Around Vathy and
the East of the island
The eastern end of the island is a landscape of low hills, carpeted in verdant maquis, and interspersed with broad valleys which are well-watered and cultivated intensively for olives. The shallow bays and pebble shores are attractive and peaceful. Over all, broods the peak of Mount Mycale (today’s Samsun DaΔ) on the Turkish mainland across the water to the east, which rises 1,237m directly from the sea. The road north from Vathi, which traverses the residential area of summer villas at Kalami, rounds the cape at the new monastery of the Panaghia Kotsika, and continues with wide views of the Turkish coast to the quiet harbour of Aghia Paraskevi (9km). In recent years some rare sightings of the Mediterranean monk-seal have been made on this stretch of coast.
The two roads west, which climb steeply above Ano Vathi, converge on the fertile plateau above, and then split shortly afterwards, with the left-hand branch leading northeast, through the agricultural settlement of Kamara, to the monastery of the Zoodochos Pigi (‘Fount of Life’) (open daily 10–1, 6–8) at 7km from Vathi. The last 2km of the road climb through pine-woods with ever widening views, to the monastery buildings which sit low amongst scattered trees on the ridge. The catholicon was erected in 1756, using four monumental ancient columns brought especially from the ruins at Miletus to support the dome. The deeply wrought and ornate iconostasis was made in 1802, and the surrounding monastic buildings were added over the course of the next century to house originally a male community; today, they are home to a small but growing number of nuns. There is a high quality of chant at the sung offices. The courtyard is spacious and well cared for and is entered through an ornate, early 19th-century gateway in carved grey and white marble: although the elements of its composition are Orthodox Christian, its florid style is typical of late Ottoman taste and carving.
The belvedere in front of the monastery, with its commemorative monument, commands an impressive panorama of the Straits of Mycale, known in Antiquity as the Heptastadios Porthmos. In these waters, the Greek Revolutionary fleet under Andreas Miaoulis defeated the com bined Turkish and Egyptian fleets in August 1824, not far in distance from where a combined Greek force, in 479 BC, crucially defeated the rump of the Persian fleet and army on the southern shore of Mount Mycale. Though quiet today, these narrow waters were much busier in Antiquity. To the south is visible the Bay of Megali Lakka where the hoard of Byzantine gold coins on show in the Museum in Vathi was found in 1983.
Returning to Kamara, and taking the road south across the valley, brings you to the older monastery of the Aghia Zoni (1695) (dedicated to the ‘Holy Girdle’) immersed in a stand of eucalyptus, plane and cypress trees outside its walls, and jasmine and climbers within. The west front of the catholicon is plain, but for a small carved belfry and painted niche; but the interior is entirely covered with 18th-century wall-paintings, which are regrettably blackened by soot, and damaged by abrasion and efflorescences. There is once again a richly carved, 18th century iconostasis.
Continuing south from Aghia Zoni, the road rises and falls through a gentle, cultivated landscape of olives and fruit trees, above a pine-fringed shoreline. There are numerous small, whitewashed chapels and churches with schist-slab roofs and plain interiors dating from the 18th century, a period when there was a resurgence of habitation and cultivation here to supply the growing towns at the coast. The road ends at Poseidonio (12km from Vathi), an attractive and protected harbour, backed by olive groves, whose name combined with its critical position on the straits clearly suggests the presence of a tem ple to Poseidon. Strabo mentions such a temple (Geog. XIV.1.14), saying it is on a promontory opposite the islet of Narthekis in the channel. This could put the site at any point from the hill at Psili Ammos to the promontory south west of the harbour here. Strabo says that the strait dividing the island from Asia Minor is seven stadia wide (c. 1,300m). It is in fact more like 1,800m across at this point.
The coastal road west from Poseidonio becomes an unsurfaced track after 2km, and continues through a suc cession of sheltered bays on the north side of the straits before re-joining an asphalt stretch after 7km, by the coast, to the west of Psili Ammos. At this point, the shore is lagunar in nature, with reed-beds and salt marshes: greater flamingos can generally be seen here in the winter months, and the surrounding reeds and scrub are favoured by a variety of breeding warblers, rollers, and both masked and lesser grey shrikes. In migration periods there is considerably greater variety of birds to be seen. The large flats, immediately to the west of Psili Ammos, were used for salt panning and took advantage of the seasonal fluctuations of water for the production of salt. The impressive ruins of the buttressed stone building just behind the shore remain from the 19th-century salt-factory—its long succession of drying chambers, ventilated by the passage of warm air through the lofts above. Psili Ammos itself is an attractive cove looking onto the straits at their narrowest point: these can best be surveyed from the rise above, beside a monument dedicated to those Samians who have perished in hostilities in different parts of the Asia Minor coast and neighbouring islands.
The road back north from the long sandy beach, west of the salt-marshes, climbs to Drosia, 500m to the north of which, lies the village of Palaiokastro. On a bluff to the left of the road west out of the village, near the chapel of Aghios Tryphonas, are the remains of fortification walls of an ancient settlement. From the main junction beside the three contiguous chapels of Tris Ekklesies just to the west, it is 3.5km back to Vathi centre.
Samos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.