The Surrounding Archepelago
Because the small islets surrounding Alonissos are so beautiful they have become popular as flotilla destinations and for private yachts.
Off the south-east coast of Alonissos, separated from it by a wide sound, is the bare island of Peristera (Xero). Both islands have an abundance of good and attractive anchorages which makes this area ideal for sailing holidays.
The island of Peristera is covered by olive trees, has plenty of sandy beaches and a ruined castle. Peristera is a mirror image of the east coast of Alonissos, and it's easy to see how the quake separated to two land areas.
Peristera stretches parallel to the eastern shores of Alonnisos and is uninhabited. It takes the name Peristera (Dove) from its shape, and is also known as Xiro (Dried-up) because it is a long way behind Alonnisos in fertility. Most of its surface is covered with scrubby vegetation, on which a few goats graze. Its highest point is 259 metres.
It seems the island was inhabited in ancient times, as we surmise from graves that have been found. In Byzantine times the island was called Sarakonisi (SaracenIsland) because, according to popular tradition, in 904 A.D., after the fall of Thessaloniki, the Saracens passed through the Norther Sporades and anchored in teh island's harbour of Vasiliko. Among the ships was one with women and children intended for the Anatolian slave markets. The pirates stayed for three days and the wailing of the women and children could be heard throughout the area. The same harbour is used by the Navy as a secret refuge during exercises.
For all its smallness Peristera has a number of excellent beaches, among them the bays of Kokkalias, Vasiliko, Kephali, Peristeri, Kounoupas, Livadakia, Kalamakia, Tarsanades, Xylo and Spasmeni. There are two shepherd's houses on the island: one at Mnymata in the South and the other at Livadia in the North.
The island of Psathoura has one of the largest lighthouses in Greece. Due to its submerged ruins and sunken volcano, Psathoura is postulated to be the island of the Sirens in Homer's Odyssey as well as ancient Halonnesos. Caiques only go to Psathoura every ten days.
Psathoura is the northernmost island of this group. Its name probably derives from its shape, as it resembles a rush mat or straw hat (Psatha) floating on the sea. It has a diameter of two kilometres and an area of two square kilometres, and is eight miles from Yioura. Its highest point of 14 metres is on the northern side. Its position is Latitude N39°29.897' and Longitude E24°10.815'. Between 1893 and 1895 a lighthouse 25 metres tall was built, giving a steady light visible at 18 miles. Before this the island was uninhabited. Some ruins on the northern side seem to have been an ancient fortress, and on the southern and western sides are remains of habitations dating from Neolithic times.
Psathoura is formed from a volcano that was active in the Pleistocene era. The lava consists of augitic andesite and olivine. The surface is earthy and fertile, and there is some underground water. In the last century divers from Kalymnos reported seeing, off the southern coast at a depth of 10 to 17 metres, a ruined city.
According to K. Mavrikis in his book ANO MAGNITON NHSOI, Psathoura may have been the ancient Chrysi (‘Gold'). We give (in translation) some extracts from his book:
The name Chrysi was given to cities where there was gold mining, or which had some connection with the ‘Gold' of Athens, or a similarly sacred nature. Let us see what the great geographer Pausanias has to say about this island:
The island Chrysi is situated a short distance from Limnos. They say it was in Chrysi that Philoctetes met disaster in the form of a sea-snake. The entire island was covered by the waves, sank and disappeared into the depths. Another island called Iera (‘Sacred'), which had not existed before, (emerged): so ephemeral are the things of man. We return now to the Homeric age to find other ancient accounts. Who was Philoctetes? When Jason passed through Chrysi (Psathoura was the final island on Jason's route from ancient Iolkos) he set up an altar dedicated to Athena, who to whom the island probably owes the name Chrysi.
Let us read Sophocles's tragedy ‘Philoctetes' and the dramatic story that took place in Psathoura. The story is as follows: the leaders of the Trojan expedition consult an oracle which tells them that if they wish to take Troy, they must find the Temple of Athena rising from the sea (by earthquake, presumably) and make a sacrifice there. The only person who knows of the hidden temple is Philoctetes. He shows the temple to the waiting Greek fleet, and is punished by the Goddess with a bite from a guardian snake. The Trojans take him with them and leave him in Limnos for the duration of the Trojan war. Philoctetes was tortured with terrible pains, but his martyrdom ended when a new oracle obliged the cunning Oddyseas to intervene. The oracle said that the wounded Philoctetes had the weapons of Hercules, which the Greeks needed to take Troy.The theft was undertaken by one Neoptolemos, who used trickery to get them off the unhappy Philoctetes. Odysseas intervened at the last minute and the restoration didn't take place. Finally a solution was found: Philoctetes was to travel with Odysseas, Neoptolemos and the weapons to Troy, to help in its final conquest.
