North of Chora
(Chora = 0.0km for distances in text)
The coastal road out of the eastern end of the Chora heads towards the Pounda peninsula: after 1km, before the boatyards, a left branch circles anticlockwise around the airport compound. At the opposite (northern) end of the runway is the peninsula hill of Kephala (3.5km:marked on some maps as Cape Katergaki), which projects into the sea towards the northeast; remains of buildings and the ruins of a rubble-masonry enceinte of walls here bear witness to the fact that this promontory was the site of the island’s first settlement, ‘Palaiskiathos’, founded probably in late Geometric times (8th century bc). Evidence of the town’s necropolis of the Classical period has come to light behind the shallow bay to the west of the promontory. Palaiskiathos was abandoned in the 4th century bc in favour of the new city of Skiathos on the site of today’s Chora.
The principal road to the north of the island also leaves from the eastern end of Chora, heads inland and turns off the town’s ring-road to the right towards Kalivia, 200m after the junction for the airport terminal. At a subsequent junction (2.3km), it heads west towards the hills and to the monastery of the Evangelistria. (5km. Open 8–12 & 4–8.) The setting is peaceful and wooded. The exterior of the monastery is a dignified stone construction dating from the end of the 18th century. A cross, in tiles, over the main entrance door bears insignia ‘ΙΣ/ΧΡ ΝΙ/ΚΑ’ (‘May the Victory be Jesus Christ’s’). The compact court yard inside is dominated by the pleasing alternation of sharply defined geometric forms in the domes and semi domes of the roof of the catholicon: this structure predates the buildings which surround it by as much as 250 years, although it must have been considerably restored and perhaps re-roofed between 1796 and 1806 when the monastery buildings were re-erected around it. Inside, the cupola is spacious, and the whole interior is unusually light. This striking effect is in part due to the lack of plaster rendering, which leaves the superb masonry-work visible in the half-domes and the cupola. Wall paintings of the 18th century, now much blackened, remain only behind the iconostasis and in the apse. There are delightful 19th century Italian tiles on the floor. The monastery buildings house a small museum of ecclesiastical artefacts and a library, and there is a spacious refectory on the south side.
In spite of the remote setting, the monastery found itself momentarily at the centre of Greek history in 1807 whilst giving refuge to independence fighters during the last years of Ottoman rule. A Greek flag (on display)—at this point, an early version just consisting of a white cross on a blue back ground—was made and raised here for the first time in the presence of Theodore Kolokotronis, Andreas Miaoulis and other leaders of the national revolt. They were sworn to the flag by the local bishop. The cross and tiny inscription over the monastery’s main door now acquired a new significance. A path beyond the Evangelistria monastery leads (45 minutes) to the isolated hermitage of Aghios Charalambos on the slopes of the island’s highest mountain, to which the novelist Alexander Moraitidis (1850–1929), a relative and almost exact contemporary of Papadiamantis, retired shortly before his death. (This can also be reached from here by unmade road from the junction beyond the spring of Prophitis Elias on the road to Kastro.)
Five hundred metres before the end of the asphalt road at the Evangelistria Monastery, an unmade road leads off to the west by the church of the Zoodochos Pigi (4.2km). Following this, after 2km, there is a spring beneath large plane trees close by the church of Prophitis Elias, and a taverna with panoramic views of the south of the island. At a junction 300m beyond there are two consecutive right turns: the first leads only to Aghios Charalambos; the second, just beyond, should be taken to reach Kastro. This second road begins to descend and affords the possibility of three visits:
* after 700m (7.2km) there is a first left branch into the valley of Kechria and to the 18th century church of Panaghia Kechrias. Only the catholicon survives from the monastery whose buildings have since perished; it is decorated with late Byzantine paintings in the interior. The track soon ends and a foot-path leads down beyond to the tranquil bays and beaches of Kechria and Ligaries;
* after 1800m (8.3km) a second left branch leads west into the Gournia area. Two hundred and fifty metres down this road is the church of Aghia Anastasia to the right-hand side amidst some trees; beside it is the massive base of a circular Hellenistic watch-tower. The curved limestone blocks from which it is made are meticulously cut and shaped, and their surface dressed by point and chisel. A reference in Herodotus (Hist. VII, 183), when he is telling of the capture by the Persians of two Greek guard ships in August 480 bc, mentions that ‘news of what had happened was flashed to the Greeks at Artemision by fire-signal from Skiathos’. The sight-lines of this tower are to wards the mainland of Magnesia rather than towards the north of Euboea and it must have been built at least 150 years later, in the mid 4th century bc: but it is nonetheless a visible, surviving element from a whole network of communications points which had already existed on these islands for some time;
* continuing north and passing the church of the Koimisis tis Theotokou, the road ends (9.7km) just above the promontory of Kastro. In the trees to the right is the church of Aghios Ioannis: just to its west is a long low ossuary—or rather a construction (possibly once a fountain head) being used as an ossuary. The decorative marble plaque on its front with a ‘fount-of-life’ motif gives no intimation that the interior is heaped with skulls and bones.
Skiathos Island is part of the Sporades Island Group, Greece.