Mount Delphi and Sendoukia

From the northern extremity of the peripheral road around the Chora of Skopelos, a narrow road leads north and west into the island’s interior towards its highest peak, Mount Delphi (681m), and its densest woods, the Vathia Forest. (Follow indications for ‘Sendoukia’ and for the monasteries in this area.) After 1km the road runs along the side of a fertile valley with olive trees: on the opposite side, screened by ancient cypress trees, is the small monastery of the Koimisis tis Theotokou (the Dormition of the Virgin). At the western head of this valley (3km), a track leads off the asphalt road to the west, and climbs rapidly through dense pinewoods, past the springs at Karya: taking this track, 600m after the springs, a right hand fork leads down to the extensive complex of the monastery of Aghios Efstathios (7km), a well-preserved foundation of 1596, with a simple and unpainted church of an inscribed-cross plan, with more recently added monastery buildings to its north which are used as a re treat by a community in Thessaloniki. There is a palpable peacefulness in these valleys, broken only by the sounds of goatherds calling. Mount Delphi dominates to the northwest, its massive slopes softened by the thick covering of Aleppo pines and arbutus, broken in the valleys by stands of plane and cypress trees.
   Returning to the junction for Aghios Efstathios, the road climbs on up towards the summit and, at a fork in the tracks (6.5km), the path to * Sendoukia (meaning ‘boxes’ or ‘chests’) is clearly signed to the right and thereafter marked by a series of small stone cairns. It leads eventually to the northern tip of a long limestone out crop on the shoulder of the mountain, which ends with a sudden drop to the east and magnificent * views of Alonnisos. Just by the edge of the drop are four empty graves: three deep and precisely carved loculi (approximately 1.80 x 0.90m, and 0.85m deep), with solid stone roofs of a highly pitched profile, and one shallow excavated rectangular area—probably an uncompleted grave (or possibly the base for a stone monument or sarcophagus which was either never completed or has since disappeared). All are oriented due east. In each of the loculi is a shallow ‘ledge’ at the western end: the rim is also carefully drafted all the way around for the snug fitting of the lid.

A bewildering spread of dates has been ascribed to these graves by scholars, some putting them as early as the Neolithic period, others as late as the early Christian era. The best evidence is the physical appearance of the cutting of the rock. The fine precision of the right-angle corners, the cleanness of the edges, the vestiges of bevelling and drafting, and the density of fine chisel striations on the insides of the loculi would point to a date neither earlier than advanced Classical workmanship (c. 400 bc) nor later than mid-Imperial Roman workmanship (c. 200 ad). The scale, the obvious pleasure taken in precision and proportion, and the kind of tools which appear to have been used all suggest work of the Hellenistic period. The design of the lids, with their highly pitched profiles, also seems to be influenced by designs from southwest Asia Minor of the 4th and 3rd centuries bc. The graves may be part of a larger monumental or cultic area: on the eminence above them (100m due west of the graves) is a conical shaped mound in the natural limestone which shows signs of cutting in the bedrock, possibly for an altar or shrine related to the graves below.
   It is difficult to say for certain why this particular site— and not, for example, the summit of Mount Delphi, or an eminence above the city, or above the coast—was chosen. It is remote and apparently unrelated to any wider human presence There may be significance in the open view to Alonnisos or in the orientation due east into the equinoctial sunrise. We understand little about the reasons for the positioning of sanctuaries and temples in Antiquity, and even less about the choice of burial sites such as this.

From the junction near to Sendoukia, the mountain tracks lead in several directions through the forests on the slopes of Mount Delphi. The track to the northwest skirts the whole mountain (15.5km). From the junction, signposted to Pyrgos, at the southern point of the loop, a winding track leads 6 km down to the west coast at Panormos. Alternatively the same point can be reached by returning to Skopelos Chora and taking the main asphalt road south west to Panormos.

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

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