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Month: May, 2015

JOHAN ET PIRLOUIT

Bangkok, 26 May 2015

A week or so ago, I was in Cambodia for some official business relating to a project we are about to start there to reduce dioxin emissions. But actually, that is irrelevant to this post. What is relevant is that I was staying in a hotel room half of whose lights were blue. Why, is a mystery. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the hotel claimed to also be a spa; perhaps people in spas like the rather cold light that blue creates. Or perhaps it had something to do with the modern furniture that graced the room; it was Nordic-looking in its design, cool, remote, and the blue light made it all that much cooler. But I’m just hazarding guesses here; perhaps blue bulbs were simply the cheapest on the market at the time the hotel was purchasing its light bulbs.

Whatever the reason, this blue light turned me blue. I only realised it when, skyping my wife, I noticed with astonishment that in the small icon which held my image I was a lovely blue hue. Basically, I looked like this fellow:

schtroumpfThe very youngest amongst us will immediately tell us that he is a Smurf. They are wrong – well, not quite right. He is a Schtroumpf; Smurf is the Dutch translation, adopted later by the English-speaking world.

Aah, the Schtroumpfs …they are my youth. This fellow may look young, but actually I am just a few years older than him. I burst onto the scene in 1954, the Schtroumpfs burst onto the cartoon scene in 1957, invented by the Belgian cartoonist Peyo.

But here I have to clarify something. My real love was not the Schtroumpfs. It was Johan and Pirlouit, invented some years earlier by Peyo. Johan came first, hustling into the lives of little fellows like me in 1952, before I was even a gleam in my parent’s eyes, in the story Le Châtiment de Basenhau, The Punishment of Basenhau. This was the cover of the album (Johan is the young fellow dressed in ragged brown).

01-chatiment de basenhau

The details of the story are irrelevant. The important point is that Johan lived in the Middle Ages and that he was a dashing young fellow. After Le Châtiment de Basenhau came Le Maître de Roucybeuf, The Master of Roucybeuf, in 1953

02-maitre de roucybeuf

and then in 1954, when my mother was heavily pregnant with me, came Le Lutin du Bois aux Roches, The Imp of Rocks’ Wood, in which Peyo introduced us to Pirlouit, who was to become Johan’s bosom buddy.

03-lutin du bois aux roches

Pirlouit is the little blond-haired fellow holding the very large hammer. While Johan was the serious, Boy Scout type, straight as an arrow, Pirlouit was the joker, a hilarious guy who was always doing silly things. But when push came to shove, he was there by Johan’s side, as they fought off the assorted Medieval baddies they had to deal with. From now on, the two were to be inseparable.

Their stories of derring-do, wielding sword, shield, bow, and other assorted medieval weaponry, galloping through dark, forbidding forests – Johan on a horse, Pirlouit on a goat (he was a little person, remember), dealing with sorcerers and their potions, … these were so thrilling to that young me – I was, what? ten-eleven years old when I discovered these albums, when Peyo was already famous throughout the length and breadth of France. I whiled away many a wonderful summer afternoon at my cousins’ house, tearing my way through the collection:

La Pierre de Lune, The Moonstone

04-pierre de lune

Le Serment des Vikings, The Oath of the Vikings

05-serment des vikings

La Source des Dieux, The Spring of the Gods

06-source des dieux

La Fleche Noire, The Black Arrow

08-fleche noire

Le Sire de Montrésor, The Lord of Montresor

08-sire de montresor

to arrive at La Flûte à Six Schtroumpfs, The Flute with Six Schtroumpfs

09-flute a six schtroumpfs

This is where the Schtroumpfs first made their entry onto the world stage. And this is where I start to cry.

Understand me, the Schtroumpfs were nice enough, they added a fun element to the story. But in my view they were minor characters. It was Johan and Pirlouit who were firmly centre stage.

Alas! I was in a minority. The junior readers of Spirou magazine – the stories originally came out in serialized format – wrote letters to the magazine enthusing about the little Schtroumpfs. The editors of the magazine, and Peyo himself, saw the commercial possibilities. And so Peyo took the first steps down the slippery slope. He started with minor albums of Schtroumpf stories. He graduated to major albums. He got involved in animated films. First, in Belgium. Then in the US. Then the breakfast cereal companies came knocking on the door: they wanted Schtroumpf statuettes in the Cornflake packages.

schtroumpf statuettes

And after that the advertising firms came knocking at the door, asking to use the Schtroumpfs in various advertising campaigns. As this photo shows, the demand from advertizers continues unabated.

schtroumpf advertisement-1

Peyo always said yes. And John and Pirlouit disappeared; he was too busy with the Schtroumpfs. Peyo managed one more great album, La Guerre des 7 Fontaines, the War of the 7 Fountains.

10-guerre des sept fontaines

To me, it was his best, a wonderful story of Fall and Redemption. After that, he managed only a few more albums, pale copies of what had come before. The Schtroumpfs had eaten up his life. He had his first heart attack when he was 41, his last when he was 64.

And I am left with the memories of my youth, those golden afternoons in the France of the early ’60s, with medieval jousts and battles echoing faintly across the fields.

