TILOS INTRODUCTORY TOUR
These notes are to assist the guide during the above tour. We start, of course from Apollo Studios in Livadia. It is up to the driver if they have a swift tour of Livadia first. [There are no notes covering Livadia!]
Our first stop is Agios Panteleimon but you can point out the places we will be visiting on the way there. This would be a good point to mention that there are several separate tours to some of these places that will show a bit more.
A bit about Tilos
The Dodecanese islands are strung out along the western coast of Turkey and the archipelago is much closer to Asia Minor than mainland Greece. Because of their strategic and vulnerable position the islands have been subjected to more invasions and occupations than the rest of Greece. Egyptians, the Knights of St. John, Turks, Italians and Germans have all done their bit plus several others that have just turned up to raid and destroy.
The Dodecanese is complex of over 163 islands and islets, of which only 26 are inhabited, situated at the most eastern part of Greece, at the borders of Europe. Almost every island has its Classical remains, its Crusaders’ Castle, and its traditional villages. The most important are:
Rhodes, Kos, Astipalea, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kassos, Kastelorizo, Leros, Nissyros, Patmos, Simi, Halki, Tilos & Lipsi.
Tilos is 7th in size in the Dodecanese covering an area of 64 km. It was once linked to Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, with a strip of land.
There is a very ancient myth about a young man desperately looking among the islands of the Aegean for one that the healing herbs grow, for his seriously ill mother. His name was Tilos son of Alia sister of Telchines*. Tilos asks the Gods of Olympus for help. Poseidon offers to cover the islands in clouds except one that the God Apollo lights up with his golden rays; Tilos assisted by the Gods arrives at the island, gathers the healing herbs and cures his mother. In order to honour the Gods that have helped him he orders a temple to be built, lays down his arms and becomes hierophant** there. Since then the island was named after him.
** [A hierophant is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy. The word comes from Ancient Greece, where it was constructed from the combination of ta hiera, “the holy,” and phainein, “to show.”. A hierophant is an interpreter of sacred mysteries and arcane principles.]
The name Dodecanese
The title of the “Twelve Islands” has been differently applied in medieval and modern times.
Under Leo III, the Isaurian Emperor of Byzantine [AD 717-40] the three navel commands were Cibyra, Samos and the Dodecanese or Aignion Pelagos.
The 9th Century Byzantine historians referred to events in AD 780 & 802 a group of islands within the Cyclades as under the naval command of the “Drungarios of the Dodecanese” – these islands formed a civil and ecclesiastical province.
But in the 10th Century Rhodes & Symi were under Cibyra [Thema XIV] and the Aegean Thema was divided by the Cyclades & Sporades – here the Dodecanese was dissolved.
When Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople gave “Dodecanese” to his son in law the context shows that Cycladic “Duchy of Naxos” was meant because the Sporades weren’t in his power.
Emperor Henry gave Dodecanese to Marco Sando he became “Duke of Naxos” of the Cyclades or of the Archipelago and his successor in 1227 was Duke of the Dodecanese. The duchy was extinguished by the Turkish conquest.
In Turkish times the name Dodecanese came to be applied to the “privileged islands” between Samos & Rhodes which had belonged to the Knights of the Hospital. Sometimes Nikaria and sometimes Castellorizo. Rhodes and Kos which had Turkish garrisons were not strictly privileged islands.
In 1908 the term Dodecanese became the collective and official name of the privileged islands in their resistance to Turkish encroachments.
Since 1912 usage has varied. At first the official designation was Thirteen Islands including Lipson [Lipsi] or the Southern Sporades or Rhodes & the Sporades or Rhodes & the Aegean Islands. Later still the official phrase has been Rhodes & the Dodecanese.
The island has mountainous limestone interior, volcanic lowlands, pumice beds and red lava sand. A small fertile valley located close to the centre of the island which ends up at the almost mile long beach of Eristos. The highest point on the island is Profitis Ilias at 651 metres above sea-level.
There are nineteen beaches, twelve mountains, seven medieval castles, a Byzantine monastery and over three hundred churches, a cave full of natural discoveries, a village that is a declared cultural monument, a hundred bird species, hundreds of wild flowers and herbs, and approximately three hundred residents.
The main population areas are the capital Megalo Xorio and the port of Livadia. Both are flourishing with lively populations. The population was 535 in the 2001 census up from 279 in the 1991 census.
