Thursday, April 10, 2008

Samothraki Island

From the harbor at Alexandroupolis visitors can board the ferry for Samothraki. After 2.5 hours at sea the boat arrives at Kamariotissa.
Hora (Samothraki) is 5km east of the harbor, built among hills providing protection from winds and the pirate raids which were a common feature of centuries past. At the edge of Hora the Byzantine castle looks down from its natural rocky elevation. It was begun in the 10th century and completed in 1430 by the Gattilusi, the Genoans who had taken possession of the island. In 1456 the island became a part of the Ottoman Empire. The houses – two-story buildings with tile roofs, and some with the old-style roofs of pocked earth – are so arranged as not to stand in one another’s light. Hora has a Folklore Museum, in a restored house next to the church. The village, of particular architectural interest, was declared a protected traditional community in 1978.
The history of the island is lost in the mists of time. The first inhabitants of Samothraki were Pelasgians, but in historical times the population was a mixture of Ionian and Aeolian elements. In the 7th century BC the people of Samothraki built a series of cities on the coast opposite – what Herodotus called the walls of Samothraki: Mesimvria, Drys, Zoni, Sali, etc.
The island was an important religious centre for the whole Mediterranean because of the fame of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods and the mysteries associated with their cult. The Great Gods were also known as the Kaveiroi, and their sanctuary has survived at the ancient city at the site known as Paliapolis, in the northern part of the island, a small distance from Kamariotissa.
The part of Samothraki has large hotels, many rented rooms, restaurants, fish taverns, grills serving the unique local kid roasted on the spit, caf├ęs, night clubs and bars and whatever else the visitor could ask. To the west of the town is the island’s wind park and next to it the small lagoon of Agios Andreas, a resting place for migratory birds and of great ecological importance. The visitor can use the part of Kamariotissa as a base from which to explore the ancient civilization and unique natural beauties of the island.
The road from Kamariotissa to the north-east of the island leads to the Palaiopolis archeological site. The tour of the site begins at the small parking lot in front of the little Agia Paraskevi Church. A stone-paved walkway leads to the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. To the east, high up on the slopes, we can see the walls (6th-3rd century BC) of the ancient city. In the eastern part of the ancient city harbor we can still see the remains of an early Christian basilica, built to commemorate the visit of the Apostle Paul (49-50 AD). Towering above the harbor and basilica are the city’s Mediterranean fortifications, dating from the period of the Gattilusi (1431-1433). The visitor to the archaeological site can make use of a specially laid path around the antiquities, inspecting the Palace (early palace period), the Tholos of Arsinoe II (288-270 BC), the Building of the Dancers (around 340 BC), the Sanctuary (325-150 BC), the Monument of Nike (1st half of 2nd century BC) etc. There is also a museum on the site where the visitor can see finds mainly from the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. Most striking among them are the cast of the Nike of Samothraki (the original is in Louvre, Paris), architectural reconstructions of the main sanctuary buildings, many vases, pieces of jewellery, figurines, etc.
Farther east, continuing along the coastal road, we come to the community of Kariotes and then, after a few kilometers to Therma. Here we find the thermal sulphureous springs which have made the spa renowned for its therapeutic qualities since Byzantine times. The village is in a marvelous area of outstanding natural beauty, densely planted with plane trees, chestnuts, arbutus and myrtle. The rich vegetation encountered all across the island is due to the many water courses and streams which descend the slopes of Mt Saos, whose summit, Fengari, is 1.664m above sea level. From the village there is a path to the summit; the climb takes about three-and-a-half hours and offers superb views of the mountain landscape. At Therma there are fine hotels, rented rooms and excellent food in the local taverns.
After Therma we come to the two municipal camping sites of the island: one an unsupervised site set in a lush natural setting with plane trees, the other an organized site with all modern facilities.
Driving on we come to the river Fonias, alongside which a natural path leads the visitor through beautiful riverside greenery. After walking 45 minutes we come to the imposing waterfall. As it rushes down the water has formed natural cavities in which we can enjoy a cooling bathe. Close to the mouth of the river are the remains of the Fonias Tower, built by the Gattilusi in 1431.
The road ends at the Kipos promontory, with the enchanting beach of the same name, one of the finest on the island with fine shingle and crystal-clear, tranquil waters.
The road from Kamariotissa to the south of the island brings us to the village of Alonia, from where it continues through hills covered in olive groves. This side of the island is excellent terrain for olive-growing with its mild climate and Mt Saos sheltering it from the cold winds.
At Mikro Vouni, at the mouth of the Polypoudi stream, south-west of the village of Alonia, the mound of a prehistoric settlement has been identified dating from the end of the 6th millennium – 1700 BC. The find of Minoan seals here caused a sensation, as well as some clay “documents” from a Minoan (perhaps Knossan) archive; this was the first time such finds had been unearthed so far from Crete. It seems that the Minoan presence on Samothraki was intended to secure commercial control of the broader region of the north-eastern Aegean.
After the village of Lakkoma we pass through the district of Koitada and Platydentro. A little farther down a turning leads off to the Chapel of Panayia Krimniotissa, perched on a high rock. The chapels of the island are a distinctive feature of the Samothraki landscape; local tradition claims that they are exactly 999 in number.
This superb route brings is finally to the beach of Pachia Ammos, an ideal place to swim and unwind, with a marvelous view of the island of Imbros.
The south-eastern coast of Samothraki is rugged and steep, with the slopes of Mt Saos coming down to the shoreline. It is an area of rare ecological importance and natural beauty, only accessible from the sea. The sea caves of the area are a refuge for one of Greece’s rarest mammals, the Mediterranean Monk Seal. At Kremasto, with its lofty rocks, there is a waterfall whose waters – winter or summer – rush foaming into the deep blue sea: a truly remarkable spectacle.

No comments: