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The area of Kambos, Aghios
Konstantinos and Vourliotes
At Avlakia (13km), the road, which has been hemmed between the mountain and the shore, turns west into the small alluvial plain of Kambos (13.5km) at the mouth of a ravine, and the two 14th century churches of Aghia Pelaghia and Aghia Matrona come into view above the road to the south side, standing out white against the expanse of hills covered in cypress, olive and poplar (access by taking the cement track uphill to the south, just beyond the signed turn for Vourliotes). Both churches have a central, tri-conch plan, surmounted by an octagonal dome. For its more compact form, and pleasing contrast of tex tures between the whitewashed walls and large-tiled roof, the lower church of Aghia Pelaghia has a more typical 14th or 15th century aspect, but no decorations in the interior. Aghia Matrona, which is 100m further up the track, is extensively decorated with fine 18th century wall-paintings in reasonable state of conservation, at least in the upper area and north side of the cupola. Over the aisle, to both sides, are charming depictions of scenes from the Book of Genesis: Adam naming the animals (left) and the Expulsion from Eden (right): their emphasis, as often in later Byzantine painting, is on narrative line more than on devotional image. The building is larg er and more sophisticated in design than Aghia Pelaghia, and has unusual decorative details such as the running dentilation in brick below the eaves.
The shore at Kambos is dominated by the large rectangular structure of an abandoned ‘taverna’—not in its meaning of an eatery, but of a depot for aging and storing wine: this is perhaps the best example of this kind of Samian building, of which there are other examples on the coast at Malagari, 2km west of Vathi.
From the east of Kambos, a subsidiary road, signed for Vourliotes, climbs south from the shore into the hills; af ter 1km, a right branch leads to Pnaka (a corruption of pinakas, a ‘picture’)—a beautiful, nymphaic spot, where an ice-cold spring of slightly tart, metallic water rises. Returning again to the principal road south, the village of Vourliotes is reached after 5km, immersed in a beautifully treed landscape, high on the north slopes of Mt. Ambelos. As its name implies, the village was created by settlers in the 17th century from Vourla (Ancient Clazomenae) in the Gulf of Smyrna on the mainland opposite, who chose the site for its springs, its safe and panoramic position, and its suitability for the cultivation of vines and olives. The village has preserved a strong architectural identity of Asia Minor in its attractive variety of houses, with tiled roofs, long windows, coloured shutters and balconies. Al though some of the surrounding area has been damaged by fire, it is an ideal centre for walking and climbing the ridges of Mt. Ambelos/Karvounis, and to explore the val leys and villages along the north coast (see Walking the Greek islands: Samos etc. by Dieter Graf, Munich 2005). Only 2 km to the north of the village, the devastation of fires has left the 16th century monastery of Vronta dam aged and isolated. Although founded in 1476, and there fore the oldest of the active monasteries on the island, the present buildings—fortified and somewhat inelegant externally, but with graceful arcades surrounding the cen tral catholicon inside—date from almost a century later (1566); they were restored in 1960 and will now need more attention after the recent fires, before the monastic community can return again.
The mountainous area to the south of the monastery was hidden territory into which the dwindling popula tion of the island was pushed in search of safety from the repeated seaborne Saracen attacks of the 8th century. Fortified communities were formed, the late mediaeval remains of which can still be seen today: 2.5 km beyond the monastery of Vronta, on the northeast facing ridge, at a height of 620m above Kokkari, is the 13th century structure of the castle of Loulouda (left-hand branch at junction 800m south of Vronta; castle is visible on sum mit to left after 1km), built on a strategic eminence where there had been an earlier presence in Antiquity; further southwest, on a 1,050m peak, half way in distance be tween Loulouda and the final summit of Mt. Ambelos, are the earlier remains of Lazarou Castle (5km along the right-hand branch at junction 800m south of Vronta), from which the views across the island to the north, east and south are yet more dramatic.
Although Vourliotes is perhaps the best known of them, there are many other villages on these slopes— Ambelos, Stavrinides, Manolates—which have similarly interesting architecture, verdurous settings and spacious views, reminiscent in many ways of the villages of Mt. Pelion on the Greek mainland. All have springs, streams and thriving vineyards nearby, and are linked by shaded roads and paths which converge on the coastal village of Aghios Konstantinos—where some of the finest plane trees of the area have found a perfect habitat.
Samos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.