Euboea Island, Greece.
North of Karystos
In the valleys to the north of Karystos are several important sites and monuments. *Kalivia, Grabia and Aghia Triada At the top of the village of Kalivia, 3.5km north of Karystos is the attractive, late mediaeval church of the Taxiarches. The luminous interior incorporates some antique elements: the steep drum of the dome sits on four monolithic columns, each surmounted by a double capital—Byzantine, on top of Ionic. The whitewash has been removed to reveal a painting of the Pantocrator over the apse. Due north of Karystos is Grabia, where there are mineral springs of considerable force at the church of Aghia Triada, on the east side of the hill. Finds going back as far as Palaeolithic times have been made in the cave (closed) above the church, from one of the earliest human settlements on Euboea. In the depths of the cave is a watercourse with falls and pools.
The site of the Castel Rosso (2.5km—accessible either from Grabia or from Mili), dominating the plain and bay of Karystos, has impressive natural defences to the north and east. It constituted the acropolis of Ancient Karystos, and the lower courses of the existfacetted west tower are composed of large, rectangular, poros blocks and courses of polished marble taken from ancient buildings and fortifications. The castle—which is the largest on the island—was built in the first decades of the 13th century by Ravano dalle Carceri, the triarch who had been awarded the southern third of Euboea by the Frankish overlord, Boniface of Monferrat (see ‘History’, p.16). In 1261, the Latin Emperor, Baldwin II, took refuge here when he was driven out of Byzantium. The castle was effectively under Venetian control from 1365 until the Turkish conquest of 1470. Why it became called ‘Castel Rosso’, when it is made of yellow and grey stone, is not clear.
Behind the castle to the northeast, the mediaeval aqueduct brought water from the springs on the hill side opposite. The conduit would always have been vulnerable to attack; there are cistern complexes, therefore, in the north corner of the enceinte, and a well, in addition, beneath the floor of the chapel of Prophitis Elias at the summit (lift metal trap-door). The impressive gateway and the five-sided eastern bastion have been to some degree rebuilt, and the square tower in the southwest corner, with artillery embrasures, is an Ottoman addition. Across the expanse of the bailey is an immense quantity of col lapsed rubble, indicating that the interior of the enceinte was densely constructed with an eye to with standing long sieges.
The road north from Karystos, past the hospital, leads into the area of Palaiochora, the site of Ancient Karystos, at the foot of the acropolis hill now crowned by the castle. It continues beyond, into the densely treed valley of Myli (3.5km), named from the water-mills which profit from its abundant water. The village is a welcome retreat in summer heat, with a couple of shaded tavernas. At the top of the village are vigorous springs of a good, but not particularly sweet, water. The road ends at the church of Aghii Theodori, where a path continues up the slopes of Mount Ochi to the ancient quarry at ‘Kilindri’ and eventually to the summit of the mountain. (From the end of the cement road, go straight and cross the stream bed. Ahead, you can see a first quarry to the right side of the gorge and the stream, then a second face much higher up; on top of this, you can make out the supine, abandoned columns. This is the objective: it is 40 minutes uphill to your right (northeast), about 300m higher than the point of departure.)
Kilindri is a truly remarkable and evocative site. The half-dozen abandoned monolithic columns, some detached from the rock bed, others at a still more protean stage, are of massive dimensions: approximately 12m (40 Roman feet) in length, with a diameter of 1.26m (4.25 Roman feet): they already have a gentle, swelling entasis and cuffs at either end. They await a shipment that never materialised. The square holes in the bed-rock are for the fixing of pegs and capstans for lifting and manoeuvering the columns. From this vantage point the port of Karystos, where the monoliths would have been loaded onto boats, looks despairingly far away over a terrain that presents seemingly insurmountable problems to the transportation of such cumbersome weights. Yet, by the construction of pistes of beaten earth, the use of braked sleds, and of calibrated rolling at other moments, such blocks were moved in large numbers down to the port, and then shipped, slung between two lashed barges, to their destination. All around are other quarries, cutting-faces and assays: it was the quarry-master’s expertise that selected the best veins. Below, as you descend, you see a flat-topped rectan gular knob which remains from the surface quarrying of thin decorative plaques of marble, cut from the bedrock.
There are several routes up to the summit of Mount Ochi (1,399m): it can be reached with some difficulty in 3 hours from Kylindri. The easiest and safest route is from the northwest, where the mountain road which continues high above Grabia eventually brings you to a little over 900m a.s.l., from where the peak is visible and can be reached with a further climb of little over an hour. The path, latterly very steep, is hinted by stone cairns. Cloud can suddenly and unpredictably envelop the summit, and care should be taken to ensure that weather conditions and pressure are stable before attempting the climb.
The summit is a line of erodedtors, more reminiscent of sculpture than a mountain peak. It is marked by the chapel of Prophitis Elias. Fifty metres further east, right on the ridge, is the * drakospito—the finest of all drakospita, and one of the most extraordinary and unexpected sights in Greece. It camouflages itself so well against a background of the rock from which it is made, that it can be missed at first. Symmetrical, pleasingly proportioned, and precisely constructed in horizontal courses of blocks with often beautifully drafted borders, it could not be anything other than a Hellenistic construction. The posts and lintels of the doorway, and the adjacent blocks, are magnificent: and the long interior space is beautifully corbelled. There are windows (unusually) and niches in the double south wall: the aperture of the door faces 15° off due south. All around are pieces of stone with perforations or shapes that have been worked by hand.
If the building were simply a refuge for quarry-workers, it is hard to explain why it was built at the summit of the mountain—an area very difficult of access and considerably beyond the practical altitude for quarrying. No archaeological or constructional evidence suggests any cultic use on the site. So the most likely explanation is that the building served as the look-out post for a small garrison. For military surveillance, the views in all directions and over the commercially crucial straits between Euboea and Andros could not be better. The crucial question remaining is how the information relating to what was observed from this altitude was quickly and effectively communicated to the cities of Geraistos and Karystos below. Very frequently nothing at all can be seen from this point except the inside of a cloud.
Euboea Island, Greece