Route 5: Disconnected from the World…Exploring the tiny islets of the NE Aegean Archipelago
Seven-day cruise to Antipsara, Psara, Kardamyla, Oinousses, Pasas and the islets of the Karaburun Peninsula
From this moment I began to conclude in my mind that it was possible for me to be more happy in this forsaken, solitary condition that it was possible I should ever have been in any other particular state in the world; and with this thought I was going to give thanks to God for bringing me to this place.
Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, 1719
Tiny islands full of great stories, shelters of pirates and sailors shining like precious stones under the Aegean Sun. This route offers a unique experience…disconnection from the world. We are leaving behind the world as we know it and we sail to unexplored destinations. Some of the islands are uninhabited, some other managed to maintain a peaceful and serene way of living in our shifting time. Forget your internet connection and turn off your mobile phones for some days. This trip is about euphoria and exploration, reconciliation with nature and admiration of unspoiled landscapes. Let our quest for tranquility begin…
When you are approaching Antipsara you have this unique feeling of disconnection from the world. The tiny uninhabited islet is an isolated paradise endowed with beautiful sandy beaches, steep ridges and no traces of human intervention. Only a few shepherds are herding their goats creating this way an idyllic bucolic scenery.
Having this feeling of euphoria we are exploring this forgotten paradise in the middle of the Aegean. We are visiting the whitewashed chapel of St. John the Baptist located on the eastern side of the island and we enjoy the view of the neighboring island of Psara.
This is exactly the meaning of Antipsara, on the opposite side of Psara and in the same time on the opposite side of the world as we know it.
Glory walks alone
She meditates on her heroes
And wears in her hair a wreath
Made from a few dry weeds
Left on the barren ground
Dionysios Solomos, The destruction of Psara, 1824
Psara is a little dot in the middle of the Aegean… A satellite island of Chios with a rich history, beautiful beaches and wonderful local delicacies, Psara forms an unspoiled secret paradise where visitors have the unique privilege to combine water-sport activities, take a hike on the paths of the island and fish in one of the most amazing underwater environments of the Aegean.
There have not been many excavations conducted at the island, but according to the interesting finds from the area of Archontiki beach, archaeologists have concluded that the island was inhabited at least from the Mycenean period. Psara is mentioned by Homer under the name “Psyra” while we know from ancient sources that during the classical and Hellenistic years there was a temple dedicated to the Greek god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine Dionysus, even though in Psara wine-producing had never been developed. This inconsistent event inspired a joke among ancient Greeks… When somebody was invited to a symposium and he was not having any wine at all, he was paralleled with the Psariots who had a temple dedicated to Dionysus without having any grapevines on their island!
For some long periods during the Byzantine and the Ottoman period the island was uninhabited because of the pirate raids that were very common at the time. From the 18th century, the Psariots started developing an important fleet and became some of the most important merchants and traders in the Ottoman empire. Ioannis Varvakis became a legend in his time because of his trading activities. He went to Russia where he became a personal friend of Catherine the Great and Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin. He developed a fishery industry at Astrakhan (South Russia) and he invented an ingenious way which allowed him to preserve Caviar for a long time, exporting huge quantities of this precious food in Europe. He was known as the King of Caviar and he managed to become one of the richest men of his era. The famous Greek director Yannis Smaragdis made a film about his life entitled God loves Caviar.
During the Greek revolution against the Ottoman empire, Psara had the 3rd largest fleet of all the Greek islands. Two of the most important admirals of Greece were from Psara, Dimitrios Papanikolis, and Constantine Canaris. Because of their action against the Ottomans, the island was unfortunately devastated by the Ottoman army in 1824 and this is the reason that not many mansions or monuments of Psara are preserved before that year. According to the Greek 19th century poet Andreas Calvos, what was left of Psara was a huge ruin.
There is only one settlement on the island with the homonym name. Psara is a nice fishing village with 400 inhabitants. One of the buildings that have survived the 1824 destruction is the historic Spitalia, deriving from the word hospital, it used to be the quarantine for the sailors that were coming back to their home after many months of absence, ploughing the Mediterranean with their rapid vessels. Nowadays a restaurant, still survives as a silent witness of the island’s maritime history not far away from the modern port. In the village, we can also visit the Old Parliament, the Old Command Post/Konaki with its unique eclectic architecture, the picturesque windmill next to the sea and finally the Memorial of the Black Ridge.
Something of special interest that is not known to many people is the amazing story of an icon that was painted by one of the most important painters of all times. Dominikos Theotokopoulos, most widely known as El Greco/the Greek, was born in Crete and in his early years, he was influenced by the legacy of the Byzantine art. One of his most famous early works, painted before 1567 in the Byzantine manner, is the awe-inspiring icon of the Dormition of the Virgin. In 1983, after restoration, his signature was discovered provoking mass enthusiasm for art historians world wide because this discovery was very important for the understanding of early El Greco. This priceless icon was held in Psara until the destruction of the island in 1824; after this terrible event, the icon was transferred as a precious relic at the Holy Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin in the capital of the island of Syros, Hermoupolis. Some years ago the masterpiece of El Greco was transferred from Syros to Psara to honor this way the islanders that for so many years took care of this unique relic without even knowing who its creator was.
Except for history, art, and natural beauty Psara is famous for its delicious cuisine. Local mizithra cheese, kopanisti dip, thyme honey and of course the local lobster, the island’s specialty.
While leaving Psara we are gazing the monumental lighthouse located at the southeastern side of the island, not far away from St. George’s Cape. The lighthouse was constructed in the year 1909 when Psara was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Its height is 15m and nowadays is functioning with electricity and constitutes one of the landmarks of the island.
Chios - Marmaro/Kardamyla (GR)
Leon and Diomedon, with the Athenian galleys that were at Lesbos,
made war upon the Chians by sea from the isles called Oenussae,
which lie before Chios, and from Sidussa and Pteleum
(forts they held in Erythraea), and from Lesbos.
They that were aboard were men of arms of the roll,
compelled to serve in the fleet.
With these they landed at Cardamyle;
and having overthrown the Chians that made head in a battle at Bolissus,
and slain many of them,