______________________

Schtroumpf: http://www.tattoo-kids.com/581-1284-thickbox/tatouages-schtroumpfs-pack.jpg (in http://www.tattoo-kids.com/pochette-de-tattoos/581-tatouages-schtroumpfs-pack.html)

Chatiment de Basenhau: http://www.bdzone.com/images/tout/9782800100951g1.jpg (in http://www.bdzone.com/chop/couvranteswap.php?serie=JOHA&debut=0&fin=9)

Maitre de Roucybeuf: http://www.bdzone.com/images/tout/9782800100968g1.jpg (in http://www.bdzone.com/chop/couvranteswap.php?serie=JOHA&debut=0&fin=9)

Lutin du Bois aux Roches : http://www.bdzone.com/images/tout/9782800100975g1.jpg (in http://www.bdzone.com/chop/couvranteswap.php?serie=JOHA&debut=0&fin=9)

Pierre de Lune : http://www.bdzone.com/images/tout/9782800100982g1.jpg (in http://www.bdzone.com/chop/couvranteswap.php?serie=JOHA&debut=0&fin=9)

Serment des Vikings : http://www.bdzone.com/images/tout/9782800100999g1.jpg (in http://www.bdzone.com/chop/couvranteswap.php?serie=JOHA&debut=0&fin=9)

Source des Dieux : http://www.bdzone.com/images/tout/9782800101002g1.jpg (in http://www.bdzone.com/chop/couvranteswap.php?serie=JOHA&debut=0&fin=9)

Fleche Noire : http://www.bdzone.com/images/tout/9782800101019g1.jpg (in http://www.bdzone.com/chop/couvranteswap.php?serie=JOHA&debut=0&fin=9)

Sire de Montresor : http://www.bdzone.com/images/tout/9782800101026g1.jpg (in http://www.bdzone.com/chop/couvranteswap.php?serie=JOHA&debut=0&fin=9)

Flute a Six Schtroumpfs: http://www.bdzone.com/images/tout/9782800101033g1.jpg ((in http://www.bdzone.com/chop/couvranteswap.php?serie=JOHA&debut=0&fin=9)

Guerre des 7 Fontaines: http://www.bdzone.com/images/tout/9782800101040g1.jpg (oin http://www.bdzone.com/chop/couvranteswap.php?serie=JOHA&debut=9&fin=9#)

Schtroumpf statuettes: http://img0.ndsstatic.com/wallpapers/e40969b9033ccdd352337e6494a54def_large.jpeg (in http://www.ohmymag.com/les-schtroumpfs/wallpaper)

Schtroumpf advertisement: http://img.xooimage.com/files51/2/4/e/lg-optimus-01-22e2217.jpg (in http://schtroumpfmania.soforums.com/t1518-Smartphone-LG.htm)

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DREAM JOURNEY: PART IV

Bangkok, 22 May 2015

Normally, we would be rather groggy as we drive our MG off the ferry in Bari at 8 am in the morning, coming in from Dürres and the previous post. I certainly would be; I never sleep well on ships. But this is a dream, so I decree that we are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as we roar off the ferry. Our goal is Otranto, very near the end of Italy’s high heel. We head down the old Via Traiana, now more boringly called the Strada Statale 16, as far as Brindisi. There we take the SS 613, which follows the trace of the previous local Roman road that was too modest to have a name. We pass through Lecce, where we pause. Lecce is known for its plentiful baroque buildings constructed in the 1600s, all using a beautiful local white stone, so I throw in a picture of a square there as a visual memorial to this city.

Lecce

We continue on to Otranto, and drive straight up to the Cathedral. For this is the objective of our visit to Otranto – or rather the floor of the church is. When visitors enter the church, they are greeted by this magnificent floor.

otranto-mosaic-1

It is the largest floor mosaic in Europe. It brings me back to that other floor mosaic which we visited in the first leg of our trip in Aquileia, although eight centuries separate them. Some clever fellow took this photo from the ceiling, showing more or less the full extent of the mosaic.

otranto-mosaic-2

The subject of the mosaic is a Tree of Life, and you can indeed see the trunk of the tree working its way up the nave. Strangely enough, the narrative of this tree flows from the top down, and so near the high altar we have various scenes from the story of Adam and Eve, of which I throw in one photo.

otranto-mosaic-3-adam eve snake

Honestly speaking, the story is difficult to read, so I shall just insert a couple of photos of other parts of the floor. This is King Arthur

otranto-mosaic-4-King Arthur

and this, Satan

otranto-mosaic-5-Great Satan

while this is said to be a self-portrait of the floor’s designer, a monk by the name of Pantaleone who hailed from the monastery of San Nicola di Casole, a little to the south of Otranto.

otranto-mosaic-6-Pantaleone_ self-portrait

The mosaic was laid down in the 12th Century when this part of Italy was Norman, along with Sicily. In fact, the design of the floor rather reminds me of that other great masterpiece of Norman art, the Bayeux tapestry. I include here one photo of that tapestry, the famous scene where Harold Godwinson is killed by a Norman arrow through his eye.

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 57 : La mort d'Harold

Tapisserie de Bayeux – Scène 57 : La mort d’Harold

Next stop: Palermo in Sicily. We’ll get there by cutting across Italy’s heel to Taranto and then along the instep and sole of the Italian boot all the way to Reggio Calabria, where we’ll catch the ferry over to Sicily. I take the back roads to get to Taranto, because I want to drive through a small town called Copertino. As far as I know, this town is known for nothing special except a large castle and a saint. But to us, it has a great importance: my wife’s maternal grandfather came from Copertino and so it is the source of one-eighth of my children’s DNA. He emigrated to Milan in the early 1900’s, part of the massive migrations out of the south of Italy at the turn of the 20th Century. In typical migratory fashion, his departure eventually brought all his brothers and sisters up north. Family lore has it that his father ruined the family by taking the new Italian State to court over the expropriation of some of his land. He took the case all the way to the Court of Cassation, where he eventually lost the case, by which time he had also burned through all his money. Even though this is a very modest place with nothing special to write home about, I feel I must throw in a photo to commemorate it.

