MILOS



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Milos - Adamas, Plaka and environs - ancient Melos


Ancient Melos

The entrance to the catacombs lay outside the eastern limit of the ancient city of Melos, which spread around the hill of Prophiis Eli­as, 400m to the west. The area and its remains can be explored by returning up the hill as far as the first sharp bend and taking the track to the left before the bend. Immediately on turning off the paved road you are confronted by an impressive circular bastion and a stretch of * ancient fortification wall, whose patterning of multicoloured volcanic blocks in pink, magenta, grey, dark blue and brown, adds dramatically to their effect. The original Archaic or early Classical fortifications, in irregular rough-hewn ‘ballooned’ blocks to the left, contrast with the precise isodomic masonry of the circular tower added nearly two centuries later in the Hellenistic period. The tower was added to strengthen the defence of the East Gate which would have stood across the path a little way ahead. In the valley to the left was the city’s stadium, marked by a long stretch of retaining wall in magnificent polygonal masonry on its south side (best seen from below or from the path to the catacombs) which may date from as early as the first part of the 5th century bc. A gymnasium stood above it—immediately below the path to the left. It was here that the Venus de Milo was un earthed in 1820 at the insistence of a young French military officer, Olivier Voutier: the exact spot, inside what would have been the gymnasium, is marked as if it were a sacred shrine.

The Venus de Milo

The Venus—or Aphrodite—of Milos was found accidentally in April 1820 by a local farmer, Giorgios Ketrotas: he was observed by chance by a 23 year-old ensign, Olivier Voutier, from a French warship which had made a stop at Milos and who had decided to spend the day with some comrades trying to dig up something of interest among the ruins of the ancient city. Voutier says that he encouraged and cajoled the farmer to continue digging until the whole statue had been unearthed in three principal pieces. It is possible that the sculpture had narrowly escaped be consigned to a furnace for making mortar in the early Byzantine period. Miraculously the piece still possessed—though partially fractured—its original head. Voutier brought the French Vice-Consul, Louis Brest, to see the statue, but was prevented from taking it away by the captain of his ship who would not load it. The French ambassador in Constantinople was eventually prevailed upon to purchase the piece for France, and in the following year (1821) it travelled to Toulon and then to Paris and was presented to the king. In the same year Voutier resigned from the French navy and joined Greek insurgents, under the command of Alexander Ypsilantis, in the nascent Greek War of Independence.
   A fragment of a statue-base found nearby, almost certainly belonging to the sculpture, carried the signature of the artist, a certain ‘[Alex]andros of Antioch on the Meander’: this base was later conveniently ‘lost’, perhaps in order to allow full-scope to those experts who wished to believe the Venus might be a work of the Golden Ages of Pheidias or of Praxiteles. Although consciously ‘Classical’ in style (especially in the face, the distant gaze, the hair-style and the proportions of the torso), both the method of carving and the complex spiral of the design which is made to seem effortlessly natural date the piece to the late 2nd century bc. Aphrodite may originally have stood in a niche, gathering her falling drapery with the right hand, and holding an apple in her left hand. Others have wished to see her admiring her own reflection in a polished shield. A larger than life size Poseidon holding a trident, now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens, in as good condition as the Aphrodite, and dating from exactly the same period, was found lower down the hill at Klima in 1877.



The best preserved relict of the area is the ancient theatre which is reached by continuing 100m further along the path. It is a later structure which dates from the period of Roman rule after the 2nd century bc, created in a deep natural cavity, shaped and faced with Parian marble and looking out due south across the bay. Only the retaining walls at either extremity of the cavea have need ed to be built up: they are constructed in a multicolour, isodomic masonry of andesite blocks—now substantially eroded—with carefully drafted angles. The corners of the entrance are beautifully faced in a contrasting white, Parian marble. The semicircular orchestra is set down well below the level of the first of the eight remaining rows of marble seats in the cavea, indicating its use also for the more elaborate entertainment spectacles typical of Roman taste. The structure of the skene is now in ruins: the complex drill-cut designs of the pieces of its trabeation, which lie in fragments in the orchestra but whose detail has survived well, show that it must have been an elaborate structure.
   Turning back from the theatre to the East Gate, shortly before the point where the Venus de Milo was found, and taking a clear track back to the left, you come up onto a small plateau above the theatre, marked by a couple of column stumps. In the centre of the area, recessed into the ground, is a small cruciform Early Christian baptismal pool, with some of its marble revetment still in place. Nothing remains of the Baptistery building which once enclosed it or the basilica which may have stood nearby. Since Early Christian baptisteries were often built over places of martyrdom, it is not impossible that this site is related to the story of the person of the central burial in the catacombs. It is generally believed that this open raised area was occupied in Antiquity by the city’s agora, and that it was in this vicinity that the famous ‘Melian dialogue’, movingly related by Thucydides (Peloponnesian War, V, 84–116) took place.

