(10km)—one of the most remarkable sites in the Sporades—is best visited in the evening, when it is often empty and the dramatic beauty of its position is best appreciated. When it first comes into view, it is the audacity of the site that amazes. Equally audacious would be any one who dared attempt to capture it, but the indefatigable Khaireddin Barbarossa laid siege to Kastro in 1538, and left it desolate and abandoned.
At exactly what point this rocky peninsula was first in habited is not yet clear. The site was not unknown to the Ancients: there are some rock-cut steps and a platform in the cliff, low-down on the western side near to the sea. In the 13th century Geremia Ghisi may have established his principal fortress at Kastro, as the site of the ancient settlement on the south coast had become increasingly subject to pirate raids. When the island was slowly repopulated in the century after Barbarossa’s attack, this became its only inhabited centre, and it was only after 1829 that Skiathos town grew up once again on the site of the ancient city. Even in its abandoned state today, Kastro gives a clear idea of a mediaeval acropolis, untouched and unaltered by later generations.
The gate is still well-preserved with the site of its draw bridge below; some antique elements of white marble have been incorporated into its lintels. The enceinte of walls is visible at several points, in particular up the west side of the promontory to the south of the drawbridge. At the northern extremity it drops down low and runs around the headland. The promontory was only the fortress, or ‘acropolis’, of the town; the settlement itself stretched all along the bay to the east, where there appear to have been churches on virtually every rocky eminence—some have walls that remain, some are visible only in plan, others are just rubble. The town also extended to the south at least as far as the church of Aghios Demetrios (whose foundations are visible just below where the modern road ends) and maybe even as far back as the spring at Aghios Ioannis. At its height this was a large settlement and it would have been natural to include such a source of water with in the walls if possible.
Inside the citadel the problem of water had to be re solved in a different manner: immediately on passing through the entrance gate, there is a well-preserved cistern and fountain to the left. Within the citadel area, only the churches survive—as at the Palaiochora settlements on Kythera and on Aegina; all the houses (except for one which has been restored) have gone. The churches are of an architecturally simple design, namely a single aisled hall with pitched roof. Only one of them, visible immediately ahead and to the right on entering, differs significantly, having a dome over the whole of its small, square plan. This was used as a mosque during the years of the Turkish Occupation, though it may well have been built as a church originally. Most of the churches have little decorative interest, except for that of Christos sto Kastro in the dip of the saddle. This is an early 16th century church which must have suffered destruction at the hands of Barbarossa. Its extensive wall-paintings of the life of Christ are of the 18th century: the wooden iconostasis is of the same date.
The site had obvious defensive appeal, but a number of problems remained—the lack of a protected harbour or anchorage; the difficult supply of water, in particular to the citadel; and the site’s exposure to the often relentless north wind. The fact that, in spite of these difficulties, this was the island’s principal settlement for many centuries in modern history is testimony to the fear and the siege mentality that prevailed for so long amongst the island communities of the Aegean in the face of piracy.
Skiathos Island is part of the Sporades Island Group, Greece.