Aigiali, Langada, Tholaria & the eastern end of the island
The attractive harbour town of Aigiali (20km), often ab breviated to ‘Yiali’, occupies a privileged position in an ample and protected bay, ringed with majestic mountains. A fertile alluvial ‘kambos’ extends inland of the shore. The limestone mountains, particularly to the south, spring fresh water: they were once mantled in oak forests. The geographical configuration has some similarities to the bay of Katapola, but is grander and more beautiful. The coast and harbour show signs mainly of a Roman presence: marble fragments scattered in the village; the pedestal of a votive statue in the small plateia to the east; and the remains of walls in Roman constructional materials a short distance before the north end of the long, sandy beach of the town.
Ancient Aegiale lay high above this area to the north, near the village of Tholaria (22.5km). (Take first street uphill from just below the outer plateia of Tholaria, then immediately left; path leads off right towards hill top. 15 mins.) Once again the position of the site is striking. To the northwest, the land falls away into the fjord of Mikri Vlichada and to the sea 200m below. To the northeast, the protective height of Mount Koutelos rises 433m from the shore. Magnificent views extend in all directions. The site has not been excavated, but evidence of the city lies on the surface, in particular at the rocky summit of the ridge where the bedrock has been cut and shaped at several points. Much of the fallen masonry of houses has been reused in the terracing of the slopes by farmers, but at several points on the north and east both the line and material of the fortification-walls are clear. The northern tip of Amorgos constitutes an important landfall in open waters and a commercial node between the Cyclades and the Dodecanese and Asia Minor. Aegiale, as a Milesian foundation of the 8th or 7th century bc, was well placed to profit from this. A site more different from the fertile river estuary of the mother-town of Miletus, though, can not be imagined.
The ancient city’s presence extended over the wider area. Traces of further defensive walls have been found at Tholaria, where the church of the Aghii Anargyri rises on what is thought to be the site of an ancient temple, and the entrance-gate to the church itself comprises an assemblage of antique fragments. By the church of the Taxiarch at Astratios (35 mins walk due east of Tholaria) are the remains of a rectangular tower and farmstead of the Hellenistic period. Further southeast again (more easily reached by the good path from Langada—see below), at the church of the Panaghia Epanochoriani, was the site of another sanctuary, possibly dedicated to Athena; little remains to be seen but for the central marble anthemion of an ancient temple which is immured into the façade of the modern church. Slightly to the south stands the earlier, domed 15th century church of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos.
Tholaria itself is a village of great charm and tranquillity, with stacked streets, covered walkways, and wide views both to west and to north. The surrounding natu ral landscape on the north side of the amphitheatre of Aigiali Bay differs substantially from that of Langada (24km) on the south side. The south side is hard lime stone, rich in water and vegetation; the north side is a gravelly, arenaceous rock, giving rise to the eroded con tours of a more typically ‘Cycladic landscape’. The combination of the two, the grandeur of the mountains that surround the wide, west-facing bowl, and the bay itself which embraces the pleasing form of the island of Nikouria, constitute one of the loveliest * landscapes in the Cyclades. It is seen to perfection as the sun declines in the early evening. The steep mountain slopes on the south side of the bay, with their frequent springs, have given rise to several villages of well-preserved architectural unity: Apano and Kato Potamos to the west and Langada to the east, overlooking the area from high up on a slope of rocks, cactus and small oak. All these villages grew up in the early Middle Ages as part of the general retreat to safety away from the shores and the piracy that infested the coasts. The rock church of Aghia Triada, which sits on a ledge in the cliff to the south of the road just before arriving in Langada, may have first been used as a hiding place during attack from pirates. The rock pinnacles in the gorge below Langada to the north, also provided a different kind of refuge; the inaccessible and half-deserted borgo of Stroumbos must first have been built as such. The gorge around it provides a micro-climate in which varieties of acacia, arbutus, broom and olive crowd the rocks and the elusive Ruppell’s warbler may be seen. The area is of great beauty.
From the northeastern extremity of Langada, a foot path leads up towards the eastern end of the island. After 15 minutes the paved path continues round to the left to the Panaghia Epanochoriani, referred to above; the stepped path to the right climbs steeply for another hour before reaching the * monastery of Aghios Ioannis Theologos. The way is through dense maquis, and in the occasional breaks of oaks that shade the path nightingales can be heard in spring. The monastery is believed to have been established as early as the 9th century, though what stands today dates from 500 years later, at the time it be came a dependency of the Chozoviotissa. It dominates a small, fertile plateau, which provided its living, in the saddle between the peaks of Mount Kroukelos to the south and Mount Skopos immediately to the northwest. The monastery and its surrounding buildings are empty now.
The catholicon is heavily buttressed on the south side, and the dome and roof have been rebuilt in recent restoration. The interior (key under stone by door) is unexpectedly spacious with three aisles and a wide apse, furnished with a synthronon and a central abbot’s seat. In the conch are fragments of wall-painting of considerable quality: the fine and highly stylised facial features remaining, suggest a date in the late 13th or 14th century. The altars in all three apses are composed of ancient capitals and fragments, confirm what has been inferred from other remains in the area that this was probably a small sanctuary in Antiquity, with possible continuity into early Christian times. Noteworthy is the protrusion of natural rock in the north side of the interior—a symbolic memory of the Rock of the Cave of St John the Divine on Patmos, to whom this church is dedicated.
Not far beyond the monastery, the land drops precipitously to the sea over 300m below. The whole northern coast and eastern promontory of the island is an unrelenting wall of cliffs which, directly to the south of here, reach their culmination below the peak of the island, Mount Kroukelos (823m). Out to sea to the east can normally be seen the islets of Kinaros and Lebinthos (mod ern Levitha) which though waterless and uninhabited were important landmarks and stepping stones for mariners making the crossing of the open waters from the Cyclades to Kos, Kalymnos and Asia Minor. A path, which crosses the plateau and rises up the slope of Kroukelos opposite the monastery, leads to the remote church of the Stavros (75–90 minutes beyond) on a rock-saddle below the peak of Pramatevtis (720m), commanding immense views both to north and south. In the gorge to the south side were the island’s Bauxite mines, which operated at the beginning of the last century. The mountain’s great est resource was once its forest of oaks which covered the north-facing slopes of Kroukelos, and were nourished by the frequent vernal and autumnal mists which strafe the summit moistening the northern slopes. The forests dis appeared in a conflagration which burned for three weeks in 1835.
Returning to the bay once again, the sensation of descending into the cavea of a large theatre towards a stage of sea with the islet of Nikouria as the backdrop, is yet more vivid for having seen the ring of mountain cliffs which enclose the northern end of the island.
Giali Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.
Amorgos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.