The Bay of Katapola

(For distances in text, Katapola port = 0.0km) Already from the approaching boat, the dramatic silhouette of the island anticipates the nature of its landscape. Like Ikaria or Hydra, Amorgos is a long mountainous breakwater in the sea. Looking over the empty waters to the south, the cliffs are often sheer and impenetrable. They are steep on the north side too, but relax sufficiently to afford two protected harbours in west-facing bays at Katapola and Aigiali. These have historically been the principal approaches to the island. We begin at Katapola, in the centre of the north coast, which is the commonest point of disembarkation for ferries. The bay of Katapola cuts deep into the island: its springs and protected mar gins have supported Cycladic, Mycenaean, Greek, Roman, Early Christian and Mediaeval settlements, the remains of which are scattered around the shores of the bay. (See plan p. 18.)

Katapola was developed during Roman times as the harbour for the ancient city of Minoa on the hill to the south: it was the lower city—‘kato polis’—of the main settlement above. There are the remains of three Roman tombs of the 2nd century ad, at the western extremity of the water front, just beyond where the houses end. The largest had a layer of stucco in areas and was a small, private mausoleum of temple-like design. To its east, in the garden of the adjacent guest-house, are two small grave-loculi. Many pieces from Roman buildings and monuments are incorporated in the attractive church of the Panaghia Katapoliani­, which lies 50m inland (south) of the small square on the waterfront. The church will have been re built several times in its history; the present, 18th century structure is relatively plain inside, but its vaults are sup ported on ancient columns. The forecourt is a pleasing ensemble of many spolia: a votive inscription to ‘Hermes of the auspicious road’ (east end of church), a densely inscribed pedestal for an honorific statue, column fragments, and pieces of deeply carved Roman cornice re used as window sills and lintels in the south wall. Some of this material may come from a temple to Apollo Pythios which is attested in the area. The courtyard wall also includes pieces of Byzantine closure panels, indicating that there was an earlier church on this same site.
Following the waterfront track west beyond the Roman tombs, along the south side of the bay, you come to the small chapel of the Panaghia (0.5km), dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin, and constructed almost entirely with blocks from a 4th or 5th century, Early Christian predecessor, which in turn had used pre-existing marble blocks from pagan buildings. The pieces are carved with a variety of designs—for example the delicately incised censor carved on the block to the north side of the door. In the interior (key above door), the altar is an eroded, but finely carved Composite capital in Naxian marble. The church, though old in origin, has clearly been rebuilt in the last 50 years. On the bluff above the church overlook the bay, are traces of an Early Cycladic settlement. Further along the track is the late mediaeval, double church of the Aghii Anargyri (1km).
Almost contiguous with Katapola, inland from the east end of the bay, is the village of Rachi­di (1km) built attractively along a low ridge. At the road junction on the shore below is the Katapola Community building in front of which several ancient fragments and pieces of Byzantine carving are displayed. The third community in the bay is Xylokerati­di (1.5km), the peaceful fishing village which looks onto the bay from the north shore and benefits from the excellent springs at ‘Nera’ which rise in the valley a short distance to its west. A stepped path leads up and inland through the village: on the hillside to the west (after passing the St George Varsamitis Hotel on your right) is a Mycenaean cemetery. Most of the tombs, which date from the 13th and 12th centuries bc, have been disfigured with erosion but two remain, with the excavated chamber and a clear-cut dromos aligned a few degrees south of due east. On the hill beyond is the church of the Evangelismos (Annunciation), one of the oldest surviving churches on the island—dating from as early as the 9th century on the basis of vestiges of aniconic painting in its interior. (Returning from the Mycenaean cemetery to the stone kalderimi, keeping always left, the path climbs the ridge between two gulleys. The church is hidden low in the western gulley. 20 mins by foot.) The design is a dome on a square with a curious transverse barrel-vault tacked on to the east. The door in the south wall has been re-opened in recent times.

 

Amorgos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

 

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