Friday, 8 April 2016

Greece trip. Day 7

Our final day in the Morea started with a pessimist statement by Pagona that we would not be able to adhere to the tight schedule, which included Gastouni, Chlemoutsi, Glarentsa, and Blacherna before noon.

The church of the Panagia Katholiki at Gastouni, whose redating, together with that of Merbaka, has reshuffled the chronological sequence of “Frankish” architecture in the Morea, was our first stop. We were able to point out the similarities of the immured bacini to those we had seen at Merbaka and comment on the predominantly Byzantine character of the construction. Some of us managed to enter into the sanctuary and have a glimpse of the dedicatory inscription mentioning the Kalligopoulos family, including William Kalligopoulos, whose name indicates that the donors may have been Greek Catholics.
Once again, the Helladic paradigm

Dogtooth friezes and bacini

The castle of Chlemoutsi, the main residence of the Villehardouin Princes of Achaea, was the culmination of our trip in several ways: we arrived at the most spectacular and best preserved castle of Frankish Greece and we finally got to meet the man whom we had been hearing about for the past days as the person who has contributed the most to the study and promotion of the monuments of Frankish Morea in recent years, namely the former Director of Antiquities Dimitris Athanasoulis. Dr. Athanasoulis offered us a detailed tour of the castle by explaining the layout of the hexagonal keep, with the chapel, audience hall, kitchen, and living quarters of the princes. He also described the gates, towers, and the defensive enceinte that encompassed the residential center. He particularly emphasized architectural elements imported directly from France, such as the fireplaces, but he noted that the general character of the structure is more reminiscent of Crusader military architecture in the Holy Land. By alluding to Bellevoir castle in Israel, we were able to connect with our November trip and our visit to that site.

After our tour of the castle, we saw the fascinating exhibits in the museum housed inside the castle. The collection includes finds from the castle itself, as well as from various “Frankish” sites of the Peloponnese, mainly sculptural fragments, coins, pottery, and objects of everyday life, making it a unique example of a “Crusader Museum” in Greece. We interacted with Dimitris Athanasoulis and had discussions about the exhibits (especially a white-glazed bowl with a kufic – not pseudo-kufic – inscription) and were reminded of the sites we had visited over the previous days when we saw a key-stone from Zaraka, a capital from Isova, and the tombstone of Agnes Villehardouin (whom we had encountered at Samarina as the commissioner of the 13th-century paintings), originally from Andravida, as well as of our trip to Turkey, when we came across a sherd of Port Saint Symeon ware.

Meeting with Dr. Athanasoulis

Reconstructing the gate

The continuous gallery surrounding the chapel and audience hall

A general view of the chapel from the outside

Deciphering the French inscription of the Byzantine princess Agnes

A heated debate about the origin of an Islamic glazed bowl
A Canadian-Byzantine Capital

Glarentza was a walled city unlike Andravida, and which became an important trading city in the Mediterranean.  A fortress protected the city on its southwest side, and during excavations conducted by Dr. Anthanasoulis and his team uncovered the bases of sea towers on its north and west side.  At the site, we saw the remains monastery of St. Francis, where the Villehardouins held their court assemblies.  The three-aisled basilica was covered by a wooden roof and decorated with frescos in a Byzantine style. Several tombs were found along the interior walls close to the sanctuary and near the church’s painted screen, The best preserved example is that of a warrior saint arcosolium presently in the museum at Chlemoutzi Castle.  An additional find was a grave found outside the basilica on the northern side of the nave.

