It's a Marble World Friday, 15th September 2017
We're seriously into marble. At home it is a very smart, expensive material - here the fishermen's gutting table on the quay is solid marble!
We have been on Naxos and Tinos. Naxos we have been to a few years before, but only anchored overnight in a blow on a time-constrained passage to somewhere. Tinos is a first. We hired a car on both islands to explore them in more detail. They are each different in many ways but have marble - quarrying, splitting, shaping and subsequent building and artistic work in common.
On Naxos, home of Ariadne (abandoned by Theseus, the rotter) and Dionysus (better choice), we explored temples, castles, monasteries and climbed up to the Spileo Aria, cave of Zeus part way up Mount Zeus, the highest mountain on the island. We did not climb right to the top of the mountain - in the heat of the day and without proper hiking boots, it would have been a difficult and long scramble up the steep side of Mt Zeus. Instead, we scrambled back down from the cave to one of the many natural springs here that offer pure water; signs at the spring fountain actually say "water for drinking only". The other notable feature driving around was the number of great marble quarries - huge blocks of perfect marble. Statues would be semi- fashioned prior to being transported to their finishing places as the risk of damage was high - as evidenced by two large unfinished kouras still lying abandoned on their sides after centuries.
Tinos then, is something different. We spent an extra day here sitting out a blast. Again we did the tour, including a quite magnificent remote Moni (monastery). Tinos is a seat of pilgrimage for all of Greece, likened to Lourdes. There is a main, wide avenue that leads up from the port and waterfront, uphill to the Panagia Evangelistria - an enormous, ornate white marble Orthodox Church of pilgrimage. We were surprised to see on the side of the road a red carpet runner going the whole way up the long avenue to the Church (about 500m?), leading to the marble church steps at the top of the hill that were also red-carpeted. Apparently those making a Pilgrimage get down on their hands and knees to crawl up the entire hill, pushing their 1-2m long candles in front of them. And it still happens. There was a great service going on yesterday, with huge throng of people, bells, broadcast sermons and thousands of candles. We wandered up to investigate and on the way passed a woman, on her hands and knees, crawling slowly up!
This was a key local religious festival. To us, it seemed gaudy; a sleight of hand and word; a bit of alchemy, magic and hocus pocus rolled into one and held in an iron patriarchal grip. On the other hand, I do know that traditions offer enormous continuity, fellowship and comfort.... Fascinating.
Back to marble. On Tinos, marble is used for everything. Tinion marble has spawned generations of craftsmen. As part of our driving tour we went to the Museum of Marble Crafts, a superb exhibition and demonstration of the techniques of quarrying (ancient and modern), the splitting, shaping and transporting of the marble. There were examples of the many, many different types, from the very fine-grained snow white of Thasos to large crystalline, highly colourful varieties from all over Greece. Tinos marble is fine-grained, the best sort for carving of heads and statues, and the fine detail found on friezes and decorative work. Surprising, its hardness is 3-4 on the Mohs scale (1 being talc and 10 diamond) - I thought it would be harder.
The other delights on Tinos are its villages (about 50) and its Pigeon Lofts. The villages are built inland to protect them from the winds that howl around here. They are full of winding streets and low vaulted passages, highly decorated with marble (naturally) motifs. The Pigeon Lofts are ornate. There are about 600 dotted around the island, each with their unique decoration of triangles and symbols. Apparently the Venetians (13th C) bred pigeons for their meat and also their droppings (used as fertilizer for vines and barley). The bottom of the lofts held stores, whilst the decorative tops were for the birds.
As I write, we are now sailing slowly past the sacred island of Delos (see visit last year) to anchor in a bay on the SE side of Mykonos. This is to set us up for a longer (channel-crossing length) passage to Ikaria tomorrow. Talking of Ikaria, we met (and helped) an old Greek man who… but that's another story. See if we see him in Ikaria - we might get roped into an "ancient's" race.