Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Greece Trip. Day 3

We departed from the city of Athens and headed toward the Frankish Morea. Our first stop was the famous Middle Byzantine monastery of Dafni, which functioned as a Cistercian monastery during the Frankish period. Although we took advantage of the opportunity to climb the scaffolding and view the marvelous mosaics (dated ca. 1100), we focused mainly on the western façade with its pointed arches, the result of the 13th-century remodeling of the outer narthex by the Cistercians. Appropriately, we paid our respects to the sarcophagus attributed to the duke Guy II de la Roche. We also discussed the removal of ancient ionic columns from the façade by Lord Elgin.  

The sarcophagus of Guy II de la Roche
In front of the Cistercian monastery of Dafni
After crossing the Corinth Canal, we made our way to the site of the ancient and medieval city where we met with Guy Sanders, director of the Excavation conducted in Corinth by the American School. Dr. Sanders provided an alternative narrative of everyday life in the “Frankish” city based on the evidence of domestic architecture (houses and shops grouped around a central courtyard), burial customs, osteoarchaeology (bone analyses of human remains found in tombs), and anthropology. After learning about the fast food shops of the area and the people who died of eating badly preserved feta cheese, we continued this fascinating tour in the museum depot, where Guy Sanders presented a rich variety of artefacts, such as copper and ceramic bowls (especially proto-maiolica ware), coins, and glass finds which shed additional light on the middle and lower class inhabitants of Frankish Corinth. His ideas about cooking habits and coin finds provoked lively discussions with our pottery and coinage experts, which were continued over lunch in a local taverna.

A tour of Frankish Corinth
Discussing eating habits
After leaving Corinth we headed to Zaraka, where we visited one more Cistercian monastery (the second of the day after Dafni). Pagona Papadopoulou presented the site, by emphasizing the strong architectural links with the abbey’s mother house in Burgundy (Morimond abbey), although some details such as the insertion of bricks between the masonry blocks betray the participation of local masons. The “Frenchness” of the building is evident in the ribbed vaults (a leit-motif from our Israel trip), the engaged columns with crocket capitals (a recurring theme of this trip), and the simple basilican plan with rectangular apses typical of Cistercian architecture. The reuse of building material from the site of ancient Stymphalos nearby is also a notable feature. A monumental gatehouse is all that remains of the monastic complex. Pagona also mentioned that excavations conducted by the Canadian Institute in Greece revealed burials of females and infants (an unexpected find for a male monastery).

At the Cistercian monastery of Zaraka
A crocket capital

The church at Zaraka

A stylite Crusader scholar
The gate of the monastery of Zaraka

The final stop of the day was the church of Merbaka in the Argolid, a key monument in recent scholarship dealing with Frankish Morea. Guy Sanders has redated the church to the late 13th century based on the bacini immured in the facades and has attributed it to the patronage of the Latin bishop of Corinth, William of Moerbeke. The architectural features (the stepped base on which the church stands, the four-column cross-in-square type with elongated plan, the cloisonné masonry typical of the so-called “Helladic paradigm”, the ancient and Byzantine spolia revealing a high appreciation for antiquities, ceramic bowls, as well as superficial “Western” elements, such as a fleur-de-lis carved on a marble impost block), as analysed by Bob Ousterhout both in his talk on Day 1 and during our visit to the site, raised several questions concerning identity and symbiosis between Latins and Greeks. Eva Hoffman pointed out that Merbaka should be seen as a highly personal monument, regardless of the identity of the patron.

Explaining the Helladic paradigm
Middle Byzantine spolia from Merbaka
Studying the Helladic paradigm

Our first day in the Morea was concluded in the city of Nauplion, where we continued to reflect on what we had seen and talked about during the day, by visualizing lord Elgin taking away the columns from the church at Dafni.

1 comment:

  1. when i visited dafni i didn't see the graves of the dukes of Athens, may i ask if have you other picks about?
    Thank You very much