The Castles and Chorio
Between 80–90 per cent of the population of the island lives in the sloping valley between the port of Pothia and Panormos on the west coast. What was once three or four separate communities has now become an almost continuous band of habitation. The valley is hemmed in by bare limestone slopes to either side, both of which were watched by two sizeable castles to north and south. To the south was the castle of Chrysocheria (always open: reached by a track to the right of the road to Vlichadia as it leaves the southwest corner of Pothia); this is originally a 12th century Byzantine fortress, taken over by the Knights of Rhodes in the early 1400s and strengthened by them. The Knights’ additions, such as the south tower, are in a different constructional technique from the earlier Byzantine walls which are typically mortared with tiles and potsherds between the stones. The prominent escutcheons are of the Grand Master, Antonio Fluvii£ (1421–37) and the frequently encountered Fantino Querini, Venetian Admiral and Governor of Kos in the 1440s. The small space enclosed within the walls points to this having always been more of a look-out and signalling station than a refuge for the population during attack: its position splendidly commands the whole of the centre and the port of the island. The 15th century church of the Metamorphosis of Christ—the lower and older of the two churches within the enceinte—is decorated with 16th century wall-paintings, now in poor condition. Be side its door, a marble block with a clear Hellenistic inscription has been immured, recording a certain ‘Nikodamos Aratogenou, priest at the temple of the Dioscuri’.
Visible from here on a spur across the valley, opposite and northeast of the Chrysocheria, is the church of Aghia Barbara. Inside a cave on the hill above the church were found significant prehistoric remains and objects from the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. Also clearly visible to the left of this, and almost due north, is the valley’s other castle—the extensive fortified area of the Kastro of Chora, occupying the sloping summit of a natural rock ‘acropolis’. This is accessible by a climb up from the centre of Chorio below. Chorio, or ‘Chora’, was the island’s capital until the mid-19th century, founded on a site safely away from the coast and with good natural fortification, during the period of instability and piracy that followed on from the first Arab incursions of the 8th century. Today it is an unpretentious Greek town, free of any jarring tourist paraphernalia. Its narrow streets radiate out from the large central church of the Panaghia Charitomeni (‘the Gen tle Virgin’) of 1805. The exterior walls of the church have fragments of the same beautiful decorative frieze of jasmine-flower motif which can also be seen in and around the church of Christ of Jerusalem (see below); the interior is dominated by an ornately carved and gilded wooden iconostasis bearing several fine 19th century icons.
Streets lead eastwards from the church and uphill to the edge of the habitation, from where a steep and ex posed climb on a path across the rocks brings you to the castle of Chora, or Pera Kastro (permanently open) completely encircled by a fine curtain of 15th century walls with wide crenellations, rising directly from the bare rock. Once again, the Knights of Rhodes will have strengthened pre-existing fortifications here, probably in the 15th century—although the presence of the arms of Grand Master del Carretto (1513–21), exhibited prominently on the east walls, suggests that this work may have continued into the next century. The walls rarely exceed a metre in thickness, and the gate here is not built with particular attention to indestructibility: the Kastro was designed first and foremost as a functioning walled city, rather than as a last refuge against siege. Near the entrance inside, you immediately encounter ancient spolia and fragments of marble entablature on the ground with, nearby, a massive millstone; other ancient pieces (fluted columns and capitals, etc.) are incorporated into the nine small churches on the site which constitute its greatest interest. To the east side, the double-church of the Dormition, attached to the church of Aghios Nikolaos, represents an unusual grouping of forms, including here a short narthex on the south side. To the west, the churches of the Timios Stavros, of Aghia Paraskevi, and of the Metamorphosis, have wall-paintings of the 16th century and incorporate Ancient and Early Christian spolia in their fabric. At the top of the enclosure is the greatest concentration of stone houses that have preserved their walls to a reasonable height, most built over deep water-cisterns. The few larger public buildings are all of a functional, four-square, military design; one of them preserves a conspicuous escutcheon, with a Frankish coat of arms, on its south wall.
At the western extremity of Chorio, on the main road to Panormos, is the town’s cemetery, whose entrance is dominated by the 7m high sculpture of Christ Crucified by the Kalymniot sculptor, Michalis Kokkinos: the torso and head have an expressive quality, which is somehow lost in the less carefully conceived arms and legs. To the south from here, a road leads up to the airport and to the plateau of Argos.
Detour to Argos.
Argos—whose name (found also on Nisyros and Rhodes ) recalls Herodotus’s comment (Hist. V11. 99) that the earliest settlers of these islands were Dorians from the area of the Argolid in the Peloponnese—is a scattered settlement across a high, semi-fertile plateau at c. 170m above sea-level: the virtue of the site lay in the security afforded by its inaccessibility and in visibility from the sea. The plateau was reached in Antiquity by a stone path and stairway of which traces are still visible near the church of the Tris Gerarches: today a steep, paved road climbs up the scarp, and leads up to the island’s dramatically sited air-strip. Beside the turning for the airport at the top of the ascent are the 11th century church of the Aghii Apostoli (lower church) and the 13th century church of the Panaghia Kyra, which together form a monastic dependency of the Monastery of St John on Patmos, whose founder, Hosios Christodoulos (see pp. 117–9), is said also to have founded the earlier of the two churches here. The many ancient fragments and spolia that have been incorporated into the structure point to a pre-existing pagan sanctuary here as well. The interior has undergone conservation work and patches of 12th century wall-paintings, still with some areas of rich colour along the north wall, are preserved. The views on descending from Argos are comprehensive—across to Pera Kastro, whose stone walls and buildings are perfectly camouflaged against the rocky mountainside behind, and down to Pothia, with the coast of Turkey beyond, and the sharp, table-top rock of the Castle of Chrysocheria to the right of the field of vision. (End of detour.)
Kalymnos Island is part of the Dodecanese Island group
Chorio and the north of the island – the Castles and Chorio.