South from Chalcis

The road south leaves Chalcis through industrial out skirts between the shore and the hill of Vathrovouni, whose western shoulder, overlooking the water, was the acropolis of Ancient Chalcis. The rich and fertile Lelantine Plain, recalled in the Hymn to Apollo for its lush vine yards, begins just beyond. In the 8th and 7th centuries bc, the area was the subject of a deadly territorial rivalry between Chalcis and Eretria. The area’s value was also appreciated in later epochs and the landscape is punctuated with several Venetian towers and forts which combined to guard its agricultural activity and inhabitants, as well as protecting the southern approaches to Chalcis. At the centre of Vasiliko (6km) is a well-preserved tower; there are two more between the villages of Mitikas and Philla (8km); and a conspicuous castle above the latter, built on an ancient enceinte. The tower at Vasiliko was occupied by the Turks in 1470 during their siege of Negroponte.
   An interesting detour east can be made from Philla to the monastery of Aghios Giorgiosirma (11km), a handsome stone church founded in 1141.

The form of the church is a compact and well-proportioned example of 12th century Byzantine architecture, and the combined silhouette of the two domed structures (narthex and catholicon) in one complex is cadenced and pleasing. The surrounding courtyard contains abandoned ancient columns and some strikingly carved scroll volutes. Other fragments are incorporated in the church: the decorative anthemion of a grave-stele is embedded in the wall above the west door; another sits over the east window, where it is combined with Byzantine decorative elements in marble and fine brick-work which create a beautifully facetted ensemble. The domed narthex, which was probably added at a slightly later date, has darkened late-Byzantine wall-paints. It is separated from the main, undecorated catholicon by an intervening space and double-door. The cupola of the main church is supported on columns (three of which are ancient, and one fluted) with Ionic capitals. The unadorned, stone architecture of the interior is striking.

Euboea Island, Greece

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