In late 1773, James Watt, the engineer who made practical the steam engine, surveyed a route for a canal across Scotland. The Caledonian Canal was completed in 1822.
On 8 July 2019, as Peregrinus transited the Canal at the locks in Neptune’s Staircase, water cascaded from the top of the locks and rushed from culverts below in great maelstroms. At that moment, The Jacobite, a steam-powered train, passed by. It slowed down as it approached the railway bridge over the Canal, then accelerated again, chufing.
These were sounds of high-tech transport in the XIX century. Gushing waters in canal locks, pulsing blastpipes on locomotives. Alien to those of us who grew up with the rumble of Diesel engines and the whining of jet turbines.
No photo can capture the moment.
The year is 1413, and you inherit an island that is uninhabited becase, 70 years prior, Umur Pasha raided the island and everyone either ran away or were sold into slavery.
What to do?
You may petition the government to establish a fort, to keep the Turks away and protect the island. But then you may have to wait forever. You may, perhaps, pay for the fort, but forts are costly and unproductive: forts plant no crops and raise no livestock. You'd never get your money back.
But if you are Zan Quirini, the solution is straightforward: you build a planned community. The community consists of duplex homes, two stories each, surrounded by a ring of three-story houses. The back-wall of the three-story houses is a very nice, solid fortress wall, hanging over precipices on all sides, with a couple of defensive towers. You then invite settlers from Mykonos and from Tilos, and you charge them rent for their nifty new homes.
The Castle of Stampalia still stands on what once was the acropolis of Astypalaia. The people only left Quirini's houses in the 1950's because of earthquakes, and the Castle is now an open museum in which only the churches and the fortress wall have been kept in good condition.
Zan's descendants appended "Stampalia" to their last name, in memory of the island they once owned. To this day their home, Palazzo Quirini Stampalia, is a public library and museum in Venice.
Beyond the edge of the world, little is certain.
Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees, but nobody knows with certitude where that is. But we know exactly where Abraham lived for decades: he lived in this place. He lived here until he was 75 years old, and then emigrated to the land of Canaan.
Beyond the edge of the world, only foes remain.
This is the place where triumvir Crassus lost seven Legions, his son, and his life in 53 B.C. It is where emperor Caracalla was assassinated in 217 A.D., and where tetrarch Galerius lost to the Persians in 297. It is also where the Kingdom of Jerusalem experienced its first serious defeat, in 1104, which severely weakened the Principality of Antioch and led to the eventual loss of the County of Edessa.
The Romans called this frontier city Carrhae, but we call it Harran, the same name used in the book of Genesis.
Gortyn was for hundreds of years a major Roman provincial capital: it oversaw Crete and Cyrenaica. Only two buildings have been excavated and are monitored by site guards: the Odeon and Titus' church —he whom Paul left in Crete to evangelize the island. The rest of the large city lies under olive groves, neglected.
This olive tree, one of the oldest and largest in Greece, was planted around the year 400, after earthquakes had damaged most buildings, but hundreds of years before the city was finally destroyed by Saracen invaders. Some jokester inserted the broken column in the tree when it was still young, and the tree grew around it.
Of all the things the average Cretan, Greek, Roman and Byzantine people did in Gortyn for the two thousand years that they made this city their home, this prank is pretty much all that is left.
The wilderness and the desert will be glad,
And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom;
Like the crocus
It will blossom profusely
——— Isaiah 35:1-2 (VIII-VII cent. BC)
Shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, pious Hanseatic burghers gave what until then had been the House of the Germans under the Knights Hospitaller its very own hospital to run during the siege to recover Acre, which was won in 1191. The following year, perhaps in recognition of their efforts, the Pope issued the German monk-soldiers their own charter, as the Order of the House of Saint Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem. We know them as the Teutonic Knights.
The Teutonic Order always felt ill at ease in this grand and rich new capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In bustling Acre, the lingua franca was, well, French. Sure, the Pisans had their own harbor, and the Venetians and the Genoese their own sovereign enclaves, but the kings and bishops of Acre were largely Frankish, as were the leaders of the supposedly brotherly Hospitaller and Templar Orders. And so the Germans built their own castle, to hold its archives, its library, and its treasury up in the mountains, miles away. They called it Starkenberg, but the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was not to be written in German, so everyone calls it today by its literal French translation, Montfort.
Montfort was lost to the Egyptian Mamluks in 1271, and abandoned since.
Theseus, the great ingrate, abandoned Ariadne on the beach at Naxos, while she slept.
Seven hundred years later, Lygdamis, the Naxian tyrant, ordered a large temple to Apollo be built facing the harbor, but his ambitions were cut short by the Spartans. The temple remained unfinished. A further 2,500 years on, the main doorway stands. Neither pillage nor earthquakes have ever brought it down.
Some say the gate was never dismantled by looters because of its enormous weight.
We prefer to think it is Ariadne's window, from where she still looks out to sea, waiting for her lover Theseus' black-sailed ship to return.
Peregrinus at our Mykonos anchorage, as seen from Ornos Beach.