Sunday, 19 October 2008

There at the mill

The Netherlands is known for its windmills. Spain is known for its windmills which Don Quixote thought were giants. Greece is not known for its mills, but thousands are scattered across the country. The pictures of windmills standing next to a port are alluring advertising images for various capitals of Greek islands such as Chios, Mykonos and Rhodes.

Lesvos has lots of watermills, but they are so well hidden or camouflaged as a ruin, that they are difficult to find. In former times, and that's less than a century ago, each region had a watermill for grinding grain or pressing olives. Just go to the Mill Valley in Ligona, above Petra, where a walk takes you among walls and collapsed buildings that were once a bustling place with donkeys, farmers, millers and large bags of grain and flour. Now nature has reclaimed this region, a phenomenon that you will see everywhere on the island.

To my knowledge there is only one mill still active on Lesvos, which is that at Mylelia (on the road from Polychnitos to Mytilini, after the branch to Lambou Mili, before the road reaches the Gulf of Gera). There they still grind the grain in the traditional way, between large millstones and in a museum like shop they sell a wide range of flour products such as hand- made pastas and a variety of other island products, such as olive spreads, fruit jams and tomato sauces.

The mill at Eressos is just as impressive as that at Mylelia. Although almost completely restored, the mill doesn't grind grain, but it's the place where the mill is built, which makes the biggest impression. See: In the footsteps of Sappho.

When you drive from Plomari along the river Sedoendas up in the mountains, you come across a very large watermill, that is so far in decay that the Plomarians should be ashamed that they do not preserve a part of their history, if only to show their children how their grandparents produced flour to bake bread...

Diving deeper into the countryside, you keep on finding surprises. Last week I visited the mill at Klapados. Klapados was a small village in the north of the island, tucked away high in the mountains between Petra and Kalloni. Most residents were Ottoman Muslims and this was perhaps the reason why in December 1912 the last Ottoman soldiers regrouped around Klapados when they were chased by the Greeks who came to liberate the island. The battle began on 8 November 1912 when the Greeks, with the warship Averof, liberated Mytilini, after which the enemy was chased to the north of the island. On 8 December 1912 the Greek army achieved victory over the Ottomans in the Battle of Klapados. Subsequently, all Muslims were chased from the island. Although not everybody agrees, several sources say that the people of Klapados were not put on the boat to the Ottoman Empire, but were massacred.

Although the liberation of the Lesvorians started in Klapados, you will not find a glorious monument there to the general that led the Greeks to victory, but only a sign surrounded by crumbling ruins that mentions the Battle of Klapados. Despite the beautiful water fountain, the massive plane tree, the old bathhouse and a few walls still standing, the remnants of this once lively village give an eerie feeling. It's also said that they just let the corpses lie there, which explains why so few Greeks dare to visit this mountaintop and why there is so little left of the village. When you look up the mountain slope from the road, between the shrubs, grasses and trees, you can see the sad remains of many more houses.

The watermill at Klapados is also now only a ruin with large crumbling walls. But it is easy to imagine how the water once moved the large wooden paddles of the mill. The mill is at the bottom of a broad, steep grey cliff of about 50 to 60 metres, from where the water bounces off.

You have to know the place to find this watermill. A very narrow path takes you down into a valley that starts at the bottom of this impressive cliff where you find a little pond that marks the beginning of a merry rippling stream strewn with rocks. Like anywhere on the island this water attracts a jungle-like vegetation of ancient, big whimsical plane trees, overgrown by moss, lianes and other parasitic plants, and you imagine yourself immediately right in the country of Tarzan.

When I was there no water fell from the cliff, only a waterfall of thick tree roots, which imitate the undulating water and creep like an impressive live sculpture down along the wall. I can imagine that if enough rain has fallen to set the waterfall into motion, this place can be as magical as the waterfall at the Krineloe Mill at Eressos and the one at Achladeri.

I was a bit shocked by the reaction of the friends with whom I visited the waterfall. While I enjoyed the sight of the plane trees and their net of roots that competed with stones and moss for a spot next to the river, while I admired trees from all sides for their thick branches that reached like the curved wings of a mill into the blue sky, my friends wondered about the total absence of any waste. Am I already so integrated that I no longer see the waste scattered everywhere? It is clear that not many people know where the mill of Klapados is and that this is one of the Lesvorian mills that will silently disappear from the pages of history.

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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