by Antonio Bianco*
The Greek name “monopati” means pathway, and the Cycladic Islands are commonly characterised by their famous ones. Farmers and shepherds use these “monopati” to reach their fields on slopes. It is not rare to meet there a wise man on his donkey contemplating silently the changes of nature.
What I’m going to describe to you here is another story, which has for its main actors a different kind of observer: the archaeologists.
Every morning we walk on our “monopati” to the site of Zagora. It is about 1.8 kms from the main road and it takes about 25 minutes by foot.
When everything is still quiet and nature starts to awake from the sleepy night, it become a good friend with whom we share our thoughts. The characteristic local stone, schist (“xistolithos” in Greek), is a flat shiny stone, mostly in a silver colour or darker, sometimes very green. It is characterised by friable layers and can have veins of different types of rock.
At the beginning of the main road there is the Church of Agia Triada (the Holy Trinity) which provides welcome shade to restore us after having climbed back up from the site at the end of the day.
Going down at some points is very hard and we walk through dry channels that during spring provide water to the fields by streams. The hardest part on the path is in fact a very steep channel, which we have called “Heartbreak Hill”. The water had modified its shape, creating little wavy lines like brush strokes of Edward Munch’s paintings.
It is always fascinating for us to stop briefly near farmhouses and wonder how similar could have been the past houses of Zagora, with their roofs of wide schist slabs.
Further down, some steps remind me of piano keys.
A very little church suddenly appears at half way, probably not used anymore, but set there to keep the fields under the blessing of God.
The last part of the “monopati” has a lot of terraces, which offer a wonderful sight to the green-blue sea beyond Zagora and to the island of Giaros. On one of the terraces, there is a threshing floor. These were common until a few decades ago on the island, when the farmers abandoned them for better paid work, such as on ferries.
At the end of the day, tired because of the hard work, the path become an opponent to whom we must always give great respect.
*Antonio Bianco was one of the archaeology volunteers working at Zagora in 2013.