Greece #04 – Poros, Folegandros, Paros
Greece #4 –Islands of Poros, Folegandros, Paros
This is part 4 of a trip we took in April of 2019 to Greece. Except for a few days on our own in Athens and surrounding areas, the bulk of the trip was an organized Road Scholar cruise through several Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea.
This installment contains the islands of Poros, Folegandros, and Paros. Poros and Folegandros were are first 2 islands followed by Santorini. I’ll get to Santorini in a later edition so included our 4th island, Paros, in this edition.
Full Trip Map
Islands and Locations visited during the "Cruise" portion of this trip
Our ship, The Callisto, was originally built in 1963 as the Marina but was converted into a cruise vessel in 2000 and then Renovated in 2015. It holds 34-passengers with a crew of 17 giving a 2:1 passenger to crew ratio. This is what is called a no-frills vessel that is more akin to a private yacht than what one would be typically think of as a cruise ship. It's not hard to imagine the life of Aristotle Onassis (or Jackie O, if you prefer) as you wander into the ship's central lounge, with its bar, plush chairs, oversized windows, and rich wood paneling.
While some cabins only had portholes we opted for one with picture windows. All the cabins are somewhat roomy (for ships that is) and are up to date with en-suite bathrooms, showers, individually controlled air conditioning and a TV (although you can only get reception when near a city.
We boarded late in the day after a walking/bus tour of some Athens highlights. Then after our safety lecture we sailed off into the sunset. Well, actually we sailed off into a gloomy overcast but that doesn’t sound as good as sailing off into a sunset.
Our ship, the “Callisto”
Sailing off into the gloomy overcast
Our first island stop was on the island of Poros where we docked in the town of Poros. Poros is just barely an island as it sits a mere 656 feet across a channel from the Peloponnese Peninsula. But, an island it is. The entire island is around 12 square miles and it hosts around 3,700 residents.
A thousand years BC, Poros -- which at that time of course was a city state, or in this case an island state - was home to the most important naval base of the region. Moving forward in time, during the 5th century, the Persian Empire annexed it along with much of the area. The folks up in Athens took exception to this and thus were drawn into a conflict. At the beginning of this Peloponnesian War, Poros offered asylum to an anti-Macedonian politician who eventually became the tyrant of the region.
After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, the Ptolemies of Egypt occupied the area, Moving along our timeline, the Romans took over (86 BC to 395 AD) during which time the Island was continuously harassed by Aegean Sea pirates. Then, the Venetians came long around 1484 and used it as a strategic port in their sea battles with the Ottomans. At that time Poros became the most powerful city of the wider area, also governing several other islands. In that time frame the island had about 15,000 inhabitants, making it one of the largest cities in Greece. But the Venetians moved out in 1715 when the Ottomans came in. You keeping track of all this? Anyway, the occupation by the Ottoman’s was much later in Poros than in the rest of Greece.
Then the Greek revolution came along in 1821 and Poros had an important role due to its strategic position. The Greek revolutionary leaders often met in Poros to discuss and plan their future actions. In September 1828, the ambassadors of England, France and Russia met in Poros with Ioannis Kapodistrias in order to determine the borders of the future Greek state, which was established two years later, in 1830.
The upshot of all of this is that there is a lot to study in high school history class but also, like many areas in the region, we have architecture from antiquity to the present with influences from Greek, Persian, Roman, Venetian, Ottoman, and Egyptian styles.
We arrived after dark and would be leaving bright and early the next morning so our only time on the island would be at night. Still being pretty early in the travel season, the only tour boat in town was ours and the locals had not yet fully entered into tourist mode. Many of the shops were still being made ready and were in the process of being painted, or putting in new display cases and the like. So, it was really quite nice to see it more the way the residents have it when the tourists are not overwhelming the streets.
But, several shops, stores restaurants and taverns were open so it wasn’t really deserted either. Being our first stop on the cruise we ventured out to see what we could see. The town is built on a knob of a hill with narrow streets, walkways, alleys and pathways snaking between buildings with little regard for straight lines or right angles. Other than the main drag right along the waterfront, most of the other passageways are too narrow for vehicles and many have steps which are also not too convenient for cars.
As one approaches the town by boat, the most prominent (and famous) landmark is a clock tower built in 1927 that sits on the top of the hill. But, as time was limited and we were a bit tired from traipsing around Athens before boarding the boat we didn’t make it all the way to the tower. Rather we wandered through a maze of narrow streets in the lower regions of the town. During our wandering, one thing that caught our attention was the proliferation of small churches and chapels. There seemed to be one on every block. And, each one was different than the others. This will be seen again on other islands and stems from the days where affluent families had their own church or chapel built just for themselves so they wouldn’t have to mingle with the lower classes.
