Karpathos island, ancient ruins in Pigadia

Karpathos is perhaps the worst-kept secret in the Aegean. A spectacular island, the second largest in the Dodecanese, behind Rhodes, Karpathos has rich rewards for those who endure the long ferry trip from Pireaus, or the difficulty of finding a seat on the small planes that service the regular daily flights from Athens.

Karpathos has spent its history in relative isolation. It sent ships to the Trojan War, and was an ally of Athens in the 5th century BC, and, later, an important Roman and Venetian naval station. Otherwise, its history is one of relative calm and isolation, with its people in a constant battle to carve a living out of the mountainous terrain of this sliver of land that lies in the southeastern corner of the Aegean.
The hard life of the island led many of its sons and daughters to the maritime shipping business and, more recently, to the lands of opportunity in the New Worlds that emerged in the 19th century. There are thriving Karpathian communities today in the US, Canada and Australia, where many of the locals ended up, looking for a better life.

The bond with the old country, though, is extremely strong for Karpathians. Many of them have returned to the island, and have opened businesses here, mainly catering to the tourism industry. You have the feeling that most hotels and restaurants are owned by returning immigrants, and English seems to be the prevailing tongue in many of them.

The island’s charms include the landscapes, the villages and the beaches. Basically a mountain range jutting out from the sea, Karpathos offers spectacular views of the Aegean from anywhere on the road that connects Pigadia, the capital, in the south, and Diafani, the secondary harbor, in the north.

The island’s villages are picturesque and traditional, with wonderful architecture and charming little, narrow streets running through them. Although Spoa, Mesochori and Pigadia are beautiful, unspoilt Aegean settlements in their own right, Olympos, in the north, is an absolute must-see and one of the most spectacular sights of the Aegean.

The working windmills, the brightly-colored houses, the cliff-hanging restaurants and the unique food served here make Olympos an absolute delight. Uniquely in Greece, the women of Olympos still dress in traditional garb daily, providing a charming, living exhibition of traditional village life that does not exist anymore anywhere else in the country.

The beaches are mostly empty or almost empty, many of them sandy, and all of them offer crystal clear waters and deep blue Aegean skies. From the busy resort area of Amoopi (“Sand Hole”), near Pigadia, to the delight that is Apella beach (recently voted the best beach in the Mediterranean), the island features spectacular swimming and diving.

The island of Karpathos was in both ancient and medieval times closely connected with Rhodes. Its current name is mentioned, with a slight shift of one letter, in Homer's Iliad as Krapathos (οἳ δ' ἄρα Νίσυρόν τ' εἶχον Κράπαθόν τε Κάσον τε). Apollonius of Rhodes, in his epic Argonautica, made it a port of call for the Argonauts travelling between Libya and Crete (Κάρπαθος: ἔνθεν δ' οἵγε περαιώσεσθαι ἔμελλον). The island is also mentioned by Virgil, Pliny the Elder, and Strabo

Traces of human life that have been found come from the end of Neolithic Era (4.000-3.000 BC.). The first habitants of the island came from Asia Minor and were relatives with pre-Hellenic people who lived in Crete and other Greek islands (Kares etc.) The primitive Neolithic civilization of Karpathos continued to the 3rd millennium, but around 2.000 BC. Minoan colonists from Crete brought economic and cultural development to the island. During Neoanactoric Era of Crete (around 1.700-1.450 BC.) – known also as the Era of Minoan Sea Domination and Colonism, Karpathos seems to have had definite Minoan characteristics. It had a large population and was culturally and economically developed. READ MORE ABOUT THE NEOLITHIC SETTLEMENT HERE

The historian Diodoros Sikeliotis mentions that the first people of Karpathos were the first people who were sent by Minoas to Karpathos as colonists during the period of the Minoan Sea Domination. After them came colonists from Argos (apparently Mycenaean) with Ioklos, son of Demoleon, as leader. Homer, as well as the archaeological references, confirm the presence of Achaians (Greek Mycenaeans) on the island, despite the fact that the Minoan character of the civilization existed till the end of the Bronze Era. Karpathos took part in the Trojan War under the orders of Feidipos and Antifos. There are no findings from the end of the Bronze Era till the Archaic Period.
Rhyton in the shape of a bull’s head.Mycenean, about 1300-1200 BC
From the island of Kárpathos, Aegean Sea

It seems that in those times Dorian population dominated and the four cities which Stravon mentions may have been built from the Archaic times or even from previous years. During the Classic and Hellenistic times Karpathos seems to have had cultural and economic progress. This was due to a great extent to the economic and cultural relations with Rhodes, especially with Lindos.

