In the last half-hour of the boat journey to Skopelos from the mainland, the ferry rounds Cape Gourouni and sails parallel to the eastern shore of the island, past bay after bay of steeply sloping pine forests and rushing streams. Scarcely a track or a dwelling is visible. A cliff-top chapel perhaps is glimpsed, then nothing again—just dense green slopes and the astringent scent of pine and of the sea. From the viewpoint of our city-centric culture, we have traditionally seen the islands as remote and peripheral, as places of retreat. Indeed their isolation is what gives us pleasure. But, in historical terms, we see things inside out: in prehistory and Antiquity, it was the sea that connect ed, facilitated and brought communities into life-giving contact with one another, and it was the land-mass of the mainland that was peripheral. This deserted and beautiful coastline was a busy thoroughfare of Antiquity; tiny craft with obsidian and minerals from Milos in the 3rd millennium bc, Minoan metal traders in the 2nd millennium, and in the first millennium bc barges laden with amphorae containing the island’s prized wine, destined for the Black Sea, all plied up and down this same coast. And what we see of it today has changed little over 5,000 years from what was seen of it then by those early voyagers.
It is remarkable how well-preserved Skopelos is at the be ginning of the 3rd millennium ad; it seems to have found a just balance between the busy normality of its Chora, a contained amount of tourism, and the preservation of its large areas of mountainous forest and coastline. Skopelos has the greatest depth of all the Northern Sporades is lands—a richness of architecture which Alonnisos lacks, a clear identity and self-sufficiency which Skiathos has surrendered to tourism, and an economic importance and commercial vitality which have passed Skyros by. There is the appealing wooded coastline with coves and beaches down the west side of the island, and deep forest valleys in the interior. The town has an attractive and varied domestic architecture and an unparalleled number of interesting churches with paintings and fine wood-carving. In the hills to the south, east and west of the Chora are over a dozen monasteries, dating from the late Middle Ages to the 18th century—amongst which, the remote and tranquil hermitage-monastery of the Taxiarches. Of the island’s vitality in Antiquity, and its three cities of Peparethos, Panormos and Selinous, the visible remains are scant, but there is an enigmatic site high on the slopes of Mount Delfi at ‘Sendoukia’, where a small and curious necropolis occupies one of the most magnificent positions in all of the Northern Aegean.
Skopelos Island is part of the Sporades Island Group, Greece.