ARKI & MARATHI
The name, ‘Arkioi’, actually refers to a group of a dozen minuscule islets, called after the largest which was known as Arkite in Antiquity, and referred to as Argiae in Latin by Pliny. It is an archipelago of rocky, almost tree-less, smooth-shaped islands which together create a seascape of sheltered coves, waterways and turquoise lagoons, thanks to the sand which has settled in several places just offshore. Today the main island of Arki has four churches, about 50 resident souls, five cows, one horse and a large number of goats. It also has two surprisingly good tavernas, both of which offer furnished rooms for rent. They are situated on the tiny plateia at the end of Arki’s deeply indented port which bears the grand Italian name, Porto Augusta. The island’s life-line is the arrival of the F/B Nisos Kalymnos; on occasions, nobody even embarks or disembarks, just a post-packet is tossed ashore, and when the ferry leaves again, a torpor surges back and repossesses the island.
As the ferry boat enters, visible on the crown of the low headland to the west of the new ferry jetty (port side) are the remains of a Hellenistic watch-tower of the 4th century bc. (Once ashore this can be easily reached by a short climb up between the quay and the island’s emergency heliport.) Of comparable size with the base of the tower on the acropolis at Lipsi, its remaining lowest courses are constructed in parallel runs of precisely interlocked polygonal blocks—a technique similar to that called ‘Lesbian’ masonry. The tower here can only have provided protection for the ancient port and surveillance of the channel between Arki and Marathi, since it is not sufficiently prominent to have served in a signalling chain. There are traces of retaining walls to the north and of two lateral walls that close off an area between the tower and the steep drop at the coast, suggesting that the tower may have been part of a larger complex, modified and reused in Byzantine times as the rubble masonry in the area would suggest.
Some few marble fragments have been found on Arki (now in the Monastery Museum on Patmos) but little else can be added to our knowledge of the island in Antiquity. Pottery and obsidian from a prehistoric settlement has, however, been found on the hill of Kastro, to the north east of the harbour. The hill is crowned by the church of the Panaghia Pantanoussa today and is reached by a ruined stone-paved mule-track which leads up to the left side of a conspicuous long wall. There are the ruins of some well-built stone houses, with bread ovens still in place; their walls blend mimetically with the barren rocky landscape. From here a path, at first to the northwest, leads eventually down to the northeast shore at the long inlet of Kapsali Bay.
On the east side of the harbour is a break of windswept pines, dotted with eucalyptus and cypress, in which a large house can be glimpsed set back some way above the shore. This is the Kritikos House, about which there is a curious reluctance to speak on the island: at the turn of the 20th century most of the islanders were in the employ of Kritikos, who became a collaborator with the Italians during their occupation of the Dodecanese. The house and the mature trees which surround it appear to date from this period, and are at the centre of a walled estate, in which the land has been terraced for cultivation. There are boathouses on both sides of the spit of land on which the house sits. Beyond the nearby church of the Anargyri, a path leads towards the island’s most pleasant beaches— in particular, Tiganaki, at the southeast extremity of the island, where the sand on the floor of the sea creates a turquoise lagoon in an inlet of the rocky coast.
Arki Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.