The Cyclades Islands
The Cyclades is an archipelago of some 220 islands floating above Crete, in the Aegean Sea. The name means islands around (cycling) the tiny, but sacred island of Delos. These islands are stereotypical Greece, just what one imagines. Whitewashed houses, deep blue shutters and glorious sandy beaches. The largest island of the Cyclades is Naxos, the most populated is Syros and the most famous is Santorini. (Both Milos and Santorini are volcanic.) But several are well known on the tourist circuit and Mykonos attracts more than its fair share of visitors
Mykonos is composed mostly of granite and the terrain is very rocky, with many areas eroded by the strong winds, so its nickname is "The Island of the Winds". It was named after its first ruler, the son or grandson of the god Apollo and a local hero. The island is also said to have been the location of the Gigantomachy, the great battle between Zeus and Giants and where Hercules killed the invincible giants, having lured them from the protection of Mount Olympus. According to myth, the large rocks all over the island are the petrified corpses of the giants.
Mykonos Town (also known as Chora) is very stylish, Gucci and Tiffany in classic white wash. The harbour is picture postcard perfect. The finger of land that forms one edge of the harbour, lined with restaurants and bars, is known as Little Venice. For obvious reasons. You definitely need a credit card here.
The iconic sixteenth century windmills (on every promotional photo) stand guard over the town, posing for photographs. If you can manage one without any other tourists in it you’ve done very well.
The beaches of Mykonos are described as golden. but they aren't stunning. There's Paradise Beach and Super Paradise Beach, if you like thumping music, massive beach bars and celebrity DJs. Not my idea of paradise. Who needs beaches when you can lounge on a muslin swathed sunbed, shop till you drop or eat in eye-poppingly expensive restaurants? (Well - me?)
The hillsides are littered with Greek and Roman ruins. The whole island is an archeological site. But a boat trip is the best way to escape the hordes. Other islands of the Cyclades, Naxos, Syros, Delos are within easy reach by ferry or organised day trip and there are numerous islets. The south is more tranquil. Miniscule Dragonisi Island has even has a sea cave for snorkelling, along with the monk seals.
The internet says Mykonos is’ ‘the ultimate gay destination’. Maybe, it wasn’t the best place to go for my singles holiday.
Delos - The Sacred Island
Delos is only two miles from Mykonos and an easy boat ride by ferry from Mykonos Town. It was revered, in ancient times as the Sacred Island as this is the mythological birthplace of Apollo-Sun, god of daylight, and his twin sister Artemis-Moon, goddess of night light.. It drew thousands of pilgrims and worshippers. Its heyday was during the first millennium B.C, when it was a major cosmopolitan port, attracting the rich and famous to live there. it was even described as 'the greatest commercial centre of the whole world'.
Today, the island is designated on the UNESCO Heritage list. It is, literally, one archaeological site. No overnight visitors allowed. You can see the ruins of Doric temples, markets, an amphitheatre, houses with mosaics and the iconic Terrace of the Lions statues. The lions here are replicas. the originals are on display in the little museum.
Greece - Snippets of Information
- The official name of Greece is the Hellenic Republic. Its people are the Hellenes. Our word 'Greece' derives from the Roman word for that area - Graecia.
- The total population of Greece is around 11 million.
- Greece is probably best known for its mythology. The myths were originally told by the Ancient Greeks to explain the origin and nature of the world. These fascinating tales tell of the lives and activities of deities, heroes, and mythological creatures, and explain the origins and significance of the ancient Greeks' own cult and ritual practices. The Greek myths were initially told orally as poetry, most likely by Minoan and Mycenaean singers, as far back as the 18th century BC. Most famously, the myths of the heroes of the Trojan War and its aftermath were recounted in Homer's epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey.
- Only the wealthy could afford to use live animals for sacrifices during ancient times, The poor left pastry versions — much kinder too.
- The word tragedy is actually Greek for “goat-song.” It doesn’t mean that tragedies were about goats in Ancient Greece, but were simply named as such to honour the Greek god Dionysus. Goatskins were worn by the participants.
- All Greek citizens over the age of 18 are required to vote in every election
- Greece has no navigable rivers - because of all the mountains
- Greece is the leading producer of sponges (from the sea)
- Greece is one of the sunniest places in the world. …
What is the History of Greece?
- Greece is often described as the cradle of western civilisation and considered to be the world's first democracy.
- By the fifth century BC Classical Greeks had organised themselves into independent citizen states (known as polis, from which comes our word "political"), such as Athens, Sparta, and Ephesus,
- In the fourth century BC, Macedon in the north, under its king Philip II and his son Alexander the Great, took control and Alexander built a great empire, Alexander the introduced Greek polis style culture, administration and urban living, as far as Afghanistan. But his rule was only brief and on his death in 323 BC, the mainland split into a series of leagues under Macedonian governors.
