Thursday 16 August 2018

Greek Series: A Sheltered Harbour & A History Lesson

Hello Sailor!
Dear Reader, do let your eyes glaze now if a bit of History is not Your Thing, there are some holiday snaps further on ... Meanwhile, this fellow needs no introduction to anyone familiar with Classical Exhibitionism. It is, of course, a rather fanciful rendering of the Sun god Helios, a.k.a. The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. While it is only guesswork as to where exactly he stood and how he was posed, a bronze statue of Helios was erected by the harbour in 280 BCE to celebrate the Rhodians victory over their beseigers, the Cypriots. Maritime travellers were no doubt reassured to see his welcoming and confident likeness, at least for a little while before he fell in an ignominious heap and lay there for around 800 years to be gawked at by olde worlde tourists.

C16th Piri Reis map of our little islands

The harbour between Antiparos and Presepinthos, the Classical name for Despotiko, has been well known from antiquity until now as a Sheltered Harbour, and many sailors over the millennia have sought a bit of respite there from the Weather. Neighbouring Paros, famous and rich from its Parian marble mines, built a Sanctuary to Apollo (the Titan Helios' Olympic-doppelgänger) on Presepinthos to shepherd in weary travellers and give them somewhere fancy to hang out and make a sacrifice or two (and where the Lovely L & I picked over their leavings). Whether Apollo had a similar statue outside his cosy Temple and at the harbour's entrance, waving his man-bits at the passers-by, only time and a lot more digging will tell. The Sanctuary was destroyed around 500 BCE*, and there are no surviving written descriptions of the place; Herodotus, for instance, lived too late to be aware of it. It's all so mysterious!

Parian marble statue of Artemis in Paros Museum

Between those times and now, the other claim to fame (well, infamy) for Presepinthos/Despotiko was a history of uncomfortable shaves with piracy. Keeping a base around a sheltered harbour on a lively trade route was also appealing to members of this Criminal Class. According to the colourful backstory to Despotiko's present destitution, all habitation on the island came to a crashing end around 1675 after French pirates launched themselves at the locals to avenge the slaughter there of one of their notorious compatriots, Captain Daniel**, and his crew at the hands of Turks who had surprised and surrounded them in the harbour. The locals never came to Captain Daniel's aid, despite his attempt at bribery, so retribution was well and truly paid.

Dionysus as a Pirate-biting panther - one way to rid yourself of a scourge

The initial seasons of digging at the site by the present-day archaeologists, after first relocating the goatherder's barn which had been conveniently built over (and with!) the fanciest bits of the Sanctuary, had been spent working their way down through the pirate-sacked ruins then through Byzantine-, then Classical-era layers to where we are today, the Archaic period, viz. circa 500 BCE, which is where all the Apollo action lies. So lucky us for digging in the 2018 Season!

The vista below Apollo's Sanctuary, looking more peaceful these days

Anyway, with the Lesson Endeth, that bit of background was just to remind The Reader that while the Sailors may change, the Weather does not. And true to form, in spite of the clear summer skies, there were still some wildly windy days during our fortnight of toil which led to a) our generally being sandblasted and all our exposed (and, remarkably, some hidden) physical nooks and crannies filling up with dirt, and b) an assortment of Modern Day Sailors seeking sanctuary in the said harbour.

Step this way for a closer look at some of these Sheltering Vessels (sadly no triremes in sight); these sneaky pics taken a bit too early in the mornings for any signs of life:

Very smart livery!

A little flotilla

A bit of both worlds

Are they pirates??

Stealth Grey must be this season's colour

Dwarfed by the sheltering cliff ... we need to take a closer look ...

Still hanging about the next day, complete with some toys

* The latest and quite compelling theory is the Sanctuary was sacked by Miltiades after the Battle of Marathon as retribution for the Parians siding with the Persians, who they amicably traded with.

** Try as I might, I cannot find any attribution to this tale nor reference to a French pirate of this name; it may just be apocryphal. It does, however, get a confident retelling in the archaeological papers!


  1. PIRATES and their TOYS have changed since my YOUTH!!!!!XX

    1. I agree, Contessa, and some of the boats I saw were amazing but more than a few looked rather Sinister!! Some big boats had their staff in colour-matched uniforms, but as for the broody grey vessels, I think the Death Star officers uniforms would be more appropriate! xx

    2. HA!!!!LOve your train of thought!

  2. Ah, The Colossus of Rhodes was always such a magical image in young CD's mind when stories of the Seven Wonders of The World were relayed to her.

    Some of those stealthy-looking boats may qualify for a place on the modern wonders list I think. So sinister looking! Much prefer the traditional types (first two photos) which look quite lovely against the beautiful vistas of the islands.

  3. We are in agreement about the boats, CD! I prefer a bit of vintage styling to most things, sailing boats being no exception there.

    As a child I would pore over our fabulous 4-volume 1933 edition of the encyclopaedic set, "Wonders of the Past", as did my Mum before me, and it forms the foundation of the little Ancient History Library in the Pipistrello home. I still love it's enthusiasm for the new amateur sport of Archaeology!


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