Today I want to talk about one of my favorite secret places on Mykonos, though I guess it won’t remain so secret after today…certainly not after my next book comes out honoring it with a guest appearance.
It’s a place about as far away from the spiritual direction the old town of Mykonos has taken as one can imagine, while sitting at the very core of the 24/7 action the island has come to epitomize. I’ve been amazed for some time now at how a town as unique and beautiful as Mykonos could allow its architecture to be so compromised by transient shop owners wishing to make it look like someplace else. Madison Avenue-style display windows imposed on classic Cycladic structures––and their rapidly spreading minimalist modern progeny––do not represent thinking outside the box. They are nothing more than an unimaginative denigration of the island’s historic natural beauty.
Perhaps that is what makes the place I have in mind such a soulful refuge. At least for me. It sits surrounded by glitzy ultra-high-end watch shops, only 30 meters from the heart of Mykonos’ late night café society, and just down the road, in the other direction, from Louis Vuitton and some of the island’s more well-known late night venues. Its all white, classic 19th century Cycladic design stands beneath a balcony bearing a discreet sign advertising the island’s “accommodations center” on the second floor, separated from the flagstone road by a single step, and a thick, meter-high, white stucco wall enclosing a small, matching flagstone landing.
|and come the morning|
Directly up and across from the step, an ornately carved white marble jamb and entablature surround a sturdy, deep red, six-paneled double door, and off to its right, smooth white marble frames a matching red-trimmed, six-paned casement window with a model of an old-time sailing ship set inside on the sill. The only apparent exterior concession to modern times is an open lattice of black iron bars over the window, but the bars match an ancient, cast iron canon set into the road just outside the wall.
A sign set in marble by the door reads, AEGEAN MARITIME MUSEUM.
An individual donor founded the museum in 1983 for the purpose of preserving and promoting the study of Greek maritime history and tradition, particularly the merchant-ship history of the Aegean Sea. My good friend, Filippos Menardos, runs the place (when he’s not manning the register as his son Panayiotis’s truly phenomenal M’eating Restaurant) and speaks with great pride of the museum’s efforts to restore historical exhibits to their original state of design and build.
Chef Panayiotis, Interloper, Filippos
Beyond the front door are a room full of miniature ships arranged in separate glass cases, walls lined in drawings of seagoing adventurers, their vessels and charts, and a rough marble floor bordered by artifacts of the maritime life.
But what truly draws me here takes me beyond that room, through a smaller room of similar appointments, to what lies behind a pair of solid red doors and a second set of glass-paneled French doors.
Every time I step through those doors I wonder if Alice felt this way at the bottom of that rabbit hole.
It is a garden meant to honor those lost at sea. But it also works well for those of us searching around on land.
At the heart of the garden is a 400-square-meter mat of deep green, flat and smooth as a golf putting surface. A gray flagstone walkway separates the grassy center from a border of olive, orange, hibiscus, bougainvillea, oleander, and other greenery, all running up to a two-meter-high, beige stone perimeter wall. The garden is no more than 30 meters square but seems much larger because, beyond the wall, only treetops and snatches of a few all-white buildings are visible in the distance.
To your left, set off between what look to be a small storage room and the edge of the grass, stand the top two stories of a lighthouse. A white, twelve-sided metal first story supports a second story of twelve, three-paned glass windows enclosing the lamp and lens. An exterior railed metal walkway encircles the base of the second story, and a verdigris dodecagon cupola and weather vane crown it all.
A plaque to the right of a metal hatchway in the base of the lighthouse commemorates an award at the Paris International Exhibition of 1889 for its lighting, and its subsequent service atop the Armenistis lighthouse in Fanari, at the northwest edge of Mykonos, from 1890 until replaced by a fully automated version in 1983.
An array of relics from centuries at sea stands along the rear wall of the museum: cannon with metal and stone ammunition, a ship’s wheel, compass, engine-room telegraph to the bridge, and style of collision-avoidance device relied on in a time before radar. A group of marble columns and slabs sits on flagstones by the near edge of the green, and three marble markers are at the far end of the plot.
If you step on the grass you’ll notice two things. First, it’s artificial turf. A smart decision on an arid, drought-prone island. Second, the markers are marble cenotaphs, each honoring the memory of a sailor who’d not made it back to land, making this their spiritual gravesite.
I often come here to sit on a stone bench abutting the rear wall of the museum, looking out from a place of long ago, across the garden wall, to no place in particular, hearing not a sound except for the cries of birds. And maybe my flute.
Please keep this to yourself.