copertino

Onwards to Taranto, although in truth as we approach the city we turn our heads away and drive on. Taranto has been devastated by the plans of successive Italian government in the post-war period to develop the south of Italy through the implantation of heavy industry. What were then the biggest steel works in Europe were plonked down here in the 1960s, and other heavy industry followed. By the 1980s, when my wife and I went to Taranto for the first time, the investment was in trouble. But the government couldn’t let it go down the tubes, it was politically too important. So money – half of it wasted through corruption and graft – was poured in to prop everything up. It’s stayed propped up – just – but in the meantime the industrial complex has poisoned half the population. Talk about sustainable development …

taranto

We are now driving through what was once Magna Graecia, Greater Greece, that string of Greek colonies which dotted the underside of the Italian boot as well as the coasts of Sicily (and even the shin and calf of that shapely Italian boot). The glittering stone in this string of cities was undoubtedly Syracuse in Sicily, where Archimedes – he of the original eureka moment – was born and was killed. But all the cities along here, from Taranto to the East to Selinunte in the West, were once flourishing and prosperous city-states. One of them, Sybaris, even became a byword for self-indulgent opulence – it was said of one of its citizens that he slept on a bed of rose petals, and if even one of them was folded over he could not sleep. The town’s name has entered the English language, a sybarite being a voluptuary or a sensualist. Now, Sybaris lies under four meters of mud, and the only claim to fame of the surviving Calabrian towns is that they are infested by the ‘Ndrangheta, Calabria’s answer to Sicily’s mafia. It is said that John Paul Getty III, kidnapped in Rome back in 1973, was kept hidden in these parts. He was returned after his family forked over a ransom of $3 million – paid a good deal reluctantly (his grandfather is reported to have said, “I have 14 grandchildren. If I pay one penny now, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren”) and only after one of his ears had been cut off and sent to a newspaper. It is whispered that many a new house around here was built with Getty money.

We stop for a moment in Crotone, on the ball of Italy’s foot, not because it’s any less dreary than the other towns we’ve passed through, but because something momentous happened here: Pythagoras set up his first school and came up with all those clever mathematics, among which was his theorem which I, like every child of 11 or so, learned in geometry class: “a2 + b2 = c2“, or in plain English, “in a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides”. At least, that’s what I was told by proud Crotonesi when I was here 20 years ago to do an environmental audit. Alas! It was not so. Pythagoras did indeed come to Crotone, but all he did was to set up some sort of mystical, esoteric sect which dabbled in the quasi-magic of whole numbers. It’s very unlikely that he personally came up with any of the mathematical cleverness attributed to him; his disciples did, but later. I think this painting, by a 19th Century Russian painter, captures nicely the strongly mystical (and to my way of thinking, rather weird) overtones of the initial Pythagorean movement.

pythagoreans celebrating sunrise

What Pythagoras and his sect did do in Crotone was to eventually take over the city’s government, and it was during his time in office that Crotone destroyed Sybaris. Several other cities in the area also espoused Pythagorean forms of government, but after a while there was a backlash. Back in Crotone Pythagoras was chased out, to end his days in nearby Metapontum, another city now lying under meters of mud. But Pythagorean schools continued, although they restricted themselves to maths and “natural philosophy” and left politics to others. Probably better that way …

I take one last look at the industrial plant I audited all those years ago – another industrial works plonked down here, and another one that has closed, leaving nothing but bitterness in its wake.

pertusola

It’s time to move on.

When we reach Reggio Calabria, although my wife is reluctant I insist: we must go to the Museum of Magna Graecia to see the two Bronzes of Riace. Neither of us have ever seen them, and it would be a pity not to take advantage of our passing through Reggio to have a peek. I know the objective of our trip is early Christian mosaics, but other wonders along the way should not be ignored. No sooner said than done! With a click of the mouse, I have us parked in front of the museum and magically transported past the queues of people waiting to enter the climate-controlled, earthquake-proofed room where they stand.

bronzi di riace

What magnificence! And what we see today are stripped down versions of the original. Each would have been coiffed with a Corinthian-style helmet, would have carried a shield on that raised left arm, and would have held a lance in the other. The latest theories hypothesize that they represent two of the Seven Heroes who set off from Argos to fight against Eteocles, king of Thebes and son of Oedipus (he of the complex), and died at the city’s seven gates. One expert suggests that they were originally part of a group of seven statues which stood in the Agora of the city of Argos. How they ended on the sea bed off the coast of Calabria is anyone’s guess. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that during the Roman times Argos was hard up, and rich Romans, avid for Greek art, came along and offered to buy the statues. Why not … In later centuries hard-up Italians sold their Renaissance treasures to rich Englishmen, avid for Italian art, and later still these Englishmen, hard up in their turn, sold these same treasures to rich Americans. In any event, they were being shipped to Rome, but when the ship was off the coast of Calabria a violent storm blew up, and the captain, rather than losing his ship and his life, tossed the heavy stuff overboard.

Time to catch the ferry over to Sicily, home to some of the most beautiful Byzantine-style mosaics still extant, created when the Normans controlled Sicily. The web helpfully informs us that there is a ferry over to Messina every hour or so. In this dream trip, we will not have any difficulty in catching the ferry, unlike real life 30 years ago when my wife and I decided to take her mother to spend Christmas and the New Year in Sicily. We arrived in Reggio Calabria on the evening of 23 December, along with a horde of Sicilian migrant workers returning home from Northern Europe for the holidays. We discovered to our horror that the ferry boat crews had just decided to strike for more pay. Those bastards had chosen this particular time to strike because they knew it put the owners under huge pressure to settle. Settle they did, but not before we had spent a miserable night in the ferry car park. When those ferry boat crews arrive, as they assuredly will one day, before the Pearly Gates, I hope they will be kicked off down to Hell, to roast in its fires for Eternity (anyone curious to know what that might look like can refer back to the posting with which I started this dream journey and study the photo I inserted there from the back wall of the church on the island of Torcello).

