History of Amorgos Island

Athropogeography

Amorgos is the easternmost Cycladic island, located southeast of Naxos and northwest of Astypalaia. There is a boat connection with Piraeus, Rafina, the surrounding Cycladic islands and the Dodecanese. It is an oblong island with successive massifs. Its highest top is Krikellos or Kroukelos (822 m.), which used to be full of oaks and rich vegetation up to the great fire of 1835. Its shores are particularly steep and abrupt. On the western coast, there are few leeward creeks (the ports of Katapola and Aigiali), as well as some quiet beaches (Foinikes, Kato Kambos, Agios Pavlos, Paradeisia), in contrast to the eastern one, which is extremely steep. Its subsoil doesn’t have much to offer, save some bauxite seams.
Two regions of the island have been included in the European network “NATURA 2000”: the NE part of the island has been declared a Special Protection Area (SPA) and the N part of Amorgos has been declared a Site of Community Importance (SCI). Amorgos is one of the Important Bird Areas of Greece.

Prehistory and Antiquity Amorgos 2800 – 2300 BC

During the Early Cycladic Period (3rd millennium BC), Amorgos was one of the mort important Aegean cultural centres. It had more than 12 fortified acropolises on hilltops and capes (Markiani was the chief one), as well as cemeteries (Dokathismata, Kapsala). Marble sculpture and figurine making developed at that time, when the first monumental sculptures were created and figurine workshops were established. Finally, metalwork and navigation had been spread. All this, along with Amorgos’s key location between the Cyclades and the Dodecanese, made the island’s part in establishing the new culture of the Bronze Age in the Aegean essential. The rise of the Minoan civilization during the Middle Cycladic Period (2000-1600 BC) turned Amorgos into a trade station within the framework of the Minoan naval supremacy (1600-1450 BC). The founding of Minoa probably dates from that time, and is related to the myth identifying it with the location chosen by king Minos as his summer residence. When the Mycenaean civilization flourished (1400-1200 BC), populations from mainland Greece infiltrated Amorgos and spread their Mycenaean koine, exploiting the vital part Amorgos played in communications in the Aegean.

The Geometric period (10th-8th century BC) was marked by Ionian colonists from Naxos, who founded Arkesini, at the southeastern part of Amorgos. In the 7th century BC, Ionian colonists from Miletus founded Aigiali to the north of the western coast. Those two cities, along with Minoa, were the centers of cultural development throughout historical times. They formed the Commonwealth of Tripolis (of the three cities), developed incity-states (polis) and managed to flourish. Taking advantage of its location between mainland Greece and the Asia Minor coastline, Amorgos took part in all historical and cultural developments of that time. It fought during the Persian Wars and joined the Athenian League, partially granting Athens its own autonomy. In 337 BC, Macedonians took it over, whereas in 322 the Macedonians won the naval battle of Amorgos against Athenian generals. Contending for Amorgos demonstrates its strategic importance for the rule over the island and mainland Greece. During Roman Times, Amorgos declined and was used as an exile destination.
In antiquity, the island was a center producing robes of flax, which was grown on the island and was called amorgos.

Byzantine period and Modern times

For Byzantine Amorgos little is known, save the fact that it belonged to the Aegean Sea Theme. The imposing monastery of Panagia Chozoviotissa, built on the steep slope of the mount Profitis Ilias in the 11th century, is the most important monument of that era and one of the most beautiful places on Amorgos. The following period is quite a turbulent one, since Amorgos suffered long-standing consecutive predation by pirates resulting to the desertion of onshore settlements and the movement of populations to fortress-settlements in the hinterland. In 1309, it joined the Duchy of the Aegean Sea. Then, it was initially contended for by Venetian nobles, and next by Catalans and Ottomans up to 1537, when Hayreddin Barbarossatook over the island. Political and economic privileges granted by the Ottoman Sultan to Amorgos ended this long period of instability, turning the island into a developed port of the Aegean. Amorgos played an active part in the 1821 Greek War of Independence with its naval power. After Kapodistrias assumed the government of Greece, a school that operated according to themonitorial system was founded. In the 19th century, many inhabitants of Amorgos migrated to Athens, the new capital of Greece, in order to work as buliders and stone-cutters. Migration resulted in the demographic decline of the island. Therefore, during Ioannis Metaxas’s dictatorship (1930’s), the island became an ideal place for exile. In 1941, Amorgos initially came under Italian government, since the Axis Powers had taken over Greece, but after Italy capitulated in 1943, the island came under German rule until it was finally liberated in 1944.

