Samos

This is an excerpt from the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands , newly available on Amazon.

I had arrived at the town of Pythagorio on the ferry from Patmos. Pythagorio is the Samian destination for ferries from the Dodecanese Islands. The port of Vathy on the northern side of Samos is the terminus for ferries to the other Aegean Islands, whereas Karlovassi towards the western end of Samos is the place to catch ferries to the Cyclades. There’s more to Samos than meets the eye and the coast of Turkey is only about two miles away to the east.

Visiting the area around Pythagorio I was struck at how many of the substantial ruins didn’t have any written explanation as to their origin. There’d be a small acropolis in the middle of a field, a large section of town wall by the roadside, or a Roman baths close to a hotel, with no information as to their age or significance. The irony is that the best known ancient site, the Heraion a UNESCO listed World Heritage Sight, whilst extensive, has only one heavily restored column to give the place a sense of perspective and depth.

Walking around the ancient harbour of Pythagorio, parts of which are 2,600 years old, the visitor soon comes to a statue of Pythagoras, who was born i the area around 574 BCE. He was one of a number of intellectuals – Aesop, Aristarchus, and Epicurus were others – who thrived on Samos during the prosperous reign of the tyrant Polycrates in the 6th Century BCE. With the rise of the Athenian city state and the killing of Polycrates by the Persians, Samos declined and never reached the same heights again, becoming part of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires before joining the Greek state in 1912.

The Archaeological Museum in Pythagorio has two floors and an extensive outdoor section where the walls, dwellings, and temples of Ancient Samos can be viewed from a raised walkway. Indoors my highlights from the collection include 7 terracotta dolls dating from 500 BCE, a vase in the shape of a running hare, grave stele with palmettes on top, a large marble sarcophagus in the shape of a temple, a large status of the Roman Emperor Trajan, and a hoard of 300 gold Byzantine coins found in a bronze jug.

At the western end of Pythagorio, right by the shoreline, is the castle built by a local strongman Lykourgos Logothetis in the 19th Century. Next door are the ruins of a very early Christian church. From the castle, the visitor can walk westwards along the path towards the Doryssa resort and pass many ruins along the way including an acropolis, former town walls, and Roman baths.

Heading back into town, walking up the hill and then taking another road out of Pythagorio in a westerly direction, I came to the Panayia Spillani monastery and the attraction here, other than the cats lying on piles of carpets, is the subterranean shrine to the Virgin Mary, found about 100 yards inside a cave. The miniature church is impressively manicured despite the permanently damp conditions. This cave was also the place where the priestess Phyto – known as the Samian Sibyl – gave out prophecies including one prediction of the birth of Jesus in a stable. Further along the same road, passing an ancient theatre still used for performances, is the entrance to the Efpalinio Orygma.

This ancient aqueduct is 1036 metres long and was built by Eupalinos of Megara on the orders of Polycrates, using slave labour. The tunnel was dug through solid rock by two sets of slaves starting at opposite sides of the hill and working towards each other. The whole venture was a success and the aqueduct provided the town with running water until Byzantine times.

If you’d like to read more, the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands is newly available on Amazon.

Tinos

This is an excerpt from the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands , newly available on Amazon.

The first inhabitants of Tinos were probably the Phoenicians, followed by the Ionians in the 11th century BCE. Two tombs from the Mycenaean period have been discovered in the area of Kyra Xeni, and about fifty archaeological sites in the area of Xombourgo.

The island came under the authority of the Persians in 490 BCE, but the inhabitants rapidly regained their freedom after the battle of Marathon ten years later. Tinos became a member of the Delian Alliance, which was dominated by Athens, and instituted democracy. In 386 BC, the island became independent.

Tinos soon came under the authority of Philip of Macedonia. After the death of his son Alexander the Great, the island was ruled by the Egyptian Ptolemies, the successors of Alexander the Great. In the 2nd century BC, Tinos, with all the other islands and the mainland of Greece, became a part of the Roman Empire.

During Byzantine times, the inhabitants moved from the seaside to the interior of the island in order to protect themselves from the many devastating pirate raids. One of the few things known about Tinos during the Byzantine times is that it was a time of epidemics, fear, and insecurity for the island.

Tinos is recommended for those people who want to visit an island in The Cyclades that has more visitors from the rest of Greece than non-Greek visitors. Tinos is the most important Orthodox centre of worship in Greece but is also an important Catholic centre too, due to the Venetians holding out against the Turks until 1715, a lot longer than the rest of Greece. This mixture of religions is so rare in Greece and gives the island a particular character.

