Aghios Giorgios Varsamitis, Stavros, Markiani and Kamari

From Chora the road to the south of the island closely follows the watershed of the island with magnificent views alternating to either side. After 4km the monastery of Aghios Giorgios Varsamiis, or Balsamitis, (9.5km) is indicated to the right. The monastery sits at the head of a valley rich with springs of water and is surrounded by a small oasis of cultivation: the church itself is built over a weak spring, while above and to its west, the ris water was sufficient to drive a water-mill which still survives. The present 17th century structure, built over earlier churches on this same site, is a dependency of the Chozoviotissa. It acquired fame through its ‘water oracle’ which centred on a marble basin or urn which filled and emptied with water miraculously, responding to queries and giving auspices by its actions. This curious phenomenon was observed and recorded in some detail by Pit ton de Tournefort when he visited the church in 1718. The oracle may be a successor to a pagan oracle on the site. At the south end of the narthex is an aghiasma or sacred rock-pool of spring water; this is not the ‘oracle’, however, which was separate and kept at some distance from it. Small areas of the interior are covered with 17th and 18th century wall-paintings—images of St John the Baptist and the Virgin and Child on the north pillar of the vault. A curiosity of the church is a number of graffiti of fish in the pavement around the north door.
   Further west, the main road climbs again onto a saddle, on the western edge of which sits the complex of churches of the Stavros (12.5km)—a series of four contiguous, barrel-vaulted units, two with apses, one with a belfry. The interior makes the arrangement clearer—namely a symmetrical 12th century church with two side-aisles separated by arches supported on pieces of antique architrave, and a separate parallel chapel dedicated to St Nikitas which was added later to the south and has the remains of an image of the Baptist next to the apse. The paving of the main church would appear to be that of a pagan or Early Christian structure, and the altar comprises a closure slab from an early templon, suggesting that the complex occupies the site of a much earlier place of worship. The area marked the boundary between the territories of Arkesine and Minoa, and a rock bearing the incised word ‘ΟΡΟΣ’, ‘boundary’, has been found in the fields beyond the sharp west turn in the road, 300m after Stavros.
   The most significant Early Cycladic site explored so far on Amorgos, known as Markiani­, occupies the rock outcrop and summit just to the left (south) of the road at 14.5km. To the north and south sides of the outcrop the foundation walls of dwellings are visible, and the outline of a fortification wall around can be traced in stretches: this ‘acropolis’ enceinte possessed semicircular bastions. The bold site, which sits on the summit looking out over the water to Astypalaia, Anaphi and Santorini, may have been inhabited for as long as eight centuries, beginning around 2800 bc. Excavations since 1985 on the southern slope have brought to light artefacts of a predominantly practical, domestic and commercial nature, including a wide variety of tools, and some lead and clay seals. The latter point to a high degree of organised commercial ex change.
   The practical finds from Markiani­ contrast noticeably with the ritual objects, such as the marble figurines, generally retrieved from cemeteries. One very important source of these has been the cemeteries excavated in the area of Dokathismata, which lies not far from Markiani­ (2km as the crow flies to the north of the conical hill of Poulos visible to the northwest). The style of figurines from the excavations here is quite distinct, with a much greater emphasis on line than volume. The ‘Dokathismata type’ is predominantly flatter in profile, with much wider, slop shoulders, tapering to thin calves and ankles, giving an overall pentagonal form to the thorax and abdomen. They bear careful incisions which define the forms. Al though it may not appear so at first sight, there is considerable stylistic variety within the corpus of Cycladic figurines.
   At 16.5km the road descends to the settlement of Kamari; beside the final bend in the road before the village is the church of Aghios Nikolaos whose contiguous, undulating vaults present an appearance similar to that of the Stavros. Once again it is a triple-aisled church, with an attached parecclesion to the north, built probably in the 14th or 15th century over the site of an ancient predecessor. The interior is decorated with wall-paintings which are currently being restored.

Arki Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.

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

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