mosaic sites

The early Christian mosaics of Delphi, Greece.

Delphi, Greece.
Cat enjoying the sun on the ruins of Delphi, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

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?

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Pattern detail. Dephi, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

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.

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Dedication plaque, Dephi, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

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.

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Fish detail, Delphi, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

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Ancient mosaic fragments in the sea, Atalanti, Greece.

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The tide came in as we were sitting there and the water lapped over the mosaics. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

I know what I would have done if I had discovered the ancient mosaic fragments in the sea near Atalanti on the east coast of mainland Greece. I would have wrapped up my secret in tissue paper and put it in a shoe box under the bed. I would have hoarded the knowledge and pleasure of those fragments all to myself, worried for their safety, conscious of their fragility, but I didn’t discover them so they are not in my shoe box but here, on the internet, for all to see.

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Mosaic fragments in the sea. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

I came across the fragments through a Facebook post by Olga Goulandris , a mixed media mosaic artist living and working in Greece. In a comment thread she wrote that the mosaics fragments in the sea could be found off the main national road north of Athens heading towards Lamia. As it happens, I pass along that road quite often. With a car loaded with boys, weekend supplies and a scruffy dog, I routinely zoom past the turning en route to our little house in the mountains of Pelion. After seeing Olga’s post I often calculated whether I could test the patience of my fractious teenagers and go in search of the mosaics, but having hauled them around many of the major mosaic sites of Europe I knew that boys and mosaics are not necessarily a good mix and deferred. Continue reading

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Byzantine mosaics of Daphni Monastery, near Athens.

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Christ with Peter and John. Photo: www.haidari.com

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.

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The Ascension of Christ, Daphni Monastery. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

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

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Visiting the Heraclea Lyncestis mosaics, Macedonia

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Central urn bordered by deer, peacocks and an acanthus wreath. Heraclea Lyncestis, Macedonia. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

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.

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Leopard gorging on a fallen deer. Heraclea Lyncestis, Macedonia. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

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Visiting a Roman mosaic restoration workshop in Corinth, Greece

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Me (back, left) taking a closer look at the Roman mosaic

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

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Goodbye to Gaziantep: a visit to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, Turkey.

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.

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Detail from the Oceanus and Tethys mosaic. Image: Helen Miles Mosaics

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

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The Byzantine mosaics of Osios Loukas, Greece.

Monastery of Osios Loukas, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
Monastery of Osios Loukas, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Byzantine monastery of Osios Loukas, Greece.

It’s been a long time since I first saw images of the mosaics of Osios Loukas in Greece. Of saints in softly gathered robes with their solemnly composed faces, heavy lidded eyes, downturned mouths and combed beards. Of domes covered in fractured gold and the usual assembly of Biblical figures and familiar scenes. I have always had a particular fondness for photographs of the mosaicked monks, ascetics looking grim and emaciated, but somehow I never quite got around to visiting the Byzantine monastery which is tucked discreetly into the slopes of Mount Helicon, two hours north of Athens.

Osios Loukas interior. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
Osios Loukas interior. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

But one clear day in October I finally got my act together and pulled up at the car park above the monastery dedicated to St Luke, a 10th century hermit with an eye for a beautiful spot. The saint, who was reputed to have miraculous and prophetic powers, chose this place with its magnificent views over Mount Parnassos to spend the last few years of his life and as soon as you get out of the car, you are struck by the perfection of his choice – the total silence (the road ends here), the absence of the usual garlands of electrical wiring, the sense of self contained order and delicious calm. If only normal life were ever thus. Continue reading

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Visiting the Stobi mosaics of Macedonia in 17 minutes flat

The best laid plans of mice and men.

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Stobi, Macedonia. The Baptistry.

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. Continue reading

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The Lod Roman Mosaic

Lod mosaic, rock partridge and chicks.
Lod mosaic, rock partridge and chicks.

The Lod Roman mosaic – on tour

The Lod Roman Mosaic is on display at Waddesdon Manor until November 2, 2014.

Sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do and if it involves driving half way across England to see a Roman mosaic, then so be it. The Lod Roman mosaic is currently exhibiting at Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury and since it usually lives near Tel Aviv, in Israel, and my chances of going to see it there are virtually zero, then desperate measures had to be taken. I was staying with a friend in Bristol who more than kindly, recklessly perhaps, offered to drive me over to see the mosaic and we set off on a clear blue summer day on what was meant to be a jolly jaunt with maybe a pub lunch and a leisurely stroll in the gardens thrown in. Continue reading

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