An introduction to the topography of Glarentza

The church of Saint Francis

A founder's (?) tomb in Saint Francis

Our last stop for the day and for the whole trip was the church in the monastery of Blacherna, built in the 13th century in two successive phases. Dr. Athanasoulis was still with us and kindly gave us one more presentation on the church, which he believes was built by the same team of masons who worked at Merbaka. He pointed out the cloisonné masonry, dogtooth friezes, and pointed arches and drew our attention to the peculiarities of the building, such as the stepped base (a striking similarity with Merbaka), the sculpted monsters, and the extensive reuse of Middle Byzantine sculpture. The representation of the Lamb of God (the Agnus Dei) in the interior indicates the use of the building for the Latin rite. This ended our tour of Frankish Morea and by the time we were finished it was 1 pm, i.e. one hour later than planned (Pagona was right in the end).

Pointed arches and dogtooth friezes

A general view of the Blacherna church
Ribs in the Blacherna

We concluded our Greece trip with a bus ride to Athens, where we had a short wrap-up session. Maria Georgopoulou talked about some concluding thoughts. She insisted that the use of the term "Gothic" in Greece is problematic and reiterated the questions she had posed during her talk in Istanbul, namely those concerning center and periphery and colonialism versus provincialism. She also wondered whether the concepts of fusion and symbiosis after 1204 are merely a fashion in current scholarship and stressed the importance of studying ceramics and coinage to make up for the lack of textual documentation for the monuments. In any case, we all agreed that this trip, as was the case with our adventures in Anatolia and the Holy Land, had made us wiser in several respects. 

Finally, Scott, Gil, and Heba added a few remarks about our imminent trip to Jordan in November. After a hybrid farewell dinner (Norwegian salmon with Chinese fried rice and won tons) in the hotel next to the Acropolis, we all look forward to a different experience in Jordan in six months from now.

See you in Jordan!

Greece Trip. Day 6


The first stop of the day was outside the castle of Karytaina in Arcadia, where we looked at the remains of a belfry of the 13th century (part of our ongoing discussion of this structural element probably introduced to Greece by the Latins).  Belfries have been on our agenda since our Istanbul trip when Bob Ousterhout had argued that the Latins had added a substantial bell tower to the Hagia Sophia when they took Constantinople. After a short break, we continued to the castle of Karytaina itself. We met two members of the archaeological team that worked on the site. Our first stop within the complex was a tower (our second of the trip after Androusa), which contained a cistern on its ground level. Its second floor had primarily a residential function, was covered by a barrel vault and contained a wooden floor. Another western feature included a chimney, and its construction was presumably completed by local masons who were possibly basing their work on French models. 

Belfries are one of the most discussed topics of our trip

Wondering at the Karytaina belfry

We continued to the monastery of Isova, presented to us by Michalis Olympios. The church was mentioned only once in the Greek version of the Chronicle of Morea, when its destruction in the aftermath of the Battle of Pelagonia of 1259 is the only documentary evidence that noted its existence; very little else is known. The church is related in terms of its plan to other Moreote Latin churches (namely Glarentza and Andravida). The single-aisle structure has a polygonal apse and a wooden roof. One of the principal questions regarding the site is the wall in its interior crossing the nave, which has ceramic pots embedded in it, perhaps for acoustic reasons, yet at the same time these would appear to be set very low. The placement of this wall is troublesome; one context in which it could work is in a female monastery. According to the reconstruction, the cloister was located on the south side of the building. On closer examination, our group puzzled over the height of the floor level since it would have to have been very low. The exterior of the northwest corner of the basilica contains the only remaining sculptural detail, a gargoyle. Next we made a brief stop at the adjacent Hagios Nicholas. Little is known of this three-aisled structure; it postdates the larger church and was built after its destruction.

Trying to solve the mystery of Isova

Michalis Olympios teaching Gothic architecture

A gargoyle in Morea

We then made our way to modern Elis, the heartland of the Frankish kingdom of Achaea in the plain of the Morea and to the site of its first capital of Andravida (Andreville). The unwalled city was a key site in what Athanasoulis has called a “triangle of power” of Frankish principality, along with Chlemoutsi and Glarentza (Clarence), which are located within 5 kilometers of each other, and which was its administrative, economic, and military center. At Andravida in addition to Hagia Sophia, there were also St. Stephen and St. James, the latter of which was the mausoleum of the Villehardouin. 