The main reason for the influx of Greek visitors is the church at the top of the hill in Tinos Town. The Panayia Evangelistra was built on the spot where an amazing icon was found in 1822 by a local nun, Ayia Pelayia. The nun is now the ‘patron saint’ of Tinos. The timing couldn’t have been better as the Greek War of Independence had only started the previous year and the ‘chance’ discovery served to reinforce the relationship between the Greek Orthodox Church and the cause of Greek independence from Turkey.

In the church today, visitors can still pay homage to the icon, even though it’s well hidden beneath a layer of jewels and other gifts. Some pilgrims ascend the plush, red-carpeted stairs to the church on their knees, symbolising the veneration the icon can generate in some believers. In the crypt there’s a mausoleum to the sailors who were killed when the Greek cruiser, Elli, was torpedoed by an Italian submarine when she was at anchor of Tinos in 1940. There’s another memorial to this ship on the waterfront about three hundred yards to the east of the ferry terminal. The tragedy was that the Elli was taking part in the celebrations of the Feast of the Assumption when she was torpedoed and no one was on lookout as Greece was still at peace with the Fascist states of Northern Europe.

Tinos is renowned throughout Greece for the excellence of their craftsmen in producing marble ornamentation and this is particularly evident in the town of Pyrgos with its School of Fine Arts and Museum of Marble Crafts. Tinos is also famous for its dovecotes – there’s even a dovecote trail to follow if you hire a car.  I’d heard a village called Tarambados had a great selection of dovecotes, so I caught the bus to the interior and got off at the village. There was no one around, but I saw at least five dovecotes in the mid-distance and sure enough there were soon some signs, which took me by streams, through fields, and along walls. The fields were full of vegetables and the hedges and low trees were full of the sounds of insects, especially bees who were attracted by the copious wild flowers. The dovecotes were bigger than the houses in the village and were attractively decorated with intricate triangles, circles, and honeycomb patterns.

When the Fourth Crusade lurched violently out of control and sacked and captured Constantinople in 1204, instead of heading to the Holy Land, the ramifications for Tinos were enormous. The island was no longer part of the Byzantine Empire and instead was ruled by a private Venetian citizen named Andrea Ghisi, who captured the island in 1207, along with his brother Jeremiah. One of their first moves was to erect fortifications on the Exobourgo Mountain, making it a stronghold. The “Castle of Saint Helen” as it was called, took its name from a chapel on the peak.

If you’d like to read more, the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands  is newly available on Amazon.

Paros

This is an excerpt from the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands , newly available on Amazon.

In around 1600 BCE, it was the Minoans from Crete who had the first recorded presence on Paros, tuning the island into a naval station with the name of Minoa. In 1100 BC, the Ionians became rulers of the island destroying the Minoan civilization on the island though traces can still be seen in the Mycenaean Acropolis near Kolimbithres.

In 1000 BC, Paros was taken by the Arcadians and became a power in the region, creating a colony on the island of Thassos. There was a cultural flourishing too with the construction of many temples, like a temple dedicated to goddess Athena (some of the columns from which can be seen to this day in the Kastro in Parikia) and the healing centre of Asklepieion.

Paros is the birthplace of many ancient poets such as the lyrical poet Archilochus, the first to use personal elements rather than heroic ones in his poetry. During ancient times, Paros was famous for its high quality semi-transparent marble, from the Marathi Quarries. This marble was used for the Temple of Apollo on Delos, the Venus of Milos (in the Louvre in Paris), and the statue of Hermes, by Praxiteles, at Olympia.

During the wars with Persia, Paros fought on the Persian side, but were defeated by the Athenian army. In 338 BC, the island came under the rule of Philip of Macedonia and became part of the Macedonian empire. After the death of Alexander the Great, Paros was taken over by the Ptolemies.

The ferries arrive on Paros at Parikia, a town of white houses with blue windows and doors, narrow streets, and shady courtyards, all found under a beautiful blue sky. The most important tourist sight in Parikia is the church known as Ekatondapyliani – “The One Hundred Gated”. The first church on this site, called Katopoliani – “facing the town” – was founded in 326AD by St Helen, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. However, most of what’s visible today dates from two centuries later and the time of Justinian. From a historical perspective this church is the most important in the Aegean and should not be missed, even by the most casual observer.

Mykonos

This is an excerpt from the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands , newly available on Amazon.

It may seem strange to include Mykonos in a book about history, but there’s plenty of things of historical interest to see on this lovely island. In Mykonos town, there’s a Folklore Museum, an Archaeological Museum, and a Maritime Museum. There are the famous windmills and the area known as Little Venice where the houses come right up to the water’s edge. Lena’s House, next to the Maritime Museum, is a completely restored merchant house from over one hundred years ago.

