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Athens News Agency: News in English, 10-03-30

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <>


  • [01] The famed 'katoikies' of Anafi in the Cyclades

  • [01] The famed 'katoikies' of Anafi in the Cyclades

    Scattered farm houses throughout the island of Anafi, in the Cycades complex, showcase the everyday "face" of the island, the rich agricultural production on sharp rocks and barren soil. Clusters of farms, the permanent homes of the Anafi farmers in the past, which are occasionally inhabited today. The "katoikies", the rural homes of the famed Anafi crafstmen and stone builders on the fringes of the fields, are part of an anonymous architecture that has as yet to be systematically studied, and a small example of the cultural heritage of the Aegean.

    Anafi is the southeasternmost island of the Cyclades, to the east of Thera (Santorini). It is hilly and barren with sparse vegetation, the highest peak being Vigla (584 m) in the centre of the island. Anafi looks like a pyramid, due to the central bulge, with a steep, slightly sinuous coastline, often forming small bays with secluded and tranquil beaches. The soil is composed of hard granite, while in several places, particularly on the hillsides, there are deposits of pumice from the eruption of the volcano of Santorini in 1650 BC, and transferred to Anafi through air and water masses. The subsoil contains iron and lead ores and there are sulphure springs at Vagia, on the west coast. Anafi is one of the Cyclades that do not face water shortage thanks to several springs, where the surrounding small fertile areas are in sharp contrast to the dry and arid landscape.

    The areas Roukounas and Kalamos have been included in the European network "NATURA 2000" as Sites of Community Importance (SCI). The island has been declared an Important Bird Area of Greece.

    In Greek mythology, Anafi is associated with the return of the Argonauts from Colchis. While fleeing the sudden darkening of the sky and the stormy weather in the Cretan Sea, they sought Apolloās aid. The god responded by sending a beam of light that revealed the closest island, where they found refuge and dropped anchor. Because of the islandās sudden revelation, the Argonauts called it Anafi (the illuminated island) and built a sanctuary to Apollo Aigletos (shining) to honour the god who aided them. The inclusion of Apollo in the history of the island is part of the evidence of the dominant position the specific god held in Cycladic mythology. The sanctuary to Delios Apollo on the island of Delos, considered the religious centre of ancient Cyclades and one of the most important centres of all ancient Greece, the sanctuaries on other islands and the use of Apolloās name in the towns of some islands demonstrate the long-standing relation between the god of light and the Cyclades.

    At the top of Kastelli hill, at the centre of the island, there are remains of the ancient capital (4th-2nd c. BC), including a strong wall, a cemetery with impressive graves and Roman funerary monuments. The Monastery of Kato Panagia (Virgin Mary) Kalamiotissa on the southeast coast has some walled inscriptions and is built from ancient buliding material on the ruins of a temple to Apollo Asgelata. The temple used to be the centre of the ancient inhabitantsā religious life, who, according to inscriptions, except for Apollo worshipped Asclepius, Zeus Ktesios and Aphrodite as well.

    The political centre (Kastelli) was connected with the religious centre by a sacred path, parts of which have been revealed. Finally, the site Katalymatso (or Katalymakia), a little to the west of the sanctuary, is identified with the islandās ancient port, as proven by the remains of the shipyards and the small settlement, which was connected with the two above sites by a detour around the sacred way. These three archaeological sites are not easily accessible, as one must follow the narrow paths on the steep hillsides, which are typical of the islandās relief. The National Archaeological Museum houses several findings from Anafi, while the Museum of Saint Petersburg (the Hermitage) houses items taken by the Russians, when they occupied the island in 1770-1774 during the Russo-Turkish war. The present populationās concentration in Chora of Anafi and the transfer of the old capital from Kastelli to its present location since the times of the Foscoli have isolated the islandās important archaeological sites, at the same time protecting them from modern building activity.

    Chora is today the islandās only organised settlement; together with the rest of the architectural remains on the island, it was proclaimed preservable in 2002. It is built within 1 km from the contemporary port of Agios Nikolaos, where all ships arrive from Piraeus and other islands. Its architecture is an exceptional example of the Aegean built environment, with comfortable, low, two-storey, white, stone houses with large yards overlooking the sea and narrow paved alleys connecting the houses through arches. The quarter of Anafiotika in Plaka of Athens is a well-preserved example of this architectural style, built in the 1860s to the south of the Acropolis by immigrant craftsmen and builders from Anafi.

    Stone-carving was one of the most important economic activities on the island in recent times; Anafi provided plenty of raw material. The people of Anafi were particularly skillful craftsmen and builders, contributing their knowledge to Athensā construction in the 19th century. The fact that the island was far from Piraeus and the central Cyclades and therefore relatively isolated helped Anafi to preserve its traditional setting and evade unfortunate architectural choices that were imposed by a short-sighted understanding of touristic development, as in other islands. Thus, visitors may admire the beautiful scenery of Chora and visit the islandās tranquil beaches, many of which are accessible only by sea, in particular from Virgin Mary Kalamiotissa. In addition, the windmills on the outskirts of Chora as well as several old country chapels are major attractions for many visitors, while in the Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi a great festival takes place on 8-9 September, when the inhabitants celebrate with songs reminiscent of the Cretan mantinades (folk songs in the form of 15-syllable rhyming couplets).

    The "Katoikies"

    Apart from Chora, the entire island has sparse buildings the inhabitants of Chora used to erect near their fields, so that they could live there during summer and vine harvest; they are called "katoikies". Such buildings were used for product storage (wheat, wool) and processing (cheese, honey). They are small stone complexes in rectangular form, consisting of some rooms and a kitchen, as well as storerooms, barns, threshing floors, ovens or sheep-runs. They form the nucleus of the agricultural economy of the island and underline the inhabitantsā permanent relationship with the land.

    Throughout history, the people from Anafi have been farmers and stock breeders, while bushy vegetation has contributed to the development of apiculture. The discovery of Hellenistic coins with the symbol of the bee on the one side testifies the long tradition of apiculture in Anafi. The islandās extensive terrace cultivation (pezoules) shows the efforts of the inhabitants to create new arable land. The bond between human activity and natural landscape, which runs throughout history, marks even today the picture of Anafi and makes the island an ideal place for alternative tourism.

    Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article
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