Thessaloniki mosaics

Comprehensive guide to the mosaics of Greece.

Greece, Mosaics and Me, Part II: A guide to the mosaics of Greece.

Helen Miles Mosaics.
Nereid riding a sea centaur. Sparta Archaeological Museum, Greece. 3rd century AD. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

I’ve left!

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.

Helen Miles Mosaics
Mantlepiece mosaic, Theodora (?), Candili, Evvia, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaic

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

Greece, mosaics and me

Helen Miles Mosaics
Me in the middle of my pre-move studio mess. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

Greece, Mosaics and Me, Part I: A personal story. 

Coming to Greece in 2001 stripped everything from me: language, family, friends, work, culture, points of reference and sense of self. I arrived five months pregnant with two small children after my husband took a job in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, with the expectation of finding a cosmopolitan city where we could settle and I could find work. We put the children into a local Greek school so that they could learn the language and integrate. After a while, I went to the university to learn Greek myself and we threw ourselves into exploring the country.

Helen Miles Mosaics
Fruit detail, 2-3rd C AD, Corinth. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

I don’t know when or how the realisation dawned that our expectations of our new life in Greece were off kilter, but I do remember neighbours who wouldn’t acknowledge we existed years after moving in, struggling to entertain boisterous boys in a badly insulated house where it’s against the law to make any noise between 3 and 6pm, and feeling baffled by a school system which finishes at noon and depends on grandparents and paid help to fill in for working parents. I also remember one day curling myself into a ball in the corner of a downstairs room where I hoped no one would hear me and crying so desperately that it felt like retching. Continue reading

The mosaic of St Dimitrios of Thessaloniki…

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…and a curious coincidence

Coincidences are fun. Their unlikeliness – the meeting of an old school friend on a hiking trail in Papua New Guinea or realising your fiancé also took the 7.13 to Paddington from Brighton every day in 1982 – is so delightfully impossible that it seems charged with an extra meaning which remains stubbornly indefinable.

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So it is with the book my father made me for my first birthday in Glasgow more than 50 years ago. It is a spiral bound picture book made on hard card with photographs that he must have painstakingly cut out of magazines and arranged in improbable juxtapositions to amuse me.

DSCN6603Among the pages is this one – a spoon, an egg, a bunch of grapes and – what’s that? – a mosaic head of St Dimitrios of Thessaloniki. Continue reading

Mosaics in Greece: the Byzantine Museum of Thessaloniki

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Bird and flowers, 6th century basilica, Byzantine Museum of Thessaloniki.

We all have our favourite museums. If not a favourite museum, then a favourite wing of a museum, or a display case, or even a single object that makes our heart stop with its beauty or intricacy or fragile, impossible antiquity.

The Byzantine Museum of Thessaloniki, Greece (or Museum of Byzantine Culture as it is properly called) has many of the hall marks of the museums I love: a good coffee shop, some wonderful icons, charming signage: Continue reading

The Rotunda mosaics, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Ceiling mosaics, Rotunda, Thessaloniki, Greece.
Note the use of interlocking swastikas – a common feature in Greco-Roman designs

I don’t want to get carried away, but I think the Rotunda mosaics in Thessaloniki, Greece, might be it. It as in the beginning. Not the beginning of mosaics as we know them (that happened down the road at Pella), not even the beginning of Christian mosaics (although that’s possible) but the beginning of the use of mosaics in Byzantine architecture to dazzle and awe. If not the actual beginning, then as close as damn it, to the first use of gold and brilliance, of life like mosaic portraits, intricate architectural designs, soaring, glittering ceilings made to draw the eye upwards and induce a feeling of humble wonder at this earthly reflection of heavenly glory. Continue reading