EAST FROM THE DAPIA TO THE OLD HARBOUR
Immediately east and one block in from the harbour mole, is the Plateia Rologiou (‘Clock-tower Square’), an apology for a central square, with the fish-market on its north side, overlooked by the clock-tower of 1915. By weaving uphill from the south exit of the square, you come to the Museum of Spetses in the Hadji-Yannis Mexis Mansion, which lies five blocks inland from the shore. (Open daily except Mon 8.30–2.30.) The austere and imposing building—Genoese in concept, Ottoman in detail—dates from 1795–98; its design is very similar to the Koundouriotis and Gouroyannis mansions on Hydra which date from a little earlier, except that the arcaded loggia here rises from the ground through both floors, with a symmetrical arrangement of stairs to either side. In the centre of the courtyard, flanked by cannon, is the bust of Hadji-Yannis Mexis (1756–1844), who had acquired the honorific pre fix ‘Hadji’ after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As a respected elder of the island, he had been named ‘Nazir of Spetses’ by the Sultan in 1817. In 1821, he put his personal wealth and energies behind the Greek naval insurrection which began in Spetses.
The museum occupies the upper floor of the building, which consisted mostly of the women’s quarters and guests’ rooms: the spaces are simple and beautiful, but the collection is somewhat gloomily displayed.
Room I exhibits maritime memorabilia; there are ships’ portraits and some fine figureheads, as well as archival photographs of considerable interest.
The archaeological mate rial is confined to Room II; it includes the earliest finds to have been made on the island, from the area immediately around the church of Aghia Marina where an Early Helladic II settlement of the 3rd millennium bc has been excavated. Note the fragment of the prow of a miniature boat. The other showcases are mostly occupied by the donation of a private collection (Kyros) which comprises a wide range of pieces from different ages and areas of Greece. The remarkably lustrous polish on the black glaze chalices is particularly noteworthy. The centre of the room is occupied by a fine 4th century bc, circular marble offering-table.
Rooms III, IV & V are dedicated to ecclesiastical material, textiles, furniture and ceramics. The latter illustrates the wide area of commercial contacts which Spetsiot traders had. An unusual piece is the carved wooden icon of Prophitis Elias in Room III.
Room VI, which was the main reception room of the women’s area, conserves the mortal remains of Laskarina Bouboulina in a casket. On the wall is the revolutionary flag of Spetses—a Greek cross surmounting the up-turned crescent moon, symbolising a subjugated Turkey.
Behind the museum building, 150m to the south are the evocative ruins of another grand mansion of similar de sign and comparable age, built by a member of the same family, Theodorakis Mexis, brother of Hadji-Yannis.
We return once again to the shore, and head east. At the end of the long sweep of the waterfront east of the Dapia, is a small promontory marked by the church of Aghios Mamas. On the shore-line stretch between here and the next promontory are a number of the finer stone houses of Spetses, mostly set up above high retaining walls. Similar in design, and yet subtly different; arranged in a line, but all at pleasingly differing angles; these simple yet dignified buildings are the expression of the island’s economic prosperity and equitable distribution. They complement and frame the compound of the monastery of Aghios Nikolaos, the island’s cathedral, which is set back above the next promontory to the east, with cannon em placements on its seaward side. The complex is preceded by an esplanade of pebble-mosaic pavement with maritime figurative designs: it was in this open space that the uprising of Spetses was officially proclaimed at a meeting of the islanders on 3 April 1821, and that the revolutionary flag of the island was first hoisted on the bell-tower of the church. The tower and its carved elements are the work of marble craftsmen from Tinos.
Written sources for the foundation of the Monastery are lacking, but it must date from around the year 1700: the present, elegant complex of buildings is from a hundred years later. The catholicon is set at a very slight angle to the surrounding quadrangle. The builders have incorporated an unfinished fragment of late Roman decorative frieze in the wall above the west door, which still bears dense lines of perforations made with a running-drill; these would have been joined into a single flowing line with a chisel, if the piece had been completed. The interior is covered with recently executed, traditional iconographic painting and possesses a fine wooden iconostasis of c. 1805.
In 1827, Paul-Marie Bonaparte (1808–27), nephew of Napoleon, was brought here by the frigate of Thomas Cochrane, which was on its way to the decisive encounter at Navarino only six weeks later. The young Bonaparte (19 years old), who had come to fight in the Greek revolutionary war, was lodged in the monastery; he died shortly after at Nauplia, and was buried on the western Peloponnesian island of Sphacteria.
In rounding the promontory of Aghios Nikolaos, you enter the bay of Baltiza: the name comes from the Greek word ‘βaλτος‚’ meaning a shallow or marsh—a memory of the fact that its upper (southern) reaches were originally just that. The deep cut in the coast and the protective headland to the east, however, destined it for use first as a boat-yard, and then as a commercial harbour—the ‘Palaio Limani’ or Old Harbour. Like Skiathos, and Symi, Spetses had good supplies of pine-wood; it had access to different hardwoods from the mainland, too, and it was natural that the craft of boat-building should flourish here. The tradition is not yet extinguished: amongst the yachts and pleasure craft that crowd the harbour today there are still small yards dedicated to boat-building, and their activity is a source of fascination. It was from the boat-builders of Spetses that Tim Severin, in the early 1980s, commissioned a reconstruction of a Bronze Age, 20-oar galley to replicate the kind of vessel that would have been used by the Argonauts on their search for the Golden Fleece through the Aegean and Black Sea waters. Today the harbour often seems clogged with small craft; but it should be recalled that, such was the size of the commercial fleet of Spetses in the first part of the 19th century, it was often possible to cross from one side of the inlet to the other on the fleets of ships moored side by side across its width. The contrast of the white, cubic buildings and the dark-green spires of cypress trees on the slopes which overlook the harbour is striking.
A pleasant walk can be made along the eastern promontory past the church of the Panaghia Armata, which was built by the victorious Spetsiot naval commander, Ioannis Koutsis, who destroyed a part of the Turkish fleet in 1822 in the waters of the Gulf of Argos. Every year on 8 September there is a magnificent celebration of this victory in the bay of Baltiza, in which a vessel laden with fire-works, representing the Turkish flagship, blazes on the water. The path leads beyond to the cannon emplacements and the lighthouse. The present ‘Pharos’ dates from 1831 and was one of the first lighthouses of the independent Greek State.
Spetses Island is part of the Argosaronic Island Group, Greece.