2021 is the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence. Due to the epidemic, there were no spectators and no noise in the Athens military parade. Armored vehicles drove through the empty city center, and military aircraft flew over the Parthenon…
However, in this critical year to commemorate heroes, there is an island that cannot be ignored, that is. The island of Hydra where I live now.
The first time I set foot on this island was a winter day in 2014. After two hours of sea turbulence, when the jet boat sailing from Athens approached the destination pier, I looked from a distance and saw that the city was built on a slope, and the densely arranged houses were distributed in an amphitheater, overlooking Salo. Nick Bay. Rows of ancient cannons are erected on the megalithic walls on both sides of the port.
Stepping onto the pier, I saw donkeys waiting in groups on the shore. Bronze or marble statues stood everywhere on the square. I was very curious at the time: Could there be so many celebrities on a small island? Later I learned that Hydra is the birthplace of the modern Greek navy, and the birthplace of a Greek president and five prime ministers!
I became an islander too
After this trip, I had an indissoluble bond with Hydra: In the summer of 2016, I held a wedding on the island, and my husband is a native. The new crown epidemic broke out in Europe early last year, all colleges in Athens were closed, and the husband who worked in the education department changed to work online. At the end of February last year, we returned to live on the island from Athens and did not return to the city until September this year.
Hydra is indeed the best refuge in extraordinary times. During the epidemic, although we experienced some difficult moments, the year and a half spent on the island was very peaceful and comfortable. The consequence of this experience was that I became bored with city life.
There is an extraordinary silence on the island. You can hear the sound of wind, birds, and occasionally the roar of a donkey with joy. My home is located halfway up the mountain on the island. To walk from the port to my home, we need to climb more than 180 steps. I often walk on criss-crossed rugged stone paths.
Bougainvillea can be seen everywhere, and the color is more vivid against the white stone wall.
Donkey waiting on the shore
Ancient cannons on both sides of the port
At the end of February last year, we returned to live on the island from Athens and did not return to the city until September this year.
Tassos is my husband’s cousin. He is over seventy years old and lives in a valley not far from the dock. A dozen olive trees have been planted on the hill behind his house. He often sits in a cafe by the sea, sipping ouzo, and lazily watching the sailing boats and the sunset on the sea. Because his olive tree was left unattended, the olives fell all over the ground.
I asked him, “Don’t you pick these olives?”
”I can pick as many as I want.”
”Haven’t you thought about picking the fruits when they are ripe, and then
selling them ?” ” Have you sold them for money?”
”Why not? You can live the life you like by making some money.”
”But I am drinking a little wine. This is the life I like.”
This sounds reminiscent of the ancient Greek cynic philosopher. Eugenie.
At the same time, I saw another side of the islanders in some other locals: aggressive marine civilization. Some local people have worked for shipping companies for many years. Some of them are shipowners, captains, engineers or seafarers. They travelled everywhere, were knowledgeable, and had broad thinking and perspectives to observe and understand the world. Most of them have been to coastal cities and ports in China, so I often talk to them.
There is a maritime school above the hills by the pier of Hydra Island, which specializes in training the captains of cruise ships and freighters. This is also a place where local young people dream of studying. The fate of the islanders has always been closely related to the sea. They used the sea to create brilliance time and time again, and they struggled out of adversity time and time again.
Island where cars are forbidden
On the island, the yelling of donkey-drivers in the distance can be heard from time to time. There are no motor vehicles on the island, so traffic accidents are prevented. The only means of transportation on the island are donkeys and mules. As the hooves of the animals approached, I turned sideways to clear the way, and the donkeys and mules passed by with heavy cargo. Time seems to have stopped freezing, for hundreds of years, as it used to be.
People on the island especially love wild animals, and the quality of life of cats here is enviable. I often observe that many stray cats have a small gap in one of their ears. Later, I specifically consulted a relative. He told me that this was a mark made by the veterinarian of the animal protection organization after the cat was sterilized. Cut off a small piece on the tip of the ear to avoid repeated operations on the same cat. Cats have been with people for thousands of years, and cats need human feeding; conversely, lonely and traumatized people need the companion and comfort of cats.
