06 June 2009

Nauplion: Two Details

This is a snip from the oldest surviving map of Nauplion, published in 1571 by Giovanni Francesco Camocio, in the celebratory wake of the victory over the Turks at Lepanto. Although Nauplion had been under Ottoman control since the fall of 1540, Camocio's map shows Nauplion as it was under the last years of Venetian control, rather than with any more recent changes. A grimmer detail from this map was discussed earlier.

This road in the form of an inverted Y shows something about how cities evolve, and because I always stay at one of the pensions at the plateia at that fork -- Atheaton or Amfitriti -- I have thought a lot about the Y and how the modern neighborhood has evolved.

The tail of the Y goes up the stairs, past the Turkish fountain, past the great Turkish mansion now under conversion, past the little mosque now a Catholic church. That has always and ever -- with Byzantines, Romans, ancient Greeks -- been the main route from the lower land to Akro-Nauplion. It was the single easiest route by which one could make the transition from the flat land to the very steep ascent. As for the rest of the Y, you can see remnants from the windows at either pension. Despite the street rationalization of the 1860s and 70, a bit of either side still slants -- that accounts for the odd shape of the apse of Ag. Spyridon, and for the angle of the small Turkish house facing the Atheaton. Other bits of the slant can be found in the basement of a shop on the next street, and in the back yard of another shop, but the fact that it remains at all is exciting to me.

Another particular view comes from a map drawn in 1686, just when the Venetians had retaken Nauplion, and before they had made any changes, or made the maps of proposed change that have led to so many assumptions.
Thirty years ago, the old city had two massive ficus trees -- one was locally pronounced the largest tree in the Balkans -- near what both of these maps show as the harbor wall. One, growing behind a hotel which was greatly overrated then and now, shaded my balcony. The other, in a walled restaurant garden -- a restaurant whose owner would serve goat and swear it was lamb -- was at the end of my street. The trees in this map detail are in the same positions -- given the vagaries of old maps.

The hotel destroyed its tree when it wanted to expand.
The tree could not be seen from the street, and so no one saw it happen. The passing of the second, larger tree -- easily 400 years old -- was a public spectacle. The owner was seen one day in early spring of 1979 girdling the bark with an axe. A crowd soon gathered and shouted at him. He tried to ignore it. Parts of the crowd shouted at each other. He shouted at the crowd. Then he went back and forth behind his restaurant, brought out planks, and hammered a modesty panel over the girdle. I am told he had bypassed the various Nauplion authorities and acquired a permit from Athens. I am also told that he later committed suicide, but this was probably not immediately connected to the tree.

The tree took years to die completely, and more years to be removed. The space is now a chic, pricey cafe, but this blog does not patronize it.

One old tree is left in the city, a platan tree old enough to remember the Turks at least 200 years back, beside the Arsenale in the main plateia. An excellent cafe has tables under its branches, and it shades the front of my friend Stavros' shop.

[These two details are updated here.]

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