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.

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.

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