The houses were also quite remarkable in their differences. Houses are built on different levels based on the slope of the hill, built to fill irregularly shaped lots due to the irregularly routed streets, and in different architectural styles. Altogether though, they form a cohesive sensibility that is, as they say, quite charming.
Approaching the town and island of Poros
Tying up the ship
Local tavern on Poros waterfront
Typical Poros street (one of the wider ones)
Small neighborhood church
Another small neighborhood church
However, in true Greek form, in addition to the small churches scattered throughout the neighborhoods, Poros also has several, let’s just say “full size” churches. One such church located near where the ship docked is a Greek Orthodox church called Ekklisia Evaggelismos which I think translates to Evangelical Church. And, as it turned out, even at 9:30 at night it was open and welcoming to guests.
The outside of this church is pretty plain and modest but the inside is a marvelous mix of painted patterns, antique artifacts, exquisite carpets, and an elderly priest who was most eager to show us his church. Even though this priest did not speak a word of English and we did not know a word of Greek he led us around pointing out various beautiful items. As some of you may know, the alter in a Greek Orthodox church is behind a wall dividing it from the pews. Some portions of services are conducted in front of this wall for all to see but apparently some of the more sacred portions of the service are conducted behind the wall and out of view. Apparently the alter section of the church is too sacred to be seen by the masses and is kept out of view. But this Priest was so delighted that a flock of Americans would see fit to visit his pride and joy of a church that he opened the door to the alter area for us to see its grandeur and splendor.
Outside of Ekklisia Evaggelismos
The Ekklisia Evaggelismos priest
Every surface is painted with murals or graphical artwork
Area in front of alter room, including pulpit
Alter room (behind the wall)
Folegandros (also Pholegandros) is a small Greek island that is more or less off the beaten track for cruise ships. Like all the other islands we visited it is in the Aegean Sea and is part of the Cyclades which also include Sikinos, Ios, Anafi and Santorini islands. It is only12.5 square miles but hosts 765 residents in three small villages. Being a much less visited island, the Internet does not have a whole lot of information about the place but here’s what I found.
Little is known about the ancient history of Folegandros other than it was at one time its own city-state. It was conquered in 1207 by the Venetians and remained under the rule of Venice until 1566, when it was taken by the Ottoman Turks. The Greeks reclaimed it in the 19th century.
On our visit we docked in the small village of Karavostasis, but most of our time on this island was spent in the town of Folegandros which is up on the ridge line of the island a little over 2 miles from the dock. This was our first real island sporting the island architecture and color scheme which typify Greek Islands. We saw some of this in one small section of Athens but here it was now in its natural habitat, so to speak. What makes this architectural style so unique are the whitewashed stucco walls trimmed by a rich deep blue taken from the Greek flag but accented with brightly colored window frames, trim and doors.
As we wandered through the village, it was quite interesting to see side by side structures where one was meticulously maintained and the other had seen better days. Now, if this island was not quite so “off the radar” of the tourist trade, I’m sure the town council would have taken care of those more run down facades and taken more care with the overall appearance of the towns. For example, in one quite lovely street, there was copious crabgrass growing between the paving stones. Or, maybe they just hadn’t gotten to it yet for the season.
As mentioned we were really a bit ahead of the real start of tourist season and as Folegandros is not one of the more popular tourist islands they had not yet “opened for business”. A few small restaurants that stay open for the locals all year were open and one or two small stores were also open while they were getting the shop ready for the season, but not much more. But, we had the whole place more or less to ourselves which is much better for photography.
Facing the beach in Karavostasis. Seems like a constant battle with pebbles washing up onto the patio by waves and then being swept off the patio by the residents.
Folegandros is at the top of the ridge, away from seaside attacks of marauding pirates
Surveying the world in Folegandros
Guest hotel awaiting the arrival of ‘path less traveled’ tourists
Some units not so well kept
Most units very well kept
Old church facade
Fine balcony railing in Greek Blue
A few doors and windows are an offsetting color to the standard blue
Family Church in Folegandros
Paros, including numerous uninhabited offshore islets is a bit over 75 sq mi of land and in ancient Greece was the city-state of Paros. Historically, Paros was known for its fine white marble, which gave rise to the term "Parian" to describe marble or china of similar qualities. Today one can still see abandoned marble quarries and mines, but Paros is primarily known as a popular tourist spot.
Paros is basically a single mountain rising 2,375 ft. from sea level and sloping evenly down on all sides to a maritime plain. This mountain, and Paros, is made up of mostly marble although some other minerals can be found here and there – mostly there. It seems also that due to its location and topography the straight between Paros and Naxos is quite windy making it a favorite windsurfing location.
The main city on Paros, and logically its capital, is Parikia which is situated on a bay on the north-west side of the island. In town, houses are built and decorated in the traditional Cycladic style, with flat roofs, whitewash walls and blue-painted doors, window frames and shutters (like we saw on Poros) making for a picturesque town. Unlike Poros though, most all the buildings are well kept and attractive.