- The land-mass of Hellas and subsequently areas of the Macedonian conquests became part of the Roman Empire in the second century BC. The Greek language, however, spread throughout the Mediterranean and the Romans adopted and perpetuated Greek culture – literature, history, philosophy and architecture.
- The Roman Empire became too large to be centrally controlled and in 324 the Roman emperor Constantine in effect split the empire into two, the eastern half centred on Greek Byzantium, renamed Constantinople (now Istanbul). When the Western Roman empire collapsed in the fifth century, Constantinople became the new centre of the Roman empire, known as the Byzantine empire. Greece was absorbed into the Byzantine Empire until the Franks split up Greece in the thirteenth century.
- In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, and for nearly 400 years Greece was under Ottoman control.
- By the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was economically on its last legs. On 25 March 1821, Greece declared its independence, with the support of France, Britain and Russia. It reached its present land configuration in 1947, but tensions with Turkey remain.
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- German occupation of Greece in the Second World War ended in 1944, but a violent and complicated civil war at once broke out between (broadly) communists and western-backed government forces (1944-49). This resulted in a Greek government inclined to the west, but with significant anti-western sentiment still prevalent.
- In 1967 a military junta overthrew the government and ended the monarchy. In 1974, the regime imploded, and since 1975 Greece has been a democratic republic.
Is Greece in the EU?
Greece joined the EU in 1981 and adopted the Euro in 2001.
What is There to See and Do in Greece?
Greece is renowned for its history and beauty. It's also a surprisingly diverse country - with varying scenery and sites to visit - ancient ruins - 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites -(Ancient Athens - Greece in the Time of Covid Part 7), Orthodox monasteries (Meteora - Greece in the Time of Covid - Part 3 and Mysterious Mount Athos - Greece in the Time of Covid - Part 2), beautiful beaches (about 16,000 kilometres of coastline), stunning landscapes (80% of Greece is mountains) and lots of islands.
The Greek Islands comprise more than 6,000 islands and islets covering much of the eastern Mediterranean. Four of the islands are volcanic. Only about 230 of the islands are inhabited. Just 80 or so have more than 100 permanent inhabitants. They are traditionally grouped into six major clusters:
Ionian: Off the north-west coast of mainland Greece in the Ionian Sea Crete and the Ionian Islands
Saronic: In the Saronic Gulf near Athens
Cyclades: A large, dense group of islands in the central Aegean Sea Cyclades - Marvellous Milos - Greece in the Time of Covid Part 5, Cyclades - The Mills of Mykonos
North Aegean: A loose island group to the north-east Northern Aegean - Super Samos - Greece in the Time of Covid Part 6
Sporades: A small, tightly-knit island group just off the east coast
Dodecanese: A long and loose string of islands that roughly follow the Turkish coast Dodecanese - Kos, Rhodes, Symi and Nisyros
The Ionian Islands
The Ionian Islands are a group of seven gorgeous islands in Greece - the Heptanese (plus numerous small islets). From north to south they are Kerkyra, usually known as Corfu in English, Paxi (Paxos), Lefkada (Lefkas), Ithaki ( Ithaca, home of Odysseus it is alleged), Kefalonia (Cephalonia), Zakynthos (Zante in English) and Kythira (Cythera or Cerigo). The islands are named after the Ionian Sea, in which they sit. The sea was named after Io, who swam across it, after she was tormented by Hera.
The islands have a long and rich history. After being settled by the ancient Greeks they were rules by Macedonia, Rome the Byzantines, the Venetians, the French and the British in turn. The Treaty of Paris in 1815 turned the islands into the "United States of the Ionian Islands". Apparently this is why the islanders enjoy afternoon tea and cricket. Not so much that they didn't press for independence. The Ionian Islands became a province of the new Kingdom of Greece in 1864.
I didn't do enough research before this trip to Corfu and we stayed in Kavos. It was the Ayia Napa of its time, all beach bars and young people drinking. It made me feel very staid.
There were still plenty of olive groves, honey and yogurt and the pervading smell of wild thyme.
Corfu may be a tourist favourite and resort studded, but the scenery is stunning, with rugged mountains and tall cypress trees.
Corfu Town, is full of character and clearly reflects the islands mixed cultural heritage. It was ruled by the Venetians, French and British before it was united with Greece in 1864. There two imposing Venetian fortresses, winding medieval lanes, a French-style arcade and the Grand Palace of St. Michael and St. George to admire.
- Kefalonia (or Caphalonia) of the Ionian islands. It's marked by sandy coves and dry rugged landscapes and is stunningly beautiful, with sapphire seas.
- The capital, Argostoli, is picturesque , spreading up a hillside overlooking a narrow harbour.
- Captain Corelli hadn’t been written then, but there was a great deal of earthquake damage evident still and the earth shook while we were in bed one day (it was a tremor).
