Palamari and Markesi
(Chora = 0.0km for distances in the text)
North from Chora, after a succession of narrow valleys dotted with tiny chapels, the view to the northern end of the island opens out at a point where the whole hillside near the road is scattered with the deserted 18th and 19th century houses of the once large community of Katounes (6km). At 7.5km, a track to the right leads to the important excavations at * Palamari (8.5km). The geography of the site—treeless and sandy—on a low eminence jutting out into the sea beside a sheltered cove has many elements that are characteristic of other Aegean prehistoric settlements such as Poliochni on Lemnos or Philakopi on Milos. This is an early Bronze Age port, founded in the middle of the 3rd millennium bc and inhabited continuously until around 1650 bc, at which point it appears to have been permanently abandoned. Dominating the (metal) trade-routes of these early times could be a dangerous occupation: hence the large and remarkably well preserved fortifications.
The sophistication of design and organisation of the settlement is impressive. There are well-designed bastions, ditches, military store-rooms directly behind the walls, and hidden corridors communicating between the bastions on the inside—all standard fare for constructions of much later centuries but a surprise to find here, so early. The ring of walls (on the landward side) is well preserved to a height of nearly 3m in places, and is punctuated regularly with the bases of fine semicircular towers. The houses which have been excavated so far lie further inside the site. They are constructed in a variety of types and colours of stone seemingly brought from different parts of the island. By comparison with those in Akrotiri on Santorini, these dwellings, sepa rated by narrow passage-ways, can seem cramped and small, but their hearths, storage areas, doorways, stone benches and ovens are all well-constructed nonetheless. The care fully constructed drainage channels beneath the walls of the town are emblematic of the settlement’s remarkable and sophisticated planning.
The settlement’s water source has been identified in the area of the houses. To the east a considerable part of the town has been eroded by the sea, so we may only be looking to day at just over half of the original area of the settlement—a state of affairs reminiscent of Phylakopi on Milos. The rocks below the surface of the water and the erosion of the city make it difficult to reconstruct where exactly the harbour was. For a settlement with such a strategic position, control ling the crucial maritime trade-routes to Lemnos and Troy in the northeast Aegean, a functional and protected port would have been essential.
At 9.5km from Chora is a right turn for Skyros airport. Beyond this point another right turn (11.7km) leads to the ancient site of Markesi at the northwestern tip of the island (it is currently out of bounds).
The site was continually inhabited and used from the Early Bronze Age through to Christian times. The remains of an ancient settlement and of rock-cut tombs are in evidence on the promontory. The hill is marked by the church of the Theotokos; beneath this are the remains of an Early Christian church, which in turn is built over the base of a Classical temple to Poseidon. The dedication to the god of the seas is not surprising given the strategically panoramic position and the busy maritime routes it surveys.
Inland of the road an active quarry is visible which produces the grey-veined white marble of the island—a less beautiful version of Euboea’s cipollino marble which is more elegantly veined in blue and green. From here, the road turns south through dense forests of Aleppo pine, along the west coast of the island.
Skyros Island is part of the Sporades Island Group, Greece.