Above the central stretch of the seafront road, are the remains of a medieval castle, built almost entirely of the marble remains of an ancient temple dedicated to Apollo. Similar traces of antiquity, in the shape of bas-reliefs, inscriptions, columns, and so on, are numerous on the island.
As was usually the case, we docked along the downtown waterfront where we were led on a walking tour and also wandered around on our own. Among the sites we saw was the town's principal church, the Panagia Ekatontapiliani, which literally means "church of the hundred doors"). I didn’t see a hundred doors. The church is said to have been founded by Saint Helen, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (ruled 306–337) during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land when she stopped to worship at a chapel on the island. Its construction dates to 326 which predates the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire in 391 and some artifacts from that time can still be seen. The site was badly damaged by an earthquake in the 18th century, but was gradually restored. The origin of the church's name is obscure, as it does not have one hundred doors, or gates, or windows. Maybe 100 roof tiles but that’s unlikely to be responsible for the name. One theory suggests that it is a corruption of the name "Katapoliani" meaning "Lower Town church" as it lies by the sea in the lower part of the town of Parikia.
Continuing on our foot trek we strolled along the waterfront toward a white windmill we could see in the distance from our boat. Windmills in Greece were used extensively from the 16th until late 19th century and can still be found on most of the Cycladic islands. They were quite practical on these islands due to almost continuous gusty winds that blow through the area. Most of the mills were used to grind local agricultural grains such as wheat and barley. To make the gears turn they used cotton fabric (canvas) sails which is the same material they used for sails on their ships. These sails are attached to skinny spokes radiating from the hub of the wind mill. The flour produced by the windmills was sold to local bakeries, given back to the farmers for their own family use or transported on ships to other areas around the country or abroad.
Typical Cycladic Islands windmill
Church of Zoodohos Pigi along the waterfront
The Sea in this area is quite pretty. When in the shadow of a cloud or on an overcast day it is a deep foreboding dark blue. But, where the sun shines on it, the color morphs into a lighter blue and in the many areas where there is white sand or marble rock in shallows the sea turns a fantastic turquoise color.
Multiple colors of the sea
Dark and light sea
During our stay on Paros, our program included a bus tour which made a loop around the northern half of the island. During this tour we stopped at an abandoned marble quarry, the inland hill town of Lefkes and the seaside town of Naoussa.
Paros is the main source of what is called Parian marble. This variety is white and translucent with a coarse grain and has a very sought after texture. In fact the marble used for the Venus de Milo is believed to have been extracted from a quarry on the island.
The celebrated marble quarries lie on the northern side of the mountain anciently known as Marathi (afterwards Capresso). The marble, which was exported from the 6th century BC onwards, was used by Praxiteles and other great Greek sculptors. It was obtained by means of subterranean quarries driven horizontally or at a descending angle into the rock. The marble thus quarried by lamplight was given the name of Lychnites, Lychneus (from lychnos, a lamp), or Lygdos. Several of these tunnels are still viewable but we didn’t stop at one where you could go inside. The major part of the remaining white marble is now state-owned and is only used for archaeological restorations.
The quarry we stopped at was just labeled “Ancient Marble Quarries” so I don’t what its actual name is or was. But, it has a wonderful driveway. This driveway is around 620 feet long (a tenth of a mile), wide enough to accommodate a truck and entirely paved with Parian marble.
Entrance to mine tunnel
Our next stop was the mountainous village of Lefkes which was the first capital of Paros. A walk around its beautiful narrow streets is impressive; especially with lightening striking the mountain tops just above the town and the sharp crack of thunder rolling across the town. But so far no heavy direct rain.
The first residents in Lefkes were immigrants that came from Crete and along with some locals decided to build a village on a mountain and away from the pirates. On the hills around the village are windmills, many of which have been restored and at the edge of the village, there is the church of Agia Triada with famous belfries.
All transport in Lefkes is on foot. There are two parking lots at the entrance of the village, where you can park but once inside the village proper you’re on your own. Walking around the paved alleys of the village is an exceptional experience. You are sure to see Limy stone benches, buildings of folkloric architecture, bougainvillea's in almost all houses along with various other plants and flowers.
As you walk around Lefkes you will find that the main “streets” tend to go sideways across the slope so stay somewhat level but the connecting paths between them are steep. In addition, many times even a main street dead ends at a “tee” forcing you to go either up or down. But, just like the Grand Canyon, one must be cautious when heading down as one must then come back up and if you need to meet the bus at a certain time, this could prove quite challenging. So, we mostly headed up so that getting back to the bus would be downhill. As you walk around, you discover that most of the pathways between buildings meander. Each time you go around a little bend in the walkway you discover some new architecture or feature along the next short section of buildings. But, then the path turns a bit more a few hundred feet farther on leaving one to wonder what surprises lie just around the next corner. So, you go up and around the next corner saying “we’ll just take a peek and then head back”. But after being rewarded with some new interesting sights you again wonder what is just past the next corner. And, the process repeats. But around one of those curves we found a side street off to the right that after a few more twists and turns led us back to our meeting spot.
Lefkes is quite crowded in the tourist season we were told but as we were ahead of the tourist season it was just us and the locals. Again, quite nice to see a place in peace and quiet rather than elbow to elbow with shiploads of selfie stick toting tourists who’s only goal in traveling the world is to get more “likes” on social media than their friends. But, enough of that.
With the thunder still booming and lightening flashing along with some drops being blown in from somewhere we were happy for it to be time to get back on the bus.
A main Lefkes “street”
Turn left or right?
Making use of all available space
Red and blue
Our final stop on the loupe tour was the quant fishing village of Naoussa. This picturesque fishing village is located in a large bay on the northern tip of the island. While the town itself spreads out over the hills the epicenter for visitors is the little harbor. This area is considered to be one of the prettiest villages in the Cyclades island chain. One of the main reasons for this is that despite catering to tourists they have kept the historic section of town true to its traditional historical character and roots. This is manifested in the appearance of whitewashed stucco buildings bedecked with flowers, along meandering narrow pathways paved in stone slabs outlined with white paint. Add to the mix small churches and chapels and a collection of traditional fishing craft in a small harbor guarded by the remains of a Venetian castle and it just exudes charm.
From reading some tourist blogs it seems that in July and August you might as well be in Grand Central Station at rush hour. Some say that you even have to wait in line just to walk along the promenade by the harbor let alone trying to find a place to eat without a several hour wait. It sure is great to be retired and able to travel off peak season.
But, off season the weather can be fickle. As we wandered around the harbor, that line of thunder storms caught up to us. Now, when I tell you the skies opened I’m not kidding. After the rain hit, we found and ducked into a bar/bakery to ride it out and boy did the rain come down. Small rivers snaked across the bakery floor, the boats in the harbor bounced up and down and waves came over the promenade. But, only for about 20 minutes which was enough time for a pastry and some hot chocolate.
Now, I’ve had the same rain poncho for probably 10 years or more. I modified it with Velcro down the sides between the snaps to keep rain from getting in and it has served me well. I carry it in a pouch hanging on my camera bag so that it’s easy to get to. And when I slip it on it covers me but also covers both my cameras hanging on my shoulders, as well as my camera bag and tripod. But over the last couple of years it just hasn’t seemed to keep moisture out as well as it had. In decent rains it has started getting clammy in side. Well, this rain put it over the edge and is when I finally decided that this would be its last trip and I’d have to find a replacement – which I have since done.
After the rain, it was time to find our way back to where they said the bus would be. It was only 4 or 5 blocks so not that big a deal. But, to get there we had to cross Naousa Blvd which leads from the waterfront up the hill. There was only one problem. Naousa Blvd had morphed into the Columbia River, complete with white water rapids. I mean this thing was raging. Maybe one to three feet deep at spots and just roaring down the hill. Apparently this was a common occurrence as it didn’t seem to bother the locals at all. The shop owners just sealed their front doors and put up a sign to come in the back way and the folks needing to get to the other side knew that there was a bridge a few blocks away put in for just that purpose. So, like the sheep we are, we followed the locals, found the pedestrian bridge and crossed on over.
Cute little harbor
Venetian Castle at the entrance to the harbor
Fisherman fixing his net
I hope you enjoyed reading about our time in these 3 islands and will come back for more as I get around to publishing them..
PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS AS I ENJOY HEARING YOUR REACTION TO WHAT I'VE WRITTEN
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Thanks for reading – Dan
(All images by Dan Hartford. Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way.
Keywords: blog, calisto (ship), church of the hundred doors, cycladic islands, cycladic islands windmill, cycladies, dan hartford photo, dantravelblog, dantravelbloggreece, ekklisia evaggelismos (poros), folegandros, folegandros greece, folegandros island, greece, greek islands, greek orthodox church, greek windmill, karavostasis, lefkes, lefkes greece, lefkes paros, lefkes paros greece, marble, naoussa, naoussa greece, naoussa paros, naoussa paros greece, naoussa village, panagia ekatontapiliani, parian marble, parikia, paros, paros island, poros, poros island, venus de milo marble, windmill
Hi Dan, looks like a fun tour, and I never saw so much white wash and blue doors and shutters before! Interesting story about the rain and the street flooding - I had noted the roof drains dumping onto those little "streets' without inlets for storm sewers and figured that had to happen in a big rain. Different life for those living in places like that, but really interesting to see. Thanks for sharing the great photos!~
Love the pictures and descriptions (as usual). Greece is still on our "to do" list. It sounds like the small ship experience is the way to go.
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