Small boats from Myrties cross the channel to *Telendos every 30 minutes (15 minute crossing) and arrive at a peaceful waterfront of cafes, tavernas and supply-shops, undisturbed by the sounds and movement of motorized traffic. It is possible and delightful to stay on the island (see ‘Lodging’ below); the walking, swimming and bird watching are all good, in addition to the interest provided by the quantity of Early Christian remains.
The earthquake of 554 ad
A popular tradition, repeated unquestioningly in recent years from one source to the next, holds that Telendos was joined to the main body of Kalymnos until the catastrophic earthquake of 554 ad caused the low land to its east to subside under the water, leaving Telendos as a separated island. Something similar—albeit on a smaller scale—happened with the island of Elafonisos after the earthquake of 375 ad. It is true that foundations of small buildings may be seen underwater in the vicinity of the harbour, as well as at points along the eastern shore. It is probably these remains that have given rise to the persistent legend both of a ‘lost city’ beneath the water, and of a Telendos joined to the main island less than 2,000 years ago. There is no doubt that the earth quake of 554 was especially powerful; the destruction it caused was felt in Constantinople, and is evident on the coast of Asia Minor and in many of the neighbouring islands—especially Kos. The seismic shocks are said to have continued intermittently for two weeks. But earthquakes, unlike volcanic eruptions, only rarely cause large-scale land-subsidence. The strait of Telendos is 750–800m wide, and an average 10m in depth at its deepest point; at a conservative guess, any spit of land that joined the headland to the opposite shore must have been 60–100m wide and at least 5m above sea level. The earthquake would have had to have been of sufficient force to sink more than 45,000sq m of land with a fall of 15m in depth; and this would probably only have been achieved by some degree of subsidence of the whole rock structure of Telendos. It is clear that both the acute effects of the earthquake and the chronic effects of slow subsid ence over the centuries, have caused the shoreline to advance several dozen metres in-land over what was a low lying and inhabited area that ringed the island. But in the absence both of a reliable original source for this extraordinary event, and of archaeological evidence or references in inscriptions which help to corroborate it, caution is needed in assuming that a single geological anomaly on this scale occurred without leaving further physical evidence over the general area of the southeast Aegean.
From the landing quay, a path in to the village and to the left (south), leads past the modern church of the Zoodochos Pigi, whose altar is composed of a piece of ancient column surmounted by a capital. It continues up to a rise behind, above the beach of Chochlakas which faces west. The foundations of the early 6th century church of Aghia Triada are to the right. Inside a broad basilica-plan with three apses, and a further apsed parecclesion along the south side, can be seen the base of a ciborium, fragments of capitals, and traces of a fine marble inlay floor in the nave. From here the path leads downhill and south, through pine-trees, to the area of the Early Christian necropolis, where a number of the funerary chapels still stand in varying degrees of ruin. The beginnings of pendentives in the corners of the square chapel in this group show that it was originally a domed structure, of a form similar to a ‘martyrion’. The others vary considerably in size, but most have a widely-vaulted interior and a low shelf of stone around the interior walls, under which the burial loculi were organised. These constructions again date from the 6th century ad.
The path to the right of the landing-quay, which leads back into the settlement, turns toward the north and passes the site of the early church of Palaia Panaghia, which is at the centre of a large number of collapsed dwellings on all sides. The central apse (one originally of three) is in front of you as you climb the path, constructed in poorer material and technique than many of the surrounding churches. Just beyond it, in an open space, is the massive Early Christian basilica of Aghios Vasilios. At 40m long by 25m wide and still standing to a height of nearly 8m in places, this is the largest and best preserved Early Christian structure on the two islands. An earthquake of the magnitude of that of 554 ad would have left little here standing, and it is possible that the walls we see now were re-erected after it in the late 6th century: in fact there are clearly two different periods of construction, with the predominantly redder stone used in the lowest courses of the main apse and in the south east corner (pre-554), predating the walls above which may be from a hastier rebuilding after the earthquake. The large finely-cut blocks in the corners used for strengthening appear to have been taken from an earlier pagan construction: other marble blocks, some carved with Byzantine crosses, lie around or have been incorporated as architraves etc. The basilica had additional rooms along the south side (in similar fashion to the basilica at Mastichari on Kos)—one of them (southeast corner) originally domed and with vestiges of plaster and red paint still visible. There are two funerary chambers in the vicinity, one at the northwest corner of the narthex, the other just south of the complex. Between the church and the shore are the remains of a contemporaneous bath-house chamber which also incorporates ancient stones. The surrounding area is covered with the remains of houses and other buildings of the Palaeochristian period. At the northern extremity of the settlement and set back a little from the shore is the tiny 13th century church of Aghios Charalambos, built into the ruins of another Early Christian bath-house, whose succession of interconnected and once vaulted chambers adjoin it to the north.
From here, the path continues along the shore and then climbs over rocks, passing at one point a huge dark stone block, cut so as to function as a counterweight in an olive press and surviving from an ancient mill, now vanished, on this site. At the base of a small promontory separating the bay of Potha from the next cove to the north (referred to as ‘Paradise Bay’ by its largely nudist clientele) are the vestigial remains of another Early Christian church with foundations partly submerged in the sea. It is from here that a rough and stony path (marked initially by faded white and blue paint-spots) leads steeply from the shore round to the north side of the island and climbs to the *deserted settlement and church of Aghios Konstantinos (1 hour each way). Spread over a ledge at an altitude of 170m, with a dominating escarpment above which rises to a summit of 458m, and with sweeping views of the mountains and Bay of Arginonta in front, the setting here takes its place, with Palaiochora on Kythera and with Kastro on Skiathos, amongst the most dramatic Byzantine sites in the islands: but the remains are less well-preserved here because the site is substantially older than either of the other two. With the beginning of hostile incursions into the Southeast Aegean in the late 7th century ad, the inhabitants of the island sought protection in this inaccessible refuge; the settlement appears later to have been abandoned in the 10th century. It was protected on the north side by walls, with a protruding rampart below what must have been a watchtower in the centre. Plastered cisterns, which are to be seen all around, constituted the foundations of the houses which rose on top of them. On a rock outcrop at the eastern extremity is the church of Aghii Konstantinos and Eleni, built inside the surviving apse of its predecessor of the 7th century and still pre serving patches of some original painting on its ceiling. The cut-stone arch of the apse is particularly fine. The over-riding reason for making the difficult journey here, however, is for the setting, and for the vivid sense that the site gives of the material privations and the spiritual and aesthetic rewards of life in these remote refuges from the violent insecurity of the world of the early Dark Ages.
Telendos Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.