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Land of the Byzantines

William Darymple

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William Dalrymple finds a heady mix of ancient treasures, rustic mountain villages and tantalising beaches in the Peloponnese.

The church was very small - only a little larger than a big garden shed. It had a domed, red-tiled roof and round arcaded windows. It lay quite alone in the rocky fields below the village, and was built from stone the colour of halloumi cheese. It was hemmed in on either side by tumbling terraces of silver-grey olive trees.

The sun was slowly sinking over the hills at the end of a hot day in the Peloponnese, and there was a warm smell of wild rosemary and cypress resin in the air; from the higher slopes, the tinkle of goat-bells cut through the drowsy background whir of cicadas as a pair of shepherd children led the long-horned flocks back in for the night through the heat of the long dry grass.

We had been sitting in the shade of the ilexes, watching the shadows lengthen and the sun go down for some time before the old man appeared, carrying in his hand a huge primeval key. He turned it in the wards of the Byzantine lock and, with a great creak, the door opened.

After a fortnight in the Peloponnese we had become used to seeing wonders in the most unexpected places, but nothing prepared us for what lay inside. After all, this village - Geraki - did not feature in any of our guidebooks, and we had stumbled on it quite by chance as we drove towards the coast where we were due to spend the night.

It took a few seconds for our eyes to adjust from the bright light of the olive groves to the darkly frescoed gloom of the interior. Slowly, out of the shadows, there appeared an entire, glittering Byzantine court. Despite the modest size of the church and its remote and rustic situation, the wall paintings inside portrayed a courtly world of alluring brilliance and sophistication.

Read the entire article on the Independent website.

Posted: 9/14/04



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