There’s an interesting church called the Paraportiani, which means “Our Lady of the Side Gate” in Greek, as its doorway was found in the side gate of the entrance to the Kastro area. Construction of this church began in 1425, but wasn’t completed until the 17th century. This whitewashed church comprises five separate chapels which have been joined together: four chapels (dedicated to Saints Anargyroi, Anastasia, Eustathios, and Sozon) form the ground floor and the fifth chapel has been built above them.

On the waterfront near the Old Harbour is where you will find the Kazárma building, which provided accommodation for the soldiers of Manto Mavrogenous, a heroine of the Greek Revolution. The first floor served as her personal residence. When the war began, Manto went from Tinos to Mykonos and invited the leaders of the island to join the revolution. She equipped, manned and “privateered” at her own expense, two ships with which she pursued the pirates who attacked Mykonos and other islands of the Cyclades. On 22 October 1822, under her leadership the Mykonians repulsed the Ottoman Turks, who had debarked soldiers onto the island. Manto also equipped 150 men to campaign in the Peloponnese and sent forces and financial support to Samos, when the island was threatened by the Turks. Later, Mavrogenous sent another corps of fifty men to the Peloponnese, who took part in the Siege of Tripolitsa and the fall of the town to the Greek rebels.

Alefkántra or “Little Venice” is an 18th century district, dominated by grand captains’ mansions with colourful balconies and stylish windows overlooking the waves as they crash onto the shore. .

The second traditional settlement of Mykonos is Áno Merá, situated around the historic monastery of Panayia Tourliani (a 16th century church with a brilliant carved wooden iconostasis). To the north, in Fteliá, lies an important Neolithic settlement, and a 14th-13th century BC Mycenaean tomb.

 

Delos

This is an excerpt from the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands , newly available on Amazon.

Delos is the reason the Cyclades have their name. The other islands in the Cyclades form a circle around Delos. Delos is a sacred island and the reason for that is Zeus.

 

On a more human level, the earliest inhabitants of Delos in the middle of the third millennium BCE built their homes on top of the hill called Kynthos, so they would have an early warning of any approaching invaders. A thousand years later the Mycenaeans settled by the sea. No records exist of when the Apollonian sanctuary began, but by the time the Ionians colonised the island in 1000 BCE Delos was already a cult centre. Hellenes from all over the Greek world gathered on Delos to worship Apollo the god of light, harmony, and balance, and Artemis the moon-goddess. As Delos became more prosperous through the next few hundred years, the Athenians gradually increased their influence, culminating in a decree in 426 BCE that stated no one could give birth or die on Delos. Eventually, this resulted in the entire population moving to the small neighbouring island of Rinia and further afield.

Delos rebounded once it came within the Roman sphere of influence. The Romans made Delos a free port in 167 BCE and its wealth soared in the second and first centuries BCE, as the island became the centre of commercial activity in the eastern Mediterranean. Unfortunately, this wealth and friendliness with Rome alerted local despots and pirates to the treasures on the island and Delos was plundered twice in the first century BCE, first in 88 BCE by Mithridates, King of Pontus and then in 69 BCE by the pirate Athenodorus. The island never really recovered from these losses.    

Today, few people live permanently on Delos. There are no hotels on the island and no boats or yachts are supposed to moor there overnight. Ferry boats can come to Delos from Tinos, Naxos, and Mykonos, so it is best to arrive early.

After paying the entrance fee, grab a free map, and head into the site. On the map, I followed the Blue Line around until it intersected with the Brown Line, which I followed to the Stadium Quarter. I retraced my steps and then continued on the Blue Line. I retraced my steps again and followed the Green Line to the Theatre Quarter. All this took about four hours. This is a big sight and take plenty of water with you on your journey around.

The first open area is called the Agora of the Competaliasts, who were Roman merchants who worshipped the Lares Competales, the gods or guardian spirits of crossroads. There are two small temples dedicated to Hermes here. The path continues to The Sacred Way, formed between two porticos, which leads to the Propulaea, the main gateway to the Sanctuary of Apollo. The first features in this area include The Agora of the Delians, The Temple of the Athenians and the Poros Templethe. There’s also the Oikos of the Naxians (people from the island of Naxos) and the base of a huge marble base of a colossal statue of Apollo dedicated by the Naxians around 600 BCE. An oikos is a treasury where the offerings given by the people of Naxos were placed for safekeeping. Nearby, there are five further treasuries where the offerings of other cities were kept. These treasuries are close to the Bouleuterion, the Prytaneion, and the Ekklesiasterion used as assembly rooms for the deputies, dignitaries, and citizens respectively. All these different buildings/areas are shown in detail on the map, but walking around, there are so many walls and parts of columns scattered around that occasionally it’s difficult to discern where one temple or building ends and another begins. Even though there are no restricted areas in this part of the site, visitors are not allowed to walk on the walls to get their bearings.

If you’d like to read more, the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands is newly available on Amazon.