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The traditional villages of the northwest
Beyond Cape Pachys, the island’s wooded northern extremity, the road runs southwest into a principally agricultural area which stretches for more than 20km, with cultivations of olives at first and then of vines further south. On this side of the island the older settlements dating from the 18th century were all built substantially inland and uphill, for security and protection from pi racy. The shoreline villages, by contrast, are mostly re cent developments, profiting from the safe seas of the last century and the new economy of tourism: they maintain a simplicity and tranquillity, nonetheless. This side of the island—especially the southwest—was the principal source of the mineral ores other than gold: silver, iron, lead and minium (lead oxide) were extracted here in Antiquity, and calamine (a zinc oxide) in the 19th century. The extensive forest fires of 1985 and 1989 changed the landscape in this area and in the south of the island. The villages were spared but their setting was radically altered. The land is now healing rapidly. At the time of writing, 20 years of growth has begun once again to return some of that ‘mane of forest’ on the ‘rocky backbone of the island’ to which Archilochus referred 2,600 years ago.
At 12km from Limenas, a road into the interior leads from Rachoni Skala to Rachoni; at 17km, from Skala Prinou (the ferry port for Kavala and Peramos) to Kazavii; and at 20km, from Skala Sotiros to the village of Sotiras. All these three traditional settlements of Rachoni, Prinos (alternatively called Kazavii) and Sotiras, each grouped around springs of excellent water, are well preserved and of considerable beauty—each with a different character. The widest variety of the traditional architecture is to be found at Ano Prinos, normally called *Kazavii. It is a continuous variation on the theme of low pyramidal roofs of silver schist tiles, ornate wooden balconies and window frames, and whitewashed plaster walls, immersed in dense vegetation. This is part of a tradition of vernacular architecture of Ottoman and Balkan formation which stretches from Roumeli and Mount Pelion in the west, across Macedonia and Thrace, to Bursa, Safranbolu and Anatolia in the east. It is a versatile and undemonstrative kind of architecture, completely in harmony with its landscape. It is fast vanishing because of the perishable nature of its materials, and the care required to maintain it in good condition.
The church of the Twelve Apostles in Kazavii has delightful 19th century murals around its decorative door and a fine painted iconostasis in the interior; the village square is magical, if a little self-conscious. Sotiras is quieter and less visited than Kazaviti, and has an enviable position looking towards the sunset. Approached by a road through dense groves of olive, the tiny village—part abandoned—is grouped around a spring of excellent, soft water, which has nourished some venerable plane trees. On a panoramic spur of the mountain considerably above and due east of the village is the solitary church of the Analipsis (Ascension). This is a broad, stone-built, three-aisled basilica dating probably from the 14th century; in its interior are the remains of wall-paintings mostly from the 16th century. (The church is 1km east of Sotiras as the crow flies, but almost 2.5km by rough track which leaves at first to the north of the village and then doubles back to the south and east.)
At Skala Sotiros (20km), on the coast, the remarkable remains of a fortified settlement from the Early Bronze Age have come to light. The site is awkwardly squashed underneath the modern church beside the road on the shore side. Even though viewing is somewhat limited by the situation, the walls, the bastions and the gates of an enceinte can be seen. These were constructed in the latter half of the 3rd millennium bc. The area enclosed is small and represents probably the fortified residence of a chief around which would have been grouped other, humbler habitations. Most remarkable, however, are a number of life-size, *anthropomorphic stelai, carved in shallow relief, representing warriors or hunters (note the belts holding weapons). These astonishing pieces were found in the walls. Several stylised heads in marble were also found, and are exhibited here. The heads are simplified and designed in a way that is strangely reminiscent of the two eyes and nose carved in the marble block near the Gate of Parmenon in the walls of Ancient Thasos (see pp. 57–58). The pottery, jewellery, tools and ceremonial axes which were found here, as well as the originals of the carved stelai, are on display in the museum in Limenas (see p. 36).
Thasos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.