Chora

The * Chora of Folegandros—one of the best preserved and most dramatically sited in the Aegean—divides into two areas: the older, semi-fortified, mediaeval Kastro to the north; and the settlement of the 17th and later centuries, contiguous with it, to the south. On the north side cliffs drop 200m almost sheer into the sea below; and to the east, above the church of the Panaghia, is the peak of Palaiokastro which rises to 353m above sea level. The upper slopes of the steep cliff to the northwest of Chora are terraced and cultivated wherever possible, taking advantage of the moisture of their northern exposure, where as the dry, undulating valley to the southwest is simply walled for goat pasture. Even as late as the 17th century, Folegandros was well-wooded and exported its timber to other Aegean islands. That vegetation was gone within a hundred years. Since the island is particularly steep and rocky, obtaining water and produce subsequently became even more arduous for the island’s inhabitants.
ll transportation stops at or before Plateia Pounta— so named for its position on a ledge-like eminence with an impressive view from its parapet. Facing onto it from the south is the island’s neoclassical primary school build (1908) and a small war memorial to its east. Beyond the attractive 19th century church of the Stavros in the south corner, with its unusual hexagonal cupola-drum, Plateia Dounavi (‘Danube’), the main centre of the chora and the first of a loose-knit series of squares, lies just to the southwest. The square is an intimate space, attractively paved and gathered around a circular, low-walled dip with two 18th century wells and a welcome stand of plane, lime and acacia trees. The opposite (south) side of the square is bounded by the island’s principal church of Aghios Nikolaos, which has an interesting, carved throne and iconostasis in its interior; to its west is the early 17th century church of the Taxiarch, whose façade is embellished by a bifora window with a carved marble pilaster. The north side of the square is constituted by the south wall of the Kastro, which has two entrances—the wider, stepped ‘Loggia’ to the west, and the narrower ‘Paraporti’ which leads out of Plateia Dounavi at the eastern end of the wall.

As on Antiparos, Kimolos and Siphnos, the Kastro is a mediaeval settlement in which the houses face inwards and their outside walls form the ‘fortified’ enceinte. To the north, the rock precipice forms an effective natural defence; the houses had no lime-plaster in earlier times, and were indistinguish able from the natural rock when seen from a distance. Be gun in the early years of Venetian domination, it could accommodate almost 200 families within its small—but not cramped—perimeter. The houses have been remarkably well-preserved without resorting visibly to modern materials; where the buildings cross the tiny alleyways, the passages are roofed with cypress and schist blocks; and the characteristic wooden balconies and parallel flights of steps (especially in the ‘Kato Roua’, the first street to left) have survived unaltered. At either end of the upper street, or ‘Piso Roua’ are two compact, late-Mediaeval churches—Aghia Sophia (west) and the Panaghia Eleousa (east)—the latter marked by a fragment of fluted ancient column by its door. Project on an outcrop at the western extremity of Kastro, with an unforgettable view, is the church of the Panaghia Pantanassa, built by a Cretan immigrant shortly before the end of the 17th century: he appears, kneeling, in the predella of the painting on the south sanctuary-door of the screen. Plateia Dounavi runs south into Plateia Kontarini, and thence into a square simply known as ‘Piatsa’: in the constantly changing shapes and delightful vistas of these open spaces, the churches appear as islands. Plateia Kontarini is dominated by the façade of the 17th century church of Aghios Antonios (restored in 1709) with its fine marble door-frame, vivaciously carved by a local artist: there is more such ‘folk-art’ in the painted pillars which flank the screen in the church’s interior. Further to the south, the ‘Piatsa’ is looked onto by the ruined church of the Panaghia Theoskepasti­. The attractive form of the belfry and the marble door and window-frames suggest that this was once a fine early-17th century structure; but its interior is now roofless. To the south from here several streets lead out from the centre towards the road to the northwest of the island passing substantial but modestly designed stone houses built in the 19th century by Folegandriots who had lived and worked in Egypt: the last on the left, before the asphalt road, displays a carved, ancient grave-stele over its door.

 

Folegandros Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

 

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