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.
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.
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
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.”
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.