The island is volcanic in origin and its ‘tropical' beach — perhaps the most beautiful in the Sporades — its dark colour and its flatness — a mere 10-14 metres above sea-level — are reminiscent of the Polynesian archipelago. In the sandy depths off the coast there are sunken buildings, which take one back to some ancient sunken city…
The island of Kyra Panagia is 2 to 3 hours by boat from Patitiri. It once had two monasteries but is now home to goats and the occasional sheperd. Kyra Panagia is owned by Mt. Athos. It is beautiful and heavily wooded with sandy beaches. A sunken Byzantine ship, its hold once filled with ceramics, lays in the waters of the port of Aghios Petros.
This island is also known as Pelagonisi, and according to many historians it used to be the ancient Alonissos. Kira Panagia is mostly rocky but certain parts of it are quite verdant. Besides an extended pine-forest, the island boasts several wild olive trees, arbutus bushes, maple trees, heather and holly. Kira Panagia presents great archeological interest as well, featuring some ancient settlements, the natural harbors of Agios Petros and Planitis bay and the remains of a fortified city. Excavations in Agios Petros unearthed some Neolithic settlements directly associated with similar findings in the Kiklopas cave in Gioura and some Neolithic villages discovered in the Thessalian inland. It has been estimated that these islands were colonized by Thessalian peoples during the Paleolithic Age (around 9000-8000 B. C.), when the sea level was about 70-100 m. lower and vast stretches of land now underwater used to be dry.
Planitis bay is considered to be one of the safest harbors in the Aegean Sea. It’s not really a bay, it’s just a lake connected to the sea via a barely visible channel. It’s quite possible that the name of the bay stems from the verb plano (Greek for deceive) because it deceives people into thinking it’s a bay when it’s really a lake. During the Middle Ages Planitis used to be a buccaneer hide-out, perfect for stashing their loot. Kira Panagia, Gioura and Piperi were still frequented by pirates even after the area was liberated, that’s why many books mention them as Kleptofolies (Thief’s Nests) or Demononisia (Devil’s Islands).
The archeological interest of Kira Panagia is not exclusive to the inland. There have been two shipwrecks discovered and explored, one dating back to the Classical Era apparently carrying a load of wine amphorae, and one from the Byzantine period (12th century) full of decorative plates, some of which are now adorning several local households. The rest of them are exhibited in the archaeological museum of Volos.
It is forbidden to go fishing or diving anywhere near this area and you can only spend one night on the island, as long as you stay on your boat.
Dont forget to visit:
• The Monastery of Panagia (Virgin Mary) on the small island of Kira Panagia, a monastery dependency of the Moni (Monastery) of Megisti Lavra on Mount Athos. It’s a 16th century post-byzantine monastery built on the eastern side of the island in honor of Virgin Mary’s birth. It was restored a few years ago and it has become very popular with tourists. Its old olive press is also worth a look and if you happen to be there in August stick around for the monastery’s festival on the 15th
Verdant Skantzoura island also has a monastery founded by Mt.Athos. Fishermen enjoy this islet with its many caves and coves.
According to Plinios, this island, located about 10 miles away from the southeastern side of Alonissos, used to be known as Skandira. It’s a small complex consisting of Skantzoura and 5 smaller rock islands. The Koupouri area boasts a fortified settlement dating back to the Hellenistic period (4th –1st century B.C.) and the northwestern side of the island features remains of rural settlements dating back to the historical times, near the old Monastery of Evagelistria. The inland is full of beautiful cedars.
On Pappou, hares run wild among the ruins of a 7th Century church.
On Gioura (ancient Geronta) a rare breed of goat related to the African Ibex skips from rock to rock among the remains of classical and Roman ruins. Gioura has an even better Cyclops cave. In the cave, caution is advised as well as sensible boots and a flashlight! You must get island guardians to unlock the gates to see the Cyclops cave and its stalactites.
