by Mona Savvidou-Theodoulou
As published in Volume 9, No 1, March 2012
Is it possible to visit a place that touches your inner soul? And goes beyond that? A place that expands your inner space, vibrates the threads of communication with the past, annihilates present time, opens roads to meet hikers and sightseers, priests and hagiographers, writers and poets of past times and your ageless self? Your gaze deepens, your body gets healthier, your soul shines?
All these secret roads dropping their bridges for you to walk through them?
I climb the top of the mountain and meet Artemidorus Apollonius, from Asia Minor of 3rd century B.C of Perge Pamphylia, through his work, carved on the cliff, holy symbols of Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon. Because of them and the temples, founded by the venerable priest, samples of reverence and artistry, he was crowned three times and was declared a Thirean citizen. And while you pass along astounded among the remnants of an entire state hundreds of metres above the sea, wherever you turn your gaze at all corners of the horizon you view the sea, the timeless universal sea. The secret streets of the soul are unveiled. The city was founded by the Laconian viceroy Thira. How did he climb there? There, where the winds force the pines to worship the ground leaning. You thus realize, that you too, today’s traveler, are on their territory not a stranger. So many memorials among the ancient theatre that was also the Parliament House, the gym, the colonnaded Market. Because they honour the benefactors and the deserving. Cheropoula was of great worth, whose fate, led her statue to be stolen from the memorial of the Market and was found at the Louvre Museum, as one of the Muses.
The winds of ancient Fira hurt me. They were thrashing me to prevent me from climbing the stairs that led to the sanctuary of Aphrodite in the pre-Christian church of the Archangel. I resorted not to the dark interior with the Doric columns, but to the outer aisle, bowed for protection.
I looked up, across the other steep mountain, taller, naked with the monastery of the Prophet Elias on the edge, to guard for centuries the scepter and the enamelled mitre of the Patriarch Gregory the E’.
Circumstances, times of sorrow, times of travels, undertakings, volcanoes, eruption of emotions, poets. Secret thoughts in secret routes that were illuminated by now. Thus I met on the streets of Oia the book of Kadio Kolymva “The upper side of the world”, that I had read a decade ago moved and unsuspected about the imperious Oia, that lives in heavens. I was now seeing her. She lives in the Aegean skies, on the edge of the caldera and she is connected to her earthly donkeys and the ships. The Naval Museum records the tradition of the sea epopee of the people of Santorini and the family of the author.
It’s enlightening to read her book for the period of the Venetian domination in Santorini. “Rota per Ostria” following her hero, father Anselmo, Nuncio of the Holy See, Dominican priest, envoy of the Pope, at the Venetian castles, in the villages with the vineyards, at the houses that are caves, the Orthodox temples, in every corner, twice familiar and experienced. And as you open your window to look at Heaven from above, but with the Gate of the abyss, there’s a pitch-black hell at the center, the volcano at the navel of the caldera, as Anselmo and Kadio underline. Shock, so as not to forget death completely while you are enjoying the beauty of life. To learn how to balance between them.
What I saw before my eyes, looked like the picture of Paradise. Except that this garden, instead of trees, had a sea (…). the sea was still and its colour was as if the sky had poured low. Only the volcano across me seemed blacker than yesterday. Is seems that God had put it there to remind me that the Gate of Hades is on earth. I shivered and crossed myself” (Kolymva Kadios, Rota per Ostria, chap. ‘The garden of the sea,’ p. 19).
I, too, crossed myself, when I entered the Cathedral of Fira and saw that the icon of the Eleousa Virgin was one of the icons-model for my sculptor husband, who was also a hagiographer. A familiar icon of superb Byzantine art. And the church towers, the chapels, the big churches! “Harmony among the human and the divine on an island flooded by Hilarion’s Light,” according to the architect and painter Eythimios Varlamis. How many surprises await us at the Garden of Paradise. Like the representation of the volcanic eruption. Small boats with lights gathered around the volcano when it got dark, on the last Sunday of August, on my birthday, the colourful fireworks started rising like ashes on the sky and others flowing as purple lava on its black land. The island shaking from the sounds and the sea shimmering from the illumination.
Santorini. Everyone should visit it at least once in their lives. Not because they are going to walk speechless on the streets of Pompeii of the Aegean, not because they are going to rise and descend two hundred stairs per day, not because they are going to penetrate the depths of the earth, the caves, to smell the wine that is fermented, the sitting up late, the assyrtiko, the vicenio, not because they are going to suspect the sinked states and be scared of the black, white and red uplifted beaches, but because they are going to coexist with the stoic and noble Santorinians, with their look taken from the wall paintings of the prehistoric Thira, a unique civilisation, known in history as the “Minoic Peace” – the arguments of her archeologist that it’s the lost Atlantis- but also because they would have never in their lives before experienced being elevated at altitudes above a deep blue sea, peaceful, the caldera. Every evening the sun sets inside her, burning in flames and redeemed, since the volcano in her center, while smoking, is still sleeping.23 – 29 August 2011 Translated by Maria Charilaou