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Locating the Garden of Fiorenza

The view of the cemetery from Chora and the 'garden' behind it
The view of the cemetery from Chora and the ‘garden’ behind it

In trying to locate ‘The Garden of Fiorenza’, I worked on the premise that VC would not have travelled far from Chora while waiting for the steamer, so I assumed he spied the ‘garden’ from Chora. From this vista, there’s only one likely site for the garden, due north of Chora in a ravine that descends from the bare hilltop and falls away to the sea on the south coast at Aspra Petradia.

From Chora, the cemetery appears to be part of it, but that’s just an illusion. A dirt road just uphill from the cemetery leads around a fenced sports centre before it starts descending. The existence of the seasonal water course is highlighted by the lush vegetation.

The garden in the ravine
The garden in the ravine

Looking uphill at the point where the track crosses the ravine, VC’s description of terraces, palm trees etc seems to fit. However, it covers a large area and you have to take the dirt track going down the ravine to come to the garden of fruit trees, a date palm, pomegranates and well-maintained terraces more fitting to VC’s description. Concrete steps take you down to almost stream level. Today, it’s irrigated by plastic pipes from the mains water supply but the stream clearly flows in season.

Maybe Fiorenza spent time here mulling over the hardships of power. I’m inclined to give VC the benefit of the doubt – if only because it makes for a good story.

Arriving at Anafi

Dusk over Mesa Vouno Santorini en route to Anafi
Dusk over Mesa Vouno, Santorini, en route to Anafi

As we left Santorini behind us, the sun was already beginning its descent toward the mountain of Mesa Vouno. The wind picked up. Ninety minutes later, the sea-spray was reaching the passenger deck of the Aqua Jewel as she cleared the harbour mole of Anafi and made her first attempt at docking. It seemed, I thought, that she was reversing more slowly than is usual, coming in at a strange angle for docking. The few passengers onboard made their way to the car deck. It seemed an age before the ramp went down and we could see the expectant crowd waiting on the dockside.

A blonde girl with tattooed arms blew tattooed kisses to her waiting boyfriend. Others waved to friends in the dockside gathering. The ramp was within millimetres of kissing the familiar concrete. But, up it went, then down again, then up again, countless times as the captain determined the wind shear was too strong to safely plant the ramp on the dock. A priest crossed himself. The time seemed right. Hawsers, descending from above the open ramp door, were thrown ashore and hooked around stout capstans.

But no! The vessel ‘crabbed’ again and urgent shouts instructed the dock crew to loose the hawsers as the ship’s powerful engines went into overdrive to avoid collision with the dock. The hawsers, dripping sea water, were winched back onboard as the deck crew pushed everyone back, away from the danger of the open door and the swinging hawsers. The ramp door closed tight, shutting out the last of the evening sunlight. The ship was secured for sea and its engines continued under power.

Strangers became friends, united by a shared unease. After ten minutes or so, I climbed the stairs back onto the upper deck to find the ship some good distance from the port. “Safer on deck”, I thought, “than down below on the car deck”. I spoke to the purser – “This ship not good in the wind” he said, with a shaking of his outstretched hand. Maria, a Greek girl from Athens, on holiday from her job as a lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire in the UK, came back to tell us that the Captain had hoped to attempt docking on the other side of the harbour mole but had aborted that too – we were going back round to try again at the original dock.

The second attempt was barely more successful. The ramp performed its now familiar choreography. When it was at one point half a metre from the concrete of the dock, love could wait no longer – the tattooed girl, with an Olympian sprint, ran up the incline of the ramp leaping onto Terra Firma and into the arms of her waiting boyfriend. Sensing freedom, a man followed her. A third, encumbered by the weight of his backpack, was too slow and ended up being bear-hugged by a crew member. For fear of ensuing rebellion, the crew pushed us remaining passengers back away from the ramp door. Finally, after an interminable wait, we disembarked amid signs of relief after an hour and a half being tossed around at the mercy of the Aegean winds.

Anafi is one of the least accessible of the Cyclades with epithets such as: the island the Gods forgot and the island of the Rising Sun. In the 1920s and 1930s it was a place of exile for political dissenters. I can understand why now, it’s not easy of access – nor of egress.

Finding Katalyma

Katalyma was the name of the harbour for the ancient city of Anafi and was directly beneath the mountain-top city of Kastelli at present-day Katalimatsa Bay. It would appear to have been a significant size but little remains today where the harbour settlement was actually located, although, parts of its original marble structures are spread around the local area, and maybe other parts of the island, incorporated into other structures.

