Euboea Island, Greece.
The grandeur and beauty of Euboea’s landscapes are matched only by their constantly unfolding variety. The island is like a microcosm of all of Greece: the northern tip has the feel of the wooded and bucolic landscapes of Corfu; the mountainous gorges of the centre are like parts of Epirus and Roumeli; the valleys inland of Kymi have a gentleness and a wealth of painted churches which remind one of parts of the Peloponnese; the area around Dystos feels uncannily like Boeotia; and the south of the island, hemmed by windy beaches, is wild and rugged in the grandest Cycladic manner. On top of all this, there are parts of the island that are unlike any where else at all, such as the majestic, watered valleys of Dirfys and Ochi—the island’s highest mountains, with their impressive and puzzling stone structures known as ‘drakospita’, or ‘dragon’s houses’, which are unique to Euboea. The mountains of Dirfys and Ochi and Kandili—all of them with summits equivalent to or substantially higher than Ben Nevis—are so fundamental to the appearance and the water and the weather of the island, that they merit individual exploration. Each possesses a strong personality, quite distinct from the other two.
Lying so close to the body of Greece, Euboea maintains much of the welcome normality of mainland life, yet it conserves the tranquillity and individuality of an island. There is no airport and the several harbours of access are small and informal. It is possible to drive to the island across the old or the new Euripus bridge. And once out of the busy capital of Chalcis, you can be in forests and gorges and mountains within a matter of minutes. Some of Greece’s remotest villages even are to be found at the island’s southeastern corner.
The long, winding ridge of the island is like a mountainous breakwater, protecting the eastern flank of Greece. In the placid stretch of safe water in its lee it has nurtured a number of rich, productive and very ancient centres which flourished in prehistoric and early historic times— Eretria, Chalcis and at Lefkandi. Fertile Euboea was some times called the ‘larder of Greece’: even the sound of its name ‘Ευβοια’ seemed to some to imply the quality of its livestock.1 It later exported grain to Rome—together with the largest quantity of decorative marble from any single place in the Mediterranean. The Roman Imperial Fora are everywhere built and lined with the blue-veined Karystos marble from Euboea—just as those who built those same fora, may have been sustained by the island’s grain.
Because of its geographical shape, Euboea requires a meandering exploration up and down its protracted length. This survey begins at the north and finishes in the southeastern extremity of the island beside the wild Cavo Doro straits, for no better reason than that we read a page from top to bottom. But a journey for many will begin at the island’s capital, Chalcis, by the Euripus bridge: for others, at Karystos in the south, at the nearest point to Athens. For this reason, the description of the island has been based on five different centres—Aedipsos, Limni, Chalcis, Kymi and Karystos—from which it radiates out into the surrounding areas of the island, so that the read er may approach the discovery of this richly rewarding island in whichever order should suit best.
(1 Probably no more than a ‘folk-etymology’. The root ‘-βοια’ is more likely to be cognate with the name of ‘Boιωτíα’ which lies directly across the water, than with ‘βóεϛ’, meaning ‘oxen’.)
Euboea Island, Greece