Once on the other side,  we set off for Palermo. I firmly decide that we will take the normal roads to get there. In this dream we’re in no hurry, and I prefer by far the “reeling roads”, the “rolling roads”, that “ramble round the shire”, as G.K. Chesterton wrote in his most famous poem “The Rolling English Road”. Yes, I prefer by far his “merry roads” and his “mazy roads” to the smooth monotony of sterile highways. We pass Milazzo, where you can catch the boat to the Aeolian Islands – a trip for another day – and where I did yet another environmental audit 20 years ago for another struggling industrial complex, which mercifully has not closed – yet. We hum along until we arrive at the small town of Cefalù, nestling under the mighty headland which gives it its (Greek) name. We head, yet again, for the Cathedral, constructed by the Normans in the first half of the 1100s. There, some beautiful mosaics still cling to the apse and the last bay of the choir.

cefalu-duomo-1

The Pantocrator gracing the apse is “for many the greatest portrait of Christ in all Christian art”, in the words of John Julius Norwich (I am quoting from his history of Sicily).

cefalu-duomo-2

The style is clearly mature Byzantine, a style we’ve already seen in Istanbul as well as in the lagoons of Venice, and would have seen in Daphni and Saint Luke in Greece had we made the detour from Thessaloniki. The Normans got Byzantine artists, or artists trained in Byzantine workshops, to make the mosaics.

It’s time to go on to Palermo, which is our final destination on this leg of the journey. We hug the coast, coming into the city on its seaward side. Once we reach the port, we swing up Via Vittorio Emanuele (there’s one of these in every village, town, and city in Italy, along with a Via Garibaldi), which is the main thoroughfare through the city’s old center. When we get near the Martorana church, we miraculously find – free! – parking (this is a dream, after all) for our little MG and head over to the church.

The church has been much modified over the centuries, not least of which by a brutal Baroque make-over in the front part of the nave in the 17th Century. But once we get past these horrors and enter the upper nave, we are greeted by some lovely mosaics: Christ in majesty in the dome of the church

palermo-martorana-1

the annunciation

palermo-martorana-4

the nativity

palerno-martorana-7

the dormition of the Virgin Mary

palerno-martorana-6

As we leave, I want particularly to see these two mosaics. In this first one, we have the greatest of all the Norman kings of Sicily, Roger II, having himself cheekily crowned by Christ himself, as if he were a Byzantine emperor

palermo-martorana-2

It was he who first brought this Byzantine art form to Sicily.

And here we have the original donor of the church, George of Antioch, Roger II’s admiral, humbly offering his church to the Virgin Mary (much like we saw in Cariye Kamii in Istanbul)

palermo-martorana-5

A final note about this church: it belongs to the Italian-Albanian community in Sicily, the remnants of the Albanians who fled to Italy in the 15th and later Centuries as the Ottomans methodically went about conquering their home country. So it is not just geographical proximity which led the modern Albanians back in late 1990s to escape by their thousands to Italy as Albania imploded after the collapse of Communism (with many of these new arrivals squatting in and around Otranto, as it so happens).

We go back to the car and continue up Via Vittorio Emanuele to the Palazzo dei Normanni, the Palace of the Normans, which actually was originally built by the Arabs. This rather severe building houses the Cappella Palatina, which was built by Roger II as the King’s private chapel. It houses some magnificent 12th Century mosaics.

palermo-cap-palatina-1

palermo-cap-palatina-6

palermo-cap-palatina-5

This last one shows also the ceiling, a wonderful piece of Arab carpentry work, an example of which we last saw in the Alhambra palace in Granada.

palermo-cap-palatina-4

Roger II understood that in this island with large Greek and Arab populations, he had to be open to their cultures if he was going to maintain the peace. Indeed, he welcomed this mixing of cultures. It is part of Sicily’s tragedy that later rulers did not continue this practice of toleration and openness.

We are not finished yet! We vault into the car (after constant badgering by our children we’ve taken to doing a lot of exercise recently, so I can imagine ourselves vaulting jauntily over the doors and dropping into our seats) and we keep on going up Via Vittorio Emanuele, which has now morphed into Via Calatafimi. We go on and on until we hit the hills behind Palermo, at which point we start climbing and finally find ourselves in Monreale, once a village on the outskirts of Palermo but now a suburb. We head – of course – for the cathedral and casually park the car in front of the cathedral. We walk into this late 12th Century church and I suddenly feel that I am back in the church of Sant’Apollinare in Ravenna, where we started our dream journey.

monreale-duomo-1

Biblical scenes on fields of gold unfurl along upper tiers of the nave

monreale-duomo-6

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

to reach the theological high point in the apse, with its assembled saints and angels presided over by a rather severe Pantocrator.

monreale-duomo-2

But how the styles have changed in the intervening six centuries! Then, it was still Roman art, although of a rough-and-ready sort. Now, it is early medieval art in all its stiff, hieratic splendour.

After all that gold, we go up on the roof of the church and drink in the astringent blue of the sky, which is rather like eating a lemon sorbet after a heavy main course so as to cleanse the mouth of all that richness. We gaze out across Palermo and over the “wine-dark” Tyrrhenian Sea beyond (to borrow Homer’s rather strange description of the sea’s colour).

monreale-panoramic-view

Tonight, we will catch the ferry and cross that sea to Naples – another Greek colony long, long ago – and from there drive up to Rome, our last stop on this exhaustive, and mentally exhausting, tour of early Christian mosaics.

_________________

Lecce: https://youthfullyyoursgr.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/lecce-it.jpg (in https://youthfullyyoursgr.wordpress.com/%CF%80%CF%81%CE%BF%CE%B3%CF%81%CE%AC%CE%BC%CE%BC%CE%B1%CF%84%CE%B1/get-up-stand-up-be-healthy-guys-youth-exchange-lecce-%CE%B9%CF%84%CE%B1%CE%BB%CE%AF%CE%B1-22-29072013/)

Otranto-mosaic-1: http://www.paradoxplace.com/Perspectives/Sicily%20&%20S%20Italy/Puglia/Otranto/Cattedrale/Images_Mosaics/800/Mosaic_Floor-Nov06-DC9997sAR800.jpg (in http://www.paradoxplace.com/Perspectives/Sicily%20&%20S%20Italy/Puglia/Otranto/Otranto.htm)

Otranto mosaic-2: http://www.swide.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Reasons-to-travel-puglia-apulia-italy-mosaics-Otranto.jpg (in http://www.swide.com/food-travel/reasons-to-travel-to-puglia-apulia-italy-top-20-things-to-do/2014/06/30)

https://canvas.harvard.edu/courses/305/pages/the-mosaic-of-otranto

Bayeux Tapestry: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bb/Bayeux_Tapestry_scene57_Harold_death.jpg (in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayeux_Tapestry)

Copertino: http://www.amedeominghi.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/PiazzaMazzini.jpg (in http://www.amedeominghi.info/nuovedate/)

Taranto: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilva#/media/File:ILVA_-_Unit%C3%A0_produttiva_di_Taranto_-_Italy_-_25_Dec._2007.jpg (in http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilva#Unit.C3.A0_produttiva_di_Taranto)

“Pythagoreans celebrating the sunrise”, by Fyodor Bronnikov(1827–1902): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras#/media/File:Bronnikov_gimnpifagoreizev.jpg (in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras)

Pertusola: http://www.ilcirotano.it/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Ex-Pertusola.jpg (in http://www.ilcirotano.it/2012/10/09/viaggio-nella-pertusola-sud/)

Bronzi di Riace: https://news.artnet.com/wp-content/news-upload/2014/08/Riace-bronzes-e1408562456865.jpg (in https://news.artnet.com/art-world/italy-risks-priceless-riace-bronzes-for-cash-82747)

Cefalù-duomo-1: http://commondatastorage.googleapis.com/static.panoramio.com/photos/original/74677063.jpg (in https://geolocation.ws/v/P/74677063/abside-del-duomo-di-cefal-cristo/en)

Cefalù-duomo-2: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duomo_di_Cefal%C3%B9#/media/File:Cefalu_Christus_Pantokrator_cropped.jpg (in http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duomo_di_Cefalù)

Palermo-Martorana-1: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c0/Chiesa_della_Martorana_cupola.jpg/640px-Chiesa_della_Martorana_cupola.jpg (in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martorana#Interior)

Palermo-Martorana-2: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiesa_della_Martorana#/media/File:Palerme_Martorana168443.JPG (in http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiesa_della_Martorana)

Palermo-Martorana-3: https://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/848/flashcards/3299848/jpg/palermo_chiesa_20martorana_mosaic_nativity-13F311CF74763DF1FB7.jpg (in https://www.studyblue.com/notes/note/n/ecb-final-review/deck/8598474)

Palermo-Martorana-4: http://www.wga.hu/art/zgothic/mosaics/8/2martor2.jpg (in http://www.wga.hu/html_m/zgothic/mosaics/8/2martor2.html)

Palermo-Martorana-5: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b3/Chiesa_della_Martorana_Christus_kr%C3%B6nt_Roger_II.jpg (in http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chiesa_della_Martorana_Christus_kr%C3%B6nt_Roger_II.jpg)

Palermo-Martorana-6: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiesa_della_Martorana#/media/File:George_of_Antioch_and_Holy_Virgin_2009.jpg (in http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiesa_della_Martorana)

Palermo-Cappella Palatina-1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cappella_Palatina#/media/File:Cappella_Palatina_in_Palermo_Sicily.JPG (in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cappella_Palatina)

Palermo-Cappella Palatina-2: http://www.scherminator.com/italy/sicily/cappellaPalatina/cappellaPalatina5.jpg (in http://www.scherminator.com/italy/sicily/cappellaPalatina/cappellaPalatina.html)

Palermo-Cappella Palatina-3: http://www.scherminator.com/italy/sicily/cappellaPalatina/cappellaPalatina0.jpg (in http://www.scherminator.com/italy/sicily/cappellaPalatina/cappellaPalatina.html)

Palermo-Cappella Palatina-4: http://www.scherminator.com/italy/sicily/cappellaPalatina/cappellaPalatina10.jpg (in http://www.scherminator.com/italy/sicily/cappellaPalatina/cappellaPalatina.html)

Monreale-Duomo-1: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duomo_di_Monreale#/media/File:MonrealeCathedral-pjt1.jpg (in http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duomo_di_Monreale)

Monreale-duomo-2: https://ofsplendourinthegrass.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/p1110054.jpg (in https://ofsplendourinthegrass.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/monreale/)

Monreale-duomo-3: http://giazza.se/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/pal-dome-2.jpg (in http://giazza.se/?p=1506)

Monreale-duomo-4: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duomo_di_Monreale#/media/File:Sicilia_Monreale2_tango7174.jpg (in http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duomo_di_Monreale)

Monreale-panoramic view: http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/07/87/3f/dc/panoramic-view-from-the.jpg (in http://www.tripadvisor.it/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g666663-d4470498-i126304220-Norman_Cathedral_of_Monreale-Monreale_Province_of_Palermo_Sicily.html)

DREAM JOURNEY: PART III

Bangkok, 6 May 2015

May has arrived, the most beautiful month in the Mediterranean. It’s time for my wife and I to come out of our long, long hibernation in Istanbul and continue on our dream journey, the next leg of which will be Greece.

