The West Coast
At Atsisa (13km, by direct route from Chora; 18km by the above route) the road descends into a sheltered bay with a pleasant taverna and small hotel. The pale green colour in the cliff to the south signifies the presence of iron ore in the area; the remains of an early 20th century mining plant are still visible in the overhead viaduct and the stone buildings of the loading station at the shore.
South from here, the road continues through pine forests passing tranquil bays, empty beaches and beautiful views. (The road surface is unmade, but passable for ordinary vehicles.) After 6km, the track comes down to the shore at Aghios Phokas where an enormous antique block of cut stone beside the taverna on the shore declares an ancient presence in the area. On top of the low rise at the south end of the bay is the chapel of Aghios Phokas; in front of it are the remains of a much older building, the cornerstone of which is a massive well-cut monolith of the colourful brecciated marble for which Skyros was famous in Roman times. A line of large dressed blocks stretches in a north/south line in front of the church and other impressive pieces lie around: an area of the bed rock has been extensively cut in the undergrowth just to the east side. There was a monastery previously at this site, and it would seem that it had been built in turn out of these remains of an earlier, pagan construction. The eroded surface of the marble looks dull in the bright light, but a splash of water immediately brings life back to its kaleidoscopic colours.
This is the marmor scyrium, beloved of the Romans for its tender and variegated colours and the fine polish it could be given. In truth, it is not one but a whole group of marbles whose subtle variations depend on where on the island and where in the quarry the stone was taken. It was later called in Italian breccia di settebassi (or settebasi) after the ancient Roman villa of Settebassi outside Rome on the Via Appia, where many examples of it were found. This was a marble whose often extreme colourfulness went to the heart of Imperial Roman decorative taste. It has a predominantly pale purple-red hue, shot through with breccie, or breaches, of yellow and pink and red. It appealed just as much in 17th century Rome for the decorating of the great post-Renaissance palaces in the city— by which time it was not being quarried any more in Skyros but simply being lifted from ancient Roman ruins and re-used. The Romans were refined connois seurs of the subtleties and variations in the chromatic range of such marbles: although abundant in nature, the best qualities of Skyrian marble were always elusive. Only certain veins of the large quarries produced the small size of oblong variegations in red, pink and yellow which were most desired in the metropolis. It was the job of the quarry-master to locate these prized qualities for the market. A fine example of Skyrian marble is the massive pedestal and urn at the extreme south end of the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche in the Vatican Palace in Rome. It is the last object you see before you descend the stairs into the Sistine Chapel.
Several marble quarries—small and large, superficial and deep, ancient and modern—are to be found all around in this area. To the north of Aghios Phokas they produce a largely white marble with orange veining, but at the top of the track to the south there are those that yield the high quality, polychrome stone. The best marble appears fleetingly and unexpectedly, often amongst areas that seem very ordinary. In its natural form, it may seem unremarkable, but its decorative beauty comes out when wet or when cut and polished. The area of the quarries is protected by the presence of the church of St Panteleimon which stands beside the road, overlooking the sea. St Panteleimon’s work as a healer and doctor made him a natural protector against the many injuries which befell those who worked in quarries.
From the church of Aghios Panteleimon the road descends steeply to the attractive bay of Pevkos (10km), which was the ancient Roman harbour for the loading and shipping of the marble. At the south end of the shore of the cove, the rock face has been cut away at an obtuse angle and clearly perforated in two parallel rows of deep square holes for mounting and fixing wooden posts for winching the heavy blocks into barges. The edge of the sea is littered with huge rectangular blocks of marble of all colours.
Skyros Island is part of the Sporades Island Group, Greece.