Sunday, 29 June 2014

Sailing to Lemnos Island, part 1

Sailing to Lemnos Island, part 1.

Myrina Harbour Today

Odysseus’ boat

An early settler on the coast of the Mediterranean would see the chain of nearby island and been tempted to sail from one to the next. They might be merely thirteen miles away and a boatful of men could easily row from one to the next in half a day. Around 4000BC there were sail-propelled boats on Euphrates some of these could reach Egypt.


Odysseus setting out (my painting)
Odysseus returning home (my painting)

Aronauts Searching for Gold


The Black Sea was the main destination for island traders. They went to settlements around the Black Sea to barter, taking pottery, oil and wine and bringing back copper and gold.

Now the sea is the Argonauts’ sea, and in the dawn
Odysseus calls the commands, as he steers past those foamy island;
Wait, wait, don’t bring the coffee yet, nor the pain grille.
The dawn is not off the sea, and Odysseus’ ships
Have not yet passed the islands, I must watch them still.
The Argonauts by D.H. Lawrence

The Argonauts is a name given to a group of young men who set off to in their boat the Argo to find gold on the coast of the Black Sea. Their first landfall was Lemnos.

A Lemian Myth

At this time the island was said to be populated entirely by women. The story is that when their husbands turned away from them in favour of slave girls from the Thracian mainland, the Lemian women had taken murderous revenge upon their husbands and the slave-girls. When the Argonauts arrived they were happy to have the Argonauts stay with them. The men, following Jason’s example married these women– his choice naturally being their leader, Hypsipyle.

 Passing Greek and Roman Battle Ships


Long before boats had guns wars were fought at sea between wooden and sail boats. The aim then was to ram the other boat and cause it to sink. One of the largest war ships of ancient times was the Greek trireme with fifty rowers, placed in three rows, one above the other.


 And Often There were Pirate Ships

An embroidery of an old boat in the house.


I have seen old ships sail like swans asleep

Beyond the village which men still call Tyre,

With leaden age o’er cargoed, dipping deep

For Famagusta and the hidden sun

That rings black Cyprus with a lake of fire;

And all those ships were certainly so old

Who knows how oft with squat and noisy gun,

Questing brown slaves or Syrian oranges,

The pirate Genoese

Hell-raked them till they rolled

Blood, water, fruit and corpses up the hold.

Old Ships by James Elroy Flecker

A strange ship might be bringing goods to the island, but also it might be a pirate ship, and so strange ships were not always welcome.


Pirate Hideaways

The story of one Lemnian village attacted by pirates



At one time the pirates used the island’s large bays as bases from which to go out into the Aegean waters and attack passing craft. The pirates caused a lot of destruction to the island. It was fear of the pirates that caused the people to build fortresses, and also the reason many villages were transferred from places near the sea to the interior of the island, to higher, hidden and safer places. The pirates were often more feared than the Venetian or Turkish overlords. At least the Venetians improved the agricultural production and the Turks ensured stability, helping rid the waters of the pirates.

It was during periods when pirates attacked often, or brutal overlords demanded slaves and goods, the people left the island and immigrated to other sites such as Thessaloniki, Crete or settlements around the Black Sea.


Things don't change!!!


Unfortunately even today we still have pirates



 Somalia has the longest coastline in mainland Africa and piracy flourishes. The young men have probably been dispatched by a local warlord to bring back loot. In roving gangs of perhaps 10 men they take to sea with just drinking water, gasoline for their outboards, grappling hooks, ladders, knives, assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and they live on raw fish.


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

An Open Space on the Second Floor

An Open Space on the Second Floor

Some more about discovering the history of the house as we've worked on it.

When trying to work out the way the house was used, and why there are certain architectural features again I referred to Dimitris Philippides book, Three Centuries of Architectural Style, and particularly his picture of the Schwartz mansion in Ambelakia.

 Second Floor When we Arrived

The sitting area when we came


The additional bedroom plus blocked in fireplace

The area in front of top stairs

Here, as in our house, there is an open space on the second floor with two side rooms that have windows looking out into this space. He writes that in the central open space on the second floor ‘the two parlours… communicate visually’. And that these parlours have ‘proper windows fitting with railing and shutters, as if they were on an outer wall and required protection.’ Our internal windows do not have shutters but they are sash windows.