Monuments

Amongst the most important archaeological sites of Amorgos are the three cities of the ancient Commonwealth: Minoa, Arkesini and Aigiali. In the region of Aigiali, a place to visit is Tholaria, the ancient acropolis, on bulge Vigla, where traces of older historical periods are also visible. In Arkesini, on the Kastella hill, remains of an Early Cycladic acropolis and a cemetery have been uncovered. In the nearby Vroutsi village, at Kastri, there is an acropolis with massive walls, traces of a Middle Cycladic settlement and Venetian fortifications. At Katapola, one of the best-protected natural Cycladic ports, there are three settlements: Katapola, Rachidi, Xylokeratidi. On the top of the port’s hill, we have the remains of Minoa along with parts of its massive walls, as well as remnants of a stadium, a gymnasium and a temple of Dionysus. A vaulted Mycenaean tomb has been uncovered at Katapola, whereas at Xylokeratidi we have Early Cycladic and Mycenaean tombs, and traces of a settlement. All of these sites are located near modern settlements and are open to the public, but they have not been organized as regular archaeological sites. We should also mention the Early Cycladic acropolis at Markiani with its massive walls and retaining towers, reflecting the development of the island at that time. The reconstructed Venetian tower of Gavras at Chora houses findings from the excavations, whereas the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens houses many of the monumental figures (e.g. “Arsenikoudi”), as well as local variations (Dokathismata, Kapsala).

(Konstantinos Tsonos)

Minoa

Minoa, a colony of the Samians, is one of Amorgos’s ancient cities. Located on the south slope of mount Moudoulia, near Katapola, it has been identified in 1837 by the Bavarian Hellenist Ludwig Ross. Earliest habitation here dates from the late 5th millennium BC. There is no information regarding the 2nd millennium BC, whereas habitation is uninterrupted from the 10th century BC up to the early 4th century AD, when the settlement was finally deserted. We have building remnants dating from the Geometric period, when the settlement was fortified. From the Archaic and Classical periods there are only some portable findings. The settlement flourished and its planning also changed during Hellenistic Times, where most remains date from. During Roman Times, the positions of the centre and the road network changed.

The city stretches in two levels, the Lower City (Kato Poli) and the Acropolis. To enter the Lower City visitors pass from the monumental marble gate with its double door and double drain. The gate dates from the late 4th century BC and was put out of use in the late 1st century BC or early 1st century AD. The burial precinct is located to the east of the gate. Burials date from the late 10th century BC up to the late 8th century BC. The precinct was originally inside the walls, which means that the place was probably a cemetery for aristocrats or for the first founders themselves. A gradational road carved in the rock starts from the gate and continues to the north. Its original carving dates from the 10th century BC. This road leads to a 10th century precinct and a Doric temple, which was constructed in the late 3rd century BC and was destroyed in the Early Christian period. The devotional statue was found in the temple’s cella.

A ceramist’s workshop, probably first used in the 9th century BC, was uncovered at the northwestern part of the city. Rock-hewn wells and an oven, as well as many vessels, were also found. The workshop came out of use in the 1st century AD.

The Gymnasium (late 4th century BC) is located to the east of the precinct. It has not yet been excavated, but its lavatory is a very well preserved building with coloured mortars on the walls. The vaulted-roofed Roman Cistern (probably 2nd century AD) is located to the west of the Gymnasium, on a higher level. Buildings to the west of the Gymnasium have been identified as administrative and religious buildings, although research in that field has not yet been completed.

Despite modifications of Early Hellenistic Times, the city’s Geometric fortifications are still visible at many parts. The Gymnasium was adjacent to the wall, which at the northwestern side of the hill is visible for a length of 680 m. and has four ramparts. A 3.35 m high two-storey triangular tower is still extant too. The Western Gate is located nearby.

Minoa’s Acropolis includes the Geometrica wall, the settlement and the temple. A small gate and a 2.40 m high rampart are extant at the northeastern part of the walls, whereas a second rampart is still extant to the southeast. The settlement is located on the Acropolis’s south and southwestern slope platforms, and includes rock-hewn rectangular buildings. Habitation was uninterrupted from the 8th century BC up to the 2nd century AD. The foundation of the sanctuary inside the Acropolis dates from the 8th century BC; the sanctuary was used continuously up to the 4th century AD. It consists of a temple-like building and a precinct. The god worshipped there up to the 6th century BC is still unknown, but the sanctuary was later devoted to Dionysus. During Hellenistic Times, Dionysus was equated with Egyptian god Sarapis, who was then worshipped there.

The tower of Agia Triada

The tower of Agia Triada – or tower of Vasilis – is the best-preserved ancient monument on Amorgos and the best-preserved tower of that kind in the Cyclades. It is located in the district of Arkesini, near the settlement “sto Chorio”, built on a low hill. It is a fortified residence with a rectangular tower (5.60 m high nowadays) and a yard (25.31 x 11.40 m). Although already known since the 19th century thanks to the Bavarian Hellenist Ludwig Ross, the monument has not yet been excavated. In the yard, we can still see remnants of walls marking the different rooms. What is known from the interior of the tower is a stone staircase leading up to the first floor, as well as some triangular windows and two conches. Mobile findings evince this site was used from the 3rd millennium BC up to the Modern times. The tower itself dates approximately from the late 4th century BC. Remnants of farm houses dating from the 4th century BC up to the 7th century AD have been found to the east of the tower, as well as a building complex of the Modern period, also used in farming activities.