The Terrain Editions map shows two locations in the area where there are archaeological remains. One is located on the headland between Katalimatsa Beach and Megalos Roukounas beach; the other is in the river valley at the back of Megalos Roukounas Beach.

I drove to the junction of the main Chora-Monastery road where an unmade road goes down to Agios Ioannis Beach, and left the car parked off the main road. At the first hairpin bend on the unmade road, a walking track continues onwards downhill and meets with the hiking track number 1. Following track 1 going west, the route to Chora goes to the right but the Katalyma track goes straight on (to the left).

The ‘katikia’

The 'katikia' complete with threshing floor and 'well'
The ‘katikia’ complete with threshing floor and ‘well’
The 'monospito' of the katikia
The ‘monospito’ of the katikia

Shortly after, I passed by the threshing floor marked on the map, which is part of a now-abandoned ‘katikia’, a farmhouse ‘complex’ said to be unique to Anafi. The house itself is a single-roomed ‘monospito’ structure with the roof sagging, but still in place. The stone doorway looks to comprise ancient marble blocks. One missing feature is the outside oven, or ‘fournospito’ common in Anafi.

One of the two 'lakkoi' by the threshing floor
One of the two ‘lakkoi’ by the threshing floor

The threshing floor, although overgrown, is a perfect example and has two lakkoi described by Theodore Bent as being used to store the grain: “‘These are called lakkoi,’ said Barba Manthos, ‘in which our farmers, who have no granaries, store their grain. The holes are dug near a threshing floor, and when the grain is ready they put it in, having first been careful to cover the inside with straw. When sufficient grain has been piled up to form a sort of cone-shaped mound they cover the whole with straw, and put on the top of this some of the stiff native brushwood, and then they cover their mound with earth. Rain never penetrates these storehouses, and if it does it is sucked up by the brushwood and the straw before reaching the grain. This is, of course, a very ancient method of storing grain . . . by the side of every threshing floor, we saw two or three lakkoi which the ancient husbandmen of Greece called siroí”.

The marble frieze in the perimeter wall of the threshing floor
The marble frieze in the perimeter wall of the threshing floor

Parts of the perimeter wall of the threshing floor look to have come from the ancient buildings of Katalyma, one in particluar, which appears to be part of an intricately-carved marble frieze, used purely as a piece of convenient building material with no consideration for its beauty or workmanship.

The well and the inscribed stone
The well and the inscribed stone

There is an interesting structure which looks as though it’s a well, just by the threshing floor, with an engraved stone cemented in an almost ‘headstone-like’ manner. The inscription on the stone is quite worn and difficult to determine. Given the nature of the ground, it would seem likely that it’s a well rather than a cistern – the age-old boy scout trick of throwing a stone down a gap in it rusted cover proved nothing.

Rising behind the katikia on a mound, there appears to be another former dwelling. On the opposite side of this mound, there are some ancient marble blocks which have been involved in a collapse.

The terraces which form part of the katikia
The terraces which form part of the katikia

The katikia is complemented by the nearby terraces where the grain for the threshing floor woud have been grown and harvested.

The chapel

The chapel

The chapel contaiing ancient marble and its bonudary wall comprising ancient marble blocks
The chapel contaiing ancient marble and its bonudary wall comprising ancient marble blocks

Further on, past the katikia, is a small chapel having ancient blocks of marble built into its walls and a boundary wall composed almost entirely of ancient blocks.

The remains of Katalyma

The remains of the harbour town of Katalyma and the stone cairns erected on the site over recent times
The remains of the harbour town of Katalyma and the stone cairns erected on the site over recent times

Walking on further from the chapel, I came to an area with random blocks of marble spread over a large area. There are no discernible buildings and one wonders whether anything would have remained given the plundering of the town for building material over the centuries. Walkers, and possibly those searching for the ancient harbour town, have raised many stone cairns in the area to mark the significance of the spot.

VC writes “We came away from it down the hill-sides, covered with brushwood and wild thyme, and coloured with wild flowers; each footstep carrying us nearer to the sea and its ancient harbour, with the stairs that went down to its waiting ships.” However, I could find no trace of any steps leading down to the sea and had to scramble down the rocks to get to Roukounas Beach.

The Terrain Editions map shows another antiquity further up the river bed from the beach but I could find no trace of those remains, although I’m sure there must be something there if such a recent map has included it.

Maybe some other follower of VC might have more success in finding the steps to the sea and the other antiquity shown on the map.

Visiting Agia Paraskevi in Syros

When in Syros, one must-do activity is to climb the steps to the old Latin town of Ano Syros, or, Upper Syros. The upper town is a charming maze of small streets and alleys topped by the church of Agios Giorgios. VC describes the amazing views from the from the town and the church. However, surprisingly, one vista he doesn’t mention is that across the ravine to the small cluster of white buildings around the church and former monastery of Agia Paraskevi, with its ‘melon-shaped dome’, which he chanced upon on his ride to the highest point in the island, the summit of Mount Pyrgos.

From Agios Giorgios church, and from the map, it looks as though an old cobbled monopati goes from the road at the foot of the upper town and climbs its way up and over to Agia Paraskevi. I was determined to get there this time. I’d wanted to visit a few weeks before but the weather had not been good enough. I was staying in the lower town at the Diogenis so, to avoid having to first climb to Ano Syros the next day, I decided to do it the lazy way and take the bus to the village of Alithini. It’s then just an easy 10-minute walk to the church – a little over 1km.

The hillside grew wild and stern above the inhabited cities, and Pyrgos the summit was still afar off when we came to a white gateway, and through this were carried into a place made beautiful by the hand of man; called Hagia Paraskévi.

The church and it’s surrounds truly are beautiful, immaculately maintained and a veritable oasis on the otherwise barren hillside. The ‘hand of man’ was still beautifying it as more work was being carried out on its ‘melon-shaped dome’ while we were there. I took lots of photographs, some of which can be seen on the main Syros page.

The late Archbishop Methodios had a residence here which is still in the possession of his family. But the place looks like a monastery, and is all but uninhabited.

The house was certainly inhabited when I visited. I could hear the sounds of people enjoying themselves inside the house where, over a century before, a presumably sober Methodios would have spent many a restful day.

There was everything just as VC had described it: ‘the centre of its wide court of blue and grey marble’; ‘the chapel with a melon-shaped dome and cross above it’; and ‘an open Loggia with stone seats that disclosed through its columns a view of the city and the sea below’. It’s no longer a monastery but the church is still in use and, I found out later, is popular for weddings – what a perfect way to start married life together.

there is a crypt entered by a marble door, and a cloister open to the sea and laid with a black and white pebbled floor

I found the crypt, almost like a small chapel, with a tomb at one end. On the same level as the crypt are well-maintained gardens with fruit trees and I have to confess to ‘stealing’ two fallen apricots which would probably have rotted had they been left on the ground. I put them in my rucksack and they were delicious later on in the day as I walked down to the seaside village of Kini.

When VC visited, the church was locked, but on my visit I was lucky to be able to feast my eyes upon the beauty of the inside, denied to VC.

Just as I had finished my visit and was sitting under the shade of the loggia, the owners of the happy voices I’d heard earlier appeared from the house. They were all very stylishly dressed and extremely sociable. I learned a little later that one charming couple, Mr. and Mrs. Martinos, were the owners of the entire place, including the church and Methodios’ house. They seemed surprised at my knowledge of the history of the church so I ‘treated’ them to a reading from VC’s book. “It really is a perfect picture of the place,” Mrs. Martinos said, and then from her husband came the real surprise. “Of course,” he said, “you know that Methodios is buried in the crypt.” This was an incredible discovery and, after the couple and their guests had left, I revisited the crypt to ensure I’d not missed anything.

Another surprise followed. I’d noticed Mr. Martinos talking to one of the staff and gesturing toward me. Shortly afterwards, a couple appeared from the house and offered me coffee. The coffee arrived with delicious biscuits, ice-cold water and an enormous bowl of fruit: melon and apricots, which I suspect were produce from the gardens. Such hospitality and kindness to strangers – some things in Greece never change!

That evening, back at the Diogenis, the girls were keen to know about my visit to Agia Paraskevi. A few weeks before, they’d been kind enough to telephone for me to check when the church would be open to visitors. “Athanasios Martinos is a very successful businessman and does a lot for the community,” Laura told me. “He’s known in Syros for being a very kind man.” I think I’d already discovered that earlier in the day!

