- Forty two years ago, the Chios loving painter climbs up “Old Woman’s Castle” along with a couple friend.
Sunday, October the 1st, 1978. Driving off from Chios town, an automatic Volvo is heading for the northern part of the island. Behind the wheel is shipmaster Alexandros Armenakis, sitting in the back is his wife Eftihia and on the passenger seat is painter Nikos Gialouris. Their destination is Koulalas valley, their goal is ascending up to “Old Woman’s Castle”.
“Gialouris was a truly great man; he was cultured, he had connections, but he was simple, it wasn’t like he was a diva or anything”, says Mr Alexandros before adding: “We would often go for a drive.” While on one of these outings, on the way to Kardamila, Mrs Eftihia’s gaze was captured by the mountainous boulder dubbed “Old Woman”, with the legendary fortress on the top. She herself came up with the wish to visit it, Gialouris, who anyhow wanted to portray it, agreed, so they settled on climbing up to it soon.
Despite standing at a height of no more than 450 meters, “Gria’s” mount overlooks Kardamila and strikes those heading for the largest northeast Chios village. The medieval fortress occupying its peak provides ample view of the village, Inousses and the Asia Minor coast, while its name can be interpreted through two similar local traditions: The first one is about an old woman from Kardamila who climbed up to it running away from pirates, while the second one –somewhat more creative– states that the fortress was inhabited by a humongous old woman protecting the village and alerting the villagers whenever pirates drew near.
The weather was good. Mr Alexandros parked the car at the edge of Koulalas plain. «We started ascending from Pitios side; it was a slightly uphill, rugged path. Walking on a goat track, we could hear the sheep bells” recollects Mrs Eftihia. Panting, they made it to the saddle, where they could now look up to the medieval fortress. As they stopped to catch their breath, Gialouris took off his shirt and lay down. After a while, he sat on a rock, placed a small tray on his lap and started drawing. Close to him sat Mr Alexandros, an occasional student of his, also attempting to capture “Old Woman’s Castle” on canvas.
The acclaimed painter was going through an experimentation period, dabbling in new techniques. “By then he’d got the hang of it and could easily draw straight lines, so he wanted to come up with something more original, less conventional” recalls Mrs Eftihia. “He employed a technique with cuttlefish ink and a quill he had made of cane. He’d scraped it in a way that he could draw both thick and thin lines with it; he wanted his lines to variate in thickness.”
Upon finishing drawing, they walked up to the twin-tower medieval fortress. They relished the panoramic view, took some photos and soon set off in the opposite direction before rounding off the day at a tavern in Pitios, where Gialouris handed his friends the unusual drawing, dedicating it to them.
At the northwest edge of Koulalas plain, approaching the end of the dirt road, one can see an impressive Genoese era well featuring an elaborate spiral stone staircase on its walls. “Koulalas’ Well”, with water in it all year round, is still being used today.
Translated into English by Nikos Loutraris