- View the interactive map of the Bents’ travels in Amorgos
- Arrival in Amorgos – Monday 11th April 1883
- Visit to Aigiale and the North – Tuesday and Wednesday 12th/13th April 1883
- Visit to Katapolis, Minoa, Arkesini and Brytsi – Thursday and Friday 14th/15th April 1883
- Visit to the Convent of Chozobiotissa
- The Procession of the Holy Icons – Sunday 17th April 1883 (Easter Day)
- Expedition up Mount Elias – Monday 18th April 1883 (Easter Monday)
- Visit to St George Balsimitis and the Holy Source – Tuesday 19th April 1883
- Katapolis – Wednesday night 20th April
- The Icons Return to the Convent – Sunday 24th April 1883
Arrival in Amorgos – Monday 11th April 1883
The Bents arrived in Amorgos by steamer on Monday 11th April 1883 at the port of Katapolis (present-day Katapola) at the end of their trip of 1882-1883, three days before Good Friday. They stayed for 14 days, leaving on Monday 25th April 1883.
When reached the harbour of Amorgos is large and secure enough from all but a western gale, and we landed at a few houses down by the quay, which in themselves do not afford any interest; but they are built on the site of the old port of Minoa , one of the three cities of Amorgos, and contain plenty of ancient remains.
Katapolis had been a pirate stronghold until the formation of the Greek state in 1832 brought law and order to the islands. Slowly, as citizens from Chora felt safe moving down to the sea, the village started to grow.
The site of the ancient city of Minoa is on a hill above the port and Theodore saw the remains of the buildings of the city’s port. Later in the trip he visited the Minoa site and was to explore further in Katapolis, including staying one night at the port in the “dirty” house of Papa Manoulas.
The Chora and the Kastro
. . . we walked up a fertile olive-clad valley
From the port they walked up to Chora, almost certainly following the track passing by the ruins of the hamlet of Miliés and a couple of springs. The track starts on the gravel road at the north end of the beach, after the camping site, where there is a blue sign-post for ‘Le Grand Bleu Villa’ .
. . . after an hour’s climb, we reached the town, situated 1,000 feet above the sea
The chief feature of the place is a big rock, 100 feet high, rising straight out of the centre of the town, on which the mediaeval fortress stood, and around which cluster the flat-roofed houses … with one church of considerable age.
To get to the top of the Kastro and the church, one has to go through the blue door at the top of the steps leading up to the church of Kyra Leousa – Our Lady of Mercy. The door is always locked but the key can be obtained from the café Loza lower down in the square next to the police station.
From the top the view over the much-indented coast and peaky mountains of Amorgos is truly magnificent
The Bents had a letter of introduction to the local mayor, in whose house they stayed in Chora. The mayor introduced them to a local priest, Papa Demetrios, who was to be their guide on their expeditions across the island. Theodore considered the town to be “uninteresting” (see the Olive Presses section), however, now it’s considered one of the finest of the island chora.
The Café and Mad Spiro
We made our way, first of all, to the public kaffeneion, where the magnates were assembled
Amazingly, after 130 years, the kafeneion, O Fotodotis, is still there and the traditional kafeneion atmosphere still prevails, including impromptu music sessionsl;on the wall hang a bouzouki and a violin.
More amazing is that the café is still owned by a descendent of the same family, Iakovos Gavrás, in the blue T-shirt, third from the left.
He is the great-great-great-great grandson (possibly another ‘great’ or two) of the man who served Theodore and Mabel – probably Markos Gavrás seated on the left of the old photo. You can sit gazing up the road as the Bents did, imagining poor Mad Spiro “glaring at you, and talking at you, and otherwise bringing you into unenvied observation”
The Street of Wells
From out of the café window we had a view down a street full of wells, over twenty of them. Every householder has a right to sink one here if he is rich enough;
if not he has to put up with the public wells, which are a few paces above, and walled in.
The wells are still all there lining the street called Demótika and, further along, on the rising ground, you can also see the public wells Theodore mentions. Unfortunately, because Demótika is just on the boundary of the pedestrian Chora, cars park between the wells so the photographic potential of these evocative reminders of the past is lessened.
It was a pretty sight to watch the old women going to fetch water
Sofía Nikitidou, in her 50s, a member of the extended Gavrás family, remembers fetching water from the wells when she was 6 or 7. She also clearly remembers “the old women going to fetch water, with their amphorae tottering on the troulos on their heads”.
Visit to Aigiale and the North – Tuesday and Wednesday 12th/13th April 1883
Quite a speciality of Amorgos are the well-preserved Hellenic towers . . . We passed by two on our expedition this morning, the first at a spot called Torlaki
. . . Further on, at Richti, we passed a round one
As we approached the bay of Aigiale to our left we passed the island of Nikousia, which protects this harbour, and is used as a place of banishment for Amorgiote lepers.
