About the writing of these books...
Drawing this detailed portrait of the Aegean world involved several years of walking, much joy – because of the inexplicably uplifting light and air of the Aegean seascapes – and a lot of patience with the winds and weather that are still as unpredictable as they were when Odysseus set off home from Troy.
Sometimes, too, it was not just a question of walking or climbing: reaching a couple of the sites in this book involved leaving note-books and paraphernalia behind on the shore and taking to the water in order to swim to them. Others were only accessible by boat: and there were yet other things about the islands that could only really be understood from the air.
However daunting it seemed, it was always an enjoyable challenge trying to get to see everything – every bit of ancient stone, the inside of even the humblest cliff-top chapel… and summit after panoramic summit of the island mountains. Everything needed to be looked at – because what could be the value in writing about something that hadn’t been seen?
... the origins of the project...
These books began with a commission to write a new Blue Guide which was to cover just the Greek Islands. This explains the initial approach and the lay-out of the books. Although they are more literary in character and go further and deeper than a traditional Blue Guide can go, they would not have come into being without that original commission or without the foresight and support of both the publisher and chief editor of the Blue Guides series.
It was not long before it became clear that there was going to be far more material here than could fit between the covers of one book, and so the idea evolved of producing first a cropped version of the manuscript, currently published as the Blue Guide to Greece: the Aegean Islands (see ‘Links’), and then going on to produce the full manuscript separately in several volumes. The solution worked well: and the product is this series of books – pocketable, practical, specific, and enjoyable companions for any journey to this magical corner of the world.
For better or for worse, these are not typical ‘guide-books’. They are literary, integrated portraits of the islands, drawn out in three dimensions: along a historical axis, a topographical axis, and a spiritual axis. By the last, I mean that they explore the human spiritual worlds which lay behind the places they describe: the rites practised in ancient Greece, the intentions of the painters and builders of the humble Byzantine churches, or the aspirations of the Island refugees who created so much of modern Greece.
With the sole exception of Crete, this series covers all the Greek, Aegean islands from tiny Antikythera up to Samothrace, and from the Lesser Sporades off the north of Alonnisos down to Kastellorizo, riding at anchor just off the southern coast of Turkey. One day it would be satisfying to complete the series by producing volumes on Crete and on the half-dozen important Ionian Islands off the west of Greece. But that all depends whether time and destiny permit. Πρῶτα ὀ Θεός...! as the islanders themselves would say.
... and about their author
Nigel McGilchrist is an art-historian who has lived, worked and taught in the Mediterranean area for over thirty years. He began learning ancient Greek at school at the age of eleven, and was a scholar both at Winchester College and at Merton College, Oxford. After graduating with a First from Oxford in 1978 he travelled in the Near East, and then settled in Italy where he taught at the University of Rome, worked for the Ministero dei Beni Culturali (the Italian Ministry of Arts) in the field of conservation of wall-paintings, and established the Anglo-Italian Institute in Rome to introduce British university students to the art and history of the city of Rome.
He has also worked in Greece and in Turkey. He now lectures in Europe and the United States, with regular visits to museums and institutions across the American continent from the Smithsonian in Washington to the Getty in Los Angeles. He was appointed Dean of European Studies for a consortium of American Universities in 1993, and took many generations of students to Greece for study for over the next decade. Formerly on the Board of Editors of the long-standing Blue Guides series, he has contributed to a number of their recent volumes. In 2003 he was commissioned to write the new Blue Guide for the Greek Islands, and gave up other commitments in order to work full-time towards its completion.
He lives near Orvieto in Italy, has a small household of animals, and produces wine, olive oil and quails’ eggs.
The Blue Guides and these books
McGilchrist's Greek Islands has received considerable coverage in the press which has been a wonderful reward for many years of silent work. Some of this coverage, however, has misconstrued the relationship between the series and the Blue Guides out of which it grew, and this has understandably upset the publisher of Blue Guides. Since the outset I have continually expressed my genuine gratitude (see above) to both the Publisher and the Chief Editor of Blue Guides for the support they gave me in this project. It was, in fact, the idea of the publisher of Blue Guides in the first place to produce the full text in a series of small volumes, and a first three books were subsequently prepared by the company. Economic restraints made continuation impossible, and so a reversion of the rights to the author was agreed in return for full payment of the costs of production of the first three volumes of the series which Blue Guides had prepared and which then needed to be pulped. Since then the series has been produced by Genius Loci Publications.