Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Save Greece

Whenever you drive through the Greek landscape, you risk getting confused by road signs that point to the ‘Prophet Ilias’ (Pροφητησ Ηλιασ). Everywhere in Greece in the mountains you will see these signs. They simply mean: to the top of the mountain.

Literally they point the way to the ‘Prophet of Sun’. Sun is ilios in Greek. Scientists suppose that when the Greeks gods lost their influence, the God of Sun Helios was replaced by the prophet Ilias. Ilias however was not a man of who worshipped sunshine. In fact, he fought against the kings who let their people believe in pagan gods, and some religions say that he punished them with thunder and fire and that he himself rode to heaven in a chariot of fire. Very biblical. In very early times, when the sun was still believed to be a god, temples were built on the tops of mountains, so as to be as close as possible to honor Helios, the sun, and that is why so many mountains still carry the name of Prophet Ilias.

The two highest mountains on Lesvos are the Lepetimnos (969 m) in the north and the Olympos (968 m) near Agiosos. It is said that in order to build an observation post the military removed the original peak of Olympos, and so Lepetimnos became the highest mountain of the island. Instead of ancient temples, all you will find on Olympos is a crumbling military outpost, tall TRV masts and a little church build for ‘Prophet Ilias’.

When you climb the last steep road up to the top of Olympos (you can ride by FWD or SUV), you will also find a wood of masts, which are played by the wind as a harp. There is never total silence on Olympos, because there’s always a breeze or wind, so as well as the beautiful sight of the entire island, you can have music from an Aeolian harp, named for the god of the wind Aeolis. It may be coincidence but the ancient folk music of Greece is also known as Aeolian.

You can also get up to the top of Lepetimnos by 4WD, but it has more than one peak, although the Prophet Ilias occupies the the highest, while TRV masts, another military observation building and a little church are shared around the others. From this mountain you have an astounding, really overwhelming view over the north of the island, and in the other direction northwards deep into Turkey. When the weather is clear you can even see the neighbouring Aegean islands of Limnos and Agios Efstratios.

However, the most beautiful Prophet Ilias-top on Lesvos is between Parakila and Pterounda. In this magical fir-wood, where the wind always whispers mysterious songs, there are many roads winding around the mountains, so many that it is hard to keep your sense of direction. Between the road signs pointing to Agra, Anemotia and Pterounda there also names of different churches, and at each crossroad you have to puzzle over which way to go. Amongst these many signs there is also one pointing to the Prophet Ilias.

Follow the road going up the mountain through the fir-trees in the direction of Prophet Ilias, and suddenly the trees make way for lush green mountain meadows full of orchids and other wild flowers. On this Prophet Ilias there is another dilapidated military observation post and a little church. Again, the view is breathtaking, the green meadows scattered between large stones and the sea of flowers, are like paradise. Scarlet peonies shine under bushes and the green giggling hanging flowers of the fritillaria hide themselves between the other wild flowers.

The top of this mountain looks to be the source of the yellow ‘rivers’ that run down along narrow waterways straight through the fir forest, across the slopes all the way to Pterounda and just above Parakila. These are the island’s famous yellow rhododendrons, and at this time of year the woods are perfumed with their sweet fragrance as the flowers brighten up the dark beneath and between the trees. Not only are they rare (in Europe you can only find them in this part of Lesvos), the way they grow is spectacular: like illuminated guirlandes, the bushes snake down from the Prophet Ilias, a sight you cannot stop looking at.

These days, above the island, clouds are continuously fighting for space in the sky with the sun, and the weather forecast is always predicting rain. The flowers are delighted with all this water and even the relative cold, but our tourists are less happy. And they are in for even worse.

Not from heaven this time, but from the Greek government: the minister of Tourism, Kostas Markopoulos, has decided that Greece should concentrate more on tourism. His colleague and minister of Public Building and of Environment agrees and has taken immediately action so that last week the government agreed to a law that will permit real estate companies to build down to the water on the coasts of Greece. As Markopoulos put it: we have to do more for mass tourism and especially the promotion of all inclusive hotel and travel package deals.

The Greeks do not have a lot of imagination and their government doesn’t listen to people who know more than it does. Anyone pointing out the experience of Spain, where the entire Mediterranean coastline has been destroyed by big real estate (so that tourists are staying away in droves) is ignored. Our politicians love ‘big money’ and this time it’s the big money that comes from shameless real estate developers. All protests by the opposition, environmental groups and even the Greek Building Service, are ruled out of order: so the pristine Greek coastlines must be filled up with hotels and holiday houses. For tourists who may never come!

The yellow rhododendrons may not be bothered, but the views over our magical coastlines from the different peaks honouring Prophet Ilias will change dramatically in the future. Can you imagine high-rise hotels on our boulevard? Read HERE more about it and sign the petition:

(With thanks to Tony Barrell)

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