The island of Gioura belongs to the Northern Sporades chain and it is 16 nautical miles away from Alonnissos island; it is desert, very mountainous and has no harbour.
Cave of Cyclops
The Excavation Project consisted of systematic archaeological research (excavations and surveys) on the DesertedIslands' group to the north of Alonnissos, Northern Sporades (Greece). The project was undertaken by the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology - Speleology of the Ministry of Culture under the direction of Dr Adamantios Sampson, Ephor of Antiquities. The project's purpose was to clarify the prehistoric occupation sequence in the area of the Northern Sporades, a chain of islands off-shore to the east of the Thessalian plain.
The research intended to fill a gap in our knowledge about human activity in the area from Late Pleistocene to Early and Middle Holocene, with emphasis on the pre-pottery stage; relevant evidence had already come to light in previous short-term and short-scale local projects. The purpose was to recover new data, which would give hints on the identity of the early communities, their management of the ecosystem, their subsistence strategies and their contacts with the Greek mainland and Asia Minor. The project also intended to enrich knowledge on the palaeoenvironment, and to detect phenomena such as sea level changes, regional palaeogeomorphology, climatic conditions and local ecosystem idiosyncrasies (flora and fauna). For that purpose a broad team of scientists (archaeologists and archaeological scientists) was recruited, along with a competent technical support staff, who undertook the difficult task of carrying out the research in the remote and inhospitable area in question, where fieldwork and camping proved to be very demanding.
The research was purely systematic and scientific and did not involve any rescue works. First and basic project's activity was the excavation of the Cave of Cyclopes, an impressive cave at the SE end of Gioura, one of the northern islands of the group. The cave was investigated in six trenches (A, B, Ã, Ä, Å and Æ) and yielded thick deposits dated from the Early Holocene to the Late Roman period. A brief description of the deposits per period is following:
Sherds with painted white-on-red ware (Middle Neolithic)
- Roman finds were scarced all over the surface and the top layers and contained mostly oil-lamps decorated in relief or inscribed, implying that the cave served as a sanctuary around 2nd-3rd c. A.D. The cave was situated at the naval trade route of the Athenian merchant ships to the wine markets of Macedonia and Thrace.
- A few ceramics dated to the Hellenistic and classical periods were selected from the deep interior of the cave, suggesting that its use at the time was occasional.
- Scattered Bronze Age material was found within the upper Neolithic deposits, such as poor Late and Early Bronze Age pottery.
- All the above layers are underlied by a thick Neolithic deposit, corresponding to two phases: Late Aegean Neolithic Ib and Early Neolithic II. The layer contained exceptional painted wares, such as the red-on-white ware of Early Neolithic II with complicated canvas motifs and weaving inspired designs, as well as the white-on-dark and matt-painted wares of Late Neolithic, whose broad expanse throughout the mainland and the Aegean is hence verified. The Neolithic material was enriched with the unexpected recovery of a small-sized sherd from a coarse close-shaped vase bearing incised unidentifiable symbols. It is possible that it echoes evidence on an Aegean Neolithic 'script' or 'proto-script', a very fashionable subject of discussion in Greece, after similar finds in Kastoria lake, East Macedonia.
Painted red-on-white ware with weaving inspired motifs (Middle Neolithic)
The main appeal of the excavation was the discovery of thick pre-pottery layers. The C14 datings assigned the material to the Early Holocene, more specifically to the 9th-7th mil. B.C., which placed Gioura at a contemporary stage to Franchthi Early Holocene levels; however it was the first time the existence of an Aegean Mesolithic culture was revealed in full stratigraphy. Gioura Mesolithic chipped stone industry used local flint and Melian obsidian, which suggests that the trade/exchange network for obsidian exploitation had been set up at such an early stage. During the Early Holocene, the obsidian microliths from Gioura (trapezoidal, semi-crescents) find affiliations only in south Antalya caves (Turkey). The Greek mainland shares no relevant evidence, since the Argolid material, for example (Franchthi cave, Klisoura rock shelters), which is the best studied, is far different in the adjacent area. Evidence of diversity between Gioura and mainland Greece is also supported by the cranial remain of a homo found in the lowest layer of the cave of Cyclops, and was named as the "Aegean Mesolithic homo"; the Mesolithic human skulls from Theopetra cave show strong anatomical differences suggesting probably the co-existence of a "mainland homo type".
