On May 1st 1909, one of the greatest personalities of Monemvasia and Greece, the great and internationally renowned Greek poet Yannis Ritsos was born.
Ritsos, with more than 100 collections of poems and compositions, 9 novels, 4 plays and a lot of studies, made his first steps and enjoyed a carefree childhood in Kastropolitia, in Monemvasia. Initially Ritsos’ family lived near the Church of Panagia Chrysafitissa, but after the birth of Yiannis Ritsos, they all moved into a house situated at a 150m distance from the central gate of Kastropolitia, near the wall. Today, the bust of Yannis Ritsos overlooking the wilderness of the rocks and the serenity of the deep blue of the sea dominates the area outside the house, which is not open for visitors any more. The house was very big given the scope of the period and that is why they all called it “the Inn of Gravia” according to Y. Ritsos’ sister Loula.
The description is absolutely revealing: “It had fifteen rooms on the top floor and another fifteen on the ground floor but they were very narrow, like cages. On the ground floor and in the basement, there were the warehouses with the barrels of wine, the oil, the wheat and the cheese for the whole year. The house had three balconies overlooking the sea, flower pots and flowers, which emitted nice smells to the neighborhood. From the middle balcony, which was the largest, you could see the blue expanse of the sea, while the flag of Greece was waving on national holidays. The bedrooms were situated in the front rooms as well as the large living room with the heavy curtains, the floral columns, the tables, the candlestick, the large table and mummy’s piano at the side. In our back yard, there was a bakery, a cistern for rainwater, the laundry room and the stable for the horses”.
In this house Ritsos got his primary education and attempted to write his first lyrics at the age of eight, a period of time which was according to his biographers, the happiest and most carefree of his life. But the first blows of fate were about to come soon. When Ritsos was 8 years old, his family was financially destroyed. Four years later his mother Eleftheria and his brother Dimitris died of tuberculosis. At the age of 16 (in September 1925) Ritsos decided to go to Athens with his sister Lula, but he would not stay for long. He returned to Monemvasia when the first signs of tuberculosis were apparent in him this time. His repatriation was brief. He left Monemvasia with the poetry collections of “Our Old House” and “Tears and Smiles”; while it would take a long time to return to his native land again.
Since then, poetry and tuberculosis would be the inseparable companions of Ritsos, as well as the communist party. Being a communist party member in 1934 he also launched the first collection of poems entitled “Tractor”. The poet of the “Epitaph” and “Romiosini” would spend much of his life in sanatoriums, asylums for tuberculosis treatment, in a number of places of exile - from Lemnos and Makronissos to Ai Stratis, Gyaros, Leros and Samos – he was operated on cancer surgery and saw many of his beloved people die. But during all these years, he remained loyal to his poetry, his ideas and his struggles. He returned in Monemvasia in the late 70s, where he wrote poems for the collection “Monovasia” (1976). It was the period of distinction, the period that his work would be universally acknowledged, the years of the awards. Ritsos received the Lenin Prize for Peace and Friendship of Peoples in 1977, and was unsuccessfully nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature many times. He returned for good to his native place, the “Stony Boat” as he used to call it, when he died in 11 November 1990.
Apart from the house and the “last home” of Yiannis Ritsos in Monemvasia, there are memories of the great Greek poet and his life in Liotrivi, in the mansion in Velies, which had been for decades and up to 1930 the country house of Ritsos’ family. It is the house, where Ritsos and his siblings spent the summers of their childhood mentioned many a times in a lot of his writings. “In Velies, where we spent most of the summer time, the gardens were full of fruit. We would take the baskets in hand to gather fruit, grapes, walnuts and almonds. Near our house there was a big fountain with running water. There, we used to go to see the women wash and whiten the clothes and the men water their livestock. The water was running under the plane trees, poplars and reeds, irrigating the furrows of the estates of Ritsos’ family. Here, we would chase frogs, splash in the water and lay down under the shadows on mats, which we always brought from the house. At the time of harvest, we would run in the vineyards among the workers and forget ourselves in the wine presses. The sun porches were filled with black currants, which were dried under the sun, while we were hearing the must simmering in the barrels. The mellow wine of Monemvasia and all of the surrounding area is famous. At the period of hunting, my uncles and father set out for hunting along with their servants and dogs, while women were visiting relatives and best men”.
In 1926 the historical mansion, which was built during the 18th century and had been used as accommodation for prefects of the Ottoman Empire before passing to the hands of Ritsos’ family, turned into an olive press which was a model olive press for its time and produced high quality extra virgin olive oil. The mill operated until 1960 and was almost recently renovated in 2004-2008. Nowadays Liotrivi is a very interesting museum and a unique hotel. Visitors can tour the old mill, see the equipment and find out the traditional ways of preparing olive oil, read the works of Ritsos’ poetry, taste a number of traditional products and local wines.
The visitors will also be enchanted to trail the poet’s reminiscent presence in the beautiful, renovated square of Chrisafitissa in Kastropolitia where they will enjoy reading lyrics from his poems with the rock and the sea as a poetic background; a landscape that brings intensely to mind a theatrical stage.