Wednesday
Sep142016

Palataki, Island of Thassos, 40°37'28"N  24°34'46"E

Message for visitors

Hello, I am your first stop on your journey to the “Metallurgic factory area of Limenaria, Thassos”. I would like to tell you about my story and also to share my concerns, because all along these years I’ve been wondering who really knows me and who cares about me.

©oryktosploutos.net, because I was too amazed to shoot a good pic.

First, let me introduce myself. People call me “Palataki” (Small Palace) because of my grand design. I was born in 1900 and my designer was the Italian architect Pietro Arigoni. You can consider me the most impressive of all the administration buildings of the Aegean islands, one of the most important industrial monuments in the Mediterranean! My first owner was Speidel, owner of the homonymous German mining company, which came to Thassos to inaugurate the modern period of mining activity on the island. I’ve been residence to the owners, also company offices and I’ve gone through such glorious times. Since then I’ve been watching the village, Limenaria, from up here, growing year after year. I changed many owners and uses, following the controversial history of the region and contributing to its development. Hosting daily events and important celebrations, I’ve accompanied and challenged the imagination of children, listened to love stories, sorrows, struggles and joys of adults.

But in the late ’60, the end of mining came…and activity began to decline. As the years went by, I was looking from above, generations following one after the other, the world changing faster and becoming more and more crazy. I was sad and looking for a little attention, wishing for a little life back inside of me. In 1982, after numerous studies and ministerial decisions, I’ve been declared a national monument. And there even were a attempts to have me repaired! I felt such joy and relief! I dreamed that I would live the glamour and bustle of the past again.

Soon this relief stopped along with my dreams. My disappointment for the people grew up. I felt more alone than ever. With so many plans and titles, I felt like a retired general, who was conferred honorary medals, while they’re just waiting for me to die, to fall apart. And vandals come to plunder, destroying my decorations. The end seems now to happen; against the international, European and National authorities governing the Greek art and architectural sites, I’ve been cut off from the rest of the national monuments, being another victim of the economic measures imposed in Greece. 

Still I stand here wounded, restless but proud. And you who have just read these few words of mine, please think that you have the power to protect me and my history. My time is over…so please hurry! Feel the value of what I represent to you and to future generations. As my only weapon in this battle I used my unique tale, my artistic value, hoping you would lift your head one day and look at me and not to feel regret, but pride, your eyes filled with my ancient beauty”

After: Aegean Sea Metallurgy - industrial antiquities of Greece – Melissa, Athens, 2009. IGMR Institute of Geological and Metallurgic Research, translation: Dimitris Papaioannou. www.mmoth.gr

Dating back from 20’000 BC, the oldest European underground mine with horizontal excavation was discovered in Tzines on Thassos. Ancient historians Herodot and Strabon both mention the mining activity on the island: lead, iron, copper, silver and marble from the 7th century on.

Early 20th century, the German company Speidel Pforzheim obtained mining rights from the Ottoman administration for exploiting zinc, lead and silver ores here.

Palataki was built over the bay of Limenaria between 1903-1904 to house the administration of the mining company. A rectangular symmetrical building in the industrial style of the period, it was two stories high, had a basement and two little towers on its back facade. 

Set up on the hill, it adapted in colours to the environment, with blue/green windows to match the sea and the pine trees around it, and yellow walls to blend in with the colours of the rocks and cliffs around it.


On the backside, the slope where the old rusty ore-enrichment installations lie ends in a beautiful beach: the Metalia. The only installations preserved here are the kilns (furnaces), part of the ore process from the early 1900s.

In 1913 the mining activity was interrupted due to the Balkan wars. At the end of the first World War, Thassos became Greek territory and another company won the mining rights at an international bidding:Vieille Montagne from Belgium founded the ‘Société Hellénique Métallurgique et Minière’ here, which modernized and enlarged the exploitation with rotating ovens.
The 1930s recession resulted in the fall of the metal prices, so the ore processing was stopped. From then on, the mines worked under the joint venture “Apostolu AE-SCHMIDT-KRUPP”, which started surface mining and producing iron ore at larger scale, and the great furnace-ramp was used only for the haulage of unprocessed ore to barges.
Loading and shipping in Limenaria, all products would go directly to German company Krupp. From 1962 the mining exploitation on Thassos stopped altogether, due to the discovery of richer and cheaper iron ore sources in Africa and South America.
Deserted in 1963, Palataki was supposed to be repaired in order to host a new cultural center. The floors and walls were left naked, since all metal parts and machinery have been looted and sold as scrap.


