Karystos

The grand sweep of the setting of Karystos is unexpected: the curve of its sheltered gulf, the majestic, concave rise of Mount Ochi behind and the openness of the amphitheatre formed by the mountain, have something of the magnificence of the south coast of Crete near Sfakia, or even of the landscapes of eastern Anatolia. The site of Ancient Karystos lies a little to the north of the modern town, which was only created in the wake of the Greek In dependence revolution; its acropolis is still prominently marked by the pinnacle of Castel Rosso, the rambling for tress, visible from all around, from which the Venetians held the south of the island.
   Karystos is first mentioned in Book II of the Iliad: it took part in the Trojan War under the command of its king, Nauplios. In Classical times it became the principal commercial and cultural centre of Southern Euboea, issuing its own coinage in the 6th century bc. Glaukos, a boxer who was victor in the Olympic Games in 520 bc was from Karystos. Remembering is destruction in 490 bc at the hands of the Persians, the city allied with Xerxes in the second Persian invasion, and was later treated punitively for its ‘Medising’ by Themistocles as a result. It was part of the First and Second Athenian Confederacies, and after 338 bc came under Macedonian control. Apollodorus, a Comic dramatist, and Antigonus, a bronze sculptor and writer, were 3rd century bc natives of Karystos. The Romans took the city in 198 bc; their later exploitation of the marble quarries here made the city into an important and prosperous provincial centre—though Dio Chrysostom paints a (perhaps overly-rhetorical) picture of its economic decline already as early as the turn of the 2nd century ad.

The modern town is spacious and pleasant, but with an indefinable air of listlessness. Perhaps for this reason it is a peaceful place to choose as a base for exploring the south of the island. After the liberation of the city from the Turks in 1833, the centre was laid out on a grid pattern by the Bavarian architect, Bierbach, at the request of King Otho who desired that the city be named ‘Othonoupolis’ in his honour. The focus was to be the square where the church of Aghios Nikolaos (1912) now stands. The plan languished: the neoclassical town hall on the north side was only completed at the beginning of the 20th century by private subscription.
   One block north of the harbour (intersection of Kotsika and Sahtouri Streets) are the remains of a 2nd century AD Roman funerary monument of an obviously wealthy official in charge of the marble quarries. It had the appear ance of a small Ionic, peripteral temple, with 6 x 7 columns, and an entrance on the east side: its base and the cellathreshold are visible. Some of the marble from the structure and one of its decorative elements—a carved ‘tondo’ depicting the bust of a man with a bridled horse by his shoulder, which surmounted the doorway—is now incorporated, along with other antique marbles, in the east side of the 13th century tower on the harbour esplanade (east of Aiolou Street), known as the ‘Bourtzi’. The tower is a fortress, of irregular hexagonal form, with two cannon embrasures on the seaward wall, and well preserved machicolations high up on the south wall.
   Opposite is the city’s small Archaeological Museum (open daily 8.30–3, except Mon), set back behind a small garden area scattered with various ancient columns—as well as a venerable, antique steam-roller made by Mar shall & Sons of Gainsborough, and John Allen & Sons of Cowley, England. The collection is small, with clear didactic material, and several interesting inscriptions

Room 1 displays the finds from the Drakospito on the summit of Mount Ochi— mostly pottery from the 4th and 3rd centuries bc, but also an early Archaic, bronze ear ring and other pieces showing earlier use of the site; finds from Neolithic through to Byzantine times from Plakari, to the west of Karystos; interesting evidence from a metallurgy workshop at Archampolis (east coast); (nos 10 & 11) Megarian bowls of the 3rd century bc with beautiful relief designs.
Room 2: a wide variety of calligraphy, from the 4th century bc to Byzantine times, is rep resented by the inscriptions displayed: one is a record of Karystian public debt to the citizens of Histiaia and Thebes, some words from which have been erased; another records a decreed request for a judicial arbitrator from Kimolos. There are fine Ionic capitals from Geraistos and Karystos (Palaiochora), a good selection of carved stelai, and a statue base with depictions of athletes and hunting scenes.

West of Karystos, at a distance of 2.5km is the coastal hill site of Plakari—important archaeologically, but with little to see for the general visitor. This was the site of the earliest settlement in the area (Late Neolithic), although there is ample evidence of later habitation too. The main centre for the area, however, moved to Karystos (the area known as Palaiochora, 2km to the north of the modern town)—probably in the aftermath of the Persian destruction of 490 bc, although the date of the transfer is still debated. Many of the finds from this site are exhibited in the Museum in Karystos.

Euboea Island, Greece

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