And then about five hours after leaving the capital we entered the demarchy of Aigiale, which consists of five villages dotted up and down an exceedingly fertile valley. Down by the harbour is the village of St. Nicholas
The village of St. Nicholas is now known simply as Aigiale and is the main village of the area. Until the late 1990s, Aigiale was connected to Chora and the south of the island only by a dirt road and the monopati (footpath) across the mountain ridge of the island. The dirt road is now an asphalt road and it takes around 20 minutes to travel between the two. However, it still feels that Aigiale and its villages are somewhat isolated from the south of the island – even the ferries reflect this separation with services calling at both ports, not always on the same day.
Down by the harbour is the village of St. Nicholas, where there are lots of ruins, chiefly of the Roman epoch, vaulted tombs, and a place which must have been a bath and the remains of a temple.
Theodore is possibly referring to two locations here. Firstly, the site of the Ancient Acropolis which is on a hillock bounded by the monopati from Aigiale to Langada and the tarmac road between the two; there appears to be no means of access to the site. Secondly, the architectural remains halfway along the beach which are know by the name Dherivas (Δεριβας). It’s difficult to glean any in-depth information on these two sites – many of the locals have no reliable information about them and some are not even aware they exist. Any further information would be welcomed.
Tholaria and Vigla
As the afternoon was growing late we climbed up to the village of Tholaria . . .
. . . where Papa Demetrios promised us comfortable quarters for the night
Next morning we went to a spot called Vigla now, but which was the site of the ancient town of Aigiale
The Journey round the Valley
Before the heat of the day came on . . . we commenced our journey round the valley which encircles the harbour.
This really is an enchanting walk and you can trace, what we think are, Theodore and Mabel’s footsteps by following the detailed directions courtesy of the www.cycladen.be website.
It is most admirably cultivated in terraces forming narrow fields which run up the mountain sides to a great height.
The first village we halted at was Strymbo, built in an almost inaccessible gorge — a wretched hamlet, but exceedingly picturesque
Since the Theodore’s visit, the village of Strymbos became deserted and the houses fell into ruin. In recent years, some of the houses have been renovated by foreigners, notably an English writer Carolina Matthews who published 2 books about her experiences in the mid-1960s and early 1970s. Strymbos is now starting to revive, although still very tiny and not yet quite “eight houses and twelve ovens”
Next we came to Langada, the chief village of the demarchy and the seat of government
Langada’s position as chief village of the region has now been eclipsed by the port and beach village of Aigiale. It is extremely picturesque; its whitewashed houses and steep streets climb the hill and culminate in the tiny town square, or plateia, with its kafeneion and tavernas.
Ayia Triada and the Fortress
Close to Langada is a fortified refuge from pirates on a rock above the village, most difficult of access . . . and at the top is a tiny church and holes cut in the rock for the protection of the soldiers
The church really must be one of the tiniest in Greece. Its door is no more than a metre and a half high. Once inside, anybody of average height would need to stoop to avoid touching the ceiling. It is around two metres wide and probably just 3 metres deep. A congregation of more than 4 would be difficult to fit in. There is another newer church added since Theodore’s day a few steps further up. This church is slightly larger.
The mountain village at which we lunched rejoiced in the long name of Asphondilitis; it is given to cheese-making, and composed of hovels.
Asfondilitis is still a rural village where one feels cast back centuries in time. It sits on a mountain plateau midway between the east and west coasts of Amorgos. Although it can now be reached by a small paved road coming off the main Chora to Aigiale road, approaching it on the ancient mountain track gives a feel for its remoteness and isolation in the not-so-distant past. V.C. Scott O’Connor passed this way in the 1920s in a raging north wind and recounted his horrifying journey in the book ‘Isles of the Aegean‘. He too was welcomed by a village shepherd and given “two large bowls of fresh milk, to which he added some fresh cheese and a loaf of his excellent brown bread with a glass of raki”.
**** Photos of Asfondilitis
Visit to Katapolis, Minoa, Arkesini and Brytsi – Thursday and Friday 14th/15th April 1883
The next day (Thursday) with Papa Demetrios the Bents travelled back down to Katapolis they first visited Katapolis to see the remains of the temple of Pythian Apollo in a field near the shore in front of the Town Hall. Then to the Church of the Virgin of the Hundred Gates to see some more of the temple stones let into the building and also the inscribed slab. Along the coast were the vaulted chambers built up against the cliff (we photoed them).
First of all, very early in the morning we descended to the harbour (Katapolis), and there Papa Demetrios showed me the remains of a temple of Pythian Apollo, now only discernible from certain pedestals and inscriptions, some of which stand in a field near the shore
. . . and others are let into the building of a little church, the Virgin of the Hundred Gates
. . . On the steps before the tempelon of this church there is a slab, inscribed in late Greek letters, which states that it was put up in honour of one Aurelius, of Minoa
Ruins of Minoa
We then climbed the summit on which Minoa once stood, about 600 feet above the sea-level, and we were much struck with the size of the walls and the extent of the terraces; the entrance to this inner town is easily traced, and inside these are numerous cisterns.
