Passing time in Pythagorion

The village of Pythagorio on Samos is my home for the next month.  It is named after Pythagoras the mathematician who was born here. I am in Greece volunteering for the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation (www.http://archipelago.gr/en/). It feels good to be back on Greek soil again.  Today is Sunday and I have time to settle in to my new surroundings.  Time to think and time to wander…

Greek fishing villages invite the visitor to meander and Pythagorion is no exception. There are red-roofed villas and tasteful modern apartments tucked tightly together amidst the ruins of ancient Greek villas; their pillars broken and abandoned in the vegetation. Whitewashed streets are lined with citrus trees, bougainvillea, oleander and acacia, and healthy looking cats stretch out in the bright autumn sunshine.  I breathe in the sweet smell of herbs.

The village square sits neatly behind the waterfront tavernas; tucked away discreetly. Surrounded by trees and flowers, there is seating and one or two tavernas set amidst the old shuttered, venetian buildings. It is charming.  Locals sit chatting under the lime trees. I keep walking…

A tree-lined high street leads the visitor down to the harbour where tavernas ply the hungry traveller with their trade. The bright, warm October sunshine is turning everything to gold and a firm breeze howls ghoulishly through the tall masts of the yachts that decorate the harbour; white gleaming palaces interspersed with the more colourful, charismatic fishing boats… Lunch is good.

By October the summer tourist rush has subsided leaving a slower, more peaceful hubbub populated by a few remaining tourists and Sunday locals spending time together. Down by the water, I follow the promenade past the boat yard and to a small rocky beach. The clear, jade waters of the Northern Aegean shimmer a stream of white light in the sun’s wake. To my left are the mountains of Turkey, their peaks sweeping upwards towards a milky blue summit. And to my right the ruins of a castle. As I walk further away from the harbour and the people, all I can hear is the gentle, rhythmic lapping of the ocean. I stop, sit and listen for a while.

It is here where my eyes rest upon a circle in the rocks perfectly cut to hold a roman column. As my eyes tune in, I become aware that there are roman relics all around me: gulleys chiseled from the limestone rocks, underground tunnels and fallen columns which lay abandoned amidst giant building blocks; shadows of the magnificent structures they once were.  All here right next to the sea.

Pythagorio is an ancient port once described by Herodotus as a ‘great work’. The more one looks for the past, the more prevalent it becomes: the new harbor built alongside the ancient; paths colliding, old and new, muddled together; remnants left by the people’s of yesteryear passing through, making their mark and moving on…

As the sun shifts towards the horizon, I find myself at the ruined castle of Lycourgos Logothetes which dates back to 1824 and the Greek War of Independence when the castle and the church alongside it were built.  The same breeze that howled through the masts now whips through the turrets of this once significant fortress. Two walls hover precariously above the cliff edge; one showing the signature stones of a large archway now left gaping following the island’s countless earthquakes; bricks lining the bottom of the cliffs below ready for the winter storms to wash away.

Just beyond the church, I discover a thick glass pavement.  Tentatively, I step onto it.  My eyes are immediately cast down to the centuries beneath my feet; the Roman streets, tunnels and columns fifteen feet below; an underworld of ancient stories.  I begin to realise the extent of the history laying beneath this small fishing village and imagine Pythagoras and his triangles, Epicurus discussing the art of happiness and Aesop casting his fables; all are famous Samos islanders.

The sun dips behind the mountains in the distance and I find a waterside taverna to sip some local wine whilst I wait for the mountains to turn pink and the sky to turn red. I am not disappointed, what a beautiful end to an adventurous day.

As I walk slowly back to my apartment on the high street, I pass a tumble down venetian cottage with tired lace curtains blanking out the windows. The gate into the street hangs precariously open and as I walk past, my eyes fall on an old frail face; a crumpled lady struggling to navigate the steep steps with her stick. Her face aged and wise. somehow out of place in the modernity that surrounds her; the fancy art shops and the glitzy ice cream parlours. It is a pertinent reminder of how much and how quickly the world changes.