Pserimos is naturally one of the most tranquil corners of the Dodecanese, with a beautiful coastline and profile, and an undisturbed landscape of rocks and herbs and goats, often so silent that every movement of the breeze can be heard. Enjoyment of these qualities is compromised by the fact that, every day throughout the summer season, boats groaning with sunbathers arrive from Kos, land for an hour or two, throng the tavernas and the main beach, and then depart to be replaced by more of the same. The few dozen resident islanders witness this daily alien visitation and cull the proceeds with all the aloofness of disenchanted croupi ers: they have much to reflect upon concerning the social habits of humanity, when normal life returns to the island in the evening and tranquillity repossesses it once again. In spite of this, even ten minutes of walking will remove the visitor, if desired, from the turmoil of one world to the silence and antiquity of the other. In fact, the island offers a number of pleasant walks and untouched and unvisited bays of great beauty and of some historical interest. Few other islands can offer the visitor the sight of Byzantine marble fragments gleaming beneath the waters close to the shore where you swim.
The tiny settlement of Pserimos, also referred to as Avlaki, at the head of a narrow inlet behind a superb beach of gently sloping, fine sand, occupies the same area that its ancient predecessor must once have occupied—the mouth of a fertile triangle of land, ringed by arid hills which feed it with seasonal water. The most visible point of interest is the 19th century church of the Panaghia set back 30m from the shore at the east end of the bay. The interior of the church is unexceptional but for its carved, wooden throne, incorporating a striking and unusual swan’s-neck motif. It also has some fine 19th century icons. The courtyard which encloses the church contains a selection of remarkable ancient and Early Christian spolia, suggesting that the site itself goes much farther back than the present church: opposite the west front is a large panel of carved marble, with cross-and-rosette motif, which was the side panel of the steps up to a raised ambo. There are other fragments, both ancient and Early Christian, stacked to one side, amongst them a fluted column, a pagan altar and a pilaster fragment in fine alabaster—probably a Roman alabaster from North Africa. In 1888 a (now lost) fragment of a 3rd century ad inscription was noted here by the distinguished Epigraphist, W.R. Paton, bearing the name of the island (‘‘¦ in gardens on Pserimos’) and referring to administrative officials from Cos on which the island then presumably depended. Pseri mos has never been thoroughly explored archaeologically, but the traces of four Early Christian churches have been identified. A dense and fertile olive grove extends behind the church, covering the presumed area of the ancient settlement. Fresh water is not far below the surface here.
Uphill to the southeast, at a distance of about 400m from the port, is the chapel of the Taxiarches, overlook the interior of the island from its solitary position. The church is modern, but it is built on an Early Christian site. Ten metres northeast of the apse of the chapel inside a high-walled, open goat-pen, is a (ruined) barrel-vaulted Early Christian tomb, of the same type as is seen widely on Telendos on Kalymnos. Remains of another is used as a goat byre closer to the chapel’s southeast corner: the building is covered over for the animals, but inside it, in addition to the tomb, it is possible to make out the curve of the apse of the 5th century church.
To the other side of the harbour a path climbs up to the northwest which leads, after a pleasant 30 minute walk, to the Panaghia Grafiotissa, standing solitarily above its own wide bay, 2km to the north of Avlaki. The path leaves from behind the houses at the northern end of the beach (close to the handsome school-building set back from the water-front, amongst trees) and at first climbs the hillside towards the southwest: at the summit, beside a large and venerable carob-tree, are several stone goat-pens, which have a number of cut blocks in their lower courses. Inside the largest pen is visible the rectangular base of a building—the foundations probably of an ancient watch-tower. The path continues to the northwest, and starts to descend as the white-washed church of the Panaghia comes into view above its abandoned shore. The modern church here is only 30 years old; around its north side are a few marble fragments from its Early Christian predecessor. The build on the cliff-edge—of which half has already sheered off into the sea below—is a 17th century chapel built into the foundations of a tri-conch, Early Christian basilica of the 5th century. This is best seen by looking up from the shore below: the foundations of the Palaeochristian structure can be seen to the north and south of the chapel. In the sea, a few metres to the south, is a white marble fragment of the original templon screen, lying on its side, still visible under the surface of the water.
On the shore south of the church are the remains of brick-kilns near to a well. The richly ferrous clay seen in the red earth further south along the bay was used extensively for brick production. The remains of much earlier kilns can be seen above the rocky platform that juts into the water. The bricks for the construction of the church above the gate of the castle of Palaio Pyli on Kos (unique on the island, in its use of brick for construction) may have come from here. At the southern extremity of the bay, caves have also been used for extracting a kind of volcanic pozzolana used for making building mortar. These are deposits which date from the eruption of Thera in the 2nd millennium bc. Further evidence of brick and tile-making on Pserimos can be found by taking the track north/northeast out of the valley of Avlaki, over the rise between two low peaks, and down to the Bay of Marathonda (45 minutes by foot), where the remains of a deserted 19th century tile-factory can still be seen.
Grafiotissa looks across to the tiny islet of Plati, with some good small beaches and the attractive shore-side church of Aghios Nikolaos. Smaller still, are the two islets of Imia, 5 nautical miles due north of Marathonda Bay, and 4 nautical miles from the Turkish coast. Together they represent less than 0.04sq km of uninhabited land.
Pserimos Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.