The major village of those times was apparently Karpathos which was possibly situated in the area of Aperi. This village as it is known today seemed to be the capital of the island the following years. It continued to be during the Turks domination till 1892 A.D. when capital of the island became Pigadia, the seaport of the city of Karpathos in antiquity, and in those times was called “Poseidion”. The other three cities were Arkesia, near the village of Arkasa, Vrykous, (today it is called Vroukounta, in the northwest of Karpathos) and Nisiros which possibly was situated on the island of Saria. Saria in ancient times was an independent island and was called Saros.

After 478 B.C. Karpathos became member of the 1st Athenian Alliance as was proven from the taxes the members used to pay. In 404 B.C., the end of the Peloponesean War, the island was subdued to the Spartans, but after the sea battle of Knidos (394 B.C.) came under the rule of the Athenians and became member of the 2nd Athenian Alliance.

During the Hellenistic Period a great part of the island was under the rule of the Rhodean State, in other words the Lindian State.

Under the domination of the Romans, Karpathos becomes an island of strategic importance because it becomes one of the three Naval Stations of Rome in the Mediterranean.

Karpathos maintains this strategic power during the Byzantine Empire as well. Historical sources mention that the ships of the Karpathian Naval Station lead Nikiforos Fokas to Crete in 961 A.D.

During the rule of Emperor Dioklitianos (284-305 A.D.) Karpathos was incorporated in the “Provincia Insolarum” and during the rule of Emperor Herakleius (610-641 A.D.)

After the division of the Roman Empire in 395 CE, the island became part of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

Of its Christian bishops, the names are known of Olympius, who was a supporter of Nestorius, Zoticus (in 518), Mennas (in 553), Ioannes, Leo (in 787), and Philippus (in 879). In the 14th century, the island was a see of the Latin Church, four of whose bishops bore the name Nicolaus.[8][9] No longer a residential bishopric, Karpathos (in Latin Carpathus) is today listed by the Catholic Church as an archiepiscopal titular see.

In 1304, Karpathos was given as fief to the Genoese corsairs Andrea and Lodovico Moresco, but in 1306 it fell to Andrea Cornaro, a member of the Venetian Cornaro family. The Cornaro controlled Karpathos until 1538, when it passed into the possession of the Ottoman Turks.

During the Greek War of Independence from 1821 to 1822, the island rebelled, but afterwards it fell again under the Ottoman rule. In 1835, Sultan Mahmud II conceded to the island the privilege of the Maktu tax system; that is, the tax was calculated as an annual lump sum, and not on an household basis. The Ottoman rule ended on 12 May 1912, when the Italians occupied the island, together with the whole Dodecanese, during the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-12. 

On that day, sailors from the Regia Marina ship Vittorio Emanuele and the destroyer Alpino landed in Karpathos. With the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, Karpathos joined the other islands of the Dodecanese in the Italian possession of the Italian Aegean Islands, and was ceded by Italy to Greece with the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947. The island formally joined the Kingdom of Greece on 7 March 1948, together with the other Dodecanese islands.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, due to the economic problems after World War II, a number of Karpathians emigrated to the U.S. eastern seaboard cities;. Karpathos today has a significant Greek-American constituency who have returned to their island and invested heavily. Inhabitants of the mountains to the north are more traditional..

Chapel of Agia Fotini (Pigadia)
Chapel of Agia Fotini (Pigadia), Karpathos island hasf at least 18 early-Christian basilicas, from the 5th and the 6th centuries AD. The basilica of Saint Fotini or Afoti, at Vronti beach, in Pigadia on the way to Village of Aperi, is one of the best preserved, although in ruins, and one of the most interesting historical sites on the island. The site contains the marble frame of the church and early Christian marble decorations and religious symbols.

Acropolis of Ancient Poseidio (Pigadia)
Acropolis of Ancient Poseidio (Pigadia): Probably built on a rocky hill. Chiselled Minoan and Mycenaean tombs were found in the Pigadia port. It may have been the acropolis during the Mycenaean times. READ MORE ABOUT ACROPOLIS HERE

Sanctuary of Dimitra 

Ruins of a field sanctuary, probably belonging to goddess Dimitra.

Ancient Acropolis of Arkasa

The ancient city’s ruins with the cyclopean walls are located on a rocky peninsula, in the center of the settlement.

 Ancient altar (Arkasa, in the Agia Sofia church)
Turned upside down, with feminine winged figures, it was used as a baptistery.

Saros (Palatia cove of the Saria islet)
Scattered shells of the Neolithic and copper age. Ancient chiseled tomb, paleochristian and medieval buildings. The odd arched buildings probably belonged to an Arabian settlement or Saracen pirates’ base prior to 10th century. 

Sokastro Islet (Lefkos)
Wrecks of a medieval installation with arched buildings, possibly tanks, and fortification parts.

Vroukounta (Olympos, north of Avlona area – 6th century B.C.)
One of the four ancient cities of the island. Part of its walls and tomb chambers, hollowed in rocks of the Hellenic era are still saved.

Kastellos(the southernmost foreland of the island)
The name means fortress, however, there are no fortresses ruins saved. 

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