Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Kythera Chronicles: Barbarossa

             The dirt road ends and you have to walk another couple of miles to get to the ruins.  You walk through stony abandoned fields where they grew their aubergines, tomatoes and potatoes.  They had to walk three miles for water and carry their water back in buckets. 

                As you approach the remains of the site, the view across the Aegean is beautiful, but bare of life apart from the always moving sea. You wonder, why would anybody want to live in this barren, windswept promontory where there was no water, and you had to walk over a mile to your field.  Kythera has plenty of water and fertile land, but not anywhere near here. 

             The answer is the same reason the Italians built their villages on the tops of hill, to defend themselves from the bandits, rapers and pillagers who preyed on small towns in the Middle Ages. 

             This village was on a prow of rock a thousand feet high pointing out over a deep chasm.  This was the most secure village in the Mediterranean.  Why else would they put up with such a desolate, difficult spot?  Security, above all, they must have thought. You could defend the village with a broom.

              I’ve walked in that chasm below.  There are places where you have to turn your shoulders to get through, and boulders the size of sofas worn smooth as pebbles by the force of the water in the spring.  Leaning way back, the Greek sun blazing in your eyes, you know the village must be up there somewhere, but you can’t see it.  

              No one could climb that worse than vertical crag. (click on all these images to enlarge.) (I saw a baby mountain goat slip and fall.  It landed on a ledge twenty feet down, got up and shook itself off.  A man would have tumbled like a stone.)
             Barbarossa didn’t even try.

             500 years ago, Turkish Admiral, Khair-ed-Din Barbarossa, (Red Beard) landed his ships quietly at night on the beach three miles below.  He too was Greek and born on Lesbos.  So he knew the island.  He led his pirates up the road to the back gate of the fortress village. And chose a handsome teenager with a gift for a story to approach heavily fortified back gate.  A woman slept inside to sound the alarm in case of attack.  The young man whispered, “I am a traveler, and I have heard there is a woman of such blinding beauty, no one in the village can see that she is beautiful.  I have heard that she is lonely.  I have come to take her to my golden village.”

             Something like that.

              After an hour's conversation, the woman opened the gate just a little to see his face. Barbarossa and his pirates shouldered through that tiny slit.  And the Greeks who had built their village on the edge of a cliff had nowhere to go. According to the local story women dove over the cliff head first with their babies in their arms.  No one survived.

          No one has lived here since. 

          When security takes over your life, your life is over.  Security is a trap. There will always be pirates. Life is dangerous. Sure, lock your door at night.  But there's more to life than locked doors.  Live, laugh, love and love again, for on the morrow Barbarossa will get busted for possession in Disneyland.

1 comment:

Stephen C. Thompson said...

Learn more about Barbarossa in director Tony Schweikle's film "Barbarossa and the Towers of Italy"