Greece, Mosaics and Me, Part II: A guide to the mosaics of Greece.
To mark the fact that my days of being permanently based in Athens have come to an end, my previous post was a personal story about my mosaic journey in Greece. As well as learning how to make mosaics there and practicing the art for over a decade, I also visited and explored as many mosaic sites as possible across the length of the country: ancient and modern, famous and obscure, well preserved and neglected.
I know that there are many more sites left to see, particularly on the islands, and I hope that I will have the opportunity to visit them in the years to come, but meanwhile in Part II of this two-part series about Greece, Mosaics and Me, I have compiled a comprehensive guide to the mosaics of Greece for visitors and mosaic enthusiasts. Continue reading →
The Mosaics of Rhodes, Greece (or How Mosaics Should be Seen)
The conversation went a bit like this:
D: There are some really good off-season deals on flights to the islands. Shall we go?
D: Santorini or Rhodes?
Me: (Inner musing: Santorini = the whole Greek thing. White washed houses set on cliffs over looking azure seas. Rhodes = mosaics) Rhodes!
And so off we went one weekend to see the mosaics of Rhodes, Greece. As it happens, Rhodes is a perfect place to really see mosaics, not just the tarted up ancient variety which now hang on museum walls. Pebble mosaics, characteristic of many of the Greek islands, are everywhere in the medieval town of Rhodes covering pavements, shop entrance ways, hotel foyers and cafe floors. What a delight! Instead of cranning your neck to see mosaics plucked from their original settings and displayed like works of art in hushed settings or having to lean precariously over a barrier to get a closer view of them at archeological sites, here they are all over the place. Neither revered or disregarded; they are just there. Continue reading →
Sometimes I feel blessed. Not just blessed, but blessed-blessed. In addition to the blessed of daily life which is more than blessed enough, I have the extra blessing of being able to walk out of the house, hop in the car and go see ancient mosaics almost on my door step including the early Christian mosaics of Dephi. Now, really, how blessed is that?
Here in Athens there are Byzantine churches with gloomy interiors and glittering mosaics within easy access, Corinth is a mere hour a way, it’s hard to enter a museum without encountering mosaics and even long boring journeys can yield unexpected delights of the mosaic variety. I don’t like to gloat but sometimes it’s hard not to feel that when the Gods were distributing their gifts they dropped an extra mosaic-shaped sackful just for me.
That’s exactly how I felt the day I went to see the mosaics of Delphi with my friend Angie. She was keen to revisit the ruins and I wanted to see the extensive mosaic floor which originally came from a late 5th, early 6th century church in the village of Delphi nearby but is now to be found outside the site’s archeological museum. I had seen it before on a family trip when small children, an elderly mother in law and a fierce sun had deterred us from lingering and this time I was intent on savouring it.
In 2,000 years or so, a fisherman out in a small boat on the waters which cover the long submerged city of London, will be leaning over the side of his vessel hauling in his line when something will catch his eye. Accustomed to sailing over the ruins of crumpled sky scrapers and following the tangled routes of once busy thoroughfares, he will wonder if it’s just a shadow or something new and shiny dropped from an earlier craft, but he’ll steady the boat, look again and see something clearly beneath the surface.
A storm the day before will have shifted a bank of silt and the fisherman will be the first to glimpse a small corner of the Hackney Downs Mosaic for more than a thousand years.
Over the ensuing months, with much fanfare and wonder, the mosaic will be excavated and removed to dry land. A special building will be made to house the newly-discovered work. There will be a grand opening and the fisherman will stand awkwardly to one side as a dignitary, surrounded by a coterie of excited archeologists whose learned theses on the origins of the mosaic will suggest others still lie submerged, will announce that it is open to the public. Continue reading →
There are plenty of maddening things in this world. People pushing in front of you in queues is probably top of my madden-making list. Reaching into the fridge for the milk to find your sons have polished it off and not bothered to tell you is pretty annoying especially when it’s 9pm and there’s no time to buy any more before tomorrow’s breakfast. Lateness, umbrellas that won’t open, socks that vanish, towels that get left on the bathroom floor, dogs that yap, bollards that you can’t see until you hear car metal crunching….there are certainly a fair few things to get frustrated about and now I would officially like to add visiting the Byzantine mosaics of Daphni Monastery to the list.
