Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Our Lady of Isova - A medieval site in Elis

Together with Zarakas and Andravida, the remains of Our Lady of Isova make up the main bulk of the western Gothic ecclesiastical architecture on the Greek mainland. Everything else is Gothic additions to existing structures or Byzantine architecture mimicking gothic forms. The site is just outside the village of Trypiti, unmarked, near a water fountain on the main road. The site is unfenced. I first came across it in 2002 a few years after reading about it in an article on western architectural influences in medieval Greece by Bouras. I have been a few times, three times in the sun, once in the rain and I have photographed it probably with more cameras than I have used to photograph any other site... which is strange as there is not really that much to photograph.

I cannot tell if there is actual work work in progress, but there is a difference between the last time I went before the wildfires of 2007 and just last weekend, and this is not surprising as the fires swept through the site and presumably destroyed the pine buttresses holding up the North wall of the monastery. I say presumably because Isova was mentioned by the MiniCult as one of the sites afflicted by the fires and the wooden buttressing which used to be there has been replaced by some shiny blue iron scaffolding and a roof structure for the apsidal east end of the large building. Remind me to rant about the scaffolding in a moment.

The site is composed of the remains of two buildings, one a church of Saint Nicholas, the other presumably the main monastic building. Of the church of Saint Nicholas, only the apse and a very small stretch of the North wall exists. Of the monastic building, the whole structure is standing to a height of at least 2 meters (lowest around the apse to the east) going up to quite a height on the western wall. There are many gothic elements in the architecture of the building and no doubt many more are waiting to be found through archaeological excavation. The main building presents in the southwest corner the only in situ example of a gargoyle that I am aware of on Greek territory.

The first time I visited the site, in Summer 2002 we were met by an old local who told us quite matter of factly and without any doubt in his mind that when the Byzantines retook the Peloponnese and sacked the monastery, the lead on the roof was so plentiful that when it melted in the conflagration of the sack, the molten lead reached the river (some 1800m away) as it flowed downhill!

Visiting the site with A allowed us to see that the site is not entirely kiddie friendly. I had her in my arms most of the time as a proper visit to the site needs some scrambling on uneven surfaces and / or walking through undergrowth. Fortunately there were some sheep in a nearby field to visit, although this had the result that K spent some time getting sheepshit off the soles of A's shoes.

Aha - and time for my rant: Top Tip for the MiniCult: when you want to put scaffolding somewhere, first paint it and then place it. Doing it the other way round means that you get blotches of paint on 13th Century Masonry. And that's not very clever.

Gothic weekend

Coming soon: The monasteries of Daphni and Isova... woo!