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Sunday, 01 November 2020

Hymn to Fourni, Greece: Goats, Honey, Octopus, Calm… and much more - Page 2

Written by Donal Conlon
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A few steps up from the ‘kafenion’ – sculpted in white marble from a local quarry – is a monument topped by the Greek eagle: homage to soldiers who died for Greece. On another side of the square is a small fruit shop and bakery. Opposite, a large, marble sarcophagus from the Roman era - excavated nearby - reminds people of another epoch. It has flowers and an inscription carved into it. Lidless, it accepts gracefully the falling leaves from the plane tree.


All this enchantment fits into a space of a little more than 100 square meters. I have sat here a number of times over the years but have never felt so strongly its charm and history. Maybe it is murmuring softly a goodbye!


The island, though, is basically a huge rock. It is spectacularly beautiful- sombre colors, rocks and hard places. This sobriety is set off by the brilliant blue above and around. Its shape has been compared to a lobster with just one huge claw; it is pockmarked with small coves and inlets, nooks and crannies. Forty years ago it was almost impossible to explore the island with its one and only difficult gravel road. Now there are a couple of paved roads and scooters for rent. The ride takes you on a winding trip high up the rocks with spectacular views: sea and small islands on both sides. Off the paved roads there are some gravel paths with steep descents leading to small beaches. They will not be mistaken for Copacabana but the water is much more beautiful: translucent blue.


As I travel the island I look reflectively at the abandoned terraces on hillsides. When transport was much more difficult the islanders had to try to grow their own food. Now the terraces constructed with toil and sweat are abandoned. Spiny shrubs and thorny scrub – called ‘phrygana’ – colonize them as it does most of the arid hillsides; the terrace walls are crumbling. Fruit and vegetables come from outside, often from far away. Occasional orange and olive trees, cactus plants, a few vines -in sheltered niches are all that grow on the island now. Many hillsides, however, are partly covered with white and blue bee-hives. It is an important business; Fourni honey is much prized.

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Of this group of thirteen islands, only three are inhabited: in total fewer than 1500 inhabitants. All are clustered around Fourni like chicks around a mother hen wishing to be under her wing.

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The islands, with their hiding places, were notorious as hideaways for pirates. It was a vital crossroads for trade: east to west, north to south, so a place of rich harvest. Ships laden with goods or the money to pay for them took this route. Treacherous storms and hidden rocks led also to many a seafaring catastrophe. Divers have found almost sixty wrecks of ships and scattered cargo on the seabed; around 25% of all Greek shipwrecks have been found here. These date from about 500 BC to the middle ages. Many photos have been taken of these wrecks and, already, parts of ships and their cargoes are being recovered for an eventual maritime museum. How wonderful it will be, for the visitor, to be able to put the island into a historical context!


Many small blue and white caïques putt-putt out and in at strange times of day and night; most are small, large ones had to be destroyed under an EU directive meant to stop overfishing in the Mediterranean. I love to watch and listen as they cut through their element; they represent, for me, a lovely blend of color, style and practicality. I admire the boats and their crews. Fishing is very hard work; I know, I remember, I worked on one long ago.

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Last modified on Sunday, 01 November 2020

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