Friday, 21 June 2013

Settling on Limnos

A calm sea and no wind on a night passage from Lesvos to Limnos
A year ago, I hardly knew one side of the Aegean sea from the other. I couldn't have told you which group of islands were the Dodecanese, which the Cyclades and which the Sporades. Now I know a bit more. I know that a Greek island's position, and the strength of winds and currents in its vicinity, pretty much speak for the course of its history.

Much of Limnos is barren and rocky
The ferry is in and out again within the hour
For thousands of years Limnos was an important stepping stone in the middle of the north Aegean for seafarers (traders and warmongers). It's the closest Greek island to the Dardenelles peninsula which guards the entrance from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea. We Australians and New Zealanders know Limnos (if we do) for Moudros harbour where the Allied fleet launched its disastrous 1915 campaign to take the Dardanelles from the Turks.

The military cemetery in east Moudros glorifies the criminal waste of young boys' lives
We made our way up to Limnos from Oinoussa in one huge step. and have been tied up at the quay in Myrina, the only town of any size on the island, for a few days now, waiting to go north again.

Myrina harbour from the south
View of the town from the fortress

Enki is the biggest yacht on the dock in this shot
Myrina in late June is full of holidaying Greek families, and a sprinkling of others like ourselves - many Australians, as it turns out. People come here to slow down. There are a few good beaches right in town with clean sand and well-secured umbrellas planted evenly along it. There's no doof-doof music, the blight of the Mediterranean along with weed on the seabed (more of that later). At night, the pace is easy.

Enki is moored mid-town
The townspeople come out to play at about 9 pm, when the sun goes down. They push babystrollers, sit in tavernas drinking ouzo or beer, or on benches chatting and laughing. No-one is rowdy, except maybe the older children fooling around on their bikes. It's not until midnight when everyone seems to go home to bed. A floodlit fortress circles the rocky headland which protects the harbour from the prevailing northerlies. It gives the town's nightlife a kind of anchor.

The town is in the lee of the northerlies - and the fortress
North of the harbour, the fortress overlooks beach cafes

Platy beach, about 2 km from town
Aside from low-key tourism and low-key military activity (the Greek airforce command is based on Limnos), there are some vineyards on the island, brick-making, a bit of animal husbandry and of course fishing, but the rest is a mystery to us. How do people make ends meet here? How do people make ends meet anywhere in Greece in 2013?

Main street Myrina

Mary and Andrew Dervidis
We've had dinner tonight with Mary Dervidis and her husband Andrew (left). They kindly took delivery of our spare part - Cathy and Ian of Sea Cloud met them first, and passed us along to them. Mary was born on Limnos, and emigrated with her family to Sydney in the mid '50s, along with half the island, as she tells it. Some people went to South Africa, some to America, and Germany, but most people emigrated to Australia, hoping for a better life. People's faces light up when they learn where we are from. Australia is a kind of satellite suburb of Limnos. Limnos is a satellite suburb of Athens. And Athens is what now? The capital of a down-graded developed country, I read in today's news.

Standard issue fishing boat
Throw yourself back a few thousand years though, and Limnos was at the leading edge of early Bronze Age civilisation.  It's probably not easy for latter-day Limneans to accept that their island's influence peaked between 3000 and 2000 BC, but the evidence is there on the east coast where what's left of retaining walls, paved roads, drains, wells, mansions, public buildings, squares and smaller private houses of the large urban settlement of ancient Poliochni attests to its importance. In its heyday (which lasted for 1000 years) Poliochni was as sophisticated as Troy, which it faced, 40 miles across the water on the west coast of Asia Minor (now Turkey).

Poliochni, early Bronze Age town

A deep well in Poliochni

See this oblong space (at right)? Notice the terraces along the edge of it? Well, the Italian archeologists who excavated the site from the 1930s to the 1950s have decided that this is the earliest example of a municipal debating chamber in European history. Poliochni, they say, was the first "city" in Europe with a basic social and civic structure. You might see a pile of stones, and we did too, after driving across Limnos's barren landscape, but when you let your imagination go wild, those drystone walls start to look quite exciting.

Bronze Age terracotta colander

Poliochni pottery
The next day we popped by the museum in Myrina. It's a gem, housed in an old Ottoman building with large windows looking straight out to the sparkling sea. Inside the cases are objects which simply cannot be, and are never, exhibited in small town museums in the new world - terracotta pots circa 4000 BC,  exquisite marble carvings circa 500 BC, ancient Greek mortgage documents carved into stone tablets, rows of metal tools (Limnos was famous for its metalworkers) and jewellery, the kinds of things we modern humans still keep around the house to make our lives more productive, more comfortable and more pleasurable. 

I have some sailing stories too. Perhaps I should give these more play, but once we're tied up in port suddenly the sea retreats and the land and its clamour blots out what happens on the water. I'll save them for the next post.

That's Mt Athos in the distance

1 comment:

  1. Love you Limnos blog. One of our favourite islands.
    Sandy and Paul