Adamas and Environs
As the boat leaves the open sea and turns in towards the port of Milos, you enter one of the largest natural havens in the Aegean—in reality a flooded volcanic caldera. To the right-hand side are the wild mountains of western Milos; to the left is the site of the ancient city and its harbour, and of the deposits of obsidian which made Milos a trading centre from the dawn of human history. The boat rounds the promontory of ‘Bombarda’, and the modern port of Adamas (also called, ‘Adamata) comes into sight. When Cretan refugees, fleeing from Turkish reprisals, arrived on Milos in the course of the 19th century, they created the new port and settlement here. They brought with them icons and valuable liturgical objects; many of these, together with items of local craftsmanship, are to be seen today in the church of the * Aghia Triada, which stands a short distance in from the waterfront. On the strength of this, the church functions both as a place of worship and as an Ecclesiastical Museum. In its present form the church dates from the 13th or 14th century, and is possibly founded on the site of an earlier 9th century church. It has an unusual architectural design which is found more frequently on Euboea or in the Peloponnese, consisting of three aisles, with no dome, but a central transverse vaulted elevation instead.
The exterior is embellished by its setting in a courtyard, punctuated with carved Byzantine architectural elements and paved with fine pebble mosaics executed in 1937 by a local artist named Kavroudakis. The modern belfry is in carved local perlite stone. The interior is beautiful and contains many superb icons. The icon artists are mostly Cretan, predominantly of the 17th century, showing a fusion with elements of a softer Venetian style and colour: the works of Antonios and Emmanuel Skordilis, who created a workshop on Milos in the 17th century, are perhaps the most notable, and show the degree to which they were also influenced by Flemish engravings. There are several earlier icons, including an exquisite 14th century image of the Deposition. In addition to the church’s own iconostasis are fragments and elements of screens from other churches: they are beautiful examples of the 17th century wood-carver’s art.
The large church further up the hill, with a double dedication to the Koimisis (Dormition of the Virgin) and to Aghios Charalambos (1870), contains both the icons and the venerable and beautiful iconostasis taken from the churches of Chora (Zephyria) when it was abandoned as the island’s capital in the 1760s. There are more pebble mosaic floors here by Kavroudakis.
Opposite a point about 50m west of the embarkation mole of the port, a doorway, low down in the natural wall of rock, gives access to the thermal springs of ‘Lakkos’ (open July–Oct daily 7–11 am, except Sun), where natural springs of a sulphurous and ferrous water of mild temperature (31Β°–33°C) rise. The waters are mentioned by Hippocrates in the Epidemics as a place where patients, from as far as Athens, came for the cure of persistent dermatological conditions. There are other hot waters (c. 41Β°), rising among the rocks and in the water close by the tiny inlet of Schinopi, 2km west of Adamas along the shore. The walk there rounds the small promontory of Bombarda, where there is a French Military Cemetery and monument to soldiers of the Crimean War. Beyond, the path enters an area of vulcanological interest: just off shore is the 50m thick lava apron on the sea-bed known as the ‘Bombarda Submarine Dome’. The path itself passes a shallow pool active with bubbling gas and a brightly coloured gash or vent in the cliff above, referred to locally as the ‘volcano’. It is on the hill, above this point, that the island’s principal obsidian deposits are to be found.
The hill of Nichia can be approached by track either from the northwestern corner of Adamas, behind Langada bay, or south from Trypiti and Plaka. Half way between Adamas and Trypiti, on the top of the hill, a rough track leads off perpendicularly to the southwest, passing just below the highest point of the hill. In this area the ground to all sides is covered with small pieces of black shiny obsidian, naturally fragmented into small shards, many with razor-sharp edges: in the very earliest times it was not even necessary to fashion the pieces, but simply to select those best adapted for use as cutting implements. After about 200m, there are areas of ‘debitage’, or scrap heaps, from Neolithic workshops; in other areas, there are blocks of larger dimensions.
Obsidian is a natural volcanic glass, formed by the rapid cooling of molten rock in the absence of the formation of crystals. It consists mostly of silicon dioxide. At Nychia the deposits were formed during the same cataclysm that gave rise to the caldera of the island which is today’s Milos Bay. Obsidian does oc cur is small deposits elsewhere in the Aegean—principally on Nisyros and Giali, and in small amounts on Santorini and Kos, but it is of a different and inferior quality, and can be easily distinguished from Milos obsidian. These other sources contain trapped bubbles of volcanic gas and grains of other mineral ‘impurities’, which give the obsidian a speckled appearance and compromise its quality and hardness. Different volcanic eruptions in fact produce notice ably different types of obsidian, which means that the exact source can often be identified wherever obsidian is found and can be traced in its movements through trade. Milos obsidian is especially pure, and has the advantage of being abundant and occurring in blocks of larger dimensions, up to even a metre in length. It does not need mining, because it is present on the surface.
Looking at the glistening fragments of obsidian on Nychia Hill, it is hard to imagine that one is looking at the earliest traded commodity of the Mediterranean—the ‘black gold’ of prehistory. It was essential for hunting, fishing, preparing food, cutting the reeds and wood for roofing, and for building the boats by which it was to be exported. Because its sources were limited, and its uses for cutting so many, obsidian was collected from here, fashioned in workshops on site, and distributed along trade routes in rudimentary sail-less boats to every distant corner of the Aegean and beyond: obsidian from Milos has been found in Palaeo/Mesolithic sites in mainland Greece, and its increasingly wide distribution around the Aegean area follows not longer after.
More even than flint, obsidian can be fractured to produce edges that are of molecular fineness. In some cases blades of obsidian are used in micro-surgery today because the cutting edge—only a few nanometres across—can be rendered sharper and more regular even than high quality steel. At the other obsidian deposit on Milos, at Demenegaki near Komia, the quality of the discarded items in a large scrap heap shows how exacting the Neolithic workshops were of the fineness of the pieces which were to be exported. The development of early Stone Age life in this part of the Mediterranean was predicated on obsidian; and the obsidian came from this hill.
Much of the geological history of the island can be learnt from the interesting Mining Museum of Milos (open summer 9–2, 6–9, late Sept–late June, Tues–Sat morns), which is on the shoreside road, 1km south of Adamas. The exhibition space is modern and the material, which is clearly displayed and explained, presents two main themes: first, the history of mining on the island from earliest times to today, with examples of technology used, tools and machinery, and archival photographs; and second, the extraordinarily rich geology of the island, through maps, photographs and interesting examples of the various minerals mined, with some explanation of their geological origin. The museum is funded by the biggest mineral mining company on Milos (S & B Industrial Minerals), who profess a conscientious ecological awarness, even if recent mining has heavily compromised the natural environment and landscape of the island.
Milos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.
Obsidian. Mining Museum of Milos.