Amorgos is the most easterly of the Cyclades islands and it is also rather remote. However, ferries and hydrofoils call at both main ports, Katapola and Eyiali, during the summer months. The island is almost 18 kilometres in length and up to seven kilometres in width. The island is 134 square miles and in that area it manages to include three mountain peaks -- Krikelas (822m) to the north, Profitis Ilias (699 metres) in the middle and Korax (607 metres) to the south-west. The dramatic mountain scenery provides a fine backdrop to some excellent walking.
The island has a population of over 2,500 which is mainly to be found in the port of Katapola and in Chora, the main town, up in the mountains overlooking the east coast, and connected to Katapola by a regular bus service.
HISTORY OF THE ISLAND
The island was first inhabited during the Neolithic period and 14 sites dating from the Early Cycladic period have so far been excavated. In antiquity there were three main cities on Amorogos, all founded in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Remains of all three can still be seen. However, the island played no important role in antiquity and is hardly mentioned in the histories.
During the Middle Ages Amorgos was ruled by the Dukes of Naxos but after the Byzantine Empire was restored to Constantinople, Amorgos was captured in 1268. Before the end of the century, however, the Venetians and Genoese defeated the Byzantines and Amorgos returned to the rule of the Dukes of Naxos until the Ottomans captured the island in 1566.
Being remote, the island suffered continually from the attacks of pirates and the situation got so bad that at one point the whole population moved to Naxos. The island remained remote even after the War of Independence and has therefore developed at a slower pace than other islands. This indeed constitutes one of its charms.
WHERE TO STAY
Most boats and hydrofoils arrive at Katapola, which is actually one of three villages that form the port. There are plenty of rooms in Katapola itself, and across the bay in Xerokeratidhi, which is quieter and more picturesque than Katapola.
Rent rooms are also available in the Chora, which is a fifteen-minute bus ride up a winding road in the mountains above the port.
PLACES TO VISIT
Katapola is not the most picturesque of island ports. Of the three villages that make up Katapola, Katapola itself is the busiest with a waterfront lined with cafes, tavernas and mini-markets. At the head of the bay lies Rhakidhi, with its large church of St George and the village that lies behind the church. The most picturesque part of Katapola is the third village Xerokeratidhi, with its pretty narrow streets and a couple of tavernas where you can sit in the shade of large trees and enjoy the view.
Car rental is expensive on Amorgos as very few tourists rent cars. In 1999 the low season cost of a Fiat Panda was 12,000 drachmas, compared with 6,000 on Paros, Naxos and Tinos.
The Chora is without doubt one of the prettiest towns to be seen in the Cyclades. It stands nearly 400 metres above sea level with views of both the east and west coasts of Amorgos. A dozen or so churches are dotted around the village and there are beautiful shaded squares and narrow lanes to wander around. There are a couple of tavernas in the village which offer excellent food.
Monastery of Panayia Khozoviotissa
The monastery overlooks the north east coast of Amorgos and lies about two kilometres from Chora. There is a regular bus service for those who don't want to walk. The monastery, which is the most important monument on Amorgos, is a spectacular white edifice built into the side of a mountain. It was founded by the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenos around the year 1090. The story goes that an icon of the Virgin Mary had been found on the shore of Amorgos, having floated all the way from Cyprus. The emperor decided to build a monastery to house the icon and that the monastery would be built above the shore where the icon was discovered.
Every Easter Sunday the icon, together with an image of St. John the Balsamite, is carried in procession from the monastery to the Chora. On Easter Monday the icons are carried in procession to the chapel of Agios Profitis Ilias on the top of the mountain of the same name. During the following week they are taken to churches all round the island until they return to the Chora on the Sunday after Easter when a panayiri is celebrated in the Chora.
After getting off the bus there is a steep walk up to the entrance to the monastery, where only three monks now inhabit the 50 rooms. Climbing in through a tiny entrance you climb steep stairs up to the church where the icon is on display. On leaving you are offered the traditional piece of "Turkish" delight, a small glass of liqueur and a very welcome glass of cold water.
A couple of times a day a bus heads north from Katapola and Chora to the northern town of Egiali. The drive is spectacular as the road winds along the top of the mountainous island with fantastic views of the shore and the small island of Nikousia. Since the only return bus leaves in the early evening there is plenty of time to take the local bus up to the two villages that overlook Egiali -- Tholaria and Langhada. If you want to visit both village you will have to take the bus up and then walk back to to Egiali in order to catch the bus to the second village. However, the views on the walk down are spectacular and the two villages are both picturesque, especially Langhada.
There is an irregular bus service to the southern part of the island. Near the village of Vroutsi is the ancient site of Arkessini where you can see the remains of tombs, walls and houses. The modern village of Arkessini has tavernas and rent rooms.
In general the island is well worth visiting but getting around can be difficult. Although the island is relatively small, the bus service is not regular enough to enable you to see the island properly in less than three days and you can spend a lot of time hanging around waiting for the return bus. If you are pressed for time then the Chora and the Monastery should be top of your list.
Useful phone numbers:
Area Code 0285
Corner Rentabike 71867
by Ian Swindale
Photos © Ian Swindale
Copyright: Hellenic Electronic Center