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There is a tenacity to tradition on Skyros which comes of the island being genuinely more isolated than most. It affects all aspects of life—local song and music, the deco rating of houses, the breeding of horses, the preparing of cheese, the nature of festivals—and the islanders take an unostentatious pride in it. It is still possible to see sandals that would have been familiar to Theocritus on the feet of goatherds on Skyros today, or to watch carnival dances that might have come straight from a comedy of Aristophanes. The mainland feels a long way away here be cause the great wall of the mountains of Euboea literally and metaphorically blocks the island’s view of the rest of the world. Skyros is large (more than 200sq. km) and the inhabitants are few (2,700); for this reason it feels quiet, spacious and self-contained.
Its geography is that of virtually two different islands: the north—fertile and densely wooded, scattered with habitation and cultivation—is like the other islands of the Northern Sporades: the south—empty, mountainous, wild and rocky—has more the landscape of a Cycladic island. Sophocles called the island ‘windy’; Statius called it ‘rocky’; Pindar and Strabo praised its herds of goat; and the tyrant Polycrates of Samos is said to have appreciated the quality of its meat. All these attributes are as true to day as they were over two thousand years ago.
Matching the variety of landscape is a wonderful diversity of things of interest for the visitor to Skyros. A breed of wild horse—more pony—which is ancient and unique to the island; the quarries of a flamboyantly coloured marble, exported in large quantities to Rome in Imperial times; the moving and solitary grave of the young poet Rupert Brooke, who died at sea off Skyros at the outset of the First World War and was hurriedly buried in an olive grove above the bay of Tris Boukes. At Palamari is one of the most important and impressive Bronze Age sites in the Aegean, its ramparts and bastions clearly visible again more than 4,000 years after their construction. The island’s beautiful Chora is also rich in a wide range of history: its acropolis, inhabited in prehistoric times, has walls and towers from Classical antiquity; on its summit are the impressive ruins of a 9th century episcopal church and a 15th century Venetian castle; and below is an area of interesting and beautiful streets, with painted and decorated churches and houses of a very particular, traditional architecture. All this is complemented by two small museums which do ample justice to both the is land’s ancient and recent history. From cliffs and dramatic heights, to gentle bays forested with pines, from quiet springs to squares thronged with local life, Skyros lacks little to reflect the changing moods and needs of the traveller’s spirit.
Skyros Island is part of the Sporades Island Group, Greece.