The cave of Cyclops deposits yielded a rich collection of worked bone tools, such as fish hooks of various sizes and shapes, ranging from the U-shaped hook type to the pinpointed implement for big fishes. A mass concentration of fish bones, sea shells, land snails, mammal bones and bird remains imply that Gioura was occupied on a seasonal basis by hunter-gatherers specialized in fishing and bird hunting. The mobile populations seem to have developed high skills on both tasks; it is likely that people of the time follow the movements of birds and fish, while at the same time they enrich their diet with game, seafood and land snails
Painted jar of the Middle Neolithic period
he correlation between their temporary occupation of the cave and the itineraries of the migratory birds and fish also implies a well-developed seafaring activity and a good knowledge of the winds and climatic conditions to secure their voyages.
Bone fish hooks of the Mesolithic period
Gioura Mesolithic subsistence strategies are strongly reminiscent of the cultural processes which took place by the end of the Late Epipalaeolithic in the Near East; the Natufian culture, well studied in various cave sites of Israel, is the most famous aspect of this trend, still strongly foraging with hints of sedentism. The recent excavation by A. Sampson of an open Mesolithic settlement and underlying cemetery at a low promontory named Maroulas on the island of Kythnos, dated to the 8th mil. B.C., strengthens the view that a new era has begun for Greek archaeology, the era for the discovery of Mesolithic cultures.
Stratigraphy inside the cave (Trench C)
e stratification of the cave of Cyclopes' Mesolithic deposits provided the study of C14 with a new good implement for the development of the method, the dating of other than charcoal organic materials. Trial C14 dating on animal and fish bones, shellfish and land snails have taken place in the Laboratory of Archaeometry in the Nuclear Centre of "Demokritos" in Athens, and have been certified by measurements of C13 at the Institute of Environmental Physics, University of Heidelberg (Germany). Both results have been correlated with the charcoal C14 dating from the very same strata. Dating from the above 'new' materials appear to have a standard divergence of some hundreds of years from the charcoal samples, which is due to the different quantities of oxygen that the plants (charcoal), shellfish, land snails and mammals absorbed. The correlation can be very useful for sites where no charcoal is found; bones or shellfish, for example, can then be dated instead on the basis of the data provided by the cave of Cyclopes C14 chronology, where the divergence has been statistically studied.
Bone fish hooks of the Mesolithic period
The excavation occurred parallel to a survey investigation on Gioura and the adjacent islands. A few more caves located on the island of Gioura have yielded evidence of the same Mesolithic culture with the cave of Cyclops, while abundant Middle Palaeolithic and Neolithic material was also collected. A systematic underwater research all along the seashore of Gioura resulted in the location of several underwater caves around the depth of 20-30 m. below sea level, which would have been dry and probably occupied during the Mesolithic. No evidence of human occupation was traced though, only due to the difficulties posed by underwater investigation.
Dr Adamantios Sampson, Ephor of Antiquities
Piperi is home to a small but stable monk seal population and the Elonora falcon! This island is prohibited without special permission. It is at the north end of the National Marine Park.
The island of Piperi and the sea surrounding it form the kernel of the National Marine Park. At the same time it is the most inaccessible island as it has no protected bay for the approach of a caique. Steep rocks descend vertically into the sea on all sides. This rocky island has an area of 7 square kilometres and its high points are between 274 and 352 metres. There are clumps of pine and isolated oaks.
At one time monks from Mount Athos lived in the island's monastery of the Virgin Mary, but they abandoned it many years ago. Skopelos's 18th century man of letters Kesarios Dapontes also lived alone on the island.
Until a few years ago a species of oxen, perfectly adapted to the climate and of ancient descent, survived on the island. Unfortunately they have become extinct through hunting and water-shortage.
Fishing is completely forbidden within three miles of Piperi. There are two reasons for this: the replenishment of fish stocks and the protection of the Monk Seal from human presence. Piperi is a very important island for the survival of the Mediterranean Monk Seal, and will continue to be so as long as these protective measures are strictly adhered to. For this reason it is not permitted to come closer than three miles from the island.