Takis and Anestis in various positions!

Working on the fireplace

I have wondered often about these windows as they appear to serve no purpose. I thought that maybe those inside could look down to see who was coming in the front door, or check what the servants were doing as one looks directly down to a door on the ground floor that probably lead to a store room. We have heard that in those early days one of the front parlours was used as the dining room.

 Work in Progress

Painting the ceiling and pillared separation to top floor stairs

This floor has changed a lot over the years. When Takis’ Uncle Nicholas lived here a window was removed to add a bathroom on the side of the house. And when Takis’ cousins started bringing their families the fireplace in this space was blocked and two walls added to make an extra bedroom. At this stage of the house’s history the ‘parlours’ became bedrooms, and the summertime families ate outside.

'Discovery of the fireplace. Note 'window' into doorway leading to added bathroom.
When we took down these bedroom walls we began to open up the area again. And after ‘discovering’ the fireplace we renovated it and it now is at one end of our living room. We could see it had never been used for large fires, but appeared to have been used to keep food warm by placing pans on hot coals, before carrying them into the dining room opposite.

 Second Floor Today

The sitting area when we came with bedroom wall


Sitting area today with bedroom walls removed

The area in front of top stairs

The sitting area and pillared area today

Other features of this second floor space convinced me that our house was built to serve similar purposes as is found on this floor in the Schwartz mansion (or was just a copying that style?). One is the pillared separation of one smaller area leading to a stair case and the ‘Juliet’ balcony at the top of the stairs. These are typical transition markers used in these Venetian mansions.

Dark and wobbly stairs when we first came.

The Juliet balcony and staircase up today.

Our second floor parlour (dining room before we believe)

Still to be fixed, The Front Door!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

A Botanical Walk on Lemnos

A Botanical Walk on Lemnos

The road from Myrina to Agios Yannis

Onopordum illricum (thistle)


I’ve just had a friend staying who knows a lot about plants. She and I went for a walk along a coastal road and were amazed at the number of flowering plants. These were different plants from those flowering when we arrived. The poppies and chamomile daises have passed their best. Now is the time for the hardy summer plants to put forth a show.

And though there were wonderful views it was the colourful foreground that entranced.

My gardening friend knew the names of many plants and was excited to see plants she had paid $20 for growing here beside the road. However we could not name them all and came home to identify more from the photos I’d taken.

Aromatic scents filled the air as the Albizia trees were in bloom

Albizia flowers

On the rocks were these capparis spinosa plants


By the roads stands of Lavatera Arbaria

We decided this was a Salvia triloba with a limonium next to it

A Verbascum

There were plants I did not photograph, that were not quite in flower, such as the Vitex Agnus-Castus, a type of Verbenea.

Others such as the Nerium, or Oleander (also called RoseBay or Pikrodafni in Greece) I did not bother to photograph as these are in flower most of the time we are in Greece.


Trying to decided the name of a plant

We could not decide the name of these

We passed a lot of these prickly plants but cound not find the name of these either.

Do you know what this bush is? Is it a type of hypericum?

I’ve said in a previous blog that I don't easily remember Latin names, though I can see why this name helps, after all each Greek island seems to have its own common name for a plant, let alone the numerous other names given to it in other places around the world. So that Origanum is Oregano or Marjoram, and Irises are called Flags in England, or Ariokrinos or Irida in Greece.

Common name, Queen Ann's Lace

Euphorbias, but which kind?


Similarly these Malvas?

While we were uncertain about many names we looked through The Flowers of Greece by Maria Letizia Tani and Andrea Innocenti, and Greece, garden of the Gods, by Jennifer Gay and came  up with a few. However I will not name most of these pictures authoritively in case we have identified them wrongly.


A Vetch, possibly Ebenus cretica?

Glaucuim flavum?

Is this another type of poppy? When you touch the seeds they spurt out a liquid.

Maybe you will be able to recognize some of these plants?


And probably you can if you belong to the Mediterranean Garden Society!




The blue of this unidentified flower was intense