visiting mosaics

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?

mosaics of Delphi
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.

mosaics of Delphi
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.

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

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Visiting the Heraclea Lyncestis mosaics, Macedonia

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.

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

mosaic workshop Corinth
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

Up close and personal: the Roman mosaics of Corinth, Greece.

Flower detail. Corinth, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
Flower detail. Corinth, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Savouring the mosaics of Corinth

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.

Roman inscription, Corinth, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
Roman inscription, Corinth, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

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

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

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