Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Creative with bricks

Wherever you live on this island, it is impossible not to be intrigued by the stones, because they are everywhere. When you are at the beach, you find the most beautiful colored pebbles. Try to plant an elegant rose in the soil and you will meet stubborn stones which are very hard to be moved. Stones are part of your life: walls enclose gardens and orchards with olive trees are supported by stones; lots of traditional houses are built with natural stone; landscapes are scattered with big rocks, mountains show colorful rock formations.

Lesvos used to be a volcanic island and the volcanoes probably not only spewed fire but also threw out big stones all over the island. The plateau near Skalochori looks like a moon landscape with huge rocks scattered around, as if the Cyclops had been playing games with them. The famous Panagia Glykofiloussa Church in Petra is build on a huge rock (Petra in Greek means rock), mysterious small heaps of stones decorate the tableland of Michou, the Golden Beaches with black stones are very popular at Eftalou, but the beach with white pebbles in Skala Kidonia is less known. (The beach at Melinda is brilliant white with quartz and just a few meters into the water there’s a vast single stone like a small island TB).

The mountains above Plomari are known as the “crystal” mountains because they secrete crystal and other semi-precious stones. The southern beaches are the places to find the most colored stones. In the west there are petrified trees which have strewn the shore with multi colored stones — the slivers of million year old trees. The bare landscape is often crossed with long walls of stone that creep over the mountain slopes like arteries you find on stones. (Some of the island’s ancient walls are made of such large ‘polygonal’ stones you wonder how anybody could have lifted them TB).

So, it is normal that people that built houses here were inspired by the plethora of stones. The traditional houses of Molyvos, and of most other villages on Lesvos, are built from natural stones, and they are not painted chalk white and mostly they have red tiled roofs. A few have upper storey closed verandas made of wood but nowadays modern houses are built with concrete blocks and are plastered and painted. Although some house owners might add a natural stone wall for decoration, fewer and fewer people choose the traditional stone style for the structure of a new house.

Some traditional walls were made with bricks. In the Ypsilon Monastery close to Sigri walls and chapels are decorated with lines of bricks. (The handsome old olive press buildings (and chimneys) were usually built of brick TB) and in the mountain village Ampeliko, below the Olympos mountain, towards Plomari, the priest of the Saint Nicolas Church has been going crazy with bricks. The porch of the church displays the creative wedding of natural stone and brick, and so do the arches of the public building/museum and the fountain and other small decorations nearby.

In earlier times the country houses were built with little towers, in order to watch out for the pirates. These are the famous Tower Houses of Lesvos. You can find them around Mytilini. When you approach the village of Sigri, on your right you see the arches of bricks of a Tower House nearly hidden behind trees and a hill. Each time we visited Sigri we notice an arch or another tower has been added. Last year thanks to the internet I found out that this is the Tower House, a hotel that has 4 apartments. The owners, Evangelia and Dimitrios Komninos started building some eleven years ago: it’s like a castle with towers, patios, and covered balconies hidden under arches, all built with wood, natural stone and a lot of bricks that have been used to decorate the walls and terraces. Evangelia and Dimitrios are not afraid anymore of pirates, they just love the old architecture of their island.

Dimitrios, a renovator of old houses, has not finished yet. Next to the main house he is adding the finishing touches to a large, luxurious apartment. It seems that the more he builds the more artistic he becomes, because this new building is a showpiece in how to be creative with brick, inside as well as out. The wood and stone of the interior play a tremendous game together. Dimitrios has even made two inside wall decorations with stones of petrified wood. All Tower House apartments are fancifully furnished: heavy wooden pieces, some antique, some from India, with white lace curtains and classic tapestry. Their most beautiful item of furniture is in the new apartment: an antique wooden bed, which was once used as a seat by a rich Indian raja (even though now it’s a bed) on the back of an elephant.

The garden has a magic view over Sigri, its harbor and the island Nissiopi opposite of the harbor. You will find romantic seats, strange formed stones that are worth a place in a modern museum, a swimming pool with a bar, an outside oven, a barbeque, (all of course, fully decorated with bricks), a lookout post and a small place for children to play, fruit trees, flowers, waterfalls, all designed to give a pleasurable time in the garden. Together with the new apartment (another one is planned above), Dimitrios is also building a little church that is, no need to say, fully decorated with bricks.

Whenever you want to spoil yourself by staying some days in this fairy tale-like Tower House I have another tip: the best place to watch the sunset over the sea at Sigri is from the cafĂ©-par (no spelling mistake) Etzi, which is in the fields behind the sandy beach of Faneromani, a few kilometers out of Sigri. With a little bit of luck you’ll get your retsina served in glasses owned by the grandmother of Nondas, the owner. And when you get to know him, you may even have a chance to have a ride in his home made automobile. I had no time to test his motorized pedal boot. Just as at the Tower House, and in the fascinating environment around Sigri, where the mountains still hide hundreds of petrified trees, you could stay forever in the bar Etzi…

@ Smitaki 2009

(with thanks to Tony Barrell)

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