AURELIA'S GUIDE TO THE CYCLADIC SISTERS: |
Mykonos, Delos, and Rhinia
Articles on Greece by AURELIA
The magic of Greece is in its very ambiguity, in the tensions that pull it from one wonderful, delicious extreme to the other. The senses are pleased and pampered by the serene beauty of Greece found in the depth of its vistas, the spectacular sunrises and sunsets, and the radiance of the light that even the poets cannot adequately describe. The senses are titillated and tempted, