South of Chora to Stafilos

(Chora = 0.0km for distances in text)
Almost due south of the waterfront, a good asphalt road leads into the fertile valley of Stafilos, an area which has always been used for the cultivation of the fresh produce and cereals needed by the main town. At Stafilos Bay (4km), on the island’s south coast, a beach stretches to the east where a conspicuous headland projects south into the sea, attached by a narrow isthmus to the shore. It is beside this steep promontory, with its classic ‘acropolis’ form, that a Middle Bronze Age shaft-grave (c. 1500 bc), complete with burial gifts and objects, was uncovered in 1936. The grave itself (now mostly refilled), which was located just to the west of the isthmus of the headland, was damaged but contained a magnificent Mycenaean gold handle of a sword, now exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. This and other objects which were found suggested an important, royal burial, which was subsequently dubbed that of ‘King Staphylos’, the legendary ruler of the island, and son of Ariadne by either Theseus or Dionysos. Access and exploration of the head land is more difficult than it seems because of the dense vegetation: near the triangulation point on the summit there are areas of collapsed ancient stone. Beyond the headland, further to the east is the long beach of Velanio.
   From Stafilos, the main road climbs to the west into dense pine woods that cover the whole of the west and the centre of the island, to the protected port of Agnontas (7.5km) named after Hagnon, a victorious athlete from Peparethos in the Olympic Games of 569 bc. A coastal road from here leads (1km) to the beautiful beach of Limnonari. The main road climbs inland again and reaches a junction (10km), where the right turn heads back towards Chora. As it descends into the valley, the monastery of Aghios Reginos is on the left. The cult of St Reginus, who was one of the first evangelists of Christianity on the island, goes back to the time of his martyrdom at the end of the reign of Julian the Apostate (in 362/363 ad). A first church on this site may have been built shortly after that date to enshrine the sarcophagus in which he was buried. The existing church here is a renovated structure of the 18th century, but the presence of many early Christian columns in the forecourt indicates that it is built on the site of a much earlier construction. Into one of the columns beside the steps in the forecourt is cut a curious version of the sacred acronym ‘ΙΧΘΥΣ’, in which the five letters are compressed and joined into a single hieroglyph, with more the appearance of a fossilised insect than the usual symbolic fish.
   On reaching the outskirts of Chora again, the massive, buttressed façade of a ruined monastery building looms above the road on the left: the carved stone supports of what was once a wide balcony can be seen projecting from the centre of the façade at the top. This is the Episkopi­ Monastery (normally closed, except by arrangement with the owners). As residence of the bishop, this was the most important monastery on the island. It is now a private residence. The present 17th century single-aisled church of the Panaghia inside the walls is built on the site of the northern aisle of a much larger three-aisled Early Christian basilica of the 5th or 6th century, which was renovated or reconstructed—according to an inscription in the wall of the present church—in 1078, when a certain Anastasios was Bishop of Skopelos. It seems probable that the original basilica was constructed on the site of a pre-existing ancient sanctuary and used marble elements from it.
   From the Episkopi­ Monastery, it is less than half a kilo metre back to the peripheral road around Chora. Taking this road to the north (left), which climbs steeply around the back of the town to the Kastro, brings you to the point where the next itinerary begins.

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

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