Panormos, Glossa and around Cape Gourouni

The west coast of the island is characterised by bay after bay of azure water, thick pinewoods descending to the shore and a general sparseness of building. The hidden natural bay and the protected coastal valley at Panormos (11.5km) was an ideal site for a city in Antiquity. Ancient Panormos was founded by colonists from Chalcis in the 7th century bc at roughly the same time as Peparethos, as part of a determined policy by the mother city to reinforce and protect her vital trading routes towards the northern Aegean Sea. The settlement was clustered around an acropolis on the rise in the centre of the sweep of the valley, about half way along the shore line. Stretches of Classical walling can be seen on the north slope of the hill, though hidden by the growth of olive and pine trees. These are best viewed from the road, as you descend to Panormos beach from the north, and are located just above and behind the Panormos Beach Hotel. (To reach the acropolis on foot, take the concrete driveway which leads inland from the centre of the main front at Panormos to wards the Hotel Afroditi. At the point where the road ends, a path continues: by cutting back from the path to the left over the hill, you reach the walls.) The site, with the remains of two round towers and a gate amongst the vegetation and pines, stretches back along the ridge. The city extended to the south in the valley below: at the valley’s eastern extremity is a cave which in Antiquity may have been a sanctuary to Pan. Along the shore to the south of the bay, the shallow and hidden inlet of Blo (probably a corruption of the ancient Greek root ‘πλέω‘ sail’), was the site of the city’s protected harbour.
   North of Panormos are a number of beaches with limpid water of aquamarine colour: Milia, Kastani, Ftelia. The road passes Elios (18km), or ‘Nea (new) Klima’, a planned settlement created and developed in the 1970s after the earthquake of 1965 devastated the village of (Old) Klima, to the north. Klima itself (22km), is a small settlement of traditional stone houses with wooden balconies—now extensively restored—with panoramic views towards Skiathos, Euboea and the Pelion massif. Glossa (24.5km) also has a similar vernacular architecture to that found on the mainland around Mount Pelion. It sits in a panoramic dip in the hill, just above the rise which was occupied by the acropolis of Ancient Selinous—the third and last Chalcidian colony of the 7th century bc on Skopelos. Remains of the ancient city’s walls can be seen directly in front on the hillside, just before reaching the last hairpin bend on the descent into Loutraki (27.5km).
   The remains of Ancient Selinous at Loutraki are sparse and spread out. What is visible to the visitor mostly dates from the Roman period, when Selinous was a flourishing commercial port. At the far southeastern end of the shore are the remains of the 3rd century ad Roman baths. By walking along the rocks after the path ends, it is possible to see sections of the back wall in opus mixtum, a part of the hypocaust furnace, and small areas of pebble floor-mosaic. This was a recreational centre for both mineral water bathing and sea bathing, which would have incorporated a gymnasium and areas for social and cultural gatherings. Much of the construction has been washed away together with the shore that has suffered from earthquake degradation; the rest remains unexcavated under the cliff. Other Roman vestiges are to be found in the area: the remains of an arched stoa from the town’s agora inland of the port, the upper part of which carried an aqueduct. Evidence of a later, Early Christian presence is evident at the church of Aghios Nikolaos beside the harbour, where fragments of early Byzantine architectural members, decorated with palm and acanthus motifs, can be seen in the forecourt of the church.  
   Turning back up the steep hill on the asphalt road by which you arrived, you come at the eastern extremity of Glossa to a point where there are two junctions with roads to the north. The first leads to the northern extremity of the island. After 2km, it passes the monastery of the Taxiarchis (26.5km), a now deserted monastery in a superb position, with a small 17th century catholicon. The early Byzantine columns here come from a 7th century church on this site. Seven kilometres beyond the road ends at the square tower of the Gourouni lighthouse (34.5km). This is a piece of interesting industrial architecture, built in 1889. The careful design of its decagonal lantern, castellated observation balcony and rusticated edges and windows, goes pleasingly beyond the requirements of mere functionality.
   Archaeological mapping of this northernmost promontory of the island has revealed that the 19th century lighthouse is only the latest in a long tradition of lookout posts in the area: there appears to have been a network of fortified agricultural buildings and towers here from as early as the 4th century bc. Separated by less than a kilo metre and clearly visible from one another, these structures were important in safeguarding both agricultural activity in the area and protecting the important trade routes through the sea at this point.
   From the eastern extremity of Glossa, the second junction leads 5.5km to the east coast through steep and forested valleys down to the shore at the isolated and evocative church of Aghios Ioannis sto Kastri­, built on top of a rock protruding into the sea, and accessible only by a flight of steps. The interest and beauty of the place lie less in the church and its few monastic cells than in the journey to it and its dramatic setting on one of the island’s wildest stretches of coast.

Skopelos Island is part of the Sporades Island Group, Greece.

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