Athens could not tolerate the neutrality of Melos during its struggles with Sparta; and, after a failed attempt to capture the island in 426 bc, sent ambassadors to the island to coerce it into submission to Athenian will. The elders of the city, who received the embassy in 416 bc, boldly—perhaps foolishly—opposed themselves to the brazen threats of the messengers. In doing so they sealed the awful fate of their city and its people. An example was made of Melos by the Athenians pour encourager les autres. Thucydides sees this as setting a precedent for Athens’s increasingly truculent behaviour in the Aegean, and he presents the dialogue as a classic confrontation between honour and Realpolitik.

Continuing further round to the right (north), the land drops slightly into a dip, with the hill of Prophiis Eli­as to the left (west). In the centre of the dip the quantity of collapsed stone in the middle of the field, describes a large rectangle—the podium of a substantial temple: protruding from the rubble at points are walls constructed in regular, isodomic Hellenistic masonry. On the summit of the hill of Prophiis Eli­as the small church is built on an ancient base and incorporates ancient elements and fluted columns laid horizontally: all around the church lie antique fragments, some pagan, some Early Christian, suggesting that this hill has been a place of worship in all periods of history. Looking down the west and north sides of the hill, marble columns can occasionally be glimpsed lying in the undergrowth: the walls of the city swept right across this field of vision from west to east, while, directly below to the north, the site of Roman thermae has been located.


Milos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.
Ancient Melos. The Venus de Milo.

 

access

Milos Island, Greece.

By air: Olympic Air operates two 40-minute flights from Athens to Milos daily. The airport is 4.5km from Adámas.
By boat: Ventouris Lines run a daily car-ferry service from Piraeus (dep. 7.05 am, arr. c. 3 pm), which calls at the other Western Cycladic Islands both on the outward and return journey, guaranteeing daily connections with them. This is supplemented by at least one high-speed connection (4 hrs 30 mins) every day in the summer only.
There are three weekly connections between Milos and Santorini. The F/B Panaghia Phaneromeni makes 5–6 crossings daily from Pollónia (in northeast Milos) to Kimolos; it accommodates vehicles, and the journey takes 25 mins.

Milos Travel Guide

beaches

Milos Island, Greece.

 

Milos Travel Guide

eating

Milos Island, Greece.

To Petrino in Zephyría is one of the most trustworthy places on Milos for simple, fresh Greek cooking, and it remains out of the tourist loop.
The Mezedopoleion Phocas in Pláka, and Zygos in Adámas, prepare their dishes well and freshly, and offer local wine in the spring.
For good fish, Pelagos, the easternmost taverna on the beach at Palaiochori, is to be recommended: it remains open all year.
The speciality of the tavernas at Palaiochori is a succulent lamb dish, slow cooked in terracotta vessels on the geothermically heated sand of the beach outside.

Milos Travel Guide

further reading

Milos Island, Greece.

An Island Polity: the Archaeology of Exploitation in Melos, edited by Colin Renfrew and Malcolm Wagstaff, CUP, 1982.
Disarmed—The Story of the Venus de Milo, by Gregory Curtis, Vintage Press, 2004.
Milos—Geologic History, by Ian Plimer, KOAN Publishing House, Athens, 2000.
James Theodore Bent, The Cyclades (1885), reissued 2002 by Archaeopress, Oxford in the ‘3rd Guides’ series.
Thucydides’s Peloponnesian War, V, 84–116 is poignantly relevant to Milos.

Milos Travel Guide

lodging

Milos Island, Greece.

The island offers mainly simple accommodations.
In Adámas, Giannis Apartments are spacious and pleasant and in a quiet neighbourhood (T. 22870 22204, fax 22144, www. giannisapartments.gr).
Attractively situated above the harbour of Klima, and close to the archaeological areas, is the Hotel Panorama (T. 22870 21623, fax 22112); while higher up in the alleyways of Pláka are two charming alternatives with good views: Archondoula Studios (T. 22870 23820) and Betty’s Studios (T. 22870 21538).
Across the island, be hind the beach at Palaiochóri, are the pleasantly appointed Artemis Bungalows (T./fax. 22870 31221).
At Pollónia, the Kostantakis Farm and Studios offers comfortable and attractive studios, as well as wine and produce grown on its own farm, (T. 22870 41357, fax 41500, www.kostantakis.gr)
The most unusual solution of all, is in a converted windmill on the ridge at Trypití: there are three units at the Marketos Windmill and its out buildings, all with clear views (T. 22870 22147, fax 22384).

Milos Travel Guide

museums

Milos Island, Greece.

Ecclesiastical Museum
Milos Archaeological Museum
Mining Museum of Milos

Milos Travel Guide

practical info

Milos Island, Greece.

848 00 Milos: area 158sq km; perimeter 139km; resi dent population 4,736; max. altitude 748 m. Port Authority: T. 22870 23360. Travel information: Milos Travel, T. 22870 22000, fax. 22688, www.milostravel. gr, (Pollónia) Blue Waters Travel (Patrick and Sheila Warwick), tel. 22870 41234. General information: www.milos-island.gr

Milos Travel Guide

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