In a warm, light-filled studio in a narrow street in Scarpa, Little Venice, Nikoletta Xidakis works away at her loom, surrounded by stands of bright yarn and shelves of seductively soft woollen shawls, scarves and rugs. She has plied the weaver’s trade here for over 50 years. A collection of cuttings from international newspapers, in shades of fading yellow, speak of her talent and the fame it has. earned her
Mykonos has always been a weaver’s island. Archeological finds here have shown that even in ancient times, textile production was significantly developed. By the 17th century the weavers of Mykonos had won considerable fame. Over the next three centuries the textile industry grew until by the mid 1900s, it involved most of the island’s women. There were over 500 looms at work on the island. Mykonos textiles won international awards. Highly prized, they were sold abroad and used to decorate the Royal Place in Athens. With the advent of Tourism in the 1970s, a new market opened up. Weavers set up stalls in the streets of Chora and opened their workshops to the visitors. Textiles from this era, comprising over 500 different designs, can be seen in the town’s Folklore Museum. Inevitably, with industrialization, traditional textile production, which once supported so many families on Mykonos, declined. One by one the island’s looms fell silent. Nikoletta Xidakis is now one of the last two traditional weavers left on Mykonos. You can find her at:
Little Venice, Skarpa, Mykonos Town, Mykonos 84600
Our Sunday afternoon drive around Mykonos begins and ends with beaches.
With our Guide Spiros at the wheel of Windmills Tours’ unprepossessing little Econovan, we head out of Chora, past beautiful Mikhaliamos, the place of sand, then up over the hill. On the other side is Korfos Bay, where a tier of new houses is under construction. Since 1977, to preserve the integrity of the environment, the law on Mykonos has limited architecture to the Cycladic style. These Korfos houses are laid out along the hillside, like illustrations of each stage of the art. Some are just concrete shells, others have their coats of white plaster and others have their shutters in regulation colours of mauve, blue, turquoise or red. From Korfos we look across the bay to the island of Delos, Sanctuary of the gods, and to Saint John’s Beach, where the seminal feminist movie, Shirley Valentine, was filmed.
Driving across the island from Korfos, on a narrow road bordered by stone walls, we pass fields where a few scraggy sheep pick at sparse blades of grass. Once, Spiros tells us, these fields grew abundant crops of wheat and barley for export to Russia. Houses, like trees and foliage, are scattered. Some are crumbling into piles of rubble, others are freshly white-washed. We pass a huge cactus with fruit that look like an alien life-form.
The road takes us to Ano Mera, a village drawn in around a square, where a child’s bicycle lies abandoned, its wheels spinning idly, while handful of tourists and locals laze in the afternoon sun on a café terrace.
On the other side of the square is Panagia Tourliani. This 17th century monastery has an impressive bell tower with elaborate stone carving. It is also home to two museums, the Ecclesiastical Museum, were the precious Epitaphos of Eleni of Mykonos Town is kept and the Agricultural Museum, which has a wonderful collection of farm implements. The monastery church is regarded as the protectress of Mykonos and every year on August 15th, one of the island’s most important festivals is celebrated here. The church houses numerous beautiful pieces of folk art but its pièce de résistance is the stunning wooden iconostasis which was carved in Florence in 1175.
After a visit to the church of Panagia Tourliani, we suggest a spell in the sun on the café terrace, but Spiros knows a better place. We head down the cliffs into a semi-circular bay that is fast filling with Cycladic houses on the grand scale. On the beach thatched shelters are lined up. A life guard’s tower rises above them. This is Paradise Beach, place of endless summer parties. It’s almost deserted now. In contrast, the nearby beach bar is busy – it’s the hour for apératifs and Mezes. We find ourselves a corner table. Over Mythos and Mezes, we find our common ground. Spiros shares his dreams of an eco tourist resort, of a business introducing the finest Greek produce to the world – Symposio. We watch the sun sink lower in the sky.
Our last stop on the tour is at Psarou Beach- the playground of the rich and famous. There is a yacht anchored just offshore. The beach is empty this late in the afternoon but the churned up sand attests to a busy day. Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” booms from the nearby bar. It’s happy hour. But somehow the song strikes a harsh discordant note here. It bounces off the cliffs and echoes too loudly around the sheltered bay. It cuts across the gentle swish of the waves and the distant hum of a boat.
For us it’s a time for silence or perhaps for some poignant Greek music. It’s time to head back to Chora. It’s been an amazing afternoon with an erudite, eloquent and inspiring guide.
The gods have always been at the centre of life on Mykonos and since the beginning of time the people of the island have built temples, shrines and churches to honour them. Nowadays, Mykonos is home to more than a thousand churches.
Most of the churches on Mykonos are small, private chapels which sit close beside the homes of the families who built them. Here, the bones of ancestors find their final resting place in crypts, or ossuaries and their lives are commemorated here. Family worship is observed and family occasions, like baptisms, marriages and name days are celebrated in these little chapels.
Other churches serve special groups, like the fishermen’s chapel, Agios Nikolakis, down at the edge of the sea on Akti Kambani. Others again serve neighbourhoods and villages for worship, baptisms, marriages and funerals. And every year, on the feast day of the saint to whom the church is dedicated, a spectacular festival is staged.
Although, on the outside, they almost all observe the modest traditions of Cycladic architecture, inside nothing is spared in the decoration. Religious paintings, wood-carvings, gold and silver filigree, tapestry and holy icons all contribute to give each church its own unique beauty.
On Sunday morning of our stay on Mykonos, the sky was blue, the sun was dancing on the sea and the church bells were ringing.