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Sparta - Mystras

From the time of the Ottoman-Venetian conflicts of the 17th century, travellers visited the castle on top of the hill and the still inhabited Byzantine city on the slopes, which they mistook for Sparta.

V.M. Coronelli, the founder of the Accademia Cosmografica degli Argonauti in Venice, published several editions illustrated with hundreds of copper engravings, which aimed at exalting Venice's victories during the Ottoman-Venetian war (1684-1687). Copies of these drawings, either identical or with variations, have been included in the reprints and translations of Coronelli's works since then. In addition, they illustrate historical treatises and geographic works, as well as later travel chronicles. Consequently, a “view of Mystras or Sparta” is found in different versions and variations in Coronelli's works and in editions inspired by them (V.M. Coronelli in 1687 and V.M. Coronelli in 1688 as well and Οl. Dapper in 1688). The engravings in the 1708 works by V. M. Coronelli are highly appealing, although most plates repeat subjects already published in earlier editions of the Accademia Cosmografica degli Argonauti.The plates in the work by J. Sandrart (1687) show castles and other location, in their majority under Ottoman rule. Several similar works which highlight the victories of the Venetians against the Ottomans in the Sixth Ottoman-Venetian War (1684-1699) were released during the same period. The editions by J. Peeters in the late 17th century (1686 and 1690) also exalt the victories of the Holy League in the Ottoman-Venetian wars. The plates show cities, ports and other locations in Austria, Southeastern Europe, the eastern Mediterranean and places in Asia all the way to India and Saudi Arabia. Clearly influenced by the editions of the Accademia Cosmografica degli Argonauti, G. Albrizzi's work (1687) includes a series of major fortresses, ports and towns, mainly of the Peloponnese.

In the early 19th century, there are more artistic renderings of this space, as in the work of W. Williams (1829) who depicted all places connected with antiquity in an intensely romantic style. The lithographs by A. -V. Joly (1824) are inspired by earlier similar works and convey the philhellenic spirit of the era. A view of Mystras in similar style is found in a very popular Album of sights all over the Medirranean (G.N. Wright in 1842). In addition, the 1882 reedition of Cr. Wordsworth's higly successful historical narrative on Greece includes a view of Mystras, the Eurotas valley and the ancient theatre of Sparta. The capacity for insight and keen observation evident throughout Henri Belle's text (1881) equally mark the illustrations of his travel account. The drawings by French painting Th. Le Blanc (1833-34), made from nature, are marked by intense emotion.

From the second half of the 19th century onwards, as progress is made in the field of Byzantine archaeology, the Christian monuments of Mystras begin to attract visitors' and scholars' attention. Landscape, monuments and people illustrate the travel chronicle by A. Schweiger Lerchenfeld (1887) while works such as Fr. Perilla's (1929) highlight monuments, space and details of structures through the use of diverse techniques (drawings, water colour, engraving and photography). Finally photography provides the first faithful and objective depiction of space and monuments (Ε. Reisinger in 1923).

Thanks to its splendid ancient past, Sparta has a place in the first printed books (incunabula) of the 15th century, like the “Nurnberg chronicle” by H. Schedel (1493), even though views of cities in this edition are largely imaginary and tend to greatly resemble each other.  Approximately half a century later, in 1545, German humanist N. Gerbelius published an accompanying text to the contemporary map of Nicolaos Sofianos, from Corfu. Gerbelius illustrates his texts with views of cities and other locations connected to place names on the map. The representation of Sparta is imaginary, congruent with the aesthetic conventions of the time, and attempts to convey the grandeur of ancient monuments. The prolific Irish scholar J.P. Mahaffy wrote an account of his tour of Greece (1890), illustrated with exquisite wood engravings. The plates were etched from pencil drawings, which in their turn were based on imaginary representations and photographs. The work of  J. von Falke (1887 / 2002) is illustrated by exquisite engravings. They show works of ancient Greek art and imaginary depictions of scenes from the public and private life of the ancient Greeks

In the 18th century (1770) D. Le Roy's views of this space, created in the 18th century (1770) are hazy (according to the aesthetics of the era, everything is permitted in representation); subject is superior to image and emotion more important than exact depiction. After his journey in Greek lands, at the begining of the 19th centuryO.M. von Stackelberg was able to render historical locations and antiquities in accordance with the emerging tendency of romanticism (1834). In the poetic work by W. Haygarth (1814) landscape evokes history, as happens with the serene panoramic views by Stackelberg in 1830 and the successful work by Cr. Wordsworth (in the 1882 reedition). Travellers look for the scarce antiquities to be found at the time (F.Ch.H.L. Pouqueville in 1835 and D. and Ν. Stephanopoli, in 1800), while maps of the area are included in J.J. abbé Barthélemy (1832) F. Aldenhoven (1841), W.M. Leake (1846), and naturally  the travel guides of the late 19th century (K. Baedeker in 1894).

The observations made by the members of the Section of Architecture and Sculpture of the French Scientific Mision under G. A. Blouet are accompanied by drawings of excellent technique and high artistic quality. The conclusions of their research and the related graphic material, released in three monumental volumes (1831, 1833, 1838), contributed greatly to the perception of the monuments and constituted a work of reference for all subsequent studies.

People are depicted or photographed (Ch. Deval in 1827 and Fr. Perilla in  1929), while towards the late 19th century specific remains and buildings are included in works where image nearly eclipses textual description (A. Von Schweiger Lerchenfeld in 1887).

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou