Alonnisos – Chora and environs

A severe earthquake in March 1965, of magnitude 6.3, damaged over 80 per cent of the buildings on Alonnisos: it caused seismic waves in the sea which were observed on Kyra Panaghia at the time. As a result of this * Chora, the picturesque hill-top capital of the island, was abandoned and its small harbour hastily adapted and built up into today’s settlement of Patiti­ri. Much of the old settlement, whose position is one of the finest in the Sporades, has been sensitively restored and revitalised, even if a slightly artificial air prevails owing to the fact that it is principally a summer retreat for visitors. The short distance to Chora from the port (3km by road) can be covered by foot (1.5km, 30 minutes) along the old mule-path. The main part of the settlement is preceded by a charming plateia, with cypress and mulberry trees, balconied houses, a war memorial, and a handsome neoclassical façade hidden slightly behind the long, low 17th century church of Aghios Athanasios. The windows of the church have curiously pointed frames, and the row of blind pointed arches along the north wall would suggest that some structure, perhaps a parecclesion, has been removed. Across the square to the left side is the settlement’s principal place of worship, the Christouchurch, also of the late 17th century and dedicated to the Nativity of Christ: it is a simple domed chamber with a small narthex but no protruding apse, roofed in schist slabs from Pelion. Inside, the wooden balcony reserved for women is still in situ. From here the path climbs steps and the view opens out over the whole of the island to the north: at this higher level, you enter the area of the old ‘kastro’, roughly bisected by a gracefully curving street, now lined with shops and tavernas, which finishes abruptly at the far end with a different and equally dramatic view, this time towards Skopelos and the south and west. Another narrow crescent street runs parallel to the north side, where the older houses, many abandoned, are built on the edge of the natural fortification of the site. In their midst is the oldest of Chora’s churches to have survived, Aghios Giorgios, dating prob ably from the 15th century. It suffered little damage in the earthquake of 1965 beyond the detachment of some plaster which revealed areas of wall-painting beneath. The remaining churches and many of the houses in the web of tiny streets downhill to the south had to be rebuilt after 1965. From Chora a path leads south, steeply down through olives, pines and scrub to the bay of Mikros Mourtias, with a sheltered, sandy beach.
   About 600m east of Chora, along the road back to Patiti­ri, is the modern church of Aghios Ioannis, standing on a small eminence: the remains of ancient walls, some terracing and a path cut in the rock can be seen behind and below the east end of the church and extending a short way down the hill to the north. These are the exiguous remains of the island’s second ancient settlement (after Ikos on the east coast), whose existence is mentioned in the Periplous of Scylax of Caryanda, the late 6th century bc explorer.
   Further east, from a point midway between Patiti­ri and Chora, after the church of Prophitis Elias, a by-road to the left (north) followed by two successive right forks, leads to the rural church of the Panaghia sto Vouno, visible in a saddle after a wayside spring of soft water (the ‘Vrysi tis Panaghias’). The church was founded as a monastery in the late 15th or early 16th century, but abandoned less than two centuries later. Both the setting amidst olive and cypress trees and the simple proportions of the schist tiled cupola on its square base are particularly beautiful. The interior is plain, apart from fine but damaged paintings in the ceiling: the Pantocrator with Seraphim, Arch angels, the Virgin and Baptist, with Evangelists and Prophets below, survive in and around the dome and the drum.

Alonnisos Island is part of the Sporades Island Group, Greece.

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