Milos - As famous as its Venus

Milos - As famous as its Venus

Beautiful Milos is located in the southeastern Cyclades, 86 nautical miles away from Piraeus, and has an area of 151 sq. km. As famous as its Venus, mysterious as its catacombs, as fabulous as its beaches.

Huge white, yellow and red rocks disappear into the depths of the sea. Eerie caves invite explorers. At the entrance to the harbour, the two characteristic “sitting Bears” welcome travelers. And the ship travels and travels, for a long time, as Adamantas has been inhabited since 1824; the first settlers were Cretan refugees, from Sfakia. Until then, it was named Alamanto and only had a few scattered buildings. It was officially established in 1835 and soon obtained its own history, because of the strategic importance of the port. We visit Agia Triada (Holy Trinity), a church with rare 17th century architecture and the church or Kimissis Theotokou (Assumption of Virgin Mary).

The “George Eliopoulos” Conference Centre of Milos is also important; it was built here a few years ago, by private investors. Not far away from Adamantas, we come to Triovassalos and Pera Triovassalos, two densely inhabited villages. At Easter, these villages revive an old tradition, the buruning of Judas. Plaka is the capital of Milos. It is built around the old Kas¬tro (fortress), and its architecture is clearly Cycladic. White houses, well-tended courtyards and flowers on the balconies. But above all... a wonderful view of the bay of Milos and a breath-taking sunset. Plaka has an archaeological and folk art museum, and many public services.

At the top of the Kastro, built in the 13th century by the is¬land’s Venetian, there is the church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, or Virgin Mary Schiniotissa or Messa Panagia (the in¬side Virgin Mary - because it is inside the Kastro). It was built on the remains of a very old church that was blown up by the Germans. Another beautiful church is Ypapanti (Candlemass of Christ) or Thalassitra, with icons from the 17th century. Our path takes us to the catacombs, passing through Trypiti village, with its picturesque windmills. The catacombs of Mi¬los, along with those of Holy Land and Rome, are considered as the most notable universally. It was here that the first Christians believers gathered to worship and bury their dead. The catacombs were opened in 1st century AD and remained in use until the 5th century, at which time they were destroyed by earthquakes. They were re-discovered accidentally in 1840 by antiquities smugglers who despoiled them. The complex is made up of three catacombs, branching out into five parallel passages and one burial chamber, with a total length of 180 m. It is estimated that many thousands of Christian believers were buried in these galleries. Nowadays, only one section of the second catacomb, known as the one for the “elders”, is open to visitors. A footpath leads from the catacombs to the ruins of an ancient theatre.

It was a part o Roman city, destroyed in the 5th century AD. Excavations brought many ceramics to light, known as the “Milian vases”. The famous statue of “Venus of Milos” was discovered here, in 1820. We are on the way to Klima, a “peculiar” village, as the shel¬ters originally built by the locals to protect their boats have been converted into accomodation. Painted in bright colours, they give a different dimension to the Aegean scenery. In the small bays in the area we come across beautiful settlements, such as Mandrakia, Fyropotamos, Areti and Fourkovouni. From Adamantas, following a different route that eventually leads to Polonia, we stop in the pre-historic city of Phylakope, where many archaeological discoveries have taken place. The excavations of British archaeologists C. Smith and D. Hogarth on the island, from 1896 to 1899, disclosed successive ruins, dating between 2300 to 1100 BC. Older settlement strata were discovered in the same area. All these discoveries prove that at that time, Milos was greatly developed and became the most important centre of Cycladic civilization.

The city of Phyla¬kope I (2300-2000 BC) belongs to the Early Cycladic Period and was destroyed around 2000 BC, probably by an earth¬quake. Mercantile shipping and especially the exportation of obsidian objects (tools and weapons) flourished. The buildings were made of stone, and the city’s cemetery was large and well organized. There was also evidence of rudimentary town planning. The second city (Phylakope II, 2000-1600 BC) was built on the ruins of the first city and belongs to the Middle Cycladic Period. Commercial links between Milos and Crete were developed as was Milian pottery. The city was probably destroyed by a fire, although the invaders left no traces behind them. The third city Phylakope III, 1600-1100 BC) was built quickly and was bigger, more powerful than the previous cities and en¬closed within massive walls. There is evidence of contemporary town planning as the buildings were rectangular in shape and the streets ran parallel to each other.

Milian ceramics were influenced by those of Crete (Minoa), as can be seen from the motifs used in vase decorations and the wall-paintings inside houses. The city was destroyed yet again, probably by Myceneans, as the new city (1400-1100 BC), has many Mycenean characteristics (sanctuaries, palace etc.). The city was abandoned for unknown reasons, and today its largest section is located underwater. We also stop at the Cave of Papafraggas, which is, in reality, made up of three consecutive caves. It is impressively beautiful and can be visited only by caique, setting off from Adamantas. It was used as a shelter and base of operations by pirates. Facing the Cave of Papafraggas, we meet the imposing Glaronissia islands, a group of volcanic rocks more than 20 m. high. Their small sea caves and the palette of green and blue waters create a unique landscape of insuperable beauty. 10 km away, we finally reach Pollonia, a fishing port with a view of Kimolos and a rich, sandy beach.

