Monday 30 April 2012

Two Orthodox Monasteries

....and the symbolism of the Hand of God in paintings. This links in with previous posts - Signs, Symbols, and Meanings in Art No. (4)

Rezevici Monastery - the first small church here was consecrated in 1223 
This monastery is situated on a beautiful hillside along the Adriatic Coast near Pastrovic. Throughout its long history it has often been robbed and destroyed, especially by the Turkish army in 1705. The frescoes in Orthodox churches are very distinctive and tend to be painted in bold, strong colours.
The monastery ceiling has this enormous hand painted on it holding a handful of babies. However, on closer inspection they look like little old men, but that is probably just the way they have been painted. They are wrapped in swaddling clothes, which must represent the biggest clue. Swaddling clothes in art are viewed as an attribute of the incarnation, and as a symbol of the Christ Childs humanity. There seems to be a cord going down to the central baby wrapped in blue. Blue symbolises heavenly grace. The Virgin Mary is usually depicted wearing blue clothing. Blue also represents hope.
My own interpretation of it is as follows, but I would be very happy to receive further thoughts if you have any.
References to the hand of God are numerous in the Old Testament. A hand in painting often represents God the Father, because of an implicit prohibition on depicting his head: "Thou canst not see my face; for no man shall see me and live". God's hand can be seen in paintings releasing the dove at the Annunciation of the Virgin. A hand paying Judas the 30 pieces of silver or holding a bag of coins denotes the betrayal of Christ.  A hand also became an Instrument of Passion owing to the scene in which Christ's face was slapped during his mockery; this incident is shown in a fresco by Fra Angelico.

via wikipedia
Fra Angelico's Mocking of Christ in San Marco, Florence. Note all of the hands depicted in the fresco are right hands.
I have taken a close up detail, excuse the fact that it is not very sharp
The hand painted on the monastery ceiling is also the right hand. The right hand is considered powerful, the left hand weak. The cord going to the central baby, wrapped in blue swaddling clothes, I believe must be the Christ child. The cord seems to be anchored by a hook to one of the blue circles which I feel represents Heaven. One of my blog friends Mark has suggested that as more than one baby is included, he would guess that that signifies all of mankind. Following Mark's comment I took another look at the painting I noticed that the angels are, in fact, holding up blue circles, confirming to me that the circles do represent Heaven.
The east altar wall has a rood screen with arched entrances only accessible to men.
Looking through the archway, which is allowed, I got this image with the sun magically filtering through the side window.
The view from the other arched entrance to the altar. 
Ostrog Monastery - 1605
The visit to this second monastery took us on a long winding very steep climb up into the mountains. The monastery is built into the caves near the summit of the mountain and is dedicated to Saint Basil its founder. There are two churches an upper church dedicated to the story of the The True Cross in one small cave, and the lower church where the body of St. Basil lies. It is a popular place of pilgrimage and many travel there hoping for a miracle or cure by touching St. Basil's body. The body is enshrined in an open reliquary, which is kept in the smallest cave church. The monastery is of national significance to the people of Montenegro, and has a rich history and many legendary tales associated with it.
This is a refuge for the monastery. Apparently you can come here and stay for as long as you like.
Halfway down the mountain is a new church dating from the 19th century. This is where ceremonies are carried out, such as weddings and baptisms, as the monastery itself is too small.
Wall fresco of St. Basil shown curing people of all nationalities, all faiths - Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, and with all kinds of sickness. 
Previous posts on Signs, Symbols and Meanings in Art 
No. 1No. 2No. 3

