Finding Thessaloniki’s Lost Monument in Manchester: Portico to Portico
Updated: Aug 1
One of the changes between visiting Thessaloniki in 2011 and then in 2022 was how much more its history – and the layers of its history – was signposted throughout the city. This was true even of its lost monument The Portico of Idols, also known as Las Incantadas or The Enchanted Ones, which had been dismantled and removed by the French traveller-archaeologist Emmanuel Miller for Napoleon III in November 1864. I remembered the life size prints of these Roman sculpted columns – caryatids – shown where they would have been displayed in the Archaeological Museum from my previous visit.
The local population, whether Turkish, Greek or Jewish, were infuriated by the removal of these antiquities and the dismantling of the colonnade – it was part of someone’s house. In his chronicle of the city's modern history, Mark Mazower vividly captures the hostility encountered by Emmanuel Miller - known as Salonica's Elgin - who himself recorded the lengths to which local residents tried to stop the destruction of the colonnade:
A cawass, a servant, came up to the statue of Victory. He wept and tried to embrace it.*
A Greek newspaper from the time ‘deplored’ the removal of these antiquities as removing a direct link to their classical ancestors. As well as stoking Greek nationalism in the city, the removal of the Enchanted Ones was one of several by (mainly) French and British nationals across the Ottoman Empire in the 1860s. The removal of antiquities made the absence of any laws to protect antiquities and archaeological remains all too apparent, particularly given the archaeological protective laws put in place by the new Greek state in 1834. This is the period of the Tanzimat reforms, which – among many changes – guaranteed the security of all Ottoman subjects, brought in a new penal code and opened up markets for manufactured goods.** The Ottoman government finally turned its attention to antiquities’ protection laws in the 1870s.
The sculpted columns are still in the Louvre in Paris, though dispersed (the display can be seen in this link if you scroll through the photographs). In 2015 the French government gave the Greeks moulds of the casts and in 2017 casts of the ‘Enchanted Ones’ were put on display outside of the Museum.
The casts come from the upper (or second) storey of this portico, which was situated in the part of the city that became the market area and Jewish quarter. There is a single photograph of the Portico as it was in Thessaloniki, otherwise the main record of it is that of the drawing by British architects and travellers James Stuart and Nicholas Revett from 1754, after they had left recording antiquities in Athens due to an uprising, and were trapped in Salonica due to plague.*** It is the only drawing from Salonica, as it was known then, that was included in their third volume of Antiquities of Athens and Other Places in Greece, Sicily etc, only finally published by the Society of Dilettanti in 1794 .
Stuart and Revett are best known for their records of the sculptures of the Parthenon still situated on the temple and of the Acropolis more generally. It is clear, however, that the display of this image in Thessaloniki makes the print vital to the culture of this city.
The subtitle given to these casts outside the museum ‘A monument like a fairy tale’ refers to the ‘mythification’ of antiquities as ‘people turned by sorcery to stone’.**** The story of the their naming by the Spanish Sephardic Jews as ‘Enchanted Ones’ and by the Turks as Figures of Angels record the story that the King of Thrace punished his wife and others for secretly meeting with Alexander the Great. The name and story record, as the interpretation panel points out, the ‘multicultural’ layers of Thessaloniki’s history. The exhibition in the museum when I visited, For a Flame that Burns on. Antiquities and Memory, Thessaloniki – Macedonia, 1821 – 2021, referred to a ‘polyphonic city’. The legend is also recorded by Stuart and Revett recording the ‘folk traditions’ of antiquities in Greece and the voices of the people who lived around them, albeit from the point of view of an ‘Enlightened’ traveller.***** This record of more than just the architecture or art, follows what William A. Koelsch has defined as Archaeography, that is the recording of a complete plan of an ancient site with its environment and present landscape, which he argues owes as much to geography as archaeology. I’d perhaps define their work as ‘archaeoanthropology’ too.******
The wonders of modern technology meant I could look at Stuart and Revett’s third volume on my iPad when I visited the Archaeological Museum and Dogoti Street where a fragment of the Portico was found. The importance of the 1754 print is borne out by the identification of that small pilaster face – the only piece of the Portico of the Idols that remains. Although I do love digital technology nothing is the same as looking at an original book and the Portico Library (another portico!) in Manchester, where I work, has the original Society of Dilettanti volumes from Athens (as well as those from Ionia, Palymra etc). Obviously, I had a look at this image in the 1794 book once I got a chance, then took the opportunity to talk to (or bore!) visitors as part of Manchester's Festival of Libraries day.
While I had the book open at the page showing how the Enchanted Ones / Portico of Idols looked in 1754 and a reconstruction of the portico, I then showed the visitors a photograph on my iPad of all the fragment that remains in Thessaloniki today (see below). People audibly gasped. The fragment is part of a pilaster showing Nike’s face, which was found in a 1997 excavation of Rogoti Street (near the Jewish Museum / Synagogue) when laying gas pipes. Seeing this fragment in Thessaloniki and then the images in the book in Manchester vividly made me re-realise the importance of these travellers' accounts and recordings, the impact they had and how antiquities can be read and re-read.
* Mark Mazower (2004), Salonica. City of Ghosts. Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, London: Harper, 217-218.
** For more see Ozan Ozavci (2021), Dangerous Gifts: imperialism, Security and Civil Wars in the Levant, 1798 – 1864, Oxford: Oxford University Press, Chapter Seven.
*** Lionel Cust and Sidney Colvin (1914), History of the Society of Dilettanti, London: Macmillan and Co., 78.
**** Catalogue from the exhibition, For a Flame that Burns on. Antiquities and Memory, Thessaloniki – Macedonia, 1821 – 2021 (Thessaloniki, 2021), 142-143.
***** Tugba Tanyeri-Erdemir, ‘A new species of human being. Enlightened encounters with the Anatolian ‘Other’ in the Eighteenth Century’, in Ian Jenkins and Louise Stewart (eds.) (2021), The romance of ruins: the search for ancient Ionia 1764 (2021), London: Sir John Soane's Museum, in collaboration with The British Museum: 90 – 105, 100.
****** William A. Koelsch (2013), Geography and the Classical World. Unearthing Historical Geography’s Forgotten Past, London: I. B. Tauris.