Kythera Island Project
 
KIP Historical Geography:
Venetian Parish Records
Travellers to Kythera
The British Schools

Travellers to Kythera

Principal Investigators:
John Bennet (Oxford)
Cyprian Broodbank (UCL)

in collaboration with:
Jack Davis (Cincinnati)

 
Castellan's drawing of Avlemonas harbour
Castellan's view of Avlemonas harbour and Agios Georgios tou Vounou in the background, ca. 1797. Image courtesy of J. Davis.
A remarkable number of travellers' accounts of Kythera exist. These mainly comprise brief 14th-15th century passages by pilgrims and trader/scholars, often en route to Crete and ultimately the Holy Land, sometimes rather fuller 16th-17th century mentions by scholars and diplomats, and several lengthier descriptions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when Kythera's rapidly changing geopolitical situation made a target for investigation by the French, British and expatriate Greeks. Most share a common feature, namely that the traveller's experience of Kythera was a largely coastal one. Only during the course of the 19th century did the island's interior become thoroughly traversed by outsiders.
Galt's graffito
1810 graffito of English traveller William Galt in the Agia Sofia cave at Milopotamos (incised marks enhanced for clarity). Photography by I. Bennet 2003.

A preliminary analysis of regularities in the nature of early visitation has examined how the island was perceived by outsiders (both culturally, in terms of its connection to the shrine of the love-goddess Aphrodite) and physically, as well as to plot patterns of movement within the island, regarding antiquities and more generally (Broodbank et al. 2004). A data-base of ca. 30 travellers demonstrates that such knowledge of Kythera was restricted to a narrow range of coastal landfalls, notably the ports of Kapsali (Chora) and Avlemonas/Agios Nikolaos, plus antiquities in the latter's vicinity, which include Kastri and Palaiokastro. Close reading of reports on the latter two sites are revealing concerning the nature of the ruins then visible, suggesting progressive destruction of temple remains at the latter, but remarkably consistent reporting of the Roman rock-cut tombs at the former (known as the 'baths of Aphrodite'). Through the mention of local guides, it is possible to detect the 'shadow' of internal systems of knowledge, suggesting an islanders' internal viewpoint that remains far less well understood.

The successive transformations of outsiders' knowledge of the island that are witnessed by such accounts are mirrored in the evolution of maps and other images of the island, which remain a fruitful field for future investigation.

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