First person story
Originally in the article, moved here for mining. -- Hypatia 10:54, 7 Nov 2004 (EST)
I visited this unspoiled Greek island recently to rediscover the Greece of times past.
As the dawn gently appeared over the horizon during my first morning on Tilos after an absence of nearly a quarter century, I wondered to myself what had changed or remained the same during this time. I decided that the best way to find out was to fold my memories into my overnight bag and venture out with an open mind to explore the body and soul of this island in the Dodecanese.
I began my journey at the port of Livadia on the east side of Tilos which is the main entry point for most visitors to this small, intimate island that is home to 250 residents. As you step onto the dock, the village of Livadia quietly hugs the shore next to the port at the foot of the mountains that shelter Livadia Bay. As you face eastward, the silky silhouette of the mountains of Turkey appear to rise out of the morning sea mist in the distant background while early morning fishermen can be seen guiding their boats out of the harbor before fanning out into the open waters of the Aegean. As your gaze drifts upward to the sky, Agriosykia Castle emerges from the rocky mountaintop to cast its watchful eye over Livadia as it has done unfailingly for the past six hundred years.
As the sun slowly rose, I was captivated by the changing pastel hues of the mountains above Livadia which stood in contrast to the unremarkable architecture prevailing in the village below. There are a few noticeable exceptions which include the gracefully sculpted Italian architecture of the Tilos Police Station building at the port, reminiscent of the Italian domination of the island from 1912 until 1948 at which time the Dodecanese reverted to the modern arms of its maternal Hellenistic past. Another welcome exception can be found dotting the foothills of the mountainside where you will see scattered white, cubed buildings in which small, fully equipped apartments have been constructed and tastefully landscaped with spectacular views overlooking the pristine bay.
Livadia Beach begins its graceful mile-long curve twenty meters from the port, but it will test the reliability of your shoes with pebbles blanketing the shore by the village before gradually refining to sand at its distant end. This slight inconvenience underfoot will not deter enthusiastic beachgoers who enjoy swimming and snorkeling in warm, crystal clear water; breezing along the smooth surface of the protected bay on colorful windsurf boards, canoes and pedaloes easily available for hire; and sunbathing on comfortable lounge chairs that peak out from the welcome shade of tall pine trees scattered along the beach.
When the spirit moves, you can drop into any one of a multitude of small tavernas that overlook the beach or are tucked away in the village, which fulfills the needs of the visitors and local residents with the exception of island banking services that are limited to those offered at the Livadia post office.
The overall feeling I had from the town is one that reflects its recent history. The village of Mikro Horio, established in the 15th century in the hills above Livadia, was abandoned after World War II by its residents, some of whom moved to Livadia to build a new life as business developed around the port. The incongruity of recent building designs and colors in some portions of Livadia reveal the underlying dreams of hard-working people whose visions reflect a commendable self-reliance tainted by a blindness to their cultural heritage and the merits of community coordination. On balance, though, I found a refreshingly relaxed atmosphere in this town with genuinely accommodating residents.
Eager to explore the rest of the island, I took the main road out of town toward the direction of Megalo Horio which is only a ten minute drive (7 km) from Livadia. Visitors can select from a variety of transport options, including a car or scooter available for hire at the port, a surprisingly reliable city bus, or a taxi, all of which are easy to procure. A petrol station is conveniently located on this road halfway between the two villages.
As I wound my way through the mountain, I marveled at the ancient stone walls made centuries ago to corral the animals, the plethora of tiny churches with their ruggedly rustic architecture barely perceptible against the stony hillsides, and the venerable, twisted trunks of windswept oak and olive trees that guard the secrets of the island’s past.
The history of this island, dating back to six million years ago resulting from a territorial separation from the coast of Asia Minor, clearly traces its population back to the Minoan, Mycenaean and Dorian periods between 3,000 BC and 1,000 BC from the artifacts discovered here. But I personally felt the unmistakable presence of the past in the atmosphere surrounding the small churches I visited off the beaten path. Those who enjoy nature walks will find the added bonus of discovering that Tilos is home to two hundred Byzantine era churches scattered throughout the island with as many as forty one still retaining their original frescoes.
While walking on some of the nature trails filled with green and golden hues of unspoiled flora and fauna that abound on this island, the pungent aroma of wild thyme and sage wafting through the air reminded me of the Greek myth explaining the island’s name. According to legend, Tilos was named after the youngest son of Alia and Apollo who collected herbs from the island hoping to cure his mother when she became ill. After her recovery, he returned to the island and established a sanctuary in honor of Apollo and Poseidon in order to express his appreciation.
