“Cruising the Dodecanese” is Peter Sommer Travels’ last scheduled cruise in Greece in 2017. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
Today, I write from beautiful Chalki, a small island to the west of Rhodes. Chalki has – so far – been left largely untouched by mass tourism. It is a peaceful place and its less than 500 inhabitants have managed to preserve a slower place of life than the modern world normally permits and to continue practising their time-honoured filoxenia (Greek for hospitality) in an easy-going and very genuine way.
It has been a very beautiful day spent in a very beautiful place. Moored in the island’s main and only harbour, we were surrounded by the jolly prettiness that is Chalki’s Chora or main town, Emborio (in local dialect Nimborio). In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Chalki was one of the three centres of sponge-diving and sponge-trading in the Aegean (the others were Kalymnos and nearby Symi), bringing great prosperity and a surge in population at the time. The lovely and colourful Neoclassical homes of Chalki still stand witness to that era, making it a smaller and quieter version of better-known Symi with its spectacular port village.
As usually, we showed our guests some antiquities: the 14th/15th century castle of the Knights of Saint John, set on a high ridge above the island’s southern shore, and occupying the same spot as the ancient acropolis or citadel of Chalki is a place of stupendous beauty. Its architectural remains from two very different periods are interesting in themselves, but they are outshone by the glorious views over the extreme southeastern corner of the Aegean and the islet of Alimia to Rhodes, the greatest and most important island in this area. Maria and I were every bit as enthused as were our guests.
Later, we shared a superb meal of local specialities, including the distinctive makarounes, home-made pasta from Chalki, served with caramelised onions and cheese. But the day’s second highlight was the Chalki House, a very attractive folklore museum set up by a local family in their ancestral home, furnished as it would have been a century or more ago, with its downstairs kitchen and saloni (the Greek home’s formal sitting and reception room) and its upstairs family quarters of bedroom and private sitting/dining room. Here, visitors can appreciate the sophisticated local traditions in crockery, furnishings, textiles and clothing, and gain a closer understanding of the islanders’ traditional lifestyle, as well as its former crafts of basketry, weaving, embroidery and so on.
What is most striking about the Chalki House and its contents is its unusual position between East and West, between tradition and modernity, reflecting its erstwhile inhabitants’ quiet self-confidence and their strong sense of civic and familial pride, but also endowing it with a modest elegance. Our picture shows an intimate item that only very few visitors would have had a chance to see at the time, the very core and definition of a family home, the place were a family is created: the bridal bed, in this case of cast iron and of a late 19th century date, decked out with fine lace and equipped (look closely) with a traditional Dodecanesian hammock-cradle for a newborn child. The image is all the more appropriate as two among our guests are celebrating their second wedding anniversary today…
Tomorrow, we’ll continue our explorations on other shores…