The best laid plans of mice and men.
Hey, you remember those summer plans I told you about? The ones where I was going to rush around visiting every Roman mosaic between here (Athens) and god knows where during the summer and I was going to get up at dawn and creep out of the house if need be to clock up a few hundred kilometres before breakfast because nothing, no nothing, was going to stand in my way? Well, it didn’t work out quite like that. Not even the teeniest remotest bit like that. In fact, except for visiting the Lod mosaic and a 17 minute dash around the Stobi mosaics, it didn’t work out at all.
I suppose it was partly to do with that great summer cloud of ennui, the one that seeps into your bones and soul and saps out all the energy and creativity and ambition and turns you into a packing/unpacking-driving-cooking-sock collecting automaton and so the thought of more driving, albeit with a mosaic at the end of it, just wasn’t enough to stir me. But there we were in the car (again) heading up Macedonia’s highway E-75 on our way to Bupadest and I couldn’t help but notice the road side signs indicating the we were getting nearer and nearer to the ancient Roman site of Stobi.
Veering off to the Stobi mosaics
Thanks to a chance meeting in Athens with the archaeologist in charge of the site who pointed out that it has some very fine mosaics, I was aware of the delights that lay so tantalisingly close to our route. Uncharacteristically, however, I kept quiet and decided that inflicting (another) mosaic on my long suffering family especially with 1,000km to cover on unpredictable roads, would be to inflict one mosaic too many. But then, suddenly, there it was. Right by the side of the road. I never expected it to be so close. Here was an opportunity that just couldn’t be missed. I gripped the wheel, veered off the motorway and bumped up to the site entrance.
Need I say that the reception from a certain portion of the car’s contents was not exactly positive? With no time to spare, I flung myself out of the car, camera in hand, knowing that the opportunity to see the Stobi mosaics of Macedonia (or FYROM as we call it in these parts) was severely limited if I wanted to avert a mutiny.
The Stobi mosaics – worth stopping for
Ah, but look at them. They were worth the cries of anguish from the back seat. I have a particularly soft spot for pared down mosaics, ones which are economical with line and colour. The simpler the better as far as I am concerned and these are gorgeously simple, entirely unpretentious and astonishingly fresh.
Stobi was an important place in its time. From around 200 BC and for almost seven centuries there after it played a significant role in the Roman empire. At the crossroads of two trade routes , it grew into an important town which even minted its own coins. Livy mentions it and Emperor Theodosius I visited. There are Christian basilicas, baths, a theatre, a synagogue, remains of roads and grand houses, even a casino. Yet it’s mosaics are far from flamboyant. They speak of a confident stability and quiet prosperity, serving their purpose as decorative floor coverings without any razzmatazz.
The almost intact baptistry (pictured at the top), with it’s trademark peacocks, is the one to see:
But there are other mosaics scattered around the site:
Here is a detail from a bath house where the mosaics are faded and less technically accomplished, but which still have some interesting designs:
There was no time to savour them. The sun was hot and unforgiving, a smudge on the lens (sweat? sticky fingers?) means the photographs are not their best and the sceptre of rebellion and the long road ahead made it hard to concentrate but I’m glad I went. Enough to whet the appetite and make me determined to go back. With a lighter car perhaps.