The island’s 60 beaches compete with each other in beauty. Incredible colours and formations, caves, rocks, white sand. Even the most demanding visitors cannot but be satisfied. Sa- rakiniko is perhaps Milos’ “star” beach; a lunar landscape with snow-white rocks and deep blue waters. Near Adamantas we find sandy beaches Laggada and Papak- inou. To the south, Paleohori and Agia Kyriaki. Kleftiko or “Meteora of the sea” and Sykia or “Emerald Cave” are among the most impressive locations in the Mediterranean. The at¬traction of the huge, disproportionate rocks jutting out of the sea is unique, and the rays of sunshine pouring in from the roof section that has caved in colour the cave’s waters, creating an amazing sight. Emporio with its calm beach and quiet fishing village. Livadolimni, with its small lake and clams decorat¬ing the bottom. Also Rivari, Aspros Kavos and Agios Sozon.

We also visit Zefyria, an inland village, which used to be the island’s capital. A visit to the island requires satisfaction of the palate; try traditional “pitarakia” (home made cheese pies) with the strong taste of Milian cheese, and buy jars of “koufeto”, a spoon sweet made of pumpkin, for the cold winter nights. Milo’s rich mineral deposits, originating from volcanic activ¬ity in older times, are used extensively in the Greek and foreign markets, as they started to be exploited systematically in the 19th century. Sightseeing in Milos is never-ending. The more you see, the more new angles you discover, ones you had never noticed before. You will always want to come back and start all over again, because Milos has numerous and varied ways of mak¬ing itself unforgettable.

Milos Mining Museum

Objects, pictures and photographs in the exhibition areas of the museum present the impressive geological peculiarity of Milos and narrate in their own way the mining history of the island, while, at the same time, they pay a minimum tribute to all those who have worked and are still working for the development of mining on the island, and they also connect the past to the present. The building where the museum is housed includes the ground and the 1st floor, constituting the main exhibition areas, as well as the auxiliary rooms in the basement. On the ground floor, the visitor gets a first contact to the mining history and activity of Milos. A series of photographs, representations and paintings depict schematically its various stages. The presentation is surrounded by old and new geological and topographical maps of the island, several authentic tools and instruments. Moreover, depictions of the current mining activity and environment restoration works are presented. The room of the 1st floor is dedicated to the presentation of Milos’ mineral wealth. Samples of minerals prevailing in the current mining activities of the island are exhibited in window- cases, accompanied by photographic material and information on their processing and uses.

On the same floor, the Obsidian Collection of Zafeiris Vaos, a collector and folklore expert from Milos, is exhibited publicly for the first time; the collection consists of artifacts made of obsidian, an igneous rock that is a characteristic rock of Milos and forms a very important chapter in the archeology of early Aegean tool-making. The collector, Zafeiris Vaos, started collecting obsidian artifacts in 1959 following an official pronouncement and a relevant permit by the Archeologi¬cal Council. The collection includes characteristic artifacts of obsidian-processing techniques found in a number of Milos quarries (such as Nychia and Demenegaki) that were the main source of obsidian for the prehistoric settlements around the Aegean during seven millennia. The auxiliary facilities of the basement consist of one room with a 40-person capacity, equipped with audiovisual means to project videos related to the themes of the Museum and host scientific events, as well as one room for various purposes, like educational programs, special exhibitions etc.

Milos Catacombs: A worldwide Christian monument

In the vicinity of the Ancient City, SSW of the village of Tripiti, 150 metres above sea level, on a comparatively steep hillside, are the Catacombs of Milos.

This was the meeting place of the early Christians, where they held their religious ceremonies and buried their dead, out of sight of the pagans of that time and their persecutors. They are the largest examples in Greece and among the most remarkable in the world, together with the catacombs in Rome and the Holy Land. The Catacombs were dug out of volcanic tufa, (a relatively soft rock), and form a magnificent early Christian monument, which indicates that Christianity was established on the island in the 1 st century, developing greatly during the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. (Ludwig Ross, 1843). This theory of Ross would seem valid, since Miloan commerce during this period was prospering, both with Rome and the rest of the known world, according to Livy and Pliny. The catacombs were discovered by illicit antique dealers and became known after they had been pillaged in 1840. There are three chambers linked by five corridors and a dead end passage, making up a labyrinth which is currently 185 metres long. These were all open to but today, only the 2nd chamber, the «presbytery», can be visited by the public. Inside the catacombs, vaults can be seen in the walls which contain graves, and the floor has been used for this same purpose.

The latest number of vaults recorded was 126 (Anna Petroheilou, 1972) and it is estimated that thousands of people were buried here. Each grave was lit by an oil lamp but today, lighting is electrical though discrete, evoking the atmosphere of the past. On the graves of persons of distinction, Christian symbols and epitaphs can be seen. These were studied by Ross in 1843 and George Sotiriou in 1927, but unfortunately most of them have been destroyed by exposure to the elements. The «presbytery» or «vicarage», takes its name from the vicar who is buried there. His vault is the 6th on the right in this central chamber and bears an identifying epitaph. In this same area, is a sarcophagus, a tomb made of carved rock, which is believed to be the burial place of one of the first Christian martyrs and which was used by the early Christians, as an altar during their religious services.

Tags: Tributes to Greece
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