Ecosystems On Tilos
The natural environment of Tilos is remarkable as it serves as a home to sixteen different kinds of ecologically balanced ecosystems or biotopes including four hundred plant species and more than one hundred bird organisms. In fact, the island has been proclaimed Special Bird Protection Zone. It is included in the Natura 2000 European network. In spring, in autumn and in winter, the vividly coloured wild flowers and the herbs that grow on mountains and in coasts make Tilos seem like an artistic canvas. In summer, plants wither and local natural environment shows green and golden tints.
There is currently a bird hunting ban in place on the island and a fishing protection area surrounding it.
In 2003, “the park of Tilos” was founded. It is a non-profiteering association for the protection, preservation and promotion of the natural as well as cultural environment of the island. You can search through the website of the municipality of Tilos to find detailed information about the objectives of the association in question. A visitor centre is located next to the church in Livadia.
The road leads almost to the top of the mountain Kyralos; here 270 metres above sea level, is the Monastery of Agios Panteleimon. This is the Monastery of the patron saint of Tilos and is approximately 16 km from Livadia. It is built on a rock in an area of running water, cypress and plane trees. The whole area is one of tranquillity with only the wind, birds, goats and running water being heard.
The Monastery was built in 1470-80 and includes cells, storage rooms and an ancient tower dating from the pirate years. It is said that the Monastery is built upon the ruins of a temple to Neptune/ Poseidon [according to Strabon such a sanctuary existed here.].
Strabo [(/ˈstreɪboʊ/; Greek: Στράβων Strabōn; 64/63 BC – c. AD 24), was a Greek geographer, philosopher and historian. Strabo is most famous for his work Geographica, which presented a descriptive history of people and places from different regions of the world known to his era. Although the Geographica was rarely utilized in its contemporary antiquity, a multitude of copies survived throughout the Byzantine Empire. It first appeared in Western Europe in Rome as a Latin translation issued around 1469. The first Greek edition was published in 1516 in Venice. Isaac Casaubon, classical scholar and editor of Greek texts, provided the first critical edition in 1587.]
The small settlement of Agios Atonios is 2km east of Megalo Xorio. It used to be the ancient port of Tilos.
On the waterfront stands the chapel of Agios Antonios where only one of its frescoes still survives as the others were destroyed by a German mine in WWII.
On the beach the sand has retreated leaving behind a rocky layer which has exposed numerous fossilised human bones from an ancient and Byzantine cemetery.
There are also two taverna’s and a café bar here. This is a pleasant place to enjoy a drink and watch the sun setting over the Island of Nisyros.
Behind the port is a very old church which has some strange cut stones and pieces of formed columns.
Eristos Bay is on the west of the island. The bay has the easiest accessible sandy beach on Tilos that extends over a kilometre in length. There is a smaller more secluded beach on the left hand side. The seabed slopes gently into the sea and it is possible to walk a good distance out before the water covers your knees but from there it drops away a lot quicker! There is adequate natural shade from the relentless sun at the rear of the beach under the trees, although in busy summer days you will find your self sharing – what a great way to make new friends?
Beware – the sand is very hot!
The beach is well used in summer by a lot of semi-nomadic Greek visitors, many from Athens, who set up a small town of small tents and not so small tents in the trees and organise local entertainments. All tents must be pitched from the Kantina to the left. A partially refurbished toilet block behind the beach provides for sanitary facilities and showers. [Suggest you bring your own loo paper!!!!]
There is a small Kantina on the beach providing cold or hot drinks, sandwiches etc. Opening hours as per board. Tilos Beach Hotel is located to the right of the beach. On the road to the beach, on the right, there is a taverna called “Tropicana” – a notice-board outside advising of the menu. Just before the beach on the left-hand side the road leads to En Plo. Here there are rooms, a taverna and a small mini-market.
In 2013, there was a restaurant at Filoxenia Rooms but in the 2014 season this has moved to Livadia.
The area behind the beach comprises the fertile plain where the majority of the Tilos grown produce comes from. There are lots of natural water wells providing the water to irrigate the fields. All Tilos grown vegetables and fruit is seasonal and maybe purchased direct from the farmers in Livadia off their trucks. Hidden in the fields are several old churches and abandoned buildings from various eras.