The home of the folk superstar
After World War II, Greece’s industrialization and population entered a stage of accelerated development, and the original architectural style was threatened. Constantine Byzantium, the principal of the Athens Academy of Art, and other artists, called on the government to legislate to protect Hydra. Fortunately, the local law finally passed in the early 1950s, which guaranteed the architectural style of the island and prevented motor vehicles from driving on the island.
In the passage of time, Hydra still maintains its unique classical atmosphere and is now known as the “Island of Artists”.
The mother of the last Greek King Constantine II loved Hydra very much. With her persuasion and promotion, many films were shot on the island: the American film “Golden Boy Dolphin”, starring the famous Italian actress Sophia Loren; another Greek film “Girl in Black” won the Golden Globe Award of the year. . A large number of film and television works have made Izra’s international reputation soar.
For a time, artists from all over the world came to the island to buy properties and settle down, including Canadian folk star Leonard Norman Cohen.
In his book “Traveling with Epicurus”, American writer Daniel Klein described his life after he retired and came to Hydra with a box of philosophy books. He also described the local customs and the reasons why people are so optimistic and calm.
There is a passage in Daniel’s book: “It is not young people who are lucky, but old people who live a happy life, because young and strong people are in a hurry, and the old people are resting in the harbor and insisting on true happiness.”
Statue of Lazaros Koturiotis, owner of Hydra
Birthplace of the modern Greek navy
On the 200th anniversary of the outbreak of the War of Independence in Greece, artists from all over the world presented their works in Hydra; the Minister of Education of Cyprus also came to Hydra to give a speech, mentioning Cyprus’ assistance to Greece during the Greek Revolution. The important contribution of Hydra Island to the War of Independence was emphasized.
On the eve of the Greek War of Independence, Hydra had about 130 warships, 2,400 cannons, more than 10,000 sailors and soldiers, and 16,000 residents, with a total population of nearly 30,000.
On the evening of March 27, 1821, Captain Anthony Ikonomo, a member of the Greek revolutionary organization “Friendship Society”, together with the brave residents of the island, declared independence from the Ottoman Empire. They became the most outstanding maritime military force among the Greek islands.
The owner Andre Miolles became the commander of the Hydra fleet. In 1822, the fleet destroyed many Turkish warships and broke the Turkish naval blockade in several battles in Corinth and the Gulf of Argolis. The fleet supplied food, weapons and money to the Greek revolutionaries who had besieged the city of Nafplio in the eastern part of the Peloponnese, until the Greeks occupied this important city.
In August 1824, under the command of Miolles, the Greek fleet defeated the Turkish fleet in the battle of Gerontas with less and more victory, and won the most important naval victory in the Greek War of Independence. Twenty-seven Turkish ships (including frigates and warships) were destroyed and sunk, leading to the disintegration of the Turkish-Egyptian combined fleet, which frustrated the Turks’ plan to land on Samos; in the famous naval battle of Mesoni Castle, the Hydras used special designs The “fire boats” full of explosives attacked large Turkish ships: these boats sneaked up at night and attached to the sides of the Turkish ships, and then the Greeks ignited the explosives on them. This battle destroyed 4 Turkish frigates, 3 other warships and 3 transport ships.
Of course, Miolles is only one of the commanders of the Hydra fleet, and there are many other naval leaders participating in the Revolutionary War on the island, such as George Sakhturis (admiral during the War of Independence).
Another Hydra shipowner-Lazaros Koturiotis-the richest shipping magnate on the island, donated his entire fleet to the War of Independence and donated to the Greek revolutionary organization “Friendship Society” Almost all the money was out. During the War of Independence, the Couturiotis brothers donated a total of 24 million golden drachmas, which accounted for 10% of the total funds raised during the revolution.
From the history of Hydra, I have seen the perseverance of people facing the sea and in adversity, especially their advocating “give or die” free spirit:
”Rolling mountains look at the marathon , Marathon watching the vast ocean waves; I meditated there alone for a quarter of an hour, dreaming that Greece is still free and happy; because, when I stand on a Persian tomb, I can’t imagine myself as a slave.”