Then on to Arkesini (now called Kastri) where they met Papa Demtrios’ father. They stayed at Brytsi and next morning walked to the and after the Hellenic Tower (best tower) at sto chorio. Was that the one we climbed under the wall to see. The other side of the valley is a village called Rakide. On their way back they passed through a wild uncultivated district with lovely views over the hills and sea.
and returned to Chora on Good Friday.
Visit to the Convent of Chozobiotissa – probably Saturday 16th April 1883
At some time before Easter Day, the Bents went to see the Convent of Chozobiotissa precariously perched high on a sheer cliff face looking toward the coast of the Turkish mainland and the, then Turkish, Dodecanese islands with Astypalaea in the near distance.
In modern usage, the term convent is usually taken to mean a religious community of nuns, however, Bent uses the term in the older sense of a community of either nuns or priests or both. Chozobiotissa was inhabited by monks.
In September 2015, there were just 3 monks living at the monastery with ages of 46, 64 and 66.
The history of the monastery is based on faith and legend. Read the story of the monastery and its icon.
The position chosen for this convent is most extraordinary. A long line of cliff, about two miles from the town, runs sheer down 1,000 feet into the sea; a narrow road, or ledge, along the coast leads along this cliff to the convent, which is built half-way up. Nothing but the outer wall is visible as you approach. The church and cells are made inside the rock.
. . . they suffer here frequently from rocks which fall from above
We entered by a drawbridge, with fortifications against pirates . . .
The drawbridge was replaced some years ago by a staircase after the threat of pirate invasions had ceased. However, the entrance door can still only be locked from the inside so a priest, or sometimes a guardian, must always be present in the monastery.
. . . and were shown into the reception room
Three of the five silver eikons in the church were to be the object of our veneration for seven days to come.
Visiting the Monastery Today
If you are in Amorgos, a visit to the monastery is not to be missed.
Buses run to the monastery from Aigiali, Chora and Katapola. Timetables are available on the KTEL Amorgos website. Some buses go all the way to the car park by the gate of the monastery, others will drop you at the junction with the road that continues on to Agia Anna from where it’s a 5-minute walk to the gate. From the gate, it’s quite a steep walk up to the monastery taking 5-10 minutes.
There’s a good footpath from Chora that takes less than 30 minutes to descend to near the bus stop at the Agia Anna junction. See the full description of the route to the monastery as the first part of the longer walk to Aigiali or download the GPS route file.
No photography is allowed inside the chapel. A strict dress code is enforced by the guardians. Even though the sign says that respectful clothing is no longer available for use, there may be some at the entrance door but don’t rely on it. Men must wear trousers and women skirts – women in trousers may be asked to wrap themselves in a skirt – men in shorts must put on one of the pairs of trousers that MIGHT be available at the door. Best to dress properly before you go to avoid disappointment.
You will be shown the hospitality of a glass of rakomelo and some loukoumi and you may, optionally, make a contribution to the monastery or buy souvenirs.
The monastery should be open from 08:00 to 13:00 and from 17:00 to 19:00 – but always check before you go.
The Procession of the Holy Icons – Sunday 17th April 1883 (Easter Day)
*** Photo of the people gathering on the steep cliff waiting for the icon.
*** photo The place of meeting was only a quarter of a mile from the town,
**** Photo of the handing over at the convent door.
**** Photo of the procession from the convent with the standard, the iron cross and the icons
It was an impressive sight to look upon. Steep mountains on either side, below at a giddy depth the blue sea, and all around the fanatical islanders were lying prostrate in prayer, wrought to the highest pitch of religious fanaticism.
*** photo of the scene
*** Photo of the t,here icons on the threshing floors and the crowd prostate
*** Photo of the church of Christ where the icons spent their first night
Expedition up Mount Elias – Monday 18th April 1883 (Easter Monday)
Monday dawned fair and bright, as days always do about Easter time in Greece. Again the bustle and the clanging of bells awoke us early. There was a liturgy at the Church of Christ, where the eikons were, and after that a priest was despatched in all hurry up to the summit of Mount Elias, which towers some 2,000 feet above the town.
… we watched what was going on below in the town, and saw the processions form … prior to commencing their arduous ascent up Mount Elias. It was curious to watch the progress up the rugged slopes, the standard bearer in front, the eikons and priests behind, chanting hard all the time with lungs of iron.
Visit to St George Balsimitis and the Holy Source – Tuesday 19th April 1883
Katapolis – Wednesday night 20th April
Bent stayed in Katapolis on Wednesday night in the dirty house of the priest Papa Manoulas so that he could be ready for the the icons’involvement in the Blessing of the Ships ceremony .
The Icons Return to the Convent – Sunday 24th April 1883
the eikons return to their home
500 men then accompany the three priests all the way to the convent along the narrow road; and the monks beneficently present each with as much bread and cheese as he can carry,