When I discovered Tanner’s Gate in my hometown of Herakleion in Crete, I had a feeling that once there was a thriving community near the sea. Years later I discovered the significance of that area and created this re-imagining which is based partly on what might have been and what I hoped there was. I like the fact that the lino it was carved out of has the feeling of a leather off-cut, the rounded edges softening the composition.
Leather Gate, refers to Porta tou Dermata (Tanner’s Gate, one of the Gates that allowed goods to pass through the impressive Venetian fortifications), an area that was at the edge of the sea and according to research was where the local Jewish community of Heraklion lived. I had been researching for a little book Tales from an Old Fort Town, a personal perspective on the Jewish community of Crete when I made this image. Actually, it is not accurate as a map, as there was no river to the sea, rather the effluent from the demanding, gruelling but essential leather processing work that was mainly conducted by Greek Jewish tanners. There are some references to the actual history of the area and I have alluded to the small and larger synagogues that were in the area, as well as the original Byzantine fortifications which excluded the Jewish neighbourhood and an old monastery, later an Ottoman Barracks and now a municipal building. The little aerial map/view is idealised. Many people living in that part of the town knew extreme poverty and religious as well as economic exclusion. These hard-working, religious Greek-born people who simply pursued a different form of worship, were overtaxed by the Venetians, persecuted by the Christians, and only enjoyed a brief respite when the Ottomans occupied the island. This little now lost piece of Greek history fills me with feelings of regret, and longing. So this is my attempt to make it into a happier place that, the truth be told exists in my thoughts only. The area further up from the Gate, south towards the City is known as the neighbourhood of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) where one can still find older residents who cultivate little enclosed walled gardens full of jasmine and lemon trees. But these are few. Mostly the new poor, the ones with no hope of living in the overpriced suburbs or the extortionately expensive city, drift in and sometimes out. Here, some settle and recreate a semblance of a life, repairing the old stone-built and unsound houses and fighting to get the municipality to address the decrepitude of the older buildings. Some people eventually are able to rebuild and create businesses in areas that used to be rather unsavoury, as with Lakkos (ditch or hole) and where at one time, poverty, lack of resources and punitive patriarchy sent lost souls, mainly women, into a spiral of even greater losses through the few vices that have eternally fed on the helpless and disadvantaged.
I often visit and there in those old parts of town I remember the harsh inequalities of life, the things that as a child I found incomprehensible and shameful and sometimes, I even shed a tear for the many, but so very many souls who did not have a fair share of happiness in this lifetime. My tanner's gate lives in hope as an alternate reality. Sadly I could not get rid of all those immovable metaphorical walls and fortifications against progress.