The west of the island – general
(Adamas = 0.0km for distances in text) Milos marks the southwestern extremity of the Cyclades; the next landfall is Cape Malea on the Peloponnese or the northern tip of western Crete. The west of the island is a frontier and feels like it: it is rugged, mountainous and deserted. Access is by the road from Adamas which hugs the shore of Milos Bay, passing the salt-pans at Aliki (4km), the airport (5km), and the junction at Achivadolimni (7km)—the point at which the loop of western Milos begins. The north branch climbs rapidly into a steep and fascinating landscape, in which churches and houses are few. Near the church of Aghios Konstantinos (12km) is a couple of attractive but abandoned neoclassical mansions, set in the midst of olive groves. The two buildings were once crowned with pediments (now collapsed), one with a painted trabeation, the other with highly unusual half-segment window-frames to either side of an arched doorway. Below and to the right lies the monastery of Aghia Marina (12.5km), in a panoramic position over looking a grand sweep of the bay of Milos with Klima, Plaka and Trypiti opposite. It dates from the mid-17th century and is in a dignified style of architecture reminiscent of the Portiani in Zephyria and of Aghios Chrysostomos on Kimolos: the marble door-frames and the low cupola and octagonal drum sitting on a square tower with concave corners, are common to them all. Beside the church, a little uphill, is a good example of a traditional Milos farmhouse—now ruined but still conserving its stone vaults and mill-machinery within.
From the road (now un-surfaced) west beyond Aghia Marina, there are clear views down to the shore at Rivari Bay and the lagoon to its west protected by the long sandbar whose tip is punctuated by the church of Aghios Nikolaos. These are some the island’s most attractive beaches, backed by low dunes and vegetation. The area of Rivari was a quarrying settlement in Roman times, and the principal location on Milos where kaolin clay was extracted in Antiquity: the harbour through which it was shipped was at Emboreios, where there are now mine installations from the early part of the last century. This is a melancholy and deserted coast of strange forms. The land is patched with occasional pockets of barley fields, figs and olive trees, and broken by occasional shocking veins of colour.
At 16.5km, a right branch makes a long (9km) detour to the manganese mines at the northwestern point of the island at Cape Vani (25.5km). This is an open, deserted landscape of hills, covered in a low maquis and small stands of dwarf cedar, which barely conceal the glaring white of the kaolin-laden soil. As the road winds to the cape the volcanic hump of Antimilos (Ancient Ephyra), higher than almost all of the island of Milos itself, dominates the horizon at a distance of 10km offshore. Unproductive though this area may seem, in Antiquity it clearly was farmed and probably forested: at Angathia (23km), evidence of an ancient farm installation has been found. Similar installations are also attested at Aghia Eleni (above the centre of the west coast) and at Provatas (at the end of this loop). The remains of the Manganese mines at Cape Vani might be a bleak sight were it not for the dramatic colours of the cliffs and rocks around. Mining activity began in 1871 and was consolidated by a French mining interest in 1898. At that point the mines were yielding 18,000 tons of ore yearly, mostly purchased by the steel industries of France, Britain and the USA. Demand dropped after the First World War, and the mines closed in 1928.
Returning to the junction at 16.5km, the road passes through the white slopes of a bentonite quarry, turns south, and reaches the remote and solitary monastery of Aghios Ioannis Theologos at 23km. The monastery is a 16th century foundation, but has been enlarged and renovated in recent times: the position, on the dry slopes of Mount Prophiis Elias (748 m) above an exposed bay be low, in an occasionally boulder-strewn wilderness, would have gladdened the heart of any Desert Father. From here the road begins to follow the south coast to the east, with views of a mesmerising succession of white promontories ahead: while behind are the extraordinary spires of volcanic earth, standing in the water off the coast in the bay of Kleftiko. At Xylokeratia (28km) the road passes the island’s only pozzolana quarries: the volcanic powder is used in cement.
At Kipos (37.5km or 11.5km avoiding the above loop) is the island’s oldest and most interesting church. The * Panaghia tou Kipou (‘Virgin of the Garden’—which refers to the patch of fertility which a small spring sustains here) is an Early Christian site dating from the 5th century. A new church was built in 1911 on the site of the original basilica, remains of which can be seen to its south. Propped against the west wall of its interior are the large marble slabs of the sanctuary screen from the Early Christian church; these are originally pagan sarcophagus slabs or pieces of trabeation, decorated in the ?4th century bc with a beautiful running egg-and-dart motif and then later carved with equally beautiful Early Christian crosses and six-leaf ‘rosette’ designs in the 5th century ad. The greatest surprise lies in the apse of church, how ever, where the tiny cruciform 5th century baptismal pool has been preserved, constructed with local stone, coloured with manganese red and iron-oxide yellow. Stacked all around it are other marble fragments from the Early Christian building; some pieces still retain areas of painting on them. Outside are more oddments of carv from the original church. The origin of the church is explained a short distance to the west down some steps, where there is a spring of fresh water—slightly warm—in a small well-house. Milos is not well-endowed with fresh water springs, and in Antiquity this rarity would certainly have been marked by a pagan shrine; the shrine was later ‘Christianised’ into a baptistery and basilica. The site was vulnerable, and the original church may have been destroyed in the Saracen raids of the 7th and 8th centuries. Today the spring waters a small pocket of fertile fields.
From Kipos it is 4.5km, via the pleasant Bay of Provatas to the junction at Achivadolimni where this loop began. Four hundred metres before the junction (i.e. to its south), a track leads up to the church of Aghios Ioannis to the east: this is where the natural ‘sauna’ cave which James Theodore Bent describes visiting in 1882 was located. It was a similar but larger phenomenon than the geothermic steam-chamber just below Emboreios on Nisyros. The cave and the adjacent buildings collapsed in an earthquake in 1992, and the ‘sauna’ was sadly lost.
Milos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.
The West of the Island.