This was obviously a defensive tower, as demonstrated by its meticulous masonry, solid construction and the elevated building. Thanks to its location, it could control access to both Arkesini and its port, and also communicate with other towers through a system of light signals. At the same time, it protected the surrounding farmhouses and was an organized residence with storage rooms for farming products and tools. Who built it is still unknown, but it was most likely built by some wealthy resident of Arkesini, since the city during Hellenistic Times, as demonstrated by inscriptions, could not afford to erect such buildings.

(Pavlos Karvonis)

Gavras’ tower

Gavras’ tower lies at Chora, the capital of Amorgos, and remains basically unpublished, with the exception of some preliminary reports published by the archaeologist Lila Marangou. Along with the older houses of the medieval settlement nucleus of Chora, the so-called “Vorina”, located mainly on the village’s most northern protected side, as well as on its south and southeast side, it is one of the few remains of secular architecture of the long years of the Venetian rule in the island of Amorgos (1207-1537); it most probably dates in the early 16th century.
It is a two-storey building; at the first floor, the “anoi”, there is a spacious reception hall, known as “Gavras’ hall”, whereas at the ground floor, the “katoi”, the auxiliary rooms, as well as a big inner court can be found. The Tower was built near Chora’s central square, the “Loza”, very close to the cathedral; it belonged to a larger building complex, part of which was also the modern house on its east side, as well as the nearby, towards the north, one-room church of Zoodochos Pigi, that was, according to the inscriptions still preserved, already in use before the 17th century. In 1963, Gavras’ Tower, on the west side of the complex, was donated by the Amorgian Sofi Giannakou to the Association of the Amorgians to house the island’s Archaeological Collection. Between 1972 and 1978 the building was renovated thanks to the donations of the inhabitants and many friends of the island, who contributed greatly to the preservation of its original architectural form, severed by time and recent interventions. Equally important was the contribution of the Association of Amorgians, as well as of the antiquities guard and master builder Manolis Despotidis. This way many of the tower’s constructive elements, such as the stone unfluted columns, the wide porous stone arches, the inscribed marble doorframes, the characteristic arched small windows of the “anoi” etc., where saved, elements that compose a noticeable example of secular architecture of the Venetian period. The future publication of the monument will allow us to establish its relationship with similar buildings of the once Venetian islands of the Archipelago, as well as with other urban two-storied buildings with spacious courtyards and complex ground floors that started being built at Chora of Amorgos some time later, from the beginning of the 17th century.

Today Gavras’ Tower houses the important Archaeological Collection of Amorgos, which, until 1971, consisted of very few artefacts, stored in various public buildings of the island. Since 1972, however, the systematic archaeological investigation of the island and the donations of the inhabitants have greatly enriched the Collection with casual and excavation finds, the most important of which are today exhibited in the tower’s halls, while the rest are preserved in its storerooms. In the reception hall of the first floor, sculptures from the three ancient cities of Amorgos, Aigiali, Arkesini and Minoa (6th century BC – 2nd century AD) are mainly exhibited. In two of the hall’s showcases small objects of various materials (bronze, ivory, gold etc.), most of them found at Minoa’s excavations, are presented (8th century BC – 3rd century AD). At the “courtyard”, as well as the at the rest of the ground floor open space, one can admire the inscribed stone plaques and various other architectural members and sculptures, whose date ranges from the Archaic to the Early Christian period. In the two small halls of the ground floor a new exhibition was recently, in 1998, inaugurated. In the first hall the important prehistoric collection of the island is exhibited, while in the second the archaeological collection of the Amorgian antiquarian Emmanouil Ioannidis (1823-1906) is housed, containing various finds, which date from the 3rd millennium BC up to the 3rd century AD.

(Ioannis Vaxevanis)

Monastery of Panagia Chozoviotissa

Amorgos holds a significant place amongst Christian Orthodox pilgrimage destinations due to the Chozoviotissa Monastery. The eight-floor monastic cluster, built on the high, intimidating rocks of the inhospitable and harbourless southern coast, is harmoniously incorporated into the surrounding environment, underlying thus both the wildness and the beauty of the scenery. Touching the face of the rock, namely its limit to the north, the monastery is vertically organized, not exceeding 5 m in width, viewing the open sea like an eagle from its nest between sky and earth.

