Tuesday 3 September 2013

Patina of age

"We don't say 'shabby', Max. We say 'filled with the patina of a bygone era'" goes the line from A Good Year

which takes on new meaning in a place that is close to 4000 years old
... Knossos, in Crete, Europe's earliest civilization 

and source of the myth about the half-man half-bull in his intricate labyrinth.

Doing thriving trade with surrounding ancient cultures and civilisations, the Minoans learned the art of frescoes from the Egyptians and goldsmithing from the Syrians.

The sea fortress in Heraklion, where the ruins of Knossos are situated, is a reminder that this was once a great naval power in the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Down the coast, on the island of Spinalonga, the ramparts and buttresses of a Venetian fortress jut into the turquoise sea

... but there's a darker, sadder history here - Spinalonga was home to one of Europe's last leper colonies. 
Separated from their families and communities, people with leprosy were rowed out to the island by boat. Imagine their feelings on entering  the colony through this gate ...

... inscribed with Dante's description of the gates of hell: Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

Here they lived and worked, some intermarried and had children, but without a hope of leaving in their lifetime.

This ghost village of weathered stone buildings are what remains of the daily lives of people cast out of society for a misunderstood disease.

Windows gave the inhabitants daily views through trees to the mainland ...

 where, only a ten minute boat ride away, they could see and imagine daily life continuing without them in the village of Plaka (below), the ferrying point to the island, and where a patina of memories remains.

To see other posts on this theme, link here to this month's By Invitation bloggers.

And for an authentic account of Spinalonga and Europe's last (20th century) sufferers of leprosy, there is nothing better than Victoria Hislop's novel The Island. I began reading this while in Plaka, where it is partly set, and before visiting Spinalonga, and recommend it as a moving and engaging read.


  1. I am off to read this book. This is a beautiful poignant post, a testimony or harsh reality of time and life. I love Greece, one feels as wondering through ancient time. I was once grabbed by a man with leprosy many years ago in India, and still remember the look of despair on his face.

  2. Beautiful images showing the patina of time Karen and, like Francine, must read the book..... and didn't you just LOVE the film ' A Good Year ' . I have never really been a Russell Crowe fan but I think he is fantastic in that film.

  3. I agree...never shabby...just aged to perfection. Fabulous patina just makes me smile. A wonderful post. Have a great day! Mona

  4. You have made this feel personal, Karen. As no one else has done. I so appreciate your deeply insightful visions and this is why we so need you in our group, our simply amazing group. Thank you for posting today and giving us a reason to be more patient and more understanding of everything.

  5. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here...I can't get those words out of my mind now...and to think that this really wasn't all that long ago, in the overall scheme of human history....so important to know these things, to learn from them...a most extraordinary post.

    The only beacon of hope for them was the fact that they were, at least, stuck on an island of incredible beauty...but did they see it that way, I wonder???

  6. Karen you have touched a precious nerve in me - I love Crete and especially Knossos and Spinalonga - my next post is about Spinalonga - such an amazing place and you have captured it so well. (I lived in Agios Nikolaos for nearly ten years) Thank you! Fx

  7. I was very, very moved by this Karen--you would have to have a heart of stone not to be! And I am fascinated by Virginia's question above about their seeing the beauty of the surroundings and yet how little that is compared to the beauty of hope or respect...

    Thank you again. I have been fortunate to travel but I still have not made it to Greece. Of course, your gorgeous photos have made me want to go even more!

  8. Dear Karen, Over and over again I admired your photos. You have the gift to tell the complete story with your fantastic photographs. And it is a hauntingly beautiful story, one that will stay with me for a very long time.

  9. What a mixture of beauty and sadness.
    So very well captured.
    You make me want to go to Greece where I have never been.

  10. My dear Karen,
    Finally - I've left your post for the end, for having a clear mind to enjoy it! Now, went through it including your previous posts - what a wonderful "armchair-travelling"! I don't have to tell you how wonderful all the images are, neither to tell you that your blog is always on the top of my blog list. You're bringing my around the world. Warm and heartful! Oh, if I could only write in German to you!
    However - you are certainly an enrichment in the BIO group! And I feel very proud to be in your "company"!
    Hope to see you again - wherever - whenever and.....

  11. An extraordinary post.
    The photographs are beautiful, of course. But the story of the prison-village is so powerful, and combines with your photos to give a chilling picture of tragic victims. I was fascinated by stories of leprosy when I was a child, but hadn't thought about it in years. You bring it shudderingly alive.


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