Saturday 28 April 2012


We were excited when we set off for Albania remembering how it was a totally closed society for nearly 50 years. Two decades have elapsed since they gained democracy and they have made impressive steps forward. When the Communist government first fell, you may recall that the Albanians broke into the armouries and stole guns. People went around firing at all and sundry, the place resembled the "wild west", everyone wanted a gun to protect themselves and their family. 
The Albanian's are small, distinctive looking people. Many consider them to be descended from the original Illyrian people. Enver Hoxha (pronounced Hodges), the man who held Albania in an iron grip was not a typical looking Albanian, he was very tall, and brought his people to their knees. During nearly 50 years he ruled in much the same way as Chairman Mao. Intellectuals were sent to work in the countryside, and peasants carried out Enver's rules. If anyone questioned anything at all, they vanished without trace. Their culture became totally denuded, all monuments apart from 9 were destroyed, and religion was banned. They had no contact with the outside world, and the people wondered if their plight was known. There are now 10 million Albanian's living around the world and only three and a half million in Albania. Every family has someone working abroad, who sends home money to the family. It is through family loyalty that Albania is making such good progress.
As we crossed the border, we noticed how lush and beautiful the meadows were, and filled with wild flowers. Suddenly we saw two, not one, of these beautiful Golden Oriole birds take off from the bushes and fly over the flowery meadows, a thrilling sight.
Enver's paranoia was such that he had 700,000 of these concrete bunkers built to keep out the Americans, the British, the French, Italians or anyone else who he thought might try to storm his country. Every village has a collection of them, they are indestructible, and are now mainly used to house livestock or tools.
A women typically dressed and also typically doing all of the work, whilst the men sit in the Coffee Houses!!!
A view from Rozafa Castle on the outskirts of the second city of Albania, Shkodrës. If you click on the photo you can see one of the nine remaining monuments. A beautiful, but neglected mosque. All of the tops of the minarets and symbols have been removed, and it sits in flood water. It is made of lead, and built in 1773.
Looking towards Montenegro.
We visited Rozafa Castle of Venetian origin, the site of several famous sieges, including the siege of Shkodër by the Ottomans in 1478.
Looking towards Albania's second city of Shkodër
Shkodër sits on the river Buna which was a trade route  linking it to the Adriatic Sea
In the city of Shkodër there is now this new mosque, a new Catholic cathedral and new Orthodox church. They are all built close together to show toleration and friendship towards each other.
The city centre is being redeveloped in a more Mediterranean style in contrast to the awful identical communist buildings which Enver had built.
This house was a typical merchant's home surrounded by fortified walls, attesting to the significant role the merchants had along the ancient trade routes between the Mediterranean and the Balkans. The house was constructed in 1815 and has been restored to its original state. 
The central area of the house is open, this is where the men would sit and talk, no women allowed. However, the women listened to what was said  through the grill windows which you can see. 
bunker and golden oriole via wikipedia

Thursday 26 April 2012


View to Skadar Lake - 44 kilometres long and 14 kilometres wide. The Balkans largest lake which Montenegro shares with Albania.
Montenegro sits at the far southern point of what was Yugoslavia. It is a tiny country with just over half a million inhabitants. Our impression was that they are a struggling economy, and several locals voiced the view that in retrospect life under Tito was better. They are in the euro, unlike their neighbours Croatia. From our visit to Croatia, we feel that Croatia is more prosperous.
Tito was an authoritarian leader, but Yugoslavia was an economically successful country from which all Yugoslavians benefited.
The Montenegrin male is born "tired", and spends his life recovering!!! They are perfectly happy for Serbians and Croatians to come to their country and do the work. This information was given to us by a local Historian. Most Montenegrin's are Orthodox Christians, but resent the fact that their church is known as the Serbian Orthodox church because of the Serbians controlling influence on it. Along with the southern Croatians they are the tallest people in the Balkans, many are well over 6ft 6inches. This is in contrast to their near neighbours, the Albanian's, who are very short.
View of Budva from postcard dated 1900 
via wikipedia
We stayed just outside the old town of Budva with a history spanning two and a half millennium, making it one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic.
Legend tells that a banished Phoenician prince called Cadmus originally founded the city. Budva can trace it heritage back to the Bronze Age when it was a simple illyrian settlement before becoming a Greek trade centre during the classical age and then a fortified Roman town. 
They suffered a devastating earthquake in 1979 which was especially destructive in Budva. However, during the rebuilding period which followed, many wonderful archaeological artifacts were discovered.
Illyrian- Greek helmet from the beginning of the 5th Century BC.
4th and 3rd century BC ceramic vessels discovered in an Hellenistic necropolis.
Glass vessels from the Roman period I - III century AD.
The old town of Budva is surrounded by fortified Venetian walls with four large entrance doorways. Much of the interior architecture is of Venetian design. The oldest surviving church is the one on the right of this photo said to date from AD840. The other church located on the left, and partly incorporated into the city walls is St. Sava. The apse being of Romanesque style. During Napoleon's occupation of the region, the church served as a stable.
Once a small fishing village, Seveti Stefan is now one of Montenegro's most iconic sights. A popular resort for the rich and famous. The small peninsula linked by a causeway is out of bounds to the general public. 
The coastline
Skadar lake 
We experienced some lovely weather, but also some extraordinary weather. There was a lot of rain during the first couple of days, although we were still able to make visits and avoided getting wet. However, on the second evening we had an almighty electric storm which lasted for 8 hours. One part of the hotel was flooded out, but our side remained alright. Where we had looked out on grass from our terrace window, we had a lake, which happily vanished during the day.
View from our terrace.
postcard wikipedia

