East from Chora
The road out of Chora to the south passes below the new principal ecclesiastical complex on Lipsi, the modern church of Aghios Nektarios at the lower level, with Aghia Irini above, and the island’s large baptistery to one side. This road leads to a small headland which is the southern boundary of the harbour, on the top of which stands the church of Aghios Nikolaos—possibly on the site of the temple of Apollo Lepsios, mentioned in the inscription in the museum. A finely turned ancient column lies on the ground in front of the church’s west end, the gateway is framed with ancient blocks, and a truncated Byzantine column and capital stand against the wall by the west door.
The protected valley further to the south has many fresh-water wells and its sheltered waterfront (now over grown with reeds) may have been the site of the ancient harbour. To the right of the road, low down in a grove of pomegranates and citrus trees, is the church of the Panaghia Kouselios. (Locals speak of there being the remains of no fewer than three Early Christian churches below the surface in this narrow valley and that, when digging wells, they almost invariably encounter ancient flagstones.) The church itself has a large ancient block incorporated in its external southwest corner, incised with a Byzantine cross on its west face and a partially legible ancient inscription on its south face, referring to an aspect of the administration of the island and citing a certain ‘Apollodoros, son of Herakleitos’: there is also a fluted column drum opposite, and a Byzantine capital by the south side. The interior is modern, although the church appears to be built over a much older foundation. The church of Aghia Markella, a short way inland up the valley, also has ancient spolia in its courtyard (as well as a Second World War shell case which functioned once as its bell).
At the top of the rise, above Aghia Markella, wide views across to Leros open out, and the secluded and sandy beaches of Papandria and Katsadia appear below. The church of Aghii Panteleimon and Spyridon stands on the hill above, also with a Byzantine capital in front of its entrance. As the road climbs further uphill, a path doubles back to the right after 70m, leading up to the summit of what was the acropolis of Ancient Lepsia. Traces of fortification walls in Hellenistic, isodomic construction are visible, especially at the south east corner of the area, where the base of a tower or bastion can be clearly seen: the later rubble walls nearby have also incorporated large ancient blocks in places. There are good all-round views from the top. A quantity of fallen masonry, some collapsed dwellings and a density of potsherds on the ground, not only on the summit but all down the eastern slope help to give an idea of the extent of the settlement here. The geology of the hill as it descends is interesting too—with calcareous limestone at the top, a stratum of yellow and purple mineral-rich rock below, and an area of very dark limestone at the bottom. From the summit the circular remains of a stone-built kiln or furnace can be seen half way down the southeastern slope; then, on the coast be low at the east end of the bay of Limni (or Limnaki) is another one, better preserved to a much greater height. These kilns are constructed of rough stone and lined with what appears to be a powdered brick mortar. The deep magenta-red colour of the interior would seem to be the product of ore smelting. The shoreline here is littered with potsherds of all kinds.
A short distance inland from Limni Bay, across a fer tile valley, the low—seemingly sculpted—shape of the early 17th century church of the Panaghia tou Charou is clearly visible. It is the island’s loveliest church, for its broad and graceful form, and it was here that the miracle of the lilies took place. The icon was kept here until it was moved to Aghios Ioannis Theologos in Chora for greater safety. The church’s dome is low and the building’s overall breadth is enhanced by two side aisles—almost side chapels with their own apses. Just beyond the church’s east end are two abandoned farm-buildings, typical of the island’s traditional architecture and still in possession of their original design of roof made of wattle, seaweed and compacted mud; inside they both have wine-pressing areas. This is the island’s principal wine growing area: further up the road towards Chochlakoura Bay, on the right just after the asphalt ends, one farmer, Dimitris Makris, sells strong local Lipsi wine from his house.
The road leads on to the beaches of the southeast corner of the island—Xerokambos and Tourkomnima, separated by a spit of land with the tiny chapel of Aghios Nikolaos in between. The coast of Turkey is clearly visible in front. The further bay of Monodendri—with its solitary juniper tree amidst the rocks—can be reached by a rough path along the coast (30 mins), or more easily by returning to the asphalt road and turning to the north and following it until it ends. From here the two striking islets of Aspronisia, just offshore, dominate the seascape: normally white, as their name implies, of an evening they catch the light of the setting sun, turning first an apricot colour, then pink, then red.
On the return to Chora from Panaghia tou Charou, just as the road rises, there is a large well-house to the right-hand side: both the valleys to east and west of the ancient acropolis hill have fresh water accessible through wells.
Lipsi Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.