East of Karystos

The southeastern seaboard of Euboea, was one of the most vital maritime traffic corridors in the ancient Aegean, on the route between the Black Sea and the commercial centres of mainland Greece—Athens and Corinth. It was also well-known for being one of the windiest and most tempestuous channels in the Aegean, funnelling the wind just as effectively as it funnelled the commercial traffic. Thiscoastline is what Herodotus was referring to as the ‘the hollows’ (τα κοίλα) in Book VIII. 13 of his Histories, when recounting how an entire Persian squadron came to grief on the rocks here in a storm in 480 bc. The ancient city of Geraistos, at the southern end of this coast, profited richly from the tariffs it levied on the wealth of passing commercial traffic. Its site, which corresponds to the protected bay of Kastri­ (18km), is hard to reach today (take the unmade track descending from the asphalted road just after it turns sharply north, 11km from Karystos). By the bay—in a field to the right, c. 400m before the track ends at the church of the Zoodochos Pigi—are the vestiges of a classical temple. Large architectural blocks, one with a clearly conserved triglyph, mark the site of what may have been a temple of Poseidon: other material from the site has been taken to the museum in Karystos. It is now a wild and inaccessible place; but to the ancient seaman it was a welcome and busy haven in bad weather.
   The long coastal valleys in this area which push deep inland, one after another, have the remote feel of a fron tier land: the villages are exiguous, but the land is in parts fertile and watered by streams that flow down from the heights of Mount Ochi, dense with oleander and plane trees. One of the villages, Platanistos, takes its name from these trees. One kilometre after leaving the settlement of Platanistos, a track leads down steeply into the valley to the right (signed to ‘Anemopilies’ and ‘Aghios Konstantinos’). After 1.2km you reach the site of Elleniko, which dates probably from the mid 5th century bc. In the mid dle of the steep fields the corner of some massive stone terracing rises from the vegetation, constructed in horizontal courses of masonry of varying width. The church of Aghios Konstantinos, further to the west, incorporates ancient blocks and elements in its walls. An inscription from here mentioning Artemis Bolosia is all that we have to help identify the site.
   Twenty kilometres beyond Platanistos the unsurfaced road turns west and begins to circumvent the Archampolis Gorge. This wild and majestic landscape appears to have been inhabited in Antiquity and, although no city or town as such has been identified, the scattered remains which have been found may well have belonged to a single, organised, but scattered, settlement. Habitation seems to stretch from the Archaic period through to the 1st century bc, when the area was abandoned, perhaps following an attack by Mithridates in 80 bc. An acropolis (on the conical eminence overlooking the outlet to the sea), a large drakospito-like structure with evidence—unusually—both of residential and possible cultic use, a farm stead, and an iron-ore smelting furnace and workshop have all been located within a circumscribed area, near the riverbed at the eastern end of the valley. (The sites are best reached by the footpath which leads from the road just to the north of the settlement of Evangelismos—which lies to the south of the gorge—and descends north into the valley. A similar but longer foot-path descends south from the houses at Thymi, which lies to the north of the gorge.)
   The road, now mostly un-surfaced, continues north as far as Cape Kafireas—known also by its Venetian name of ‘Cavo Doro’—where Nauplios, father of Palamedes, is said to have lighted torches to mislead the Greeks on their return from Troy, in revenge for the murder of his son on a false charge of treachery. The scattered villages of this area are still inhabited by the descendants of the Albanians who were settled here by the Venetians in the 15th century.
   Time and patience, and strong legs or a strong vehicle are needed to explore further in this area: there are no road-signs and because the roads on the ground often do not correspond to those on the older maps, a detailed and up-to-date map of the area is essential. Those who have the energy to explore, however, will be rewarded— especially on the north side of the mountain—by some grand and beautiful valleys, rich in flora, butterflies and fauna. Mediaeval mule-paths and stone kalderimi can be followed along the scenic Dimosari Gorge, for example. From the same point, mentioned above (see p. 133) for commencing the climb to the summit of Ochi, a path to the north leads down into the gorge. At least eight hours should be allowed for the journey down to the shore and back. There is fresh water running in falls, almost all the way down to the sea.

Euboea Island, Greece

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