It’s warm enough now for us to travel by open-topped car again, so with a click of my mouse I materialize the little MG which carried us so long ago from Venice to Aquileia.

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I have it pop up in front of the Hagia Sophia (probably not possible in real life but hey, this is a dream). We hop in and drive off. We will be following the trace of the Via Egnatia, the Roman road which once linked Constantinople to Dyrrachium (now Durrës in Albania) on the Adriatic coast, from whence a short ship ride could bring Roman legions and you to Bari in Italy. As always where map reading is required, my wife is driving. I have her take Divanyolu Avenue, which overlies the trace of the Mese, the main Roman street of Constantinople. Like the Mese, the Divanyolu Avenue starts just in front of Hagia Sophia. When we reach Murat Pasha Mosque, at what was once Constantinople’s Forum of the Ox, and where the Mese angled south-west, I have my wife turn left down Cerrapasha Avenue (never mind that the web informs me that the street is one way against us: this is a dream). The traffic is heavy I would imagine, we are inching along. At Koca Mustafa Pasha Mosque, things get complicated. The modern street plan no longer follows the old streets. Looking at the city map on the web, I muse on what to do next. The cars are beeping behind us, my wife is asking urgently, “which way?” I decide: go left, keep going until you somehow manage to reach Imrahor Ilyas Bey Avenue, turn right and keep going until you come to the old Theodosian city walls, which protected the city until its fall to the Ottomans. There, pass through a break in the walls, leaving to our left the remains of the Golden Gate, through which the Via Egnatia once entered the city.

golden gate theodosian walls istanbul

We are now at the official starting point of the Via Egnatia. But I must say everything is very confused. The recent huge, jumbled expansion of the city has completely effaced any traces of the ancient road. What the hell, I know where I want to go, so I tell my wife to hang a left and head down to John Kennedy Avenue, which runs along the Sea of Marmara. After a while we pick up the trace of the Via Egnatia, and so we bowl along to Tegirdağ, where we regretfully leave the sea’s edge and cut across to Ipsala at the border with Greece (a border which has only existed a hundred years or so and whose creation left much bitterness behind). Now in Greece, we go on through Komotini and Kavala (close to which, at the Battle of Philippi, in 42 BC, Mark Antony and Octavian beat the assassins of Julius Caesar, Brutus and Longinus, thus starting the process which destroyed the Roman Republic and put in its place the Roman Empire). Finally, we arrive at our destination, Thessaloniki.

Thessaloniki … Thessalonica to the Roman and Byzantine elites, just plain old Salonika to the locals, Selânik to the Ottomans. Its nascent Christian community the recipient in the first decades of the Christian era of two of St. Paul’s most famous Epistles, the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. Birthplace in the 9th Century of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who converted Eastern Europe to Orthodox Christianity, but also in the 19th Century of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of modern Turkey.

Like Ravenna and Aquileia where I started this dream journey, Thessaloniki has suffered from the ravages of man and nature ever since it was founded by King Cassander of Macedon in 315 BC. Its history under the Romans and early Byzantines was relatively peaceful, apart from some raiding by Thracian tribes in the 50s BC, and a terrible incident in 390 AD, when some 10,000 of its citizens were massacred in the hippodrome as a punishment for starting a revolt. Its troubles really started when the Roman Empire weakened and the Barbarian tribes from the north began their incursions. Like Aquileia, it suffered from repeated attacks in the 7th Century by Barbarian tribes, Slavs in this case, but unlike Aquileia it managed to hold them off. As if the Slavs were not enough, the city suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 620, which did much damage. There followed a few centuries of respite, but after the Byzantines lost control of the Aegean Sea, Saracens seized the city in 904. After a ten day sack they left, but not before freeing thousands of Muslim prisoners while enslaving thousands of Christians and carrying off huge amounts of booty. In 1185, at another moment of Byzantine weakness, it was the turn of the Normans of Sicily to attack and take the city. Their rule, though short, led to considerable destruction. After Constantinople was captured by the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the city became the centre of one of the feudal fiefs which the Crusaders created. It was short-lived. The city and its territory were seized in 1224 by the Greek Despot of Epirus (who in turn was subjugated by the Tsar of Bulgaria). In 1246, a reinvigorated Byzantine Empire recovered the city. After a century and a half, the Byzantines lost it again, this time to the new regional power, the Ottomans. The Ottomans’ tenure was initially short-lived. They were forced to hand the city back to the Byzantines after their disastrous defeat by Tamerlane the Lame in 1402 at the gates of Ankara. But too weak by now to hold it, the Byzantines sold the city to Venice in 1423. Seven years later, in 1430, the Ottomans definitively recaptured the city.

