The un-Hellenic sounding name is in fact Turkish—Karlıovası, meaning ‘place of snowy meadows’, perhaps refer ring to the noticeably white mantle which Mt. Kerketeus wears in certain lights, due to the high chalk content of its bare, upper screes: the city itself, almost as big in population as Vathi, also feels more Levantine than Greek. Only the picturesque quarter of Palaio Karlovasi, overlooking the port from a hill at the western extremity of the city, with its balconied houses, plane trees and tavernas, feels familiarly Aegean. The ‘shot-apart’ feel of the main city derives from the fact that there is a lot of space here, and the city has spread lazily across the wide mouth of the valley and along the shore: in consequence, it is hard to find its heart.
Below the old town is Ano Karlovasi, inland from the sea; on the edge further behind are Meseo Karlovasi and Neo Karlovasi; all loosely connected, like the villages of the Attic plain which now have become suburbs of Athens. All these different nuclei have considerable architectural variety, however. The city saw a period of prosperity between 1880 and 1920, based principally on its tanning industry, which took advantage of a local abundance of the acorns and flowing water needed in the process. In 1920 there were 47 tanneries on the island: most of them were here in Karlovasi, in the area of Riva, east of the port, which accounts for the great number of empty warehouses and tannery buildings of the 1890s and early 1900s along the water front. They are well-constructed in lo cal stone, with characteristically long windows and tiled, hipped roofs. The mercantile and entrepreneurial families who controlled this industry constructed grand and impressive neoclassical mansions inland of the shore, a number of which have survived; the most ostentatious example is now the Samos Headquarters of the University of the Aegean, on Panepistimiou Aigaiou Street. The university also possesses another, more restrained, neoclassical building a little further uphill, in a square where there is a ruined, eight-sided Ottoman fountain, and the city’s small Ethnographic Museum (currently closed) opposite. Towards the sea, on Kanari Street, between the large church of Aghios Nikolaos and the shore are later villas of the 1920s, and two interesting bank buildings, now open to the skies, on opposite sides of the street. With the exchange of populations of 1923 in Asia Minor, and the closing of markets for Greek products in Turkey, the tobacco and tanning industries withered, leaving the city without a viable economy.
Samos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.