The only standing monument is the remains of the Dominican church of Hagia Sophia. The church was the court chapel of the Villehardouins, in addition to being the cathedral and seat of the bishop of the Olena. The site of the church was excavated in the 1980s by an archaeological team from the University of Minnesota. The Hagia Sophia was a three-aisled basilica with a vaulted sanctuary and a timber roof held up by slender granite columns. What remains of the cathedral of the capital of the Frankish principle of Achaia is its sanctuary and two chapels with rib vaults that is just over 1 meter of the present level of the nave. The structure had square apses (which we had seen earlier in the day at Isova). In the sanctuary, there are significant remains of plaster on the rib vaults.

At the capital of the Frankish Principality

A somewhat expressionist image of Saint Sophia


Pointing at pointed arches

Greece Trip. Day 5

In the morning we set off towards Aipeia near Kalamata, which was on an important route between Messenia and Lakonia and a significant commercial hub. The first of the two churches we saw, dedicated to St. George, was familiar to our group as it had been presented by Bob Ousterhout in his lecture on the first night. Our speaker, Michalis Kappas, an archaeologist and architectural historian at the local Ephorate of Antiquities, presented to us on the site. The church still contains a few fragments of bacini embedded on its exterior, proto-maiolica ware that date to the second half of 13th century. As is the case with the church at Merbaka that we saw on Day 2, the building betrays traditional Byzantine elements. Dr. Kappas noted the significance of the first phase of Frankish architecture in the first half of the 13th century, in the aftermath of the establishment of the Principality of Achaia, which can be seen in the inclusion of spolia, marble columns, and capitals. These monuments with their imported features served as prototypes for local masons who participated in their construction, yet it is clear that they did not have a clear understanding of these when copied. The interior is decorated with frescoes in the apse depicting St. George dating to the late 13th century. Dr. Kappas argued for a Greek Orthodox patron. Bob Ousterhout noted that the church does not have a dome, but rather a cross-vault similar to examples in Epirus, dating to the beginning of the century.

The second church of the day, Agios Nikolaos, built in the first half of the 13th century. This is a multi-phase site, with a chapel constructed later in the century. The church also had a porch on its north side which is a Western architectural feature. Embedded into the wall of the nave were ceramic vases, which had an acoustic function. Two graves were found on the north side in the chapel, in which in one were found a female figure with a belt buckle, quite clearly an elite burial site. The church and chapel each had an altar, however there is no indication that the site was used for dual Latin and Greek rite.

Dr. Kappas in action

Aipeia, Saint George

Aipeia, Saint Nicholas
We continued our journey toward the coast, to Methoni (Modon), one of the two strongholds held by the Venetians in addition to Koroni (Corone) on the other end of the peninsula. After a light refreshment, we headed towards its castle. First built in the classical period, the later Byzantine settlemetn is best represented by an inscription, presently in the museum in Kalamata, which was located in its interior dating to 1084-85 and which mentions a Norman attack. The Venetian occupation began in 1209 (the first of two periods), and a major rebuilding of the fortifications took place at this site. Other noteworthy monuments include the remains of the Cathedral of Methoni converted into a mosque in the fifteenth century, and only part of a minaret remains. We also saw the nave built of a facing of ashlar blocks and rubble masonry. An additional octogonal tower, Bourtzi, is a 16th century Ottoman addition on an islet connected via a causeway.

A general view of the castle of Methone
Interrogating Dr. Kappas

Exploring the cathedral of Methone 

We next made our way to Androusa Castle, the second fortified site of the day. According to the Chronicle of Morea, William Villehardouin ordered its construction. Androusa was the seat of the military commander or castellan of the coastal city of Kalamata nearby. Outside the enclosure of the castle walls, we visited a small church that was perhaps a burial chapel of the Villehardouin family. Dr. Kappas pointed out that the masonry and details, namely the dog-tooth frieze, was similar to the Blacherna monastery (and 5-6 other examples). The best preserved of this group, the church at Androusa is barrel vaulted and local stone was used for its construction.

Cloisonné masonry and dogtooth friezes at Androusa

Measuring pointed arches at Androusa
Michalis Kappas showing the way to the top

Our guide Aristotelis in the Androusa jacuzzi

The last church on our list for the day was the magnificent Byzantine church known as the Zoodochos Pege at Samarina. This jewel is a characteristic example of Komnenian architecture in the Peloponnese, built in the 12th century and equipped with one of the finest sculpted chancel screens of the so-called Samarina workshop (we had actually seen another product of this atelier re-used in the Peribleptos in Mistra). The most fascinating aspect of this jewel was the painted decoration of the narthex: the style and iconography indicate a 13th-century date, which perfectly agrees with the information known from textual sources that Anne-Agnes Villehardouin, the Byzantine princess married to prince William Villehardouin of Achaea, had been the patron of a church dedicated to Saint Marina in this area. This could actually explain the name of the site, Samarina, as a corrupt form of the appellation Santa Marina.

Our arrival at Samarina

A detail of the 13th-century paintings

Opus sectile in the Samarina church, particularly appreciated by the two bloggers

In the evening we gathered in the hotel for round 2 of the Presentations by Junior Scholars. This time the common theme was “Propaganda”, taken up by numismatist Pagona Papadopoulou and crusader sculpture specialist Gil Fishhof. Pagona’s talk (“Aspiration and Necessity in the Crusader Age: the Case of Lusignan Coinage”) focused on Lusignan propaganda, as expressed in the coinage of Crusader Cyprus. She explained the ways in which the rulers of the island used the types, inscriptions, and iconography of their coins in order to emphasize their ideological ties with either the Kingdom of Jerusalem or with the western powers of the time (e.g. the Angevins). Gil ("Centaurs and Saracens: the Enemy and Propaganda in Crusader Art") analysed the iconography of the eastern lintel of the south façade of the church of the Holy Sepulchre and argued that the representation of the Centaur was an allusion to Muslims, by citing the portrayal of Muslims in textual sources and in art as deformed savage beasts. Again, both speakers mentioned Jerusalem, as had Michalis and Heba one day earlier.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Greece trip. Day 4

Day 4 started with a short drive up to the Gatehouse to the Akronauplia citadel overlooking the city of Nauplion. The purpose of our visit was to see the recently uncovered fresco paintings depicting Saints Anthony, George, Christopher, and James (Santiago) of Compostela. This unusual ensemble characterized by its Western iconography is a good example of Latin art in Frankish Greece. Unfortunately, the paintings are deteriorating rapidly and it was very difficult to study them.

A general view of the fresco decoration of the Akronauplia gate

Re-evaluating the Frankish paintings

The main dish of the day was the site of Mistra. The city of Mistra, originally a Frankish castle built by the Villehardouin princes of Achaea in the early 13th century, was the seat of the Byzantine possessions in the Peloponnese throughout the Palaiologan period. It is well known to Byzantinists as a major center for the last phases of Byzantine painting and architecture. There was time for only a few highlights, so we decided to focus on the Palace complex and on two of the churches. Suna Çağaptay talked to us about the Palace of the Kantakouzenos and Palaiologos despots. She pointed out the initial phase of the building constructed by the Franks and the successive Byzantine additions by drawing our attention to the decorative details that can be attributed to western influence. The rectangular plan and the way the structure dominates the plateau and the whole city are also important features. Suna also described the relationship between the study and restoration of the site and its use in shaping the modern Greek national narrative about the “Greekness” of Mistra. Based on a recent article by Konstantinos Kourelis, she criticized the restoration of the building complex and questioned its validity.

