The Ghikas Family
An old Fanariot family originally from Albania, the Ghikas settled in Hydra in 1628. Its members occupied high positions in the Turkish administration of the island during Ottoman rule. The family contribute many naval officers and captains in the fight for independence.
In the hills above Kamini Harbor, you can see the ruins of the ancestral family home of Greece’s greatest modern painter, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, part of the so-called Generation of the Thirties, a group of Greek writers and painters committed to enriching the present by modernising Greece’s ancient glories. Here the painter hosted such members of the international bohemia as writers Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller, Rex Warner, Edmund “Mike” Keeley, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Norman Mailer.
When standing, “the house had 40 rooms, some of them “cool dungeons’ buried in the hillside, others as large as ‘the saloon of an ocean liner.’”
Leigh Fermor wrote of the house, “’It’s a great white empty thing on a rocky, cactussy hillside among olives and almonds and fig trees.’ The house was perched on a hillside so steep that he felt as if he were living in one of Ghika’s paintings. The sea seemed to stand ‘bolt upright’ and the town below seemed tilted ‘to the angle of those Byzantine backgrounds.’
“In the 1950s, Ghika became internationally renowned, with exhibitions in London, Paris and New York, and membership of the Royal Academy. In 1961, he left his wife for a British woman, Barbara Hutchinson. It was Ghika’s second marriage and Hutchinson’s third, her previous husbands being the biologist and British MP Victor Rothschild, and Rex Warner, who, having divorced Barbara, remarried his first wife.
“The actors in these complex exchanges took them in better spirit than Ghika’s housekeeper on Hydra. Loyal to the first Mrs Ghika, she burned down his house. Ghika never returned to Hydra, and died in 1994 at the house in Kriezotou Street.”
Today the house remains a ruin closed to the public. You can, however, wander up to walk its steep, rocky perimeter.
Text quoted and adapted from Dominic Green, The Australian,.