There followed nearly five centuries of relative tranquility, during which the city became one of the great emporia of the Mediterranean and a melting pot of different ethnicities: Greeks of course, but also Turks, as well as Jews – the Ottomans welcomed the Sephardic Jews fleeing from Spain and Portugal – and later Bulgarians. Then, as Ottoman power went into terminal decline, irredentist feelings in Greece and Bulgaria grew. Both felt the city and its surrounding territory was theirs. After various acts of provocation and terrorism, matters came to a head in the two Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. For a while, things hung in the balance but the city finally went to Greece. In 1917, during the First World War, a huge fire, accidentally started in a kitchen, destroyed almost the entire city. This led to an exodus of the city’s Jewish population, many of whom lost everything in the conflagration. They were soon followed by the Moslem, Turkish population as a result of the massive exchange of populations which followed the end of the Greco-Turkish War in 1922. In their place came Greeks expelled from Asia Minor, making the city once again a predominantly Greek city. During the Second World War, the Germans occupied it. As a result, its port facilities were heavily if haphazardly bombed by the Allies. For their part, the SS rounded up what was left of the city’s ancient Jewish population and shipped them all off to the gas chambers. After two millennia of presence (Jews had chased St. Paul out of the city after he had preached there), the Jews effectively vanished from Thessaloniki. The city had not finished to suffer. In 1978, it was hit by a powerful earthquake, which did considerable damage to its structures, both old and new.

With this history, it’s little short of a miracle if any of the city’s early Christian mosaics are left at all. I direct my wife to enter the city along the trace of the Via Egnatia, which leads us straight to the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda of St. George. Google Maps doesn’t show any parking lots around there, but this is a dream, so we easily find a little parking spot in one of the side streets for our MG. We enter the Rotunda, and walk through to the main cupola. This is what greets us: a badly damaged band of mosaics in its upper registry.

St. George-0St. George-1a

St. George-2

Sad. But what can you expect, these mosaics were installed 1700 years old, in the late 300s AD. Funnily enough, the little that there is left of them may have been saved by the church becoming a mosque. The Turks just whitewashed over mosaics and frescoes, after pilfering whatever gold tesserae there still were.

But let’s get up close – which we can, since this is a dream, we can just float up there. Look at the faces!

St. George-5

St. George-3

St. George-4

Here, we still have Roman art, but with Christian characteristics.

The internet warns me that traffic is terrible in Thessaloniki, so I decide that we will walk to the other churches. On strictly chronological grounds, I further decide that the next church we will visit is St. David’s, built in the late 4th Century. I open Google Maps’ Street View and find that we are walking through a modern, really quite pleasant city, the product of the Great Fire of 1917 and modern planning for the city’s reconstruction. Anyway, we plunge into St. David’s. It has one remarkable mosaic left, tucked away in a lunette in a corner, depicting the vision of Ezekiel

St David-1

After admiring it for a while, we head on to St. Demetrius, which celebrates the city’s patron saint. The church has just a few, rather wonderful mosaic panels left, probably installed in the late 600s, early 700s, just after the Slavs had given up trying to sack the city.

St. Demetrios-2

St. Demetrios-4

St. Demetrios-3

The first is still Roman art, while the other two are beginning to look Byzantine.

Next stop: Hagia Sophia, Thessaloniki’s not Istanbul’s (although it seems that the design of the Thessalonian version was based on its Constantinopolitan namesake). On the way, we pop into the early 5th Century Church of Acheiropoietos, but there are really only shreds of mosaics left. Discouraged, we go on. And so we come to Hagia Sophia, built in the 8th Century, and whose glory is the late 8th Century mosaic in the cupola.

Hagia Sofia-1

As we can in dreams, my wife and I drift up to see the Christ up close.

Hagia Sofia-2

And we see a Christ who is becoming ever more Byzantine in his look and posture. The glories of Rome seem to be becoming a distant memory. This is even more apparent in this Virgin Mary, which reminds me of that other Virgin Mary we visited on the island of Torcello in the lagoons of Venice on the first leg of this dream trip.

Hagia Sofia-3

At this point, I have to make a decision. My original idea for this dream trip was for my wife and I to go south and visit the walled monastery of St. Luke in Boeotia and further south still to the convent of Daphni, close to Athens. They have lovely, if late-style, mosaics, this one an example from St. Luke’s, a rendering of the Pentecost

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and this one from Daphni, of Christos Pantocrator, Christ the All-Powerful

Daphni-Christ Pantrocrator

I also wanted to take this road to follow a little in the footsteps, or rather the tyre marks, of my father. In 1937, when still a university student, he spent the Easter holidays driving his Ford, in company of a cousin, all the way from Cambridge to Athens and on to Sparta, and then back. To get there, he drove through the old lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, across Bulgaria, and down to Thessaloniki. I feel his young shadow passing by us and want to follow it a little while. But it’s too much of a detour, and I want to get to Italy before it gets too hot. So I choose. We will continue along the trace of the Via Egnatia, to the Adriatic, and pick up the ferry to Bari.

No sooner said than done. We are whisked to the car and are now heading out of the Thessaloniki. Studying Google maps in conjunction with Omnes Viae (“The Roman Route Planner”, which I had occasion to use in the first leg of this dream journey), I get my wife to make for Edessa, which in ancient times guarded the entrance of the Via Egnatia to the Pindus mountains but is now known more picturesquely as the “city of waters”. On the web, I watch people cavort in the city’s waters (highly mineralized by the look of it)

Edessa

before continuing on. We skirt the pretty lakes of Vegoritida and Petron

lake Vegoritida

and veer northwards. We cross the border into Macedonia (sorry, “the Former Yugolsav Republic of Macedonia”; political tempers run high in this region), a border which only came into existence in 1918, and we arrive at the city once called Heraclea Lyncestis but now known more prosaically as Bitola. It was an important way station on the Via Egnatia, so I take a pause and look at a panoramic view

Bitola Panorama

before moving on. We’re heading west now, towards the Adriatic Sea. We skirt the beautiful Lake Ohrid

Lake Ohrid

passing through the city of Ohrid, once Lychnidos, another important stop on the Via Egnatia. I’m tempted to visit the 5th Century Polyconch Basilica to see the remains of its mosaic floor, but everything I read suggests that the remains are too fragmentary. We take to the road again and soon find ourselves crossing yet another border that only came into existence in 1918, this one into Albania.

