Thursday, November 29, 2012

Victoire de Samothrace

Although I lived in Alexandroupolis from birth to the time I went to college, and the island of Samothrace looked so conspicuous in the Aegean sea horizon with its skyline only a handful miles to the south, I never managed to visit the island, until a few weeks ago. I was actually invited by a good friend to tour the entire prefecture of Evros and take photographs (more than 2500, in all, I shot) of its National Parks (yes, there are two mind you, Dadia and the Evros Delta), its ancient sites (I visited six at least older than a thousand years to more than 2 thousand, Mesimvria, Samothrace, Doxipara, Traianoupolis, Didymoteichon with the oldest Mosque in Continental Europe - the whole of Europe actually - and Our Lady Kosmoswtira in Ferres), countless churches large and tiny and scores of priceless Byzantine icones, and of course Edirne in Eastern Thrace occupied by the Turks (aka Adrianoupolis, located a few miles East of Kastanjes at the Northern border between Greece and Turkey). I also shot a series of portraits of locals and challenged friends who saw them to guess who were the Turks and who the Greeks in the series.

The trip to Samothrace however was something quite different. The island has got very much the atmosphere of any Greek island, with a stunning landscape, reminiscent of Kefalonia as it combines wild mountainous views with the peaceful coastal scenery and beautiful sand and rocky beaches. I won't attempt to describe the island in detail for two reasons: 1) I only stayed less than 24 hours in all, and what can you possibly manage to see in just 24 hours,? and 2) I feel more comfortable about showing my pics than describing things. So, I rather not talk and show you the pictures instead, with a myriad hyperlinks posted above and hereunder.

I am sure you can find out a lot about the island and its history in a thousand places anywhere on the net, and maybe many more photographs even better than mine... or whatever, but anyways, I did my thing and feel good about it.

There's a mountainous site in Samothrace with an ancient temple and many ruins (incl. a theater) facing north (the same way Delphi faces south). There's a museum there too. Apparently the works to excavate the area and unearth the ruins was supported by an American humanist (Carl Lehmann). There's a plaque at the entrance of the museum. However, I don't quite know the exact story about how the famous statue of Nike (Victory) of Samothrace found its way to the Louvre in Paris, France, where it is being exhibited to this day, but the fact is that the museum only carries a replica. I have displayed a picture of this replica in the beginning of this post.

As I was wondering around in the museum, for less than half hour in all as it was actually very small, and in November I was probably the only visitor of the day (maybe the week), I asked myself about the pain my compatriots have been going through for years to repatriate the Elgin marbles back to the Parthenon. Now, that's a different story. No foreigner had the right to steal those works from their natural habitat regardless the excuse, and the Elgins should really come back, as there's a dedicated museum opposite the Acropolis today that is world class venue and the best place to house the Parthenon marbles.

How about the Nike statue though? Should it leave the Louvre and come back to Greece? It depends. If it came to Greece it would be probably sent to some Athens museum and not back to Samothrace. But if in a million years one decided to bring it back to Samothrace, what then? Well, I'm not going to put any point of view forward to avoid being lynched by my compats. I will only mention, that a) I couldn't believe the appalling state of the road leading to the archaeological site (probably only worth of Samothrace's (famous for their taste) goats jumping from stone to rock to climb the hill - at least the equally mountainous Delphi is serviced by a motorway) and b) the salle that they would presumably put the original Nike (unless they decided to build a new museum - but with what funds, one wonders). See for yourselves hereunder where they display the replica to grasp my point...

I guess, on a regular day at the Louvre, the authentic Nike statue meets more visitors than during an entire year it's cousin replica does on the island. So, if the purpose of this whole exhibition is to show the world the greatness of Ancient Hellas in all its glory and what our ancestors have achieved in the domains of arts and all the rest, then you better put it somewhere where at least people get the easy way to go and see. With thousands of flights arriving to Paris in its three airports daily, and millions of folks visiting the Louvre, I rest my case.

As a consolation, see the site (right) where the original statue was put thousands of years ago. It's about twenty meters further up from the point I shot that picture, they told me. A nice, no, a superior view, towards the sea and the Saos mountain. And during the night, with clear skies, the most beautiful view of a starry outer space that in the forty years I have been living in Belgium I even forgot it existed. I even saw the Great Bear, almost hidden below the Northern horizon this time of the year. And our Milkyway Galaxy, my God... it all looked so close. Stretch and you'll grab a star! Make a wish!

I know many 'riches' from Alex/city 40 miles to the North, two hours by a local Ferry, maintain a holiday home on the island. Many even spend their weekends during the entire year, and not only in the summer. They must be the luckiest folks on the planet, especially if you think that they can abandon for the weekend the garbage dump Alex/city has been turned into in the last 40 years, and come to Samothrace instead to live at least a couple days a week like kings in France, in a venue close to Paradise, real close!

No comments: