When the painter Antoine Watteau first submitted to the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture his painting “L'Embarquement pour Cythère” (The Departure for Cythera, 1717) the subject was so original that the Academy had to invent a new category to describe it. In a similar way, those who take their own voyage to the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite today will also need to invent a new vocabulary to describe this fabulous island. Located off the southern coast of the Peloponnese, the site seems indeed fitted for gods and goddess, with waterfalls and natural springs, terraced olive groves, hidden caves and sandy, pebbly beaches.
|Joe Morris, Emerald Mountain, 2016|
Quite unique to other Greek islands is Cythera's worldly influence by diverse cultures: thanks to years of influence by the Byzantine Empire and visits from the Venetians and the British, the island's architecture is a mystifying mosaic of the old and the foreign. Chora, the island’s capital, is a village that resonates the architecture of the Cyclades and the Dodecanese. The main town is set on a hill above its port of Kapsali, a common defensive measure in the days of piracy. The mesmerising whitewashed lanes lead up to a Venetian castle with stunning views over to Hyrta, a sea-girt rock, and source of inspiration for countless legendary tales. Cythera's peasant cooking illustrates the continuity of age-old traditions common to all the Greek islands. In the farmers' market in the village of Potamos, one can sample treats that have been made in the same way since antiquity: sykomyzithra, a fresh cream cheese thickened with the bitter sap of the fig tree, and krithino trahana, a tasty thick soup made from coarsely ground barley.
In Watteau’s painting seen in the Louvre, the question whether the lovers are about to set sail for Cythera, or are they returning from the island of love remains open; but for us today, there's no dillema: once you set foot on island, you’ll already start planning your next pilgrimage there.
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