Monemvasia Book Review
Greece Travel Secrets reviews the photography book Monemvasia with extracts from works by Yiannis Ritsos and Nikos Kazantzakis.
Monemvasia is a
remarkable place. We’ve only visited it briefly but it’s the kind of place you
never ever forget.
It’s been called Greece’s Rock of Gibraltar, and you can see why, but the description doesn’t do it justice at all. Monemvasia is unique. It’s a huge rock citadel, connected to the mainland by a causeway. From most places on the shore, all you see is this vast offshore rock, but cross that causeway and Monemvasia starts to give up its secrets.
Monemvasia has turned its back on the mainland. Climb up to it and a narrow entrance reveals itself. It’s this entrance which gives Monemvasia its name, as the word means ‘single entrance’. Walk through it and it’s like stepping into another world, like Alice entering Wonderland. Cobbled streets lead you up into a town, and a citadel, the secret that’s hidden from the mainland.
The Magic That Is Monemvasia
This wonderful book of photographs, compiled by Ann Eldridge, the Chairman of the Monemvasia Photographic Society, captures the magic that is Monemvasia. It’s a handsome and hefty book that would grace any coffee-table, and be the ideal gift for anyone interested in Greece, in history, in photography… or indeed be the ideal gift for yourself.
The photos are grouped into various categories, such as Custodians, The Rock, The Main Square, In the Streets, and so on. They’re a mix of historical and more recent photos, of formal family photographs, of candid photos, of feasts and celebrations, of generations, of everything that makes Monemvasia - and Greece - what it is.
Easter Midnight, Monemvasia
Many of the photos are enhanced by quotations taken from books over the years. A lot of these are by the Greek poet Yiannis Ritsos, who was born in Monemvasia and who featured it in many of his poems and other writings. These included Women of Monemvasia (1978) and Monovasia (1982).
Ritsos constantly visited his birthplace, and although he died in Athens, a sculpture of him takes pride of place in Monemvasia. Some of the photos in the book show the making of the sculpture, with Ritsos posing for it.
On the square
the ancient cannon eaten away by time and salt;
the same for the bolts and keys of the temples. Rust
has its great share.
Yiannis Ritsos, ‘XIII. Inside the Rust’, 1975
"Eaten away by time and salt"
Monemvasia has also been described by the Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek, who visited Monemvasia and was as charmed by the place as anyone. In his travel book Journey to the Morea, he describes Monemvasia like this:
“Old low houses, cobblers, grocers, a barbers shop… two or three old men were seated on doorsteps, a donkey laden with dried twigs went by. Life on the rock is harsh, without sobs… and the children accept all these horrible things like customary occurrences, well harmonised with the life of granite.”
Monemvasia's Main Street
With several essays about Monemvasia, as well as the remarkable photos (some of which you can see on this page), this beautiful book should definitely be on the shopping list for anyone with any remote interested in Greece. And if you haven’t yet been to Monemvasia, it will tempt you to go.
Monemvasia is published by Unicorn Publishing and you can buy a copy discounted on their website.
Where to Stay in Monemvasia
Other Greece books pages
The very thorough A-Z Guide to Santorini by Tony Oswin is now in its 15th edition, a sure sign that the guidebook is both popular and kept up-to-date.
Heaven on Earth is a collection of 19 travel pieces about Greece by Mike Gerrard.
If planning a trip to Greece, what are the best books about Greece to read before you go, or to take with you, to give you a sense of place?
A Thing of Beauty by Peter Fiennes describes ‘Travels in Mythical and Modern Greece’ and places the Greek Gods in the context of modern-day Greece.
Greece Book Reviews on the Greece Travel Secrets website with reviews of the best guidebooks to Greece, the Greek Islands, Athens, Crete and elsewhere.
Taverna by the Sea is an account by Jennifer Barclay of her summer spent working in a taverna on Karpathos and a welcome new book of Greek travel writing.
Wild Abandon by Jennifer Barclay and published by Bradt Guides is A Journey to Deserted Places of the Dodecanese islands in Greece, including Rhodes and Kos.
The Summer of My Greek Taverna by Tom Stone is a memoir of his time on the Greek island of Patmos in the Dodecanese, running a restaurant.
The Bradt Guide to Northern Greece is a detailed guide to Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Thrace, The Pelion, The Sporades and the rest of Northern Greece.
Mermaid Singing by Charmian Clift is a fine example of 1950s travel writing about the Greek island of Kalymnos in the Dodecanese.
Margarita’s Olive Press is a modern gem of a book of Greek travel writing, in which the author falls in love with and renovates a property on Zakynthos.
The Lonely Planet guide to the Greek Islands is a thorough and helpful guide to all the Greek island groups, with Athens included.
The latest edition of the Lonely Planet travel guide to Greece is a comprehensive 750-page guidebook to the whole country.
Lonely Planet Crete is an excellent and thorough guide of almost 300 pages to the largest of the Greek islands.
Ikaria by Meni Valle, brings together the best and healthiest Greek recipes with an evocative travelogue about Ikaria, one of the world’s Blue Zone places.
Peel Me a Lotus by Charmian Clift is a Hydra travel writing classic, describing her family’s life on this tiny Greek island near Athens in the 1950s.
There are many great Greek poets, with two authors winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and names include Sappho, Cavafy, George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis.
Fire on the Island is a romantic thriller novel by Timothy Jay Smith set on a fictionalised version of the town of Molyvos on the island of Lesbos.
Eurydice Street, A Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff is an honest account of what it’s like to move to Athens and live as a foreigner, learning Greek customs.
Greece Travel Secrets reviews the book Culture Trails by Lonely Planet, which has a section on Artistic Athens and 51 other perfect weekends for culture lovers.
The Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese is the best book on the Greek region which includes attractions like Mycenae, Epidavros, Olympia, Monemvasia and Nafplion.
The 2022 edition of the A-Z Travel Guide to Kos is the 15th edition of the best and most comprehensive guidebook to Kos in the Dodecanese islands of Greece.
A Rope of Vines by Brenda Chamberlain is an evocative memoir of the author’s time living on the Greek island of Hydra in the early 1960s.
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