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(Herakleia, Schinousa, Koufonisia , Keros, donousa)
The waters of these islands are among the most protected in the Aegean, shielded from the North winds by the great bulk of Naxos . In the early morning especially, they can have the appearance of a lake in the middle of a ring of mountains and hills, with lacustrine mists sometimes enveloping the islands momentarily and hiding them from view. It was the proximity, intimacy and relative ease of communication that the islands offered which encouraged early man to settle here, and to flourish in a loose network of trading communities in the 3rd millennium bc. It is a unified and unthreatening seascape, offering the simultaneous boons of independence and community— remarkably similar to that of the Lesser Sporades to the north and east of Alonnisos, another area, uninhabited today, but which was in the vanguard of the earliest human settlement and commerce in the Aegean. One of the principal differences between these and the Sporades islands however, is the astonishing productivity of worked marble objects found in this area: bowls, goblets, and above all countless figurines, mostly of naked female forms. Almost one third of the Early Cycladic figurines known today comes from the uninhabited is land of Keros at the eastern edge of this group. Not all of them were created in these islands by any means, but they ended up here. Something of the enigmas raised by these archaeological discoveries is discussed below. Donousa, though close by, stands apart from the other islands because its geography is different. It lies in the full swell of the high sea, by contrast—often inaccessible because of the winds. Its importance was its strategic position on one of the critical sea-crossings of Antiquity, between the western and eastern seaboards of the Aegean, between the Cyclades and the western point of Ikaria which was often used as the point of departure from Asia Minor for the central Aegean. For this reason its significant habitation is largely later than the Lesser Cycladic islands, and dates from a time when the technology of sailing was more advanced. It is an island with good sources of water and sheltered harbours, which makes it harder to explain why its importance suddenly faded, and that it should have had a flourishing settlement at Vathi Limenari in the 9th and 8th centuries, but then apparently little of importance thereafter until modern times. Some of the islands in this group—Donousa and Her akleia—are havens of tranquillity; others—Schinousa and Pano Koufonisi—are developing fast into centres for visitors, attracted by their limpid waters and sandy beaches which are ideal for snorkelling and for messing about in boats. All of them offer a simplicity and intimacy which contrasts markedly with the larger, surrounding islands.
(PANO KOUFONISI & KATO KOUFONISI)
The former character of Pano Koufonisi—a remote but busy fishing community—has been transformed by intensive tourist and building development which is felt all the more pressingly since the island is small and has no notable geographical features. It is remarkable that a flat, waterless and shadeless island should be the object of such a boom, but the several beaches which lie mostly to the east of the port and town perhaps explain why. The setting of the island is also beautiful, in the calm waters between the mountains of Naxos to the north and of Keros to the south.
Something of the original nature of the village, built over the remains of a Hellenistic and Roman settlement, can still be felt in its winding, paved, main street. Its focus is the church of Aghios Giorgios, which has in its court yard a few fragments of early Christian carving and one ancient capital used as a fence post. The former port of the island was at Loutra, just to the west of the Chora, which still retains an active boatyard and has a quieter atmosphere. An Early Cycladic cemetery, being rapidly eroded by the sea, was excavated on the western side of the inlet; another was explored to the east of the Chora. Above the bay of Loutra stands a restored windmill and beyond it the church of Aghios Nikolaos in whose gate way and immediate surroundings several more carved marble elements, largely from an Early Christian structure, have been gathered together.
Across the water at a distance of less than a kilometre is Kato Koufonisi—uninhabited and with a more varied shore-line and relief than Pano Koufonisi. (Excursion boats—see Prasinos Travel, T. 22850 71438—ply to and fro in the summer months, principally to the island’s virgin beaches and to a seasonal taverna which opens there.) Late Cycladic remains have been found on the island, with pottery showing strong Minoan and Mycenaean influence, and behind the wide sweep of Pori Bay a Late Geometric settlement has been identified. The island’s grassy and sandy scrub, with a thick cover of thyme, is a favoured habitat for Mesobuthus gibbosus, the Mediterranean checkered scorpion. The island also supports several breeding pairs of Eleanora’s falcon.
Koufonisia Island is part of the Lesser Cyclades Island Group, Greece.