Continuing on toward the ancient capital of Tilos, I saw ruins of the castle and fortress of Messaria, brimming with life during the 14th and 15th centuries, rising out of the mountain. Beneath it, the cave of Harkadio is the site of recent excavations that surprised paleontologists when the skeletons of pygmy elephants dating back to 4,500 BC. were unearthed. There is an impressive presentation of this discovery in Megalio Horio which is open to visitors free of charge.
Just three kilometers up the road, Megalo Horio begins to unfold like a ruffled white fan against the steep slopes of St. Stefanos hill which is crowned by an ancient castle that dominates the skyline. There is a quiet charm inherent in this village that is built on tradition. Beginning in 1827, some of the ancient ruins were respectfully incorporated into the buildings you see today in which you will find City Hall, the public school and library, the Pygmy Elephant Exhibit, the medical office, and the general grocery store. The adjoining main square offers heavenly dimensions of fragrance and color in this gardener’s paradise filled with plumeria, bougainvillea and roses shaded by trees that overlook the valley and Eristos Bay to the south.
After my visits to the local cafés, I sensed that those islanders who live close to this ancient capital feel strong bonds to their ancestors as reflected in their discussions about family chapels, preservation of the environment, the island hunting ban, the merits of organic farming and the importance of gravesite care. The road between Livadia built on dreams and Megalo Horio built on tradition may physically connect the two towns but it cannot bridge the two different worlds.
From Megalo Horio, the bird’s eye view of the fertile valley below against the cool, blue backdrop of Eristos Bay will tempt any visitor to explore this part of the island. Tilos is gifted with an abundance of natural spring water that enables the cultivation of a dazzling array of fruits, almonds and vegetables. The agricultural sector consists entirely of small family businesses thus creating a comfortable, old world feel to the food you enjoy on Tilos. In springtime, this valley becomes a vibrantly colored canvas brushed with deep reds, swirling yellows, and splashes of blue bursting from the wildflowers that grace this island’s soil.
At the end of this valley lies the most beautiful swimming beach on the island called Eristos Beach. Most of the mile long beach is golden sand inviting beachgoers to sunbathe, swim, snorkel, play volleyball and soccer and take long, dreamy walks along the shore. When fishing enthusiasts get hungry, they barbecue their catch of the day right on the beach using the island’s own lemon juice, olive oil and wild thyme to make a succulent, memorable meal.
Another fine beach on Tilos is a few kilometers north of Megalo Horio at Plaka Bay. Before you reach Plaka, you will come across picturesque St. Antonios Bay with a small port, a thin rocky stretch of uninviting beach, a few hotel rooms and a restaurant. The gravesite with fossilized human skeletons overlooking the bay is noteworthy for its historical value; however, for those with a beach agenda and limited time, continuing to Plaka is recommended.
From Plaka, I continued west along this scenic road with breathtaking views until I reached the monastery of St. Panteleimon that was built in 1470, restored in 1703 and 1824, and expanded in 1843. The palm-leafed entrance opens to a pebbled courtyard that looks like a lush oasis landscaped with flowers, trees, the traditional Greek basil and grapevines. The monastery’s zenith was reached during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as it printed bank notes used on the island, owned vast tracts of land with animal herds and served as a key economic as well as spiritual center. Today, you will see a walled complex consisting of the courtyard leading to the church whose inspiring, centuries-old frescoes have been restored following the plaster covering by the Turkish occupation, the monks’ quarters adjacent to the church and a tree-filled courtyard on a lower level offering picnic tables for those who bring their own lunches or order at the sandwich hut. There is also a glorious fountain of cool, fresh and delicious spring water gushing continuously at the entrance.
My quiet return to Livadia allowed me the time to reflect upon what had changed or remained the same since my last visit. My memories of monuments had faded over the years but my memories of the warmth and the surprising respect with which I, as a financially strapped student, had been treated by the islanders had remained in my heart. On this journey, I found the island’s natural beauty, tranquility and unspoiled beaches to have remained exactly as I remembered long ago. The preservation and presentation of its historical past have clearly been enhanced. And despite the few islanders sadly swept up in the cyclone of tourism, I prize above all my discovery that the elusive, unspoiled Greece of yesteryear lives in the hearts of most islanders which, for me, is what makes Tilos the real jewel of the Aegean.
Police Department Telephone: +30-224-604-4222 Coast Guard/Port Authority Telephone: +30-224-604-4350
Livadia Medical Office/Pharmacy Telephone: +30-224-604-4219 and 607-0884
Livadia Telemedicine Office Web site: http://users.otenet.gr/~timtem/panel.html
Megalo Horio Medical Office/Pharmacy/Ambulance Service Telephone: +30-224-607-0883 and 604-4210
Livadia Greek Postal Service Office Telephone: +30-224-604-4249 Fax: +30-224-604-4130
The Post Office serves as a Savings Bank and provides cash for account holders only through the Greek Postal Savings Society. There is no Bank or ATM machine currently on the island. Some businesses accept certain credit cards.
