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The Post-Byzantine Museum of Zante and its narratives
In the picture, the statue of the great man in front of the new museum, in the Central Square named after him
The new museum is called the Post-Byzantine Museum of Zante. Its subject matter is the period of Venetian and British rule.
The 1953 earthquake is everywhere in the museum. It is as much a museum about the destruction of the island, as it is about what was salvaged from it and brought here out of the ruins.
And I truly was not expecting this, but the image of the two salvaged iconostases, so obviously torn out of their churches, is still making me cry.
(The left iconostasis was in what was the Pantocrator church and then the original museum; it is now the Solomos museum.)
And the stack of salvaged icons may be an appropriate way to display them; but they are also a reminder that they too are salvaged and torn out:
The museum is built on a touching story of archaeologists and townsfolk and sailors, salvaging the heritage of the islands from the disastrous earthquake.
It is a feelgood story, with two sour notes. The first is a story which the museum’s voice through its placards does not want you to forget: a lot of the townsfolk were quite happy to level what was left standing up, because they wanted to look to the future and not the past.
I noted that three churches were restored after the earthquake. A lot more could have been, and the responsible government committee had a list closer to a dozen. A lot more of the old town could have been salvaged.
Museum curators and townsfolk tend to have conflicting agendas, as Michael Hertzfeld memorably documented in A Place in History about Rethymnon, a town where archaeologists use the weight of the State to preserve a mediaeval city—in conflict with the poor shmucks stuck living in its houses, and who want to build more room for themselves.
The museum folk want to preserve, and so do some locals. Most locals want to rebuild, and a few of them want to make a stash while rebuilding.
I don’t know whether the museum was being literal or metaphorical when it said this in its placard, but it spoke of the locals dynamiting what was left the remaining old buildings, so they could rebuild newer, bigger, and tourist-friendlier.
(My concierge, FWIW, weighed in that that’s not quite how it went down, but there was a lot of dirty pool played when the town was being rebuilt. She certainly had no problem pointing out how shortsighted the locals had been about preserving the place’s heritage.)
The other sour note only occurred to me afterwards.
There is nothing secular in this museum at all. Not a single heraldic crest, not a single Latin inscription of martial valour, not a brick from a British barracks.
There may well have been a bias in the old museum (housed in a church, after all), whose contents were the immediate target of salvage. But the fact that there is nothing at all secular here sends a clear message, and one the museum curators are less eager to broadcast.
The only heritage people on the island cared to salvage was their religious heritage. The Venetian and British stuff? That could go.
I did walk past a house that had put a crest back up on its wall. So that wasn’t a universal mentality. Some people did care about the crests. And the museum, for all I know, may have storehouses of crests to go through. But that is not the impression its narrative is giving.