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Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2015/22 posted by hidden europe on

Cartographers, seafarers, poets and artists have long seen the appeal of offshore islands - and they are especially interesting when political allegiance and geography do not quite seem to agree. Perhaps the most striking political compromise with respect to offshore islands was the arrangement between the Japanese and the Dutch during the more than 200 years when Japan pursued its sakoku (closed country) policy.

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Dear fellow travellers

From the beach the island looks so close, so tempting. We have seen these past days how migrants from the Middle East and Afghanistan have made the short crossing over the water from the Turkish mainland to the Greek island of Lesbos. The latter is one of a number of Greek islands which are within spitting distance of the Turkish coastline.

Move down the Turkish coast and there are Greek islands which are even nearer to the Turkish mainland than Lesbos. It is just 1300 metres over the Samos Strait from the Greek island of Samos to the slopes of Mount Mykale on the west coast of Anatolia. Kastellorizo, the easternmost of Greece's offshore islands, is very close to the Turkish port of Kas.

Cartographers, seafarers, poets and artists have long seen the appeal of offshore islands - and they are especially interesting when political allegiance and geography do not quite seem to agree. The French islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon hover off the end of Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula. The Peñón de Alhucemas is a fortified outpost of Spain just 300 metres off the coast of Morocco. The Russian island of Gogland dances in the Gulf of Finland, though both Finland and Estonia covet this rugged fragment of Russian territory. Some offshore islands are more the stuff of myth and legend. Hy Brasil is a phantom island which lurks, so they say, off the west coast of Ireland. It is shown on many ancient maps and charts and lives on in the folk wisdom of modern Ireland.

Historically, there have been many islands in harbours which gave a foreign polity some lean or sway over the country which administered the harbour. In the early 16th century, the Peñón of Algiers gave the Kingdom of Spain a vantage point to control affairs on the coast of North Africa. It was connected to the mainland by a sea wall. The last century saw Italy controlling islands in the eastern Adriatic. During the 1920s and 1930s, Italy owned Sazan Island in the Bay of Vlorë on the Albanian coast. On Italian maps of the period, the island is shown as Saseno.

Perhaps the most striking political compromise with respect to offshore islands was the arrangement between the Japanese and the Dutch during the more than 200 years when Japan pursued its sakoku (closed country) policy. Japan was keen to limit external commercial and cultural influences. But the Dutch settlement on Dejima Island in Nagasaki Harbour was tolerated. Despite the strict sakoku laws, all manner of goods and ideas reached Japan - they included cabbage and chocolate, billiards and badminton. You can read more about Dejima in the 'Beyond Europe' column of hidden europe 46.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

Posted in Places
This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.