Telephone Public Company (OTE) Telephone: +30-224-604-4099 Fax: +30-224-604-4299 Mobile telephony is operational on Tilos. Public phones require the use of a prepaid phone card, which can be purchased at the Post Office or at local markets. Public phone booths exist in Aghios Antonios (1), Aghios Panteleimon Monastery (1), Eristos (1), Livadia (3), and Megalo Horio (3). Several stores and cafes host public phones also.
Electricity Public Company (ΔΕΗ) Telephone/Fax: +30-224-604-4218 Electrical appliances must utilize 220V to operate on Tilos.
Tilos Sea Star Telephone: +30-22460-44000 Fax: +30-224-604-4044
In just ninety minutes, the Tilos Sea Star, a high-speed catamaran/hovercraft, can transport you from Rhodes (International Airport) to Tilos.
Tilos (An almost scientific approach).
The region of Tilos constitutes a relatively isolated island cluster in the southern Dodecanese Islands of Greece in the Aegean Sea.
Tilos is a relatively small island (63 square km) that presents unique features in topography, geology and landscape variety. The main island is characterized by intense bas-relief with autonomous semi-mountainous volumes, numerous bays, dozens of small capes and a plethora of small coastal plains. The main island is surrounded by 14 small islands and several small anonymous rocky islands. Because of the intense bas-relief and the varied geology, there are numerous natural springs that supply a network of small underground rivers of fresh water.
The biotic environment has been shaped by a human presence of long duration and by the geographic isolation of the island. Notwithstanding this long human presence on Tilos, the current ecological physiognomy of the island reflects a notable emigration of island residents in the 1950’s resulting in the abandonment of two village settlements and a significant portion of agricultural cultivation.
Observable evidence indicates that, following this abandonment of agricultural cultivation, natural vegetation reclaimed previously cultivated terraces and an extension of indigenous tree vegetation occurred in certain flat areas. As a result, the island currently supports a wide variety of vegetation. The variety of biotopes as well as the presence of different aviary species is remarkable. Sixteen (16) different types of biotopes recognized by the European Union Community Directive 92/43 have been recorded with three types of biotopes characterized as biotopes of priority for the protection of nature in the European Union. On the island of Tilos and the surrounding islands of Tilos, three hundred seventy-seven (377) native classified units of plants (types and subspecies) have been recorded.
Tilos has a remarkable aviary population. One hundred and two species of birds, of which forty-six (46) species are characterized as requiring protection by special arrangement, have been recorded on the island. Twenty-six (26) strictly protected aviary species have been recorded that are included in the annex of I of the European Union Community Directive 79/409. Certain aviary species, numbering at least eleven (11), maintain important populations on the island. Their presence inherently lends a significant value to the island, and lends a scientific importance with regard to the protection of these species in the southern Aegean. Remarkable are the populations of Phalacrocorax aristotelis, Hieraaetus fasciatus, Buteo rufinus, Falco eleonorae, Falco peregrinus, Laurus audouinii, Coracias garrulus, Hippolais olivetorum and Emberiza caesia. Tilos also maintains one of the densest populations of Islander Partridge in the southern Aegean. This is significant because this species is an important food source for threatened birds of prey. Because of the sixteen-year hunting ban on the island inaugurated in 1987, there is no hunting pressure.
In addition to its aviary importance, the Tilos cluster of islands presents a special scientific interest due to the presence of the Mediterranean Seal and certain species of reptiles that are rare on the European continent because they expand mainly into Asia Minor and Western Asia.
An abundance of natural dwellings and places of refuge, the natural and artificial collections of water (including small wetlands), the rocky protrusions, the isolation of the islands, the natural tree clusters including the recent extension of relatively young thinly forested areas into the abandoned agricultural fields, collectively serve to attract and create a domicile for numerous species of flora and fauna, resulting in cores of biodiversity.
The long duration of human activity on the island has left scattered and appreciable testimonies that are dated from prehistoric times to the recent past. The environment of Tilos presents a mosaic of cultural landscapes where anthropogenic elements are present throughout the island. Such elements primarily consist of the ancient, medieval and recent settlements; two existing, traditional settlements of habitation; various defensive constructions (small castles, fortresses, observatories etc); infrastructure developments (paths, etc.); temples, churches and monasteries; agricultural production and related facilities; livestock-farming and other evidence of human existence. Tilos demonstrates the presence of a complex ecosystem shaped by people where human activities have been harmonized with the natural environment.
