Folegandros An enchanting speck in the Aegean Sea

Folegandros or Polykandros was inhabited since prehistoric times and takes its name from the son of Minos, Folegandros. Its role in antiquity was not particularly important and it belonged to the Aegean Duchy during Venetian rule. Its Kastro (Fortress), the centre of modern-day Chora, was built at the time. It was incorporated into the new Hellenic State in 1828.

In the 20th century it was used intermittently as a place of exile. Today it is a popular holiday destination, authentic and at the same time cosmopolitan. The ferry reaches Folegandros from Piraeus either following the Eastern Cyclades route, or the Western Cyclades one. This latter itinerary is ideal for anyone wishing to get a complete picture of the island before actually setting foot on it. If the atmosphere is clear, then the silhouette of Folegandros appears in the horizon up to an hour before the ferry reaches its port. The island’s smooth shape, with its gentle curves, creates the impression that a mythical Titan stepped on it with all his strength, in an effort to jump to one of the neighbouring islands. The ferry circles the island’s northern coast for about half an hour, and passengers are giv¬en the opportunity to admire a unique custom, the “mirrors”. The inhabitants of Apano Meria mainly, use mirrors to try and ‘steal’ a piece of the sun and send a greeting to relatives and friends, as well as the island’s welcome visitors. The captain responds and the ship sounds its horn and maintains its course towards the island, while we admire the small bays and shout out their names as we remember each one: Lygaria, Agios Georgios, Serfiotiko, Vorina. We are approaching Karavostassis. It is afternoon, sunset and the sky has taken on a purple to scarlet hue behind the houses in the picturesque port, with its newly built hotels and the small church of Agios Artemios. We enjoy an ouzo, admire the open sea and rest from our journey, before we take the road to Chora, the capital. We look forward to walking through its suc¬cessive squares, which are unique in the Cyclades. To listen to the sound of the sea from Pounda, the first square at the foot of the Panagia hill, with a breathtaking view. We want to see the imposing Panagia (Virgin Mary) church at the top of the hill. We can’t wait to stroll down the cobbled streets of the Kastro (Fortress), with their whitewashed houses and blooming bougainvilleas; to reach the church of Panagia Pantanassa, gaze at the Aegean Sea and its islands and Apano Meria. Chora (the capital) was, and still is, beautiful. Traditional Cycladic architecture, well-preserved houses, combined with the development of tourism. We leave Chora behind us and take the road up to Apano (or Ano) Meria. Its scattered houses rest lazily under the August sun, until the summer meltemi blows again strongly, in this, the village of the wind. At the entrance to the village we encounter the Folk Art Museum, a renovated windrow with authentic equipment. The church of Agios Georgios (St George) stands imposing near the centre of Ano Meria.

The traditional tavernas serve “matsata”, a challenging invitation to our palates. We have a quick swim in Aggali, with its deep limpid waters, and take the footpath leading upwards from the last houses, to Galyfos. If we’re up to it, we stay on the same footpath, which takes us to Agios Nikolaos (St Nicholas), the beautiful beach with its thrift trees. On the way back, we promise ourselves that tomorrow, we will visit the other beaches by caique - Katergo, Livadaki, Ampeli - all of them beautiful. Or then again, we might stay in Aggali. Or maybe we’ll go to Vardia. Or Fira. Our holiday has just started, and the island is here, offering itself to us. Rest, fun, beautiful beaches, sleepy sunrises and romantic sunsets.

Delicacies from Folegandros

Folegandros is a small and rough island in the Southern Cycla¬des. However, it appears that in contrast to the soil, the imagination of its housewives is particularly fertile, and as a result, the local cuisine has unique tastes to show off. “Matsata”, local homemade pasta, served with a local, spicy cheese and cockerel or rabbit meat in red sauce, is a unique dish, on offer in the island’s taverns, and especially in Apano Meria; it is usually made to order as it should be consumed fresh. “Kalassounes”, i.e. various types of pie are another “forte” of Folegandros’ cuisine. Depending on the season, you will find “hortenies” (with spinach and greens), “kolokythenies” (sweet or savoury, made with pumpkin), and “sourotenies” or “kremydenies” (a summer pie made with “souroto” - a local sourish fresh cream cheese - and onions), and the unique “karpouzenia”, with watermelon flesh and honey. Other local cheeses include “xinotiro” (the dry version of “souroto”) and “xerotiri me gili’ (dry cheese with “gili”). This cheese, together with local “kouloures” (large bread rolls With aniseed and sesame), is the traditional Folegandros breakfast. Needless to say, fresh fish abound, and we need not mention the wonderful salads with local vegetables and greens, such as string beans, or the Greek salads with tiny local cherry-tomatoes, “korkokyles” as they are called here, miniature cucumbers, capers, which are abundant on the island, and, instead of feta cheese, a slice of “souroto”.

