Donousa lies separated from the other Lesser Cyclades to the north, in an isolated position 15km from the east coast of Naxos : the next landfall to the east is Patmos (50km) or, to the northeast, Ikaria (45km) across open seas. It is a mountainous island for its small size, delight ful and peaceful to visit, with a number of fine sandy bays and depths of turquoise water around its shores. The is land has three good springs, and early in the year it is remarkably green. Aeneas speeds by Donousa after leaving Delos at the start of his voyage from Troy to Italy, and Virgil refers to the island as ‘green’: (‘Bacchatamqueiugis Naxon viridemque Donusa/‘¦ legimus’, Aeneid III, 125). To anyone other than a poet, Donousa impinged on the Roman consciousness merely as a place of exile.
The Chora is well-kept with plenty of flowering shrubs and trees; there have not been dislocated rashes of building on the island, and outside the port area there is a just mixture of old and new buildings scattered in the landscape. The majority of the island is wild and scrub covered. Chora, properly called Stavros, centres around a sheltered bay and beach, with a well-watered ‘kambos’ area behind. The belfry of the Church of the Stavros (Holy Cross) incorporates an antique capital and column: the church was built in 1902 and its interior is decorated with modern Byzantine paintings of some quality from the same period—a graceful Nativity, and Miraculous Draught of Fishes.
From the road which circles round Chora to the north, tracks lead up into the centre of the island where the iron ore mines were; these were an important source of employment for the islanders until they were closed at the outbreak of World War II. To the east, the main surfaced road passes below the church of the Panaghia and then rises above Kedros Bay with one of the island’s most at tractive beaches (steps down to the sands). The road continues to climb to Messaria, a settlement of a few stone houses: from the bend below the village, a track leads downhill towards the site of Vathi Limenari, an important Geometric fortified settlement which flourished in the 9th and 8th centuries bc. The variety of pottery found here shows that this was a trading station within a net work of routes connecting the other Cycladic islands, Euboea and Attica with the Dodecanese; the settlement does not seem to have survived into Classical times, how ever. The site is difficult to locate: a promontory crowned by a defunct windmill is clearly visible; the next shoulder to the east has a half-deserted house on its saddle, and the site extends to the east of this building. The ditches excavated by the archaeologists to reveal the fortification walls can be seen, with the settlement’s water-source just below. In spring the hillsides are covered with colonies of squills and wild orchids (mostly Anacamptis pyramidalis).
As it climbs higher the road comes to Mersini, a pan oramic village of dry-stone houses. From the church of Aghia Sophia on the shoulder of the hill, a path leads down to the generous spring below, which rises beside plane-trees and gives life to thick stands of broom and cane, which burst upon an otherwise rocky mountain side. The water is good and abundant, but not particularly sweet. From Mersini the road turns north, high above the island’s most dramatic shoreline of rocks and promontories. Though treeless now, the hillside was once intensively terraced for cultivation. The road ends at Kalotariissa, a tiny village set behind a jetty and a beautiful configuration of bays, with the islet of Skoulonisi lying just offshore.
DONOUSA:9 AUGUST 1914
In the course of one of the most dramatic episodes in the turmoil at the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, two German battle cruisers SMS Goeben and Breslau, under the command of Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, effected a crucial refuelling with coal in the Bay of Stavros on Donousa on 9 August, on their way to the Dardanelles from the Central Mediterranean, while under pursuit by the British Navy. The Royal Navy failed to intercept them on Donousa. They escaped all subsequent interception and arrived at Istanbul. The strategic consequence of this was the forcing of the hand of the Ottoman Empire—thitherto neutral—into joining the war on the side of the Central Powers. It was widely seen as a bungled exercise, which subsequently resulted in the recalling of two Royal Naval admirals, one of whom was courtmartialled. The failure, however, may have been partially the consequence of faulty and contradictory communications in the febrile and rapidly shifting state of events in the opening days of the First World War. It has been estimated that the consequences of the Ottoman Empire entering the war, precipitated by this event, led to the prolongation of conflict per haps by as much as two years—two years of the cost liest fighting in history in terms of human sacrifice and suffering. The consequence for Turkey itself of not remaining neutral was the dismemberment of its empire by the victorious allies at the end of the war, and the countless problems attendant on that fact which still plague our world today. Churchill, who had been First Lord of the Admiralty at the time, looking back at the event, wrote that the two German ships which the Royal Navy had failed to stop and intercept at Donousa, brought ‘more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than has ever before been borne within the compass of a ship’.
Donousa Island is part of the Lesser Cyclades Island Group, Greece.