The island of Tilos presents particular interest for the protection of nature in Greece. The region has been included in the List of Corine Biotopes Project, as an important region for the protection of nature in the European Union, the list of Important Regions for the Birds of Europe (IBA), and the new list of Areas of Special Protection (SPA), pursuant to the European Union Community Directive 79/409 “for the protection of birds”. Upon completion of the pending administrative procedures in accordance with EU regulations, the region of Tilos is expected to be characterized as an Area of Special Protection and included in the European Ecological Network "Natura 2000".
Compared to the other main islands of the south-eastern Dodecanese, Tilos is more isolated geographically, as much from the Asia Minor coast as from all other big islands (as Kos and Rhodes), resulting in a significant biological and geographical area of interest.
Tilos has many flat areas of land that have been abandoned or are not cultivated intensively. Here, the tree vegetation has been reborn' shaping thin forestry areas with a particular tree indigenous to Asia known as the Gramithia (Pistacia terebinthus palaestina). The resulting evolution of these new landscape areas predominantly populated by the presence of this Asian tree in what may be correctly characterized as “forests” is extremely significant because forested plains have almost disappeared on other islands of the Dodecanese and their presence in the Aegean islands is limited. As a result, these new “forests” on Tilos possess significant value for many aviary species.
According to Annex I of European Union Community Directive 92/43), Tilos is host to sixteen (16) different biotopes, of which three (3) are designated as biotopes of priority for the protection of nature in the European Union. The significance of this finding is that it represents a relatively large number of biotopes for only one island, notwithstanding the fact that the main island and surrounding islands are predominantly covered by one main biotope, i.e. bushes.
Tilos has dozens of small natural fresh water springs that are active during most of the year. Compared to other islands of proportional size in the southern Aegean, Tilos has an abundance of fresh spring water to support its natural landscape.
Tilos currently has a small permanent resident population living in two village settlements. Historically to the present, human activities that could adversely affect the natural environment of Tilos have been very limited.
Tilos has vast expanses of land with indigenous plant and animal life in good condition free from artificial interference. These areas are characterized by difficulty of access (absence of roads) as well as by lack of recent human interventions. These conditions give rise to a particular character that is called wild nature (wilderness). Areas of wild nature exist in significant coastal and abandoned landscapes of the island. The areas of wild nature have particular importance for the birds of prey. Most species of birds of prey nest and hunt in and around the inaccessible, rocky mountains.
Significant regions exist where the harmful effects of human activities on the natural environment have been limited. In some cases, these harmful effects have been obviated or reversed due to the mid-twentieth century population reduction and settlement abandonment, resulting in the progressive recovery of nature in these formerly occupied colonies and the previously cultivated regions visible in the terraced mountainsides. Such natural and semi natural areas exist to a limited extent on the main islands of the Dodecanese as a result of the relatively recent construction of new roads, public and private works, tourist accommodations, and related activities. In Tilos, the natural and semi natural areas contribute a significant ecological value, and they offer nourishing resources and habitat to threatened aviary species that depend on these areas for survival.
Tilos is characterized by the presence of mountains and coastal precipices that are the largest and most extensive in the Dodecanese. The mountains reach an altitude of hundreds of meters above sea level and constitute natural shelters for the threatened species of indigenous fauna and flora.
The structural portions of the ancient and medieval castles, towers, fortresses, stone walls, churches and towers as well as the two recently abandoned settlements contribute a significant ecological value to the natural environment. The stone masonries are important shelters for reptiles and birds, such as the Coracias garrulus that nests in the ruins. Consequently, these cultural and historical monuments of Tilos have been incorporated in the natural landscape of the island.
Tilos offers a significant aviary interest on an international level because of the presence of important populations of protected birds. Twenty-six (26) species of birds found on Tilos are included in Annex I of the European Union Community Directive 79/409 as threatened species.
Particularly important is the marine presence of the Mediterranean Seal recognized worldwide as an endangered species. This mammal has found refuge in the numerous underwater caves around the island.
Finally, the flora of the island consisting of certain rare and endemic types, provides a significant bio-geographic interest.
The geology of Tilos is rich. The Harkadio cavern, in which the fossilized pygmy elephants were discovered along with other ancient artifacts, has been proposed as a Monument of Geological Heritage. Important geological elements also include volcanic turf in the wider region of Messaria, the beach rocks along the seashore of San Antonios bay, and the strata visible along the imposing coastal precipices in the NW and SE parts of the island.
Redone from template
I've redone the Tilos page according to standard region template, and added the hotel listing and most (leaving out some parts I didn't think appropriate to a travel guide) of the Understand text from the previous version. Sailsetter 15:00, 19 September 2008 (EDT)