May I assume that you’ve seen the film «Gallipoli»;
How did I remember this, so early in the morning at Ouranoupolis, close to Mount Athos, in Macedonia? Oh well, it was only because I just got out of the Prosforiou Tower.
Did I confuse you?
Here it is: The Prosforiou Tower is the landmark of Ouranoupoli village (which is the only gateway to Mount Athos). It is the traveler’s best first contact with monastic architecture, as it stands high, stony, silent and majestically imposing above the white sand, like a pair of austere sacred eyes overlooking the very hot bodies of swimmers and tourists who enjoy the sea at the Tower’s foundations .
I had seen it several times, while traveling to Mount Athos. But today it was different- I went in and I learned a lot. In this Tower lived once a couple of Australians (husband Londoner who was raised in Scotland) who marked the history of Ouranoupoli village, which was built by refugees who arrived in 1923 from Proikonisia, in Asia Minor.
Are you still wondering why I mentioned the film «Gallipoli»; It was because one of the two occupants of the tower was Sydney Loch, a veteran of the legendary Battle of Gallipoli in Asia Minor, author of «Hell and Back, the banned story of Gallipoli» book in which he described the futile slaughter of Australian soldiers. Oh, yes… One of these unfortunate soldiers in the film was… Mel Gibson!
So, inside this majestic Tower, Sydney Loch lived with his wife Joice NanKivell Loch. She was also a writer and a journalist. But, what were those two Australians doing there, at refugee’s village in Macedonia?
Those two charming people were deeply humanist (Quakers in doctrine) and came to volunteer their free help to the refugees. They settled at the tower in 1928. They liked apparently it’s moody atmosphere.
I went up to the little rooms, of that five-storey Tower. I saw their office, the fireplace, the old black typewriter, the view of the grand blue Siggitikos Gulf from the windows. I saw the nice old woven carpets and I remembered once again the help that the Lochs provided to the refugees of Ouranoupoli.
“The refugees brought with them the art of carpet-making but did not have the proper technical means. Mrs Loch helped them build the looms and set up the workshop in the arsenal of the Tower. The designs were originally oriental motifs copied by Mr. Loch from several Mount Athos monasteries. The well known “Ouranoupolis carpets” were sold expensive in the Athens market, told me the night before Mrs. Statha Adamopoulos, president of the Cultural Association of Ouranoupoli.
The help of the Lochs was great indeed. Of course, the refugees knew quite well the art of weaving but Mrs. Loch showed them new techniques, so they were able to make beautiful handmade rugs woven by goat’s fur. She even taught them how to dye with natural colors, which they made from flowers. The designs of her husband contained many motifs from Persian rugs and oriental jewelry.
At the old Tower’s arsenal Mrs. Loch staged a highly skilled workshop with looms. This small village’s carpet industry was in production until the death of Mrs. Loch in 1982.
I continued my acquaintance with the Tower. The floors smelled characteristically of saltiness and old wood. I even reached the Saints Constantine and Helen’s church located on the top floor. I saw the rosette with the double-headed eagle and stood for quite some time in the small archaeological collection, lost in historical reflections.
This is a little but rare museum! A true discovery! It has several findings from the shipwreck of the Skete of St. Anna (the superb Corinthian helmets), findings from the Megali Panagia monastery, and others, few but highly interesting. All the artifacts were bathed in a warm soft light that seemed to come straight from the holy mountain, Mount Athos…
After all that, I remembered again the movie «Gallipoli» as I sat at the base of the Tower next to the white granite sand thinking about the great humanitarian contribution of the Lochs (who also had admirably supported refugees in Romania and Poland). I thought about the practical philanthropy of these two extraordinary personalities from the other side of the planet, who lived the last years of their lives in a Mount Athos Tower which was built before 1344, hosted the Bishop of Thessalonica Ioannis Palaiologos in 1379 and which belongs unfortunately to the notorious (for big-scale economical scandals) Vatopedi monastery.
Oh … Bright and optimist thoughts on philanthropy of the Lochs darkened by the recent memories of the sinful actions of Vatopedi monks. The Lochs set up a sophisticated carpet industry for the refugees, the monks set up a maze of “secret Off Shore companies” to hide large-sum money transactions for their friends and relatives.
It’s a huge difference, isn’t it ?
No more negative thoughts! I next decided to go to “Konaki” café to eat a hot sweet “bougatsa pie” to sweeten myself sending away my bitter feelings.
Where am I?
Ouranoupoli is on the “third leg” (the so called by Greeks third Chalkidiki peninsula of Mount Athos). The quickest way is via Egnatia Odos – Stavros – Ierissos. The most beautiful road is through Arnaia – Stagira – Stratoni.