Denis Taylor Artist and writer

Denis Taylor Artist Writer and Curator of TUBES art Gallery

Aegina island

Aegina Island in the Saronic Gulf Greece
Palia Hora Old Town in Greece

My life as an English artist on a Greek island. Part 8.

Catch up read part seven…click here


Villa in Greece
The Village of Agia Marina in 1988

Alone in a 1000 Year Old Capital City

When I got back to my villa it took little time for me to grab a small sketch book, a pencil and a bottle of water. Within minutes I was back on Agatha and driving back into the village. As I entered the village and rode up the road, the man in the rent-a-bike shouted to me, I turned around and back to his shop. “Here English.” He handed me a piece of paper. ”Insurance for Police to see the certificate. I made it for many weeks, very cheap.” I asked how much? “Nothing now, you pay me in later, maybe July” …I said ok and he asked me where I was going. I told of my discovery of the churches and I was going back to make some sketches.

He looked at me and said.” Ah yes, Palia Hora, very good. Go to see Temple too,” pointing to the other road that led out of the village. “Very good Temple, best in the world. Our islands Goddess. Megalo (big) story.” He asked me to wait and went back into his dark small shop. After a little while he came out and handed me a small book.

“Here English, all about Aegina, and the Goddess and Palia Hora, very good, you read.”

I followed his advise and began riding up the road out of the village. It was steep and the further I rode the steeper it became. The road began to twist and turn as I rode higher and higher. The road was fairly flat with the occasional hole in the tarmacadam, so it was interesting, but smooth going, there were no barriers to stop you going off the edge of the road and down to the valley, so it was a little scary and I drifted into the middle of the road to feel safer. Every now and then there was a sign saying “Temple this way.” in English.

View from the Temple. My life as an Artist in Greece Denis Taylor Artist
View from the road up to the Afaea Temple

The home of the Goddess

The odd taxi or two would come towards me from the other direction, beeping their horns like crazy, I quickly moved out of the way to my side of the road each time with a front wheel wobble. After a while and the constant increase in how high I went Agatha began to struggle, I had drop down to first gear to get to the top of road.

As I turned a corner there directly in front of me was this incredible ancient building. Opposite was a small carpark which I pulled into. The temple was protected by a wire fence and a small door, which was locked. I peered through the fence, it was a fantastic structure. I walked across the road to carpark and sat on the small wall to take a quick look at the book, I was still excited about sketching Palia Hora.

The Afaea Temple. Part Eight Denis Taylor Life as an artist in Greece
Temple Afaea

I quickly flicked through the pages. The Temple was built about more than 500 years before Christ and it was indeed dedicated to the Goddess Afaea. The book was very detailed so I skipped the story of the Goddess and flicked to the back story of Palia Hora. This was also a long story, but it seems this was the original Capital City of the Island and was occupied for over one 1000 years. I read how each of the families who lived there built themselves a family chapel that were decorated with frescoes. People lived on this natural fortress for protection against the Pirates who constantly raided the Saronic Gulf island, taking their food and the people to sell as slaves.

Ancient Greek History

The more I read the more I was taken by the place. I read further how the people were truly Greek and could trace their heritage right back centuries before the building of the Temple. I discovered that the island has a natural ‘clay’ resource at a place called Messagros – (eng: the middle) which was in the middle of the island and it here that the huge clay pots were built to store water for the Priest who lived at the Temple. I realised I had much to learn about this fantastic island.

I put the book back in my bag and kicked started Agatha and road off. Again the road turned and twisted, but now it was down hill. And it was as steep as it was going up. Agatha seem to love it and I found myself speeding freewheel, with the wind making my T-shirt mould itself around my body. I had to take off my hat pretty quick as we began to increase speed. It was exhilarating. The road finally levelled out. And I carried on. I realised I was low on petrol and was luckily to see a petrol station. I pulled in and then looked for where I could fill it up.

