Monday, September 07, 2009

Lumber and Globalization

Chlemoutsi Castle near Kyllene is the greatest Crusader monument of Greece. In 2003, the 6th Ephoreia of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Antiquities began a large historic preservation program that included restoring the grand reception hall into a museum space. The castle's inner circuit was originally a two-storied space, but the lumber separating the two floors had long collapsed. Villehardouin's original builders surely exploited the lush forests of nearby Pholoe, the mythical home of Pan and centaurs. Although we do not have any direct evidence, I believe that the Crusader Franks (and later the Venetians) used Eleia's lumber as a global export in the 13th century. Venetian galleys were built from Eleian wood.

But in 2003, it was impossible to find lumber large enough to cover the hall's span. Continuous exploitation, fires and mismanagement have depleted Eleia's forests. To span the new Chlemoutsi Museum, lumber had to be imported from Canada. In 2004, the museum was completed, and we used the ground story for our exhibition, Houses of the Morea: Vernacular Architecture of the Northwestern Peloponnese (1205-1955). We managed to hold our opening just one day before the start of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. The Canadian beams supporting the Crusader reconstruction have always held a most powerful image in my mind, a physical example of globalization at work across times.

It is these very beams that came to mind when I read about the financial woes that Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics are facing (
Economist, Sept. 5, 2009, p. 44). British Columbia's lumber industry has been hit heavily by the recession. A building slump in the United States has reduced the demand for Canadian lumber causing rising unemployment (8%) and reduced tax revenues. Although excited in 2003 to get the Olympics, Canadians are now having second thoughts. Will Vancouver be able to pull it off financially? In the complex world we live in (and perhaps have always lived in), Chlemoutsi Castle, the submortgage crisis and the Olympics are all subtly interwoven. I'll be visiting Vancouver for the first time on October 15. It is here, out of all places, that the Modern Greek Studies Association will hold its 21st Symposium. At Vancouver, I'll be thinking of Eleia.


Nauplion said...

Did your Elian studies turn up any dendrochronology samples? The 13thC Venetians took wood from northern Italy for Negroponte [scroll down halfway]

and in 1400 were certainly exporting their own construction wood for Nauplion, Modon, & Negroponte I can send you an article].

I don't see that the terrain & climate would ever have produced timber of the size to span the Chlemoutsi space.

Nauplion said...

Carping further.

I just don't see the Venetians marketing timber from Elis when they controlled large areas of forests in the foothills of the Dolomites, around Friuli, and in Dalmatia. It was not Venetian thinking to leach out profits that could go to Venetians and Venice. As one result of the massive galley-construction program for the 4th Crusade, they were already involved in some serious forest-management.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States