The monastery is dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. It was probably founded in the late 11th century and is connected to an imperatorial donation of the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118). The name “Chozoviotissa” is derived from the widely spread story about how the miraculous icon of the Virgin with Child, the heirloom of Amorgos, came from Chozova of Palestine, during the Iconoclastic Period. Indeed, the church, the monastery’s first nucleus, dates back from those times. Its building phases are hard to distinguish due to its intricate architectural design, which was developed in an additive, maze-like way. Apart from the church and the monks’ cells, there is also the dining room, the kitchens, the kiln, storehouses, cellars, wine presses, etc. The central gate forms a pointed arch and was probably built during the 15th century.

Surviving accounts on the monastery’s organization, development, importance and fame are scarce. Most of the information is drawn from preserved relics, unimpeachable witnesses of a former glory. Its great collection includes notable samples of – mostly Post-Byzantine – ecclesiastical art: carven crosses, bound Gospels, sacerdotal vestments, chalices, patens, lavides (spoons), polycandela, double and triple candlesticks. The icons of Christ Pantocrator (almighty, all-powerful) and the Panagia Vrefokratousa (Virgin with Child) of the Kardiotissa type, both excellent works of art of the second half of the 14th century or the first decade of the 15th century, must also be mentioned. They were probably created by a Constantinople workshop, and reflect the fine artistic sense of those who commissioned them.

In the katholikon there is also a bizonal icon from 1619, with the Panagia Vrefokratousa standing between St Paraskevi and St Georgios Valsamitis in the upper panel and the rescue of a shipwreck in the one below. According to the dedicatory inscription, it is an invocation of Gennadios, abbot of the monastery, who was saved during a heavy storm on his way back from Patmos to Amorgos. This icon corroborates the relations of Amorgos with the monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos (St John the Theologian) of Patmos, also attested with documents. Besides, Patmos had a dependency (metochi) dedicated to St John near the Chora castle of Amorgos.

The rich library of the monastery, containing 98 hand-written codices dating from the 9th to the 18th century, as well as dozens of incunabular books, attests the high educational level of the monks. An evangelary from the second half of the 11th century containing six brilliant miniatures on a background of gold is also worth mentioning because of the fine work done and the extravagant materials used.

The course of the monastery throughout history is closely interweaved with political and social conditions prevailing on the island. During Ottoman rule, from 1537 to 1824, Amorgos reached a remarkable economic peak. According to the sources, almost a hundred monks resided in the monastery during the last decade of the 17th century. Patriarchal documents from the 16th and 17th century, kept in the monastery, refer to privileges granted to it and are asserting its prosperity. The oldest one of these dates back to 1583 bearing the leaden stamp of Patriarch Ieremias II. The number of dependencies owned by the Chozoviotissa Monastery on Amorgos (Christos Fotodotis, Agios Georgios Valsamitis, Agios Ioannis Chrysostomos) and other islands as well, attests the extent of its economical power and the influence it had in the Aegean island complex.

(Konstantia Kefala)
(Transl. Onoufrios Dovletis)

Amorgos today

Modern residents occupy themselves with shipping, fishing, sponge fishing, agriculture and stock farming; tourism has been recently added to the above. The wine of Amorgos is a famed one. A remarkable image is created by traditional architecture (Chora, Aigiali, Arkesini) with lime-rendered houses with narrow façades, narrow slab-paved streets and vaulted arches connecting the upper floors of houses. Stone nosings and edges of the buildings are left uncolored, harmoniously contrasting with the white lime-cast of the rest of the surfaces. The same applies to churches, the center of the residents’ social life. Many of them were built on top of ancient ruins (e.g. the Venetian tower of Agios Georgios Valsamitis at the Chora, the church of Panagia Katapoliani at Katapola). Renowned is the feast of St Anargyroi of Aigiali (July 1st.

 Hiking on Amorgos

We should finally add that Amorgos is the right place for hiking. The modern road network follows a different route from that of old paths. Therefore, most of the old farming and mule paths have been entirely preserved. There are five types of paths: a) dirt roads unsuitable for vehicular traffic, b) large conspicuous stone-paved paths, c) large paths (these are the most), d) rough inconspicuous paths for experienced hikers, e) paths following the brow of hills and the natural passages. They have been organized in a network of 16 routes (taking from 45 minutes to 5 hours to cover). They begin from or end at one of the modern settlements and cover many places of the island, which are of environmental, ecological and historic interest. Therefore, they satisfy hikers and visitors that want to become acquainted with the island in an alternative way.

(Konstantinos Tsonos)
(Transl. Onoufrios Dovletis)

Authors : Tsonos Konstantinos , Kefala Konstantia , Karvonis Pavlos ,Vaxevanis Yannis (9/6/2006)
Τranslators : Dovletis Onoufrios , Nakas Ioannis (27/9/2006)
Cultural Portal of the Aegean Archipelagos

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