The garage man came out to serve me. He stood looking at me for a while whilst looked around Agatha. Eventually and after some embarrassment he decided to take charge. He lifted up the seat from the back and I realised that this was the place to fill up the tank. “Pano” he said – I had no idea what that was – so I just nodded. It took little time to fill the tank. “Ten Drachma” He said. I handed him a twenty drachma note – I said keep the change (in English) He looked at me smiled and handed me Ten Drachmas back. I thanked him and then I continued on my journey to Palia Hora.

The fantastic ancient site. My life as an English Artist on a greek island
The first Church seen at Palia Hora

Discovering Greek Artists

Eventually I arrived at the turning point for Palia Hora. The huge cathedral sized Church was a good reference point for the not so obvious side road. I rode up the dirt road to the place where I’d parked before. And within a few minutes I was walking up the steps that led to the Chapels – but this time I stopped at as many as I could and gingerly opened the doors. It was a huge shock to discover paintings on the walls. There was an Angel with a sword and other excellent paintings.Many of the churches were totally covered in frescoes. They were all in bad condition and I wondered why they had been so poorly cared for.

One of the Destroyed Chapel. Palia Hora Aegina Greece. Denis Taylor Artist Story
One of the Chapels being restored

I was to find that answer in the book later that night. It seems when the Ottomans occupied Greece they used Aegina as a military base. The chapels were ideal for storing gun powder and other weapons. The Ottomans were not Christian of course, so they simply white washed the walls. After the 400 years Greece gained its independence (1821) and Aegina was the first free Capital of Greece. The Greek Church immediately began to work on Palia Hora, repairing the walls and steps leading up the mountain. They employed art students and skilled artists to take off the white wash to reveal the marvellous frescoes underneath. Many were from the 10th, 11th and 12th Centuries. This massive job started many decades before I had arrived on the island – and the work was still continuing.

I carried on climbing up the mountain trying to digest the history by stopping every now and then to drink water and read selected paragraphs from the book that my friend the Rent-a-Bike gave me. I was interested in why it was only the Churches were left standing in the old City. The ideal view of the Saronic Gulf meant they could see the ships carrying rich goods for trading and would pass Aegina at the North part of island. Here the beach was steep and they could get down the mountain and push out their ships quickly to surprise and intercept the trade ship and rob them. Often killing sailors if they did not surrender. I read that the population, especially the young men, turned their hand to piracy in a big way.

Revenge of Barbarossa

Another Fresco - Palia Hora - My life as an artist on a Greek island
Fresco in the Chapel with light coming through the holes in the roof.

It was the Sultan who gave the order to his best Admiral, nicknamed Barbarossa for his red beard, to sail to Aegina and rid the Sultan of these upstart pirates. The admiral had already been on a voyage around the Mediterranean suppressing acts of protests against the Sultans empire. So he had a sizeable fleet and soldiers who were quite used to quelling any form of uprisings and robbing the goods from the Sultans trade ships. It was a perhaps a twist of fate that Barbarossa mother was Greek, and his father was in employ of the Sultan. The admiral turned against the Greek way of life when his brother was captured and enslaved and eventually murdered by the Christians on their way to fight in the Holy Land. It was something they did mainly to gain more money to pay for mercenaries to fight for them. Barbarossa brother was 35 years old when he was killed.

So, when Barbarossa attacked Palia Hora and not a soul was spared. All the men and all the building were destroyed. The women and children were taken to be sold into slavery. However at the last moment he instructed his ‘army’ to leave 35 churches in honour of both his Brother and his Greek Mother. Hence the remains of the City that I now viewed.

Drawings and a new village

I was so into reading I almost forgot I had come back to this place to sketch, so I began. I made five or so but couldn’t focus. The story had grabbed me. I decided to explore and try to find the village where the young men from Palia Hora launched their boats. As I rode from the mountain in the opposite direction to the Cathedral on the main road, I turned sharply and on the bend I saw the white dots of a village – Thats where I would head towards and try to find that beach mentioned in the book.

Next week – “a saint of a man call Naktarios.”