Finding the Lorentziadis family

In 1884, Theodore and Mabel Bent enjoyed the hospitality of Ios’ first family, the Lorenziades (sic) and wrote warmly of them and the hospitality they afforded him. In 1927, V.C. Scott O’Connor visited Ios and met with Stefanos Lorentziadis who told him ‘there are none of us now in the island’. I thought I’d do some research to discover what I could about this family, so prominent in 1884, with so many younger members, but one which seems to have disappeared within a period of just over 40 years.

My first stop was the cemetery, which is not always guaranteed to yield results in Greece. Generally, only the rich or influential can be found in permanent graves or on memorials in Greece, others are ‘laid to rest’ in graves for just a few years before being moved into an ossuary box and placed in the charnel house or, for the poor or forgotten, placed in communal ossuaries. The cemetery in Ios is part of the church on the road leading up to the windmills. It’s a well-kept cemetery, not large, laid out on terraces. Entering from the churchyard, my eyes were immediately drawn to a large marble tomb to my left on the upper terrace under the shade of a beautiful old tree. Carved into the stone on the side facing me were the words ‘ΟΙΚ. ΛΟΡΕΝΖΙΑΔΗ’ (Lorentziadis Family). I’d found the Lorentziadis family tomb. If at all, I’d expected to find an aged, possibly derelict, gravestone or tomb showing signs of neglect through lack of attention over the years. However, this was well-maintained, looked newly constructed and bore inscriptions with very recent dates. There were fresh flowers in white marble vases at each corner. This was no neglected tomb – clearly, the Lorentziadis family were still present in the island. On one of the old headstones placed near the main tomb I read the name, Michalis Lorentziadis, the demarch to whom Theodore Bent had handed a letter of introduction in 1884; he had died on May 30 1909. On the same stone was inscribed Maria Kortesi, the married name of Michalis’ sister, who’d died on 5th March 1909, just under 3 months before her brother. One final name on the same stone was Spyridon Lorentziadis, who I later found to be the brother of the three girls of the family who had cared for and so enchanted the Bents. The stone told of his tragic death as a soldier in the war who had died in Thessaloniki on 16th September 1918.

I was staying at the Avra Pension, in the port village of Yialos, run by one of the loveliest landladies I’ve encountered in the islands. ‘Katerina,’ I said, ‘do you know anybody called Lorentziadis?’ ‘Yes, of course,’ she replied, ‘they are a very well-known family in the island. The youngest runs the café by the harbour. They are a very nice family and I’m sure they would talk to you.’

The girls at the café directed me to the Lorentziadis house, one that I’d passed many times before on my previous visits to Ios, unaware of its link to the family which, even then, was central to my reason for visiting the island.

The house is large, and I knocked on a few wrong doors calling ‘Kalimera’ until, behind one, I could hear a man’s voice. Louis came to the door speaking on his mobile. Sitting on the veranda, I explained the reason behind my visit. Considering a strange Englishman had just knocked on his door and started talking about family members from 100 years before he’d been born, Louis reacted extremely calmly. ‘It’s probably better if you talk to my father about this, he knows more about the family history than I. I’ll call him, he’s in Athens.’ Louis related to his father, Spyros, what I’d previously told him and handed me the phone. Spyros’ English was impeccable and he was very keen to discuss further what information I had about this distant relative, Stefanos, whom he’d not known about. We talked about Theodore Bent, whose book he’d read. Then came the bombshell – ‘If you come to Athens, I will take you to see the dress that Ekaterina wore for the Bents that night back in 1884’. I immediately decided that the last few days of my trip would be in Athens, where I could meet with Spyros and see at first hand the same dress that Theodore and Mabel had first set eyes upon and had admired over 130 years before.

So, despite what Stefanos had said to VC about being the last in the island, the Lorentziadis family was alive and thriving in Ios. There were many questions which I hoped could be answered when I met up with Spyros in Athens. Armed with Spyros’ contact details, I said goodbye to his son Louis and walked back down to the port.

A few weeks later, I spent some days in Athens before my flight back to the UK. I emailed Spyros and we met up at the National Historical Museum where I was thrilled to see the dress worn by Ekaterina for the Bents. Over lunch, more of the extraordinary story of the Lorentziadis family emerged.

Echoing the same spirit of hospitality and filoxenia shown by his family to Theodore and Mabel, and to V. C. Scott O’Connor, Spyros absolutely refused to let me pay for lunch.