30 March 2009

A chapel with vestiges

The picture is of a chapel with vestiges--here a classical column built in, just right of the lower center. William Gell noted this site as he passed by, one eye on his watch, the other on his notebook.

Gell (1777-1836) was a wonderfully obsessive traveller, documenting his modern Greece of the 1810s against Pausanias, and then noting the minutiae of his modern Greece for the travellers he hoped would follow him, and then writing up his interesting experiences and candid descriptions for people who were sensible enough to stay at home, grateful for the blessing of being English, instead of Greeks or Turks..

In the introduction to his Itinerary of Greece, he writes:
To those who may consult this volume as their guide on the road, the advantage of noting every well, rivulet, mill, or farm-house . . . will soon be apparent, in a country which does not abound in water, where every stream has its history, and where every object assists in determining the direction to be pursued, when the road is nothing better than a track frequently interrupted.
This program was fulfilled in the next volume, Itinerary of the Morea. Suppose you were, inadvisedly, wanting to go from Mistra to Krabata, these would be part of your instructions. The numbers refer to minutes:
11 The last sign of Mistra. This road is the same as that to Leondari.
15 A ruined aqueduct, with two ranges of arches, with a stream under it.
10 End of the hill of Papiote, and another piece of the aqueduct
. . . . .
3 The road turns back a little, and a river falls into the Eurotas.
13 Following the glen of the last river, ascend. R. across the stream, a rock with the appearance of antique vestiges.
. . . . . .
9 Very bad road, on a summit. Descend. A church r.
5 Vestiges. A few trees. Bare hills. A stream from r.
2 A fount r in a field.
5 Vestiges r.
5. A red mountain, Krabata, l.
15 Stream r. of the road.
4 A tumulus of stones r. See r. a fine mountain with pines.

At the end of this route you learn that to go from Mistra to Krabata takes 3 hours 48 minutes, a time that assumes you are riding a horse and have a companion-servant-translator who is walking. I personally think you want a happy translator and should have got a horse for him, too, but Gell travelled constantly and seems to have known what he was doing. In fact, all of his measurements of routes and times were taken from the same horse in order to give them consistency.

The traveller needed a Firman
or order from the Sultan, permitting him to pass unmolested, and recommending him to the attention of the . . . Pashas of the Morea . . . An order for post-horses may be annexed to this, by which, wherever the post is established, good horses may be had, nominally free from expence, but presents ought to be given . . . This firman should be procured by the ambassador at Constantinople and sent to . . . the first port hwere the traveller enters the country. If this does not arrive . . .
And so on.
. . . horses seem the best mode of conveyance. Some prefer mules, from an idea of their caution in dangerous or rocky situations, but the horses of the country are equally accustomed to the roads, and are not only more docile, but free from the trick of lying down in the water with luggage, which is frequently the practice of the mules.
Horses could be got for five or six pounds each at the beginning of the journey, and sold at the end. It was necessary to hire Greeks or Turks to care for them and the baggage. So, realistically, the trip from Mistra to Krabata would likely to take somewhat longer than the 3 hours and 48 minutes that you and a single attendant would require.

The baggage to occupy the attending Greeks and Turks would include: a mattress, and a piece of oilcloth to wrap it during the day, and to put on the ground at night; a small carpet for sitting on the ground; a knife, fork, spook, plate, cup, and a pot for boiling water; an umbrella with an iron spike for fixing it in the ground; silk curtains for protecting the bed from mosquitos.

The baggage would also contain presents for the hosts who might offer you a place to spend the night. Depending on circumstances, a watch or cut glass cup might be appropriate, but ordinarily one could do just as well with imitation jewellry such as red glass beads, and particularly imitation pearls.
17 The glen opens into the plain of Argos. R are ruins, on a projecting hill.
8 The plain, covered with stones, some of which have been collectd into a large heap, 400 yards r.
20 A peribola, or garden, r. L. on a hill, a pyrgo. Villages; churches; two wells, and the fragment of a column.
7 Two villages, r.
8 Village, r. L. a church. Ancient foundations r.
15 Three villages r. Pass through a village.
7 A church r. Cross a road from Argos to Epidaurus. On hill l., a church and tumulus. L. rocks. Enter a
grove of olives.
3 Ruins of Tirynthus, and a well.
30 Enter Nauplia, having turned r. at an angle of the bay.

At Nauplion -- fortunately you are not in the mountains where you may have to stay at the wretched khan if the tower is occupied, and the boys at Argos throw stones at strangers (this happened to us, too, in another century) -- and if you are coming from Corinth you should watch out for the chapel with the guard who will check to see if you are bringing plague with you -- have a bath. Preferably not when the bath is crowded.
The first apartment has a fire in the centre, and around the walls are several sofas . . . which have clean sheets and blankets . . . the bather is stripped, a cotten cloth is wrapped round him, and he is conducted in wooden pattens through several vaulted rooms, each hotter than the last, to a chamber, where he is placed upon a wooden platform about the size of a door, and raised four inches from the pavement. His profuse perspiration is rubbed off by one of the attendants . . . After this, a bason full of lather is brought, and the baqther is rubbed with a soft brush made of an oriental plant . . . On clapping the hands, the attendant brings a fresh dress of cotton cloth, which is wrapped round the waist, and another in the form of a turban is placed on the head. He is then . . . placed between the sheets, and drinks a cup of coffee while he is drying.

Those only who have tried can judge of the wonderfuly cleansing and refreshing effect of this custom.

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