The village was built on the front of the hill of Agios Stefanos and has an estimated population of 200 persons. The village was built in its current location in the early 19th century when the locals conquering their fear of pirates moved closer to the sea. From archaic times until the present day it has been inhabited. Until the 18th century everybody lived in the Kastro that dominates the village. Individual lintels above house doors show the progress, in some cases, in the age of construction, of the various levels down the hill. Other lintels are recycled from older buildings and recall other languages and cultures.
The houses are of the local tradition and is a mixture of occupied houses and ruins which are accessed by a series of small lanes and steep steps. In the courtyards of buildings are fruit trees, a well and sometimes an old oven. Most are painted white along the edges and on the edge of individual steps. There are lots of churches located within and just outside the village, some with magnificent fresco’s others in a poor state of repair.
In the centre is the church of Taxiarchis built in 1827, it is a transfer of a church of the same name that was built in the area of the castle on the site of ancient temple ruins. Inside you will find notable silver icons, a carved wooden screen – iconostasis, a throne and 19th century pulpit.
The pebbly pavement in the courtyard of Taxiarchis represents the waves cleaved by the prow of a boat. North of the church are ruins of the Hellenistic walls. These are also visible in several other areas of the village.
Located within the village is the town hall, government offices, a pre-school, taverna’s, kafenion’s and some tourist accommodation.
A small archaeological and paleontological museum is housed at the bottom of the town hall and is of extreme interest. [The museum is due to move in 2014 to the new building by the Elephant Caves.]
* [The name Pelasgians (Greek: Πελασγοί, Pelasgoí, singular Πελασγός, Pelasgós) was used by some ancient Greek writers to refer to populations that were either the ancestors of the Greeks or who preceded the Greeks in Greece, “a hold-all term for any ancient, primitive and presumably indigenous people in the Greek world.”]
The village extends down the hill to the site of the High School and next to this across the fields is the church of Panagia. Behind the church is the cemetery for Megalo Xorio. There is an ossuary here as well as the church of Constantinos. The outer wall is topped by parts of ancient columns many of which are inscribed in Ancient Greek.
The Theatre and the Elephant Caves and Museum
The theatre and Elephant Cave are accessed from just outside Megalo Xorio by a road to the right. The road bears to the left as it climbs to firstly the car park outside the museum and the gates to the theatre. If you continue straight on the path you will pass the large reservoir on the right, an ideal place to see wild birds. Continuing along this path will eventually bring you to the beach at Eristos.
The museum is open at periods specified on the door. It has various exhibits inside and may soon display the exhibits currently in the older museum at Megalo Xorio. The island bus provides transport – check the timetable.
The open air theatre is built as a smaller version of ancient Greek theatres. It is used during the summer months to hold outdoor performances of various types from dance, Greek theatre to rock bands. If, you stand in the centre of the “stage” you can hear someone talking without artificial aids e.g. microphone.
Above the theatre is the Elephant Cave. This is accessed by a path to the right of the theatre that climbs up the hill. The path is lit during the summer months. The entrance to the Cave itself is locked as archaeological digs are on-going but it is possible to view inside through the fence.
The area owes its name to the fact that tradition said that the cavern had been used as a coppersmiths shop (Charkadio) during the Copper period. Reportedly a shell from a war time British destroyer opened the cave that had been closed for 6,000 years. In the cave tools, deer and elephant bones have been found.
Tilos was once joined to Asia Minor by a small strip of land which the elephants walked across. The elephants were excavated in 1971 at around a depth of four metres and lived 45,000 years ago. There were only 1.5 m high and were the last European elephants. The deer lived 140,000 years ago. The area is covered in volcanic lava.
Most of the finds are exhibited in Athens but a small part is on display in the museum at Megalo Xorio.
Above the cave is the kastro of Messaria. This ruined kastro is part of the defence system of the Knights of St. John. Not much is left of the kastro nowadays but the church inside is in relatively good condition.
There are quite a few ruined and four refurbished churches in the vicinity. Some are locked. Above the new museum is an ancient settlement comprising of quite a few buildings.
This is the old capital of Tilos. It is located above the road between Livadia and Megalo Xorio. It is built in an amphitheatrical way above the spring of the river Arnos. And It was first settled in the 15th century by the Knights of St. John. It was abandoned in the 1960’s when most of inhabitants moved to Livadia due to the lack of water. The roofs were removed when the inhabitants moved to Livadia.
