Thursday, April 12, 2007

Getting Lost in Hora

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Traditional Greek Urban Planning is about what you would expect from Greeks. It has, let’s say, its own internal logic that is not immediately discernible to the rationalistic Western eye.

On the surface, the layout of a traditional island town looks something like this: houses built wherever and however with no space in between them, and alleys of constantly varying widths which zig, zag, and curve every which way.

But, as one local finally explained to us, there is a reason for this. Over the centuries, islands like Patmos were constantly attacked by pirates and foreign armies. Patmos’ recent history alone is dizzying: Patmos was one of the islands which rose up against the Turks in the 1821 Greek Revolution. They gained independence with Greece, but then fell again into Turkish hands in 1832. In 1912, Patmos (and the other islands of the Dodecanese) were ceded to the Italians, who kept them until 1947, when they gave them back to Greece.

Because of the constant and unpredictable attacks, then, island villages were built almost like fortresses. Houses were constructed side by side to form a kind of wall. Alleys were confusing on purpose – so that only locals would know where things were. And the narrowness of alleys made it possible for as little as one man to defend an entrance into the village.

In the bottom photo of me, you see the narrowness I’m talking about. In the top photo, you see Brendan, Philip, and Pelagia wandering around a typically-colored alley. In the middle photo, Patricia stopped to smell the flowers which were beginning to bloom.

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