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!


  1. Thank you Nicholas and Dana for writing such an informative blog for our trip, and thank you Maria for organizing it.

  2. Thank you everyone for posting on this blog site. If you have any additional photographs, comments etc, please do add them to the site. Also, look out for the Getty appraisal questionnaire appearing soon in a e'mail-box near you.