- The coastline is made up of limestone cliffs, bays and short strips of white sand, like Myrtos Beach in the north. Many beaches are only accessible on foot or via narrow twisting roads, so we rented a scooter, which proved to be much too exciting. We went over on a mountain bend, with my leg stuck underneath. (I hadn’t read the stories about Mafia extortion and scooter rental at that point)
- Nevertheless, there were enough deserted beaches for us to find a different one for each day of our stay
- The fishing village of Fiskardo was vividly enchanting
- We made side trips to Ithaca, Zante and Olympia. There are amazing beaches on Zante.
- And there were hundreds more olive groves
The Dodecanese Islands
A long and loose string of islands in Greece that roughly follow the coastline of Turkey in the south east Aegean Sea, says Wikipedia. Dodecanese means 12, but there are arguably 15 of them in reality, plus roughly 150 islets. This is the sunniest corner of one of the sunniest countries in the world. The Dodecanese are known for their archaeology: ancient sites, medieval castles, Byzantine churches,. And beaches of course.
- Rhodes is the largest of Greece’s Dodecanese islands,
- It was Easter, the weather was almost warm enough to sunbathe on the glorious beaches, but not quite...
- We explored fascinating Rhodes Town, with its ancient ruins and remnants of its occupation by the Knights of St. John during the Crusades. The Old Town features the medieval Street of the Knights and the castle-like Palace of the Grand Masters. There's an immaculate Medusa mosaic ,originally found in the temple at Kos. Rhodes Town is bursting with churches, columns, authentic cafes and little bakeries, octopus grilling on the quay, the tentacles dangling out of the pans
- I searched fruitlessly for signs of The Colossus of Rhodes, a huge bronze statue of the Greek sun-god Helios, that was erected at the harbour entrance 280 BC and quickly became known as the one of the Wonders of the Ancient World. It was toppled by an earthquake only 50 years later and disintegrated into fragments. There are ongoing rumours that it will be rebuilt but it won't be from the original metal, which apparently was recovered and melted down.
- Lindos is a beautiful whitewashed fishing village with a gorgeous beach and an acropolis on the clifftop. There are monumental 4th-century gates, temples and the 14th-century Castle of the Knights of St. John.
- We drove round the island and up a precipitous mountain road, it seemed like a vertical ascent, to a tiny monastery. The old monastery of Tsambika has breathtaking views over the beaches below and across to Lindos. The scary road only goes half way up. after that you you have to walk up e 350 steps. Uptop, a tiny, Byzantine church, dedicated to the Virgin. Legend has it that women having difficulties conceiving a baby must climb the hill barefoot to pray to the Virgin for fertility. apparently it works. but you have to name your child after the monastery in return.
- We made a side trip by ferry from Rhodes, to the tiny but stunning island of Symi.
- It has an utterly charming harbour with its colourful neoclassical houses and tiny fish restaurants; the sponge capital of Greece. This has to be one of the most photographed spots in Greece.
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- Kos is the third largest island of the Dodecanese by area, after Rhodes and Karpathos, but the second most populous.
- The weather was sizzling hot and Kos was crowded. This is definitely a holiday island. There are plenty of sandy beaches. And I inadvertently booked into the the most touristy part of the island, the seaside village of Kardamena. It's an all too popular resort for young holidaymakers from the United Kingdom and Scandinavia and is rammed with bars and nightclubs.
- Kos is rich with Greek and Roman landmarks, particularly in and around Kos Town. This harbour town is dominated by the 15th-century Neratzia Castle. Then there are the Ancient Agora ruins, with a temple, shrine and columns. and a third century Roman villa complete with mosaics.
- Kos is volcanic, but there are no dramatic landscapes here. Just Therma, or Bubble Beach, near Kos Town, where the bay is fed by hot springs.
- There weren’t so many olive groves as Cephalonia, but...
- There was a lot of retsina, which tastes good cold out of the barrels (honest) and
- I acquired a taste for saganaki (fried cheese) - delicious, though it squeaks in your mouth when you eat it.
- And a side trip from Kos to Nisyros, one of Greece's four volcanic islands, and one of two in the Dodecanese, along with Kos.(The others are Santorini and Milos).
- The boat went from busy Kardamena to the (small) but pretty (with the usual blue and white cuboids) main town and port of Nisyros, Mandraki. Like Milos, Nisyros is less dependent on tourists because of its deposits of perlite and pumice. The island used to be self-sufficient, and many crops were grown on its terraced slopes. Today, though, they are cultivated on a smaller scale.
- Nisyros, of course, was once part of Kos. According to Greek mythology, the island was formed when Poseidon cut off a chunk and threw it onto the giant Polybotes to stop him from escaping.
- The circular island is of course, the volcano. The caldera is huge, nearly two miles across, and whilst the volcano is deemed to be dormant (the last eruption was a steam explosion in 1888), there are still plenty of fumaroles spewing forth sulphurous streams.