Western routes from Mandraki to Evangelistria Monastery and to Stavros
Perpendicular to the shore line, a road leaves from the port of Mandraki and climbs to the south, circumventing the town itself to east and south, and passing a number of attractive rural churches, whose position or form may correspond to pre-existing tombs in the ancient cemetery area which covered this hillside: after 1300m, the parallel, contiguous chapels of Aghia Paraskevi and Aghios Athanasios; after 1500m, the rock-cut chapel of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos, with minute stepped, stone forecourt and ancient spolia in its altar; and Aghios Spyridon, after 2500m, also with rock-cut chamber and fluted pagan altar. A left turn, signposted to the Moni Evangelistria climbs up, with good views back towards the town, the castle and the ancient acropolis. The road ends at a large ligustrum tree in front of the 18th century monastery buildings set low on a hidden plateau with the peak of Prophiis Elias above. Favoured by its hidden position, the monastery played an important role in local nationalist affairs during the Turkish Occupation and the War of Independence.
Panoramic footpaths (1) due east to Emboreios (45 mins.), (2) southeast to Niphios and thence to the floor of the volcanic caldera (90 mins.), and (3) due south to the summit of Prophiis Elias (60 mins. each way), all leave from this point.
About 400m northwest along the road back to Mandraki, a left turn (south) leads to the fascinating buildings of the monastery of Armas, whose unusual name appears to be a corruption of the ancient Ermis, indicating that there may have been a pagan predecessor beside the spring on this site dedicated to the god Hermes. The tiny chapel’s vault and apse is completely decorated with 18th century wall-paintings by Neophytos of Symi, meticulously divided into small panels crowded with detail. Behind the simple, rustic wooden screen, the altar and prothesis table are ancient spolia once again. The abandoned but undisturbed stone buildings around the chapel contain the monastery’s original raki still, and there are under ground store areas with pithoi and lids still intact.
By returning almost to the edge of Mandraki, turn left and leaving Palaiokastro to your right, you follow the road (unsurfaced) which heads south into the western half of the island, at first through a fertile cultivated area and then into successively wilder and rockier land scape. After the Palaiokastro turning (1100m), before a sharp bend to the right, is a wooden sign pointing up a track to Phaneromeni. A short climb up and to the right leads to a large, abandoned community of stone houses many of which, though small, are still beautifully vaulted. The church, dilapidated and partially roofless, is at the summit. It must be one of the earliest churches on the island—a 10th or 11th century, inscribed-cross plan with a dome of tiny dimensions. The cupola is supported by three marble Byzantine columns (one fallen) and one ancient grave stele; pagan spolia (altars, pieces of entablature) lie around, not only in the church itself, but also in some of the houses along the pathway. Up to the left (east) of a point one kilometre further along the unmade road, is another abandoned community, Siones, which con serves a single-chamber church dedicated to the Nativity, or Giennesis tis Theotokou (the key needs to be obtained beforehand from the office of the Papas in Mandraki). The church, though undoubtedly older, was restored in 1733 and is decorated with 18th century wall-paintings which have preserved their colour well: the apse decoration with its three-level, symbolic representation of the eucharist, rising above the altar, is unusual and striking. Note also the meticulous detail of the figures in the tiny prothesis niche to the left of the altar.
From here the road climbs into wilder, more barren landscape. After passing through a defile, wide views over the sea to the south open out. At 6.5km from Mandraki is the whitewashed monastery of Stavros. Although deserted today, the monastery is built on the site of one of the ancient settlements of Nisyros (possibly named ‘Argos’); in subsequent centuries an Early Christian basilica and then a mediaeval castle were all built here. Stretches of early polygonal walling, marble fragments, an Early Christian water-stoup and mediaeval masonry can all be seen within the complex which, in spite of its interest, has attracted little concerted archaeological attention. Beyond Stavros, the road descends into the multi-colour landscape of the volcanic caldera, this time from the south rim.
Nisyros Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.