Traditional Christmas delicacies include “xerotigana”, “makarones” and also “bourekakia”, stuffed with almonds, walnuts, sesame and honey and sprinkled with icing sugar. The “hirosfagia” (pigs’ slaughtering) take place on Christmas Eve, and the “mezedes” (snacks) from the pigs that are slaughtered include “siglina” (browned salt pork pieces preserved in their own fat), “tziladia” (pork jelly), “loukanika” (sausages), and “maties” (pork intestines filled with rice, raisins and herbs). Easter - a time of year when the island is full of visitors - is marked gastronomically by “pites” (original cheese pies in the size and shape of an individual pizza), the wonderful “melopites” with mizithra cream cheese and honey and young goat baked in the oven with potatoes, while its intestines make a very tasty “patsas” soup with eggs and lemon. The last two dishes are also wedding food, because they are served to all the guests at weddings in Folegandros, as is “pasteli” (honey and sesame sweet) and “raki” (alcoholic drink).

Folk Art Museum

On the left of the public road leading from Kastro (Chora) to Ano Meria a narrow, rocky pathway winds its way up to the entrance to the “thimonia”. The earliest building, on the right, is estimated to have been built in the 17th century. It is divided into three areas: the house, the oil-press-cheesery, the oven. The walls are of drystone masonry, i.e. without any kind of mortar. The collapsed ceiling and roofs were also renovated. The traditional technique used throughout the Cyclades was used: the ceiling was covered by large schistose slabs supported by beams of unplaned tree trunks. The buildings were always long and narrow, so that the length of the trees was sufficient. A mixture of lime and earth was spread over the slabs or along the joins and on top of this a thick layer of dried seaweed. Finally, the entire roof was covered with a clean argillaceous earth, which becomes impervious on drying. The largest of the three buildings served as the residence of the family until the 19th century. At the end of the century, when a new homestead was built within the same “thimonia”, it was used as a cellar in which the harvest was stored in large storage jars and other pottery vessels. The tools and implements used by the peasants were left there. The adjacent building housed the oil-press and cheesery. The process of oil production, however, began out¬side with the crushing of the olives using the heavy stone cylinder, rotated on by three men. The third area of the building is the oven, which was fired with scrub, furze and thyme. Next to it is the essential shelf, which has been equipped with all the other necessities of a household oven. The chimney, like all those in the old settlement, is a pottery jar without a bottom. The fold of the animals on the north side of the “thimonia” is contemporary with the old house.

The settlement relied entirely on rainwater, which ran off the roof and was collected in cisterns, two of which have been preserved in the “thimonia” and have been cleaned out and waterproofed. The small threshing floor of the “thimonia”, the the built stone base by wooden axles turned plough, harrow and other agricultural imple¬ments has survived. At the centre of the “thimonia” traces of a very primitive pressing floor for grapes have been found, an example of adapting nature to man’s needs. The large oblique slabs set up out of doors beside the cistern are the laundry in¬stallation for washing clothes. In the north drystone wall was the tiny “orchard” with its sole lemon tree, planted recently. At the end of the 19th century a new residence was built on the west side of the “thimonia”, exemplifying the diachronic development of the local culture, with three spacious rooms: the parlour, bedchamber and kitchen. This Museum, portraying the way of life of a rural unit of the past, is a type of eco-museum, to use the terminology of mod em Museology. The Folk Art Museum began its operation in the summer of 1988 and belongs to the “Folegandros” Cultural Association, whose chairman is the artist Markos Venios. Bibliographical Source: “The Folegandros Folklore Museum” by Angeliki Vavilopoulou-Charitonidou.

Chryssospilia: The Cave of Folegandros

Folegandros, a not easily accessible island until recently, and even more so in ancient times, hides a treasure: “Chryssospilia” cave, located on the NE side of the island, on Paleokastro hill, before the cape of Panagia. The cave can be reached both by land and by sea, but access is extremely difficult. Ancient writers refer to Folegandros and travelers describe the difficulties and dangers they faced in order to descend into the cave, which they usually call “Mega” (the Great Cave). Today, surface corrosion has destroyed most of the steps hewed in ancient times, which are still known on the island as the “Greek steps”. Access from the sea requires a dead calm, however no strenuous rock-climbing is required to reach the cave and the ellipsoid entrance and the first large chamber (100 m. long and 50 m. wide), the Roman reservoirs. The cave’s development is almost linear, with a general direction to the NW. After the first large entrance space, you come to a 70-m. long chamber, with a varying width, which is connected to the first chamber via a long hallway. This chamber is richly decorated with discoid stalactites. The stone decor continues for 300 m. into the depths of the cave, with various formations, but this is not the only impressive aspect. Where nature has left empty spaces, “visitors” to the cave have left their mark by writing their names on the walls. Often, they added adjectives declaring their origin, such as Serifios, Kris, Ilios, Naxios (from Serifos, Crete, Ilia and Naxos respectively). They are names of “good adolescents”. In any case, only good, or “bad” adolescents could have reached the cave and its apocryphal chambers, and placed a white phal¬lusshaped stalactite, as an object of worship, next to another phallic formation, inscribed with the name Archianax. Female names are rare. The names have been inscribed using natural argillaceous material, clay with iron oxide in lighter or darker colours than the walls of the cave, which remains quite deeply embossed into the stone. In other points, more rarely, this clay was used to overlay the surface that was chiselled with a sharp tool. How the cave was actually used is not known. For worship maybe, or an adolescent exercise or both, or perhaps it was connected to the overlying ancient settlement or the worship of Apollon Prostatirios (Apollo the Protector). It is certain that continued excavations will reveal a lot more.


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