The Xorio was once home to approximately 1,700 persons who lived in 220 houses some of which are still in a good condition. A few houses have been renovated by their current owners. The inhabitants made a living from working the terraced hillsides.
In the centre of the village is the new church of the Virgin Mary, built in 1861 with the belfry built later.
Below the ruined Kastro is the small church of Timia Zoni [“The Dormintion of the Virgin”] with mural paintings [fresco’s] by Neofitos Simaios 1787. Some of the small churches have been renovated.
There is a nightclub here in the summer month that is very popular. A bus regularly runs from Livadia free of charge.
In the churches of “The Virgin of Mercy”, “Christ the Saviour” and “The Dormintion of the Virgin” are frescos that also have the addition of graffiti from frustrated pirates who raided the island. This graffiti is in the form of boats.
In the church of The Dormintion of the Virgin is a fresco of an animal saint.*
[* St. Christopher was a member of the north African tribe of the Marmaritae. He was captured by Roman forces during the emperor Diocletian’s campaign against the Marmaritae in late 301/early 302 and was transported for service in a Roman garrison in or near Antioch in Syria. He was baptised by the refugee bishop Peter of Alexandria and was martyred on 9 July 308. Bishop Peter arranged for the transport of his remains back to Marmarica in 311. He is really identifiable with the Egyptian martyr known as St. Menas. In so far as the author of the lost, original acts of St. Christopher seems both to have been based at Antioch and to have wanted to encourage missionary activity, he is probably identifiable if not as bishop Theophilus the Indian himself, present at Antioch c.351-54, then as one of his circle.]
As goats are possibly the only wild animal you will see here I thought it prudent to mention them. Many roam free all over the island but they are owned by someone. The shepherds know their own animals and others are identified by certain cuts on their ears if they haven’t got a yellow tag.
The goat is a member of the family Bovidae and is closely related to the sheep as both are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae. There are over 300 distinct breeds of goat. Goats are one of the oldest domesticated species, and have been used for their milk, meat, hair, and skins over much of the world. Goats are among the earliest animals domesticated by humans.
Goats are ruminants. They have a four-chambered stomach consisting of the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum, and the abomasum. As with other mammal ruminants, they are even-toed ungulates. The females have an udder consisting of two teats, in contrast to cattle, which have four teats.
Goats have horizontal, slit-shaped pupils. Because goats’ irises are usually pale, their contrasting pupils are much more noticeable than in animals such as cattle, deer, most horses and many sheep, whose similarly horizontal pupils blend into a dark iris and sclera. This adaptation allows goats to see at least 320 degrees around their heads with no blind spot in front of them.
Goats reach puberty between three and 15 months of age, depending on breed and nutritional status. Many breeders prefer to postpone breeding until the doe has reached 70% of the adult weight. However, this separation is rarely possible in extensively managed, open-range herds.
In temperate climates, the breeding season commences as the day length shortens, and ends in early spring or before.
Goats are reputed to be willing to eat almost anything, including tin cans and cardboard boxes. While goats will not actually eat inedible material, they are browsing animals, not grazers like cattle and sheep, and (coupled with their highly curious nature) will chew on and taste just about anything remotely resembling plant matter to decide whether it is good to eat, including cardboard, clothing and paper (such as labels from tin cans). Another possibility is goats are curious about the unusual smells of leftover food in discarded cans or boxes.
Goats are extremely curious and intelligent. They are also very coordinated and widely known for their ability to climb and hold their balance in the most precarious places.
Goats have an intensely inquisitive and intelligent nature; they will explore anything new or unfamiliar in their surroundings. They do so primarily with their prehensile upper lip and tongue. This is why they investigate items such as buttons, camera cases or clothing (and many other things besides) by nibbling at them, occasionally even eating them.
When handled as a group, goats tend to display less clumping behaviour than sheep, and when grazing undisturbed, tend to spread across the field or range, rather than feed side-by-side as do sheep. When nursing young, goats will leave their kids separated (“lying out”) rather than clumped as do sheep. They will generally turn and face an intruder and bucks are more likely to charge or butt at humans than are rams.
Life expectancy for goats is between fifteen and eighteen years. An instance of a goat reaching the age of 24 has been reported.
Several factors can reduce this average expectancy; problems during kidding can lower a doe’s expected life span to ten or eleven, and stresses of going into rut can lower a buck’s expected life span to eight to ten years.