Recently, a dear friend was kind enough to take me to see the remains of an 8th century BC settlement at Emporio, Chios.
For as long as I can remember, I have been going to the harbor and beach there with my family. Many times, I’d noticed a placard identifying it as the site of a temple to Athena, but we had never visited it.
I had no idea that not only is there a temple; there is an acropolis with protective walls, storage rooms, and homes that were built from stones found on site. They blend so thoroughly into the landscape that unless you are looking very carefully, you might not even notice they are there.
We spent a couple of hours exploring the site, taking in the view, marveling at the poignant simplicity of the design, how it made itself one with what the natural world had to offer. It provoked me to think about a concept that comes up often in Greek mythology but may seem elusive for us moderns: the idea of immortals working through heroes, and heroes aligning their wills with those of the immortals. The design of the site provided the perfect setting to experience this idea through the natural world, to see nature as simultaneously, potentially, benevolent and sinister, and to perceive the importance of both shaping nature and submitting to its uncontrollable power.
I would welcome any related thoughts, experiences, and/or recommendations in the comments…
3 thoughts on “Perspective through place”
I have been thinking about this post and the version I first saw of it on Instagram, for a while, and as I wrote on Instagram, I have so much to say, so I apologize in advance for what will be a long and possibly rambling comment… 🙂
When it comes to places that just fit in with their environment, what first occurred to me is London and Paris. London because I recently finished Tracy Chevalier’s novel “Burning Bright”, which features admirably vivid descriptions of parts of London as they were in the late 18th century. It got me thinking about how little we might recognize it today, and yet how much things like the River Thames were already an integral part of it, and what London must first have looked like in times long ago, before there was a city there.
Of course, there is generally a “rule” to cities: they’re built around some form of water. And yet, some seem to flow with their natural surroundings better than others. For instance, Paris has so many parks (most admittedly man-made) and appreciates its greenery as well as the banks of the Seine. And then there are sites like Montmartre, which have been important for their elevation for centuries.
But again, I don’t know that this is necessarily harmony with nature. Not like something like Petra in Jordan, or Navjao cave dwellings.
And I know many would say that most cities have lost touch with the nature that was originally there. For instance, it’s hard to envision Manhattan as an island when you’re standing in the middle of it, surrounded by skyscrapers. Yet even there, nature does have a way of reminding us of the past: those muggy summers that recall that this island and its surroundings were once swampy wilderness. (These remnants of nature are one of the things that fascinates me most about city life).
But these cities and nature don’t really involve harmony. After a lot of thought, I think Mont-Saint-Michel might be something that shows that harmony of nature and manmade creation: a mountainous island just perfect to perch a church and abbey upon, a place at once connected to the rest of the world yet cut off regularly by the tide. And the light itself in the Bay is like a holy mirror.
Thank you for sharing these reflections, Alysa! And you have given me something really interesting to think about as well with cities…
Thank YOU for a(nother) really inspiring post! I’m glad my thoughts on cities made sense – I wasn’t sure if they went with what you were talking about, but they were the fist thing that came to mind for me. I really enjoyed your post and photos – thanks again for sharing them and for a lot of food for thought!