We pass over gloriously wild mountains

Librazhad

before dropping into the narrow valley of the Shkumbin River, known to the Romans as the Flumen Genusus.

Shkumbin river

We follow the river as it hurries down to the sea, but shortly before getting there we turn sharp right and head for the port of Durrës. In the summer, the place is submerged in beach-goers

Durres

but luckily there aren’t so many people yet. We drive to the ferry port. The web helpfully informs me that there is a ferry leaving tonight at 10 pm, which gets into Bari at 8 am tomorrow morning. Ferrying my wife, me, and our little MG over to Italy will cost us the princely sum of £131.72 (for some reason, the site I visited quotes the prices in pounds sterling). We have time for a bite to eat before we leave. But what do you eat in Albania?

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MG: http://www.mgownersclub.co.uk/sites/default/files/member-images/1105377623_27223.jpg (in http://www.mgownersclub.co.uk/member-images/mg-t-series/1954-tf-0)

Golden gate Istanbul: http://www.livius.org/a/turkey/istanbul/walls/istanbul_wall_theodosius_s_of_golden_gate.JPG (in http://www.livius.org/cn-cs/constantinople/constantinople_land_walls.html)

St. George Rotunda-1: http://cdn1.vtourist.com/4/5034576-St_Georges_Rotunda_Thessaloniki.jpg

St. George Rotunda-2: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/greece/thessaloniki-rotunda/photos/mosaic-sts-onesiphoros-and-porphyrios-c5-wc-pd)

St. George Rotunda-3: http://dic.academic.ru/pictures/wiki/files/84/ThessHagGeorgMosCosDamien.jpg

St. George Rotunda-4-Saint Cosmas: http://www.ics.forth.gr/isl/fayum/images/image_59.jpg

St. George Rotunda-5-Saint Therinos: http://www.ics.forth.gr/isl/fayum/images/image_60.jpg

St. George Rotunda-6-Saint Philip Bishop: http://www.ics.forth.gr/isl/fayum/images/image_57.jpg

St David: https://yameee.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/hd1.jpg (in https://yameee.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/сравнительный-анализ-мозаик-церквей/

St Demetrios-1-dedicating children to Demetrios: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-EYa9zdAwg9w/Ty_EdArv9MI/AAAAAAAAAJM/Bgpaw1ttHAU/s1600/03.jpg

St. Demetrios-2-Demetrios and children: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-i536vAoKGRc/Ty_FkFneuOI/AAAAAAAAAJs/I68I0jWcfxU/s1600/07.jpg

St. Demetrios-3-Demetrios and donor: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-0C51ycpEZKQ/Ty_FNdSgPEI/AAAAAAAAAJk/rl66Pq0HZlA/s1600/06.jpg

Hagia Sophia-1: http://www.inthessaloniki.com/images/Churches/AgiasSofias/Inthessaloniki_Hagia_Sofia_C.jpg (in http://www.inthessaloniki.com/en/agia-sofia)

Hagia Sophia-2-cupola-christ detail: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-TgUH5cPxxv0/T3i6LzYE-TI/AAAAAAAABj8/5B_CxlT_GcM/s1600/%CE%91%CE%93%CE%99%CE%91+%CE%A3%CE%9F%CE%A6%CE%99%CE%91+%CE%A8%CE%99%CE%A6%CE%97%CE%94.8.JPG

Hagia Sophia-3-catino-Virgin: http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5104/5737609091_a1ff106e1b_z.jpg

Convent of Daphni: Cupola-2-detail: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3131/2618506302_de85e9decf.jpg

St. Luke-cupola-pentecost: http://users.sch.gr/geioanni/sel-ekpaideusi/sxolikes_ergasies/TRITH-GYMNASIOY-THRHSKEYTIKA/EIKONES_ENOTHTA_1/PENTHKOSTH_8.jpg

Edessa: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-R7o-WczsSEk/UT85DRLhV2I/AAAAAAAAUPs/X5W2oHAFcLs/s1600/lydialith.jpg (in http://paspartounews.blogspot.com/2013/03/blog-post_8742.html)

Lake Vegoritida: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Vegoritida#/media/File:Ostrovskoto_ezero.JPG (in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Vegoritida)

Bitola: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4e/BitolaPanorama.jpg/950px-BitolaPanorama.jpg (in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitola)

Lake Ohrid: http://www.rego-bis.pl/bin/images/c77bd7ecc_d95f83717734355.jpeg (in http://www.rego-bis.pl/hotel,hotelcaliforniaresortpobytobjazd2w1,ALBCALR.html?ofrid=0e04c3c867866ee4b5a8f79f6b760f260257028d331141b288f4e709ba8a3720)

Librazhd: http://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/40520594.jpg (in http://www.panoramio.com/user/4935966/tags/Shebenik%20National%20Park)

Shkumbin river: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shkumbin#/media/File:Shkumbin.jpg (in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shkumbin)

Durrës beach: http://www.shkendijatravel.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/durres_albania_plaze.jpeg (in http://www.shkendijatravel.com/durres-port/)