A few days ago, on September 10th, 2016, Thassos was hit by a dry storm. Dozens of lightning strikes hit the island in 4 different corners and set fire to the pinewoods where it hadn't rained for 3 months. The fire blazed for 3 days and was the worst after 1989.
The island is now safe again: please keep it in mind when planing your 2017 holidays!
Thassos and the Palataki are looking forward to seeing you around.


Tuesday
Aug092016

Reichesdorf, 46° 5′ N, 24° 29′ W

There are many risks in hanging around the borders of great empires, such as constantly getting in the way of some kind of battle. But there are benefits as well: populations on the border are being spoiled with rich cultural influence from all sides, no matter if it’s philosophical, culinary or in the field of construction. Words migrate from one language to another and carry new meanings that were never imagined before.

For those benefits, other people often come and settle for a while. In the case of the place we now call Transylvania, Saxons arrived in the 12th century within their eastward migration, Ostsiedlung

Until the 16th century they built over 150 fortified churches along their way, in order to protect Christendom from the Ottomans. The early ones were Romanic, the later ones were built in different Gothic styles, seven of them being considered UNESCO world heritage.

One of these German settlements, Birthälm/Biertan includes the village with the same name, then Richiș and Copșa Mica. All three villages have fortified churches; Biertan’s dates back to 1524 and was listed UNESCO-heritage site in 1993.

People in this area used to be mainly winegrowers since they can recount. They finished building the church in Richiș in 1451.

 One of the main attractions of the church is the sacristy door with wooden inlays representing the eternal city of Jerusalem in seven shapes, which was added in 1516. On the upper side of the door there’s the coat of arms of Reichesdorf: a heron (‘Reiher’ in German, which probably gave the village its initial name).

The door has an intricate lock system with several bolts. Only the door in Biertan, made by the same craftsman one year earlier, has a more intricate mechanism, which was presented at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900!

It was silver coated later; unfortunately someone stole its key, so now it’s locked open forever.

Johannes Honterus, a renaissance humanist from Brasov, introduced Protestantism to the Transylvanian Saxons after having studied in Vienna, Regensburg and Krakow and after having met Martin Luther in Wittenberg. In order to spread the word, Honterus founded a school, a library and put up the first printing press, where he printed a collection of maps, the Rudimenta Cosmographica. It appeared in 39 editions until 1602 and is considered to be the first European manual.

Therefore, by 1530 Reformation was passed in Transylvania without blood spilling. Unlike in other parts of the world, no major Bildersturm -  iconoclastic riots – took place here; a few figures were removed from the Romanic and Gothic capitals with hammer and chisel - and that was that.


In 1775, the church in Richiș got a new altar, crafted and painted by the renowned master Johann Folbarth in Rokoko sytle. Unlike in some Catholic churches, here the sides of the altar are adorned by John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, not St. Peter and St. Paul. The wooden statue of St. John the Baptist was originally represented as dressed with only a camel fur; this brought major disarray to the community of Reichesdorf.

The organ from 1788As is the custom, Protestants walk around the altar on important church days. While passing it, young girls would slow down and peek under St. John’s camel skin, which angered the old ladies of the village up to the point where they asked for the statue to be removed.

Therefore, the mature wives of the community decided to end the story in a different way and draped the saint in a blue garment, which was kept until today.  

The lively Mr. Schaas, 84, the last Saxon in Richis, told us many stories about the times when the village was a strong winemaker community of 900 souls.

In 1990, when everybody else left for Germany, upon leaving, the priest gave him the keys and told him to take care of everything. As he began walking through the church everyday, Mr. Schaas started wondering about a sculpted face he saw in the capital of a column: a wild man, with branches sprouting out of his mouth and his eyes.

The more he kept studying the leafy capitals, the more faces appeared to him every time. Among other wild ones he also found the Benedictine monk’s, founder of the church. He didn’t know what to make of this and called them ‘my friendly little devils’ – until one day, when a Swiss lady told him about the green man and its appearance under the Bamberg Horseman from 1225.


A pagan figure, it is said to be the counterpart of the mother earth figure – someone like Pan in Greek Myths. The craftsman must have been thoroughly schooled, probably in a part of the world where Celtic influence could be found.

If you should ever go to Richiș, find Mr. Schaas and listen to his stories. If you speak Romanian, he’ll tell them in Romanian. If you master German, you’ll get even more stories. But you'll robably get the most out of him if you’re a Saxon speaker.

It is said that you can only imagine things you have words for. With every language you master, you become richer: new words bring new meanings and new feelings along with them.

A beautiful language tree © Minna Sundberg. Please visit her site by clicking on the image.

Wednesday
Jul062016

The Kitten

The life and adventures of our bold hero Tilly-the-Traveler.

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Feb272016

Earthquake

Swiss great grandma's stories after living in Romania for half a century.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Feb022016

Oil

The story of one of my first projects.

Click to read more ...