Armenistis to Karkinagri
(For distances, Armesistis = 0.0 km)
(The road along ikaria’s west coast is un-metalled, but pass able for all vehicles. it is 27km from Armensitis to Karkinagri. There are no filling stations.)
Three-and-a-half kilometres south west along the coast road from Armenistis is Kato Raches, the ‘window’ and coastal stepping-off place for Raches in the upland interior: the two were linked by 4–5km of steep paths and mule-tracks which followed and skirted the Chalari Gorge which debouches into the sea at this point. The marked paths that follow and traverse the gorge are fascinating for the naturalist and rewarding for the rambler. The gorge is a succession of pools and cascades, and its protected micro-climate has encouraged a varied and interesting flora and fauna. There are several varieties of cyclamen and wild orchid. The kingfisher is a regular resident here, most easily observed in winter when the trees are bare; little egrets are common in the lower reaches, and the characteristic sharp call of the little owl and the melancholy bleep of the Scops owl can often be heard in the inland areas in the evening. Rare migrants include the black-winged stilt, and little bittern.
Such a densely wooded gorge was, in Antiquity, the natural domain of the huntress goddess, Artemis. The Chalaris river would at that time have carried much more water and its small estuary would have formed the only viable roadstead for boats on the west side of the island. Above this natural harbour, therefore, the *Sanctuary of Artemis Tauropolos at Nas grew up. (‘Tauropolos’ means ‘drawn by a yoke of bulls’; ‘Nas’ is a corruption of ‘naos’, ‘a temple’). This seemingly remote spot had great importance in Antiquity as the first or last harbour on the Asia Minor side of the Aegean for pilgrims on their way to or from the Sanctuary of Apollo on Delos . (Delos was also the birthplace of Artemis.) The longest and most ex posed stretch of the sea-journey was between here and Mykonos. The popularity of the cult of Artemis spread from Asia Minor (principally Ephesus), and this sanctuary, established already by the 7th century bc, would ap pear to be one of the oldest in the Greek Islands. Clement of Alexandria (Protrep. IV.46) mentions that the cult statue of the goddess here was not only ‘wooden’, but ‘unworked’—implying that (like the original image of Hera on Samos ) it was a sacred piece of natural wood which was in some way suggestive of the image and presence of the goddess, without the profaning intervention of the hand of man.
The site of Nas is tranquil and beautiful, but little of substance remains to be seen: the columns and statuary, which were recorded as being still visible on the site a little over a hundred years ago, were later zealously consigned to the kilns to make mortar for new churches in the area. The site banks up the hill to the south side of the river inlet, now closed by a sandbar. At the lowest level are the remains of some late 1st century bc wharfs and constructions for the port and boats; just above, the main terrace has a heterogeneous group of foundations, in a variety of different materials. The long, rectangular, stepped construction in yellow–brown sandstone, though west-facing, has the appearance of an altar: beside it is a small rectangular base in grey granite with four precise perforations possibly for the railing protecting a sacred image. Further up, there is extensive terracing which, at several points, has been rebuilt in later times. Above all of this, and perfectly oriented to the cardinal points, is a constructed stone platform, about 26m on its longer north– south axis, on which the principal temple may have been erected. Beyond this point, the litter of potsherds on the southern hillside is witness to the extent and density of habitation here. The site, especially towards sunset, has a pure and austere beauty appropriate to Artemis.
Beyond Nas is the tiny settlement of Kato Proespera (6km): 3km uphill to the south of it, on the left-hand branch road, is Ano Proespera where burials from Geometric through to Roman times have been excavated and documented. Along the road between the two villages can be seen many of the extraordinary *‘invisible’ dwellings, used during the ‘disappearances’. The landscape is dotted with massive, naturally smoothed, granite boulders: often on the landward side of such a rock, invisible from the sea, a rudimentary house has been constructed in stone up against, and under the lea of, the boulder. In other in stances, the small gap between a group of close rocks may have been roofed over with stone tiles to create a dwelling, again completely un-discernible from a distance. Many of these dwellings are of considerable antiquity—up to 500 and 600 years old in some cases. Seeking them out, how ever, is like spotting well-camouflaged birds.
Along the west coast, the few villages—mere clusters of old stone houses—are generally grouped around a small church beside a spring or torrent. At the lower levels they are tiny; higher up the slopes they are set back from sight and are larger. At Mavriano (14.5km), the 18th century monastery church of the Panaghia Evangelistrias surprises by its size and position overlooking the shore. Here the handsome octagonal drum and schist-tiled cupola are above the narthex, rather than the crossing. The low monastery buildings enclose the catholicon compactly. As so often, there is the tell-tale presence of some ancient spolia in the enclosure.
At Kalamos (21.5km) the coast road joins with the route from Christos Rachon and Langada (see previous detour itinerary). The last 6km of road (now metalled) round the point of Cape Papas and descend into the nar row, fertile coastal plain of Karkinagri (27km). Only a few of the old stone houses remain from the time when Karkinagri was an isolated fishing port; it is now a place of summer retreat and recreation, with a couple of good tavernas and a sprinkling of modern houses and gardens hemmed between the mountains, facing to the sea and the sun in the south. A cai―que service runs between Karkinagri and Aghios Kirykos three times a week in good weather (typically Mon, Wed and Fri). The journey along the wild and precipitous south coast of the island leaves a vivid impression of the island’s geography.
Ikaria Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
Armenistis to Karkinagri.