Dainty Erythroniums and minature tulips

I do not know what has happened to Blogger whilst I have been away, but here are some flowers from the garden whilst I unpack and get myself sorted out.
Erythroniums - White beauty
sorry about the stick, it is the only way I could get it to show it's face.
Erythroniums - Pagoda
Erythronium Revolutum - Knightshayes Pink
This little pink Erythronium will be joining our garden this Autumn ready for next Spring. It is a hybrid, developed at the famous National Trust garden of Knightshayes, where it forms a carpet of pink in the forest glades.
Minature Tulipa - Dasystemon Tarda
pink erythronium courtesy The Telegraph

Sunday 15 April 2012

Make yourself some fresh Pesto

When you go away, leaving behind a plant of Basil, don't let it languish on the windowsill, where it will wilt and possibly die - make yourself some Pesto. In the fridge with a thin layer of olive oil and protective cling film, it will remain fresh to use for a long time. Then when you get home you have a ready made meal awaiting, just add some pasta, arborio rice or even a jacket potato. 
I do not use precise measurements;
A large handful of basil leaves - 50g
A large heaped tablespoon of pine nuts,
Cube some Pecorino Romano cheese - about 25g
Roughly 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A large very fat clove of garlic.
If Pecorino Romano cheese is too gutsy for you, you can use Parmigiano-Reggiano instead. I do not add salt as the Pecorino is already salty.
Put it all in the blender, whizz it up and hey presto pesto.
I first tasted fresh pesto in Genoa. Up until then I had only had the stuff in a bottle from the Supermarket.
Palazzo Reale, Genoa
was invited to talk at a World Conference held at Genoa, in 1992, relating to the Laws of the Sea. This was a big affair which coincided with Genoa celebrating the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo) and also the opening of their Aquarium in the bay of Genoa. The city of Genoa were very generous hosts and we were entertained regally in the Palazzo Reale, a palace used by the Kings of Savoy, and Palazzo Bianco which contains the cities prime collection of paintings. One evening a reception was held on board a ship in the bay but a particularly memorable occasion was being taken to a restaurant called Zeffirino, famous for being the  home of pesto in Liguria. The Zeffirino family have been running the restaurant for five decades and are now on the fourth generation, namely, Gian Paolo Zeffirino. We were taken around the kitchens where we were shown many of the dishes being made. We saw them making fresh pesto, and I realised how simple it was to do, this was followed by a delicious meal in the restaurant. The food at the restaurant has been served to international celebrities, amongst them Luciano Pavarotti who sang for Gian Paolo's pesto, Muhammad Ali, Sophia Loren, Frank Sinatra, and Pope John Paul II, who declared Gian Paolo 'The Pope's Pesto Maker'.
courtesy Phil Tizzani via wikipedia
The Bay of Genoa by French artist Ambroise-Louis Garneray in 1810
I have just made this pesto. In a few days time we shall be travelling to a European country beginning with the letter M, the pesto will be ready in the fridge on our return.