A general view of the palace complex of Mistra

Nicholas Melvani (co-author of this blog) selected two churches as representative examples that show Frankish presence in the Peloponnese. The church of the monastery of Pantanassa, a 15th-century monument following the so-called Mistra plan (a basilica on ground level with a cross-in-square gallery level), is decorated with paintings typical of the Late palaiologan period; its eastern façade displays rich ornamentation executed in poros limestone and brickwork, especially an arcade a of pointed arches and, above that, a series of garlands. The form of the belfry (the round windows and the pinnacles at the top) may also be seen as borrowings from the architectural language of Gothic. The second church Nicholas showed us, that of the monastery of the Peribleptos, is primarily a Byzantine church (a two-column cross in square with an extensive iconographic cycle executed in fresco painting) with a number of meaningful details referring to Frankish presence, mostly visible in the sculptural decoration: a monogram in the Byzantine manner supported by heraldic lions, slabs inserted into the south façade, also decorated with heraldic lions, a prominently carved fleur-de-lis on the east façade, relief fleurs-de-lis on an impost capital in the nave and on a templon epistyle, and round windows combined with pointed arches on the monastic tower. All these point to the patronage of the despot of Mistra Manuel Kantakouzenos and his wife Isabelle de Lusignan, cousin of the King of Armenian Cilicia Guy.The adaptation of western-inspired heraldic practices by a Byzantine ruler are of particular importance for our discussions.

The eastern façade of the Pantanassa church

Saint Nicholas and the Crusader scholars

Inside the Pantanassa church

Pseudo-kufic in the foreground
Discussing the hybrid emblem at the Peribleptos
Explaining Late Byzantine sculpture

The visit to Mistra was concluded with a note by Suna on the so-called house of Laskaris, a fine example of domestic architecture in the city, datable to the 14th century. The Mistra experience was followed by lunch and by a spectacular drive over the Taygetus mountain to the city of Kalamata. 

Suna posing as a real estate agent in front of the House of Laskaris

Soon after our arrival, we convened in the hotel’s conference room for the inaugural session of a series of joint presentations by two junior scholars from widely divergent fields focusing on a common general topic. The first pair, Michalis Olympios (a specialist in Gothic) and Heba Mostafa (an islamicist) treated the theme “Commemoration-Memory” from their different points of view. Heba’s talk ("Commemoration and Erasure at the Haram al-Sharif: The Transformation of the Umayyad Dome of the Chain under the Crusaders") described the history of the Dome of the Chain in Jerusalem, and traced its transformation through the Umayyad, Crusader, and Ayyubid periods. The most striking elements throughout this process were the general concept of commemorating the Kings of Judea and the explicit efforts of the Ayyubids to refer to the memory of the Umayyad phase of the monument after the Crusader interlude. Michalis (“Architecture and Commemoration: Historicist Fantasies, Dynastic Politics and Class Consciousness in the Architecture of Lusignan and Venetian Cyprus”) analysed the revival of historical styles and retrospective features in the Gothic architecture sponsored by the Greeks of Cyprus (e.g. in the 14th-century phases of the Greek cathedrals of Famagusta and Nicosia and in the 16th-century church of the Hodegetria in Nicosia). He thus showed that the visual references to older styles (e.g. to the Romanesque language of the churches in Jerusalem and Beirut) reveal a conscious appreciation of history as a means to convey political messages and to respond to changing realities. Michalis wittingly commented that both speakers mentioned Jerusalem, albeit in different contexts, thus reminding us of our Israel trip. 

At our hotel in Kalamata, we were joined by Cassie Mansfield, an art historian from the Getty. At the end of the day we celebrated Maria Georgopoulou’s birthday and Scott Redford treated the group to some champagne from Rhodes (incidentally, another Crusader land, which, unfortunately, we won't be visiting). Appropriately, the label on the champagne bottle proudly claimed that it was produced in Greece according to the French method (ad modum Franciae?).