Orei and Istiaia (north)

The road north from Loutra Aedipsoureaches the north coast of the island at Aghiokambos (7.5km), where the small car ferry for Glyfa on the opposite mainland coast (16km from the Athens/Thessaloniki highway) runs every two hours from 7 am–9 pm, daily. Shortly beyond is the small port of Orei­ (12km)—one of the most interesting towns in Northern Euboea. The modern settlement occupies the site of Ancient Histiaea—called ‘polystaphylos’ (‘rich in vines’) by Homer— which controlled the lucrative passage between the Euboean Gulf and the open sea. Its strategic location led Pericles to banish the Histiaeans and install 2,000 clerurchs here in 446 bc. The city became known thenceforth as Oreos, which appears to have been previously a deme of Histiaea, on a site very close by. After the banished Histiaeans were called back to their former city at the end of the Peloponnesian War, the city was subsequently known by both names. Its importance grew considerably through the 4th and 3rd centuries bc, until it was destroyed by the Romans in 199 bc. Its coinage circulated widely in the Aegean. According to Livy, Oreos had two citadels separated by a valley, hence the modern plural ‘Oreoi’: it possessed a maritime acropolis, which dominated the port—now the site of the castle—and an inland acropolis, Oreos Apanos. The city had fortification walls, a planned and prosperous public area, and extensive cemeteries. As a bishop’s seat since as early as the 5th century, Orei­ remained the centre of Northern Euboea through Byzantine times. A prosperous, small town existed under the Ottomans, which came under the rule of Ali Pasha, the ‘Lion of Ioannina’, in the late 18th century. After his assassination in 1822, the area was important as the scene of some of the first battles in the Greek War of Independence.
   Modern Istiaia (4km inland) received numerous refugees from Asia Minor: the new settlement of Aghios Giorgios, 1km south of the town, was built for them.

The attractively laid out town, planned in 1833 by the Bavarian architect, Georg Schumayer, probably follows the ancient street plan. In the harbour, the submerged line of the ancient mole can be made out. A little behind the church of the Sotir by the shore, stands the * ‘Bull of Orei­’ (late 3rd century bc)—a bold and remarkably preserved piece of Hellenistic funerary sculpture, found by the shore in 1965. The beautiful definition of the surface—of the tail, and especially around the neck and shoulders—is achieved by extensive and sensitive use of the claw chisel. The horns were fitted separately, and were possibly in a different material—bronze or ivory. Nearby is a small collection of column fragments and capitals from the ancient town: other vestiges can be seen in situ in the area between the shore and the acropolis.
   Inland to the east of the shore rises the hill of Kastro— the ancient marine acropolis of Ancient Oreos—now crowned by the ruins of a Venetian fort, built over successive Byzantine and Hellenistic fortification walls which are visible in places below. An archaeologists’ trench on the summit reveals yet earlier, ancient walls. In the north-east corner of the area are two tombs, one Hellenistic, one Early Christian. Below the castle to the southwest is the interesting church of Aghios Basilios: in the crypt, beneath an ungainly construction of the 1970s, are the remains of an Early Christian place of worship cut down into the rock, with a curious rock-hewn niche behind the altar forming the central liturgical focus. At the west end of the church is a bulky, ancient sarcophagus which was found close by, similar to those in the northeast corner of the Kastro site: it is said to have contained the remains of an early bishop of Orei­.
   A little way inland, to the east of Orei­, lies modern Istiai­a (16km) which has a number of fine old houses and middle-Byzantine churches—Aghia Paraskevi in the main square, and Aghios Nikolaos and Aghii Pavlos and Petros to the south and east of the square. Of these Aghios Nikolaos is the most interesting—as pleasing in form from outside as it is inside: a modern narthex leads into a low interior with three aisles and apses, supported in part on monolithic stone columns. The scattered remains of painted scenes inside are executed in the simplest and fewest of colours (local earth pigments); they are the work of local artists painting probably in the late 16th century. The town also has a small Natural History Museum with preserved specimens of marine and other fauna.

Euboea Island, Greece

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