On Thursday 16th January, we met outside the gates of Mon Repos to start our tour of the old town, guided by Hilary Paipeti, originator of the Corfu Trail.
We were lucky to have a crisp sunny morning for our stroll.
Hilary had given us home work in the form of information on leylines which trace energy fields across the continent of Europe. The idea that thousands of years ago, man was able to identify lines of connectivity linking major sites of worship across such a large space is truly incredible. Given that the authorities in Gatwick airport are challenged by an electronic drone in the 21st Century, one really must ask how the ancients were able to trace lines without any technology at all.
The first site was that of ancient Roman baths. But Hilary was not yielding this information easily. We had to imagine and guess what the ruins were before she described how she was present when the director of the dig identified two walls as being too narrow for a path or alleyway and could only be a channel for water. The ruins were brought to life for us by this description and the various caldariums and saunas took shape before our eyes.
Across the road is the island’s oldest Christian church, 3rd Century BC and Byzantine in architecture. It is located next to an ancient Agora or marketplace – greek students nοtice the similarity with the word αγορασω, to sell!!! Large stone slabs are found all over this site once they dug down to a certain level. It was the largest Roman Forum in the Mediterranean.
Our next stop was the Monastery of Agioi Theodora. This is a beautiful church with many of the old engravings remaining such as ancient crosses.
It was built in the 3/4 century AD, using stones from the Temple of Artemis which is in its grounds.
This temple was built in 600/580 BC and, along with the rest of the city, was vandalised by the Huns and Goths coming down from the North in the third to fourth century.
It is this Temple that forms the most important part of the St Michael – Apollo Leyline. It is here that the Christian Archangel Michael is replaced by the god Apollo who is the brother of Artemis to whom the Temple is dedicated. From the western end of this Temple which now lies in ruins was taken the pediment depicting the Gorgon. This was placed in the archaeological museum of Corfu. The significance of this piece of bas relief art is set out in the information pdf circulated prior to our walk. It highly representational of the power of women in ancient times.
On the ground, one can see the bases of the columns which formed the church and a sketch of how it would have looked, when painted in all its glory, is on the descriptive panel beside the site. The energy lines can be traced although it is not possible to stand in the ruins themselves.
While this was probably the highlight of our tour, we spent most of our time in the graveyard around the corner. Here many of Corfu’s most eminent families are buried and magnificent and poignant tombs mark their demise. Hilary recounted numerous tales of dynasties and the rise and fall of many an ambitious man.
One of the most touching however, was the tomb erected to the memory of girl of twenty one. She is depicted in bas relief, holding a book and with one of her feet protruding from the frieze, as if she could just step out. Beside her is a flower, broken in full bloom. One can only imagine the heartbreak of her parents who were buried many years later in the same grave.
Hilary remarked on the parallel with the Gorgon also being depicted in bas relief albeit two and a half thousand years earlier.
The peace of the place on such a beautiful morning affected us all. The airport is less than one hundred metres away but you would never have guessed it.
We rounded off the morning in a café in the heart of old Garitsa.