spread across a steep hill 

The best preserved buildings are churches, little remains of the domestic buildings and commercial areas.

These cloisters reminded me of the Moorish architecture we saw in Adalucia last year.

Others are more Romanesque in appearence

Many of the frescoes were preserved beneath whitewash wher the churches were converted to mosques during the Ottoman occupation

The drapery style and costume shows the influence of Roman painting - 

The naturalistic decoration has a distinctly Classical look too - reminiscent of some panels at Pompeii
Aside from the site, the prospect across the plain of Sparta to the distant mountains is spectacular. The modern city of Sparta dates from the 1830s, little remains of its illustrious ancient predecessor. The ancient Spartans, unlike their Athenian contemporaries did not bother with monumental buildings and stone defences. They boasted that their young men were their city walls, and they had no need for stonework to defend their homeland.

The modern city of Sparta lies in a lush, upland valley of olive and orange groves.

By the time we were ready to move on from Mysteas we were both footsore. The stone paths around the extensive remains are steep and uneven. Although the day was somewhat overcast, I was glad that it had not been too warm. In the summer, visiting Mystras in the blazing heat must be very uncomfortable.

The paths are stony and steep

we were glad to have donned walking gear, its not a place for sandals.

Eventually after a few sat-nav malfunctions around the backstreets of Sparti, we found the road north towards Tripoli. Somewhere among a range of bleak mountains we crossed the border between Laconia and Arcadia. There was the odd patch of woodland here and there, some surprisingly deciduous, yellow leafed and properly autumnal. Nowhere though, was a wood that could be properly be considered a grove, nor was their a nymph or shepherd to be seen. I felt very short changed by Arcadia.

Drizzle in Arcadia

The road from Tripoli to the coast goes through a series of deep gorges.
Now we are parked up at a small harbour near Agios Andreas at the end of an almost metalled road in the middle of nowhere. Still no nymphs and shepherds, but a boy racer in his banana yellow Renault hot-hatch has just drawn up in front of us. His red-headed girlfriend is devouring him slowly. Maybe the nymphs are now all l'Oreal red-heads, and their shepherds boy-racers, and we simply have to downsize our myths to suit the present. I don't think the ancients did down-sizing though; Lets face it, you could never have scripted the Odyssey within strict budget restraints, and the Illiad would definitely been black-balled by accountants and dismissed by media executives as being insufficiently focused on its core audience. As for Mount Olympus, well all the immortals have probably moved out, only bankers and Google executives can afford its rents these days. No more thunderbolts, just memes gone viral.


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