In my humble view, either an archeological site is open or it is not. The mosaics on the walls and dome of the 11th century church just outside Athens are world renowned. This is an UNESCO world heritage site. Anyone who loves all things Byzantine or all things mosaic would have it high on their agenda alongside the churches of Agia Sophia and the Chora in Istanbul and the Greek monasteries of Osios Loukas and Nea Moni. The mosaics have been variously described as a ‘unique, fine example of classical idealism of Middle Byzantine art’ and ‘masterpieces of the golden era of Byzantine art.’ The dull drive along what was once the Sacred Way and is now a monotous strip of fast food outlets and cheap clothing shops would be deemed worthwhile in eager anticipation of the delights ahead. Except there arent any. Whatever the sign and online opening hours might say, the church is closed. Continue reading →
When I made plans to go visit the Heraclea Lyncestis mosaics in Macedonia with Tessa Hunkin I was slightly concerned that the mosaics would play second fiddle. Tessa Hunkin is my mosaic heroine. In case there’s anyone out there who thinks you dont know her, you do. She’s the one that set up Mosaic Workshop in London’s Holloway in the 1980s with Emma Biggs. I bet you have at least one of her many books on various mosaic subjects from making techniques to garden mosaics and mosaic patterns. She won the 2014 British Association of Modern Mosaics Mosaic of the Year award for the Shepherdess Walk Mosaic that she created with the Hackney Mosaic Project and has designed and made a string of mosaics for public and private spaces which consistently make my jaw drop.
Sometimes I wish I wasn’t here. Here, in Greece, I mean. I miss my family and old friends back home. I miss casual conversations and little quips with strangers in queues. I get tired of living in rented houses with their pocket hankerchief kitchens and fake gold bathroom fittings. I long for a job with a desk and a salary and colleagues. I miss book shops, newspapers, cows in fields, daffodils, and being able to vote. I fantasise about online supermarket shopping and staying firmly wrapped up all year around instead of having to expose my pallid body on the beach in ungainly swimming costumes.
At other times (or even at the same time) I feel quite the opposite. I take delight in all manner of things here. My new friends, my new interests, walking the dog in the dawn light in the park, the flower soaked hillsides of spring, the fruit and vegetable street markets, unravelling the knotted frustrations of the language and of course sliding into the warm blue loveliness of the summer sea. Continue reading →
Gaziantep, a city in southern Turkey some forty miles from the Syrian border, has become a bustling hub at the centre of the Middle East’s latest conflict. It’s a destination for spies and refugees, insurgent fighters and rebel leaders, foreign-aid workers and covert jihadists ... The Vortex, A Turkish city on the frontier of Syria’s war. By Robin Wright, The New Yorker. December 8, 2014.
It can’t be easy having me as a mother. Our summers, always complicated because of living in Greece but having family in the UK, are additionally complicated because I insist on making a detour if we ever find ourselves within range of an ancient mosaic. And when I say ‘within range’ I use the term somewhat loosely. It is not such a big deal to add Aquileia into the agenda if we are already stopping in Ravenna on one of our road trips back home and of course anyone wanting to see Pompeii would have an equal interest in the (mosaic rich) National Archeological Museum in Naples, but driving close to 1,800 kilometres (one way) across Turkey from Thessaloniki in northern Greece to Gaziantep to see the Zeugma Mosaic Museum was perhaps pushing things a bit far. Continue reading →
I have a new theory that the particular pleasure a museum can bring is not so much in the exhibits themselves but rather in the person one is with (or ones that one is without). True, there are museums so wonderful (the Metropolitan, the British Museum, the Cairo Museum), that one can go with a hoard of elephants and one couldn’t fail to be moved, but ideally museums need to be savoured. I have been to see the mosaics of Corinth, which are scarcely an hour from our home in Athens, at least twice before but savouring was never an option. With three boys in tow, my attention was taken up in the room full of ancient votive phalluses and in working out how far we were from the nearest ice cream kiosk.
But on this trip to see the Roman mosaics of Corinth things were different. In the company of a good friend, with the whole day ahead of us, savouring was not only possible but almost compulsory. The museum at the ancient site is small, the exhibits are few, the ruins were empty, we were alone and we could do entirely as we pleased with no one tugging at our sleeves or suddenly announcing an urgent need to use the toilet. So, since we had the opportunity to savour, savour we did. Continue reading →
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Helen Miles Mosaics
I learnt how to make mosaics with Greek masters of the craft in Thessaloniki and Athens who taught using traditional methods with a focus on Byzantine iconography. Later, I become fixated with Roman designs and now my aim is to preserve the simplicity and directness of early mosaics while creating pieces which suit our modern lives.
New blog post on contemporary mosaic innovators. 1. Samantha Holmes ‘Unspoken’ 2. CaCO3, Movement No 12 3. Detail from Rachel Sager’s Ruins Project 4. Dugald MacInnes, Xenolith. http://helenmilesmosaics.org/contemporary-mosaics/mosaic-innovators/
Mosaics by Felice Nittolo, Raffaella Ceccsarossi and Pascale Beauchamp feature in my latest blog post about contemporary mosaics: http://helenmilesmosaics.org/contemporary-mosaics/contemporary-mosaics/