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.

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