AGATHONISI & PHARMAKONISI
Agathonisi (Ancient Tragia) has a more interesting land scape than Arki: it is higher, deeper and better covered with vegetation. Its colours are intense—the deeply ferrous soil, white rock, and the dark greens of the carob and arbutus trees against an intense blue sea. Because it rises quite high from the water, it has commanding views towards Samos , Mount Mycale and the Meander estuary in Turkey, and towards the long island of Pharmakonisi. It also has a population just sufficient to give it a strong and appealing sense of individuality as an island. The harbour is of a deep horse-shoe shape, sheltering the neat and attractive port of Aghios Giorgios and a couple of very protected coves with shingle beaches to the west of it—first Spilias, and, slightly further round, Gaidouravlakos. From the latter, a rough foot-path up the stream bed and then the western side of the ravine will lead to Mikro Chorio—as its name implies, the smaller of the two older settlements on the island. This tiny village of mostly abandoned stone houses occupies a hidden and relatively fertile saddle between an escarpment of volcanic rock to the north and the peak crowned by the chapel of Aghios Panteleimon to the south. The few houses still inhabited, grouped around the Plateia 25 Martiou (which commemorates the independence insurgence of March 1821 against Turkish dominion) are well-kept, surrounded by flowers and whitewashed in a stark contrast with the ruins around. Mikro Chorio is more easily reached in a 15-minute walk up the concrete road from the harbour (800m).
The steep ascent from the harbour climbs past the church of Aghios Giorgios, divides briefly to accommodate a venerable carob tree, and gains Megalo Chorio at the summit of the ridge. Once again, as at the harbour, a noticeable pride in neatness and orderliness, well-cared for plants and spotless streets, prevails in this tiny community which is the island’s capital. Beyond the small plateia, at the southeastern end of the village are the joined churches of SS Raphael and John the Theologian. They are new constructions; but visible to the south east on the saddle below, in a stand of eucalyptus trees, is another double church of SS Irini and John the Baptist, where an Early Christian column in the courtyard in front suggests the presence of an earlier place of worship.
The most substantial ancient remains on Agathonisi are to be seen at the island’s eastern end, an hour’s walk from the village along the panoramic road that follows the plateau and then descends through open maquis to the abandoned village of Katholikon. There are clear views across to the Turkish coast at Miletus and Didyma, and south to the island of Pharmakonisi. All that remains at Katholikon is a well-maintained church and a fish farm, floating off-shore in the turquoise lagoon waters between the bay and the islet of Neronisi. The settlement is a point of reference for two important explorations however.
*From Katholikon itself a track leads back west to the north coast (which can also be reached from below the island’s heliport to the east of the village). A spit of land, projecting from the north coast, encloses a natural harbour and protects it from the north wind: here, at Kastraki, archaeological digs are currently revealing the presence of a sizeable Hellenistic and Roman port installation and fortified enceinte.
*From the junction just above Katholikon, a clear track continues south beside a deep, sheltered inlet into the eastern promontory of the island, as far as the whitewashed chapel of Aghios Nikolaos clearly visible on the hillside. At this point a particularly fer tile band of soil crosses the saddle of the promontory from southwest to northeast; on its slopes are the grand ruins of an early, vaulted structure referred to simply as the *‘Tholoi’—the ‘vaults’ or ‘domes’— for want of any more specific sense of what these buildings actually are. Three contiguous chambers of considerable size, with another transverse chamber, with their vaults mostly whole and solid, stand in an enclosure made of blind and open stone arches. The stone—which was quarried from a spot still visible below the chapel of Aghios Nikolaos—is bound with mortar and raised, in some stretches, in alternating courses of square and flat stones, reminiscent of Early Byzantine constructional technique. The date and purpose of this complex still remain unresolved, with suggested solutions ranging widely from Late Roman baths to a Venetian manor-house of the 17th century. Baths seem unlikely since there is no evidence of waterproof plaster or hypocaust system; the building technique would also suggest a probable date of around the 5th or 6th centuries ad. Anything later— in the seven centuries of insecurity and piracy that followed the 6th century—would be unlikely given such a vulnerable position. Clearly neither religious nor residential in purpose, it is most likely that this was a complex of granaries and storage chambers—a hypothesis given added support by the fertility of the land around, the proximity to inlets from the sea for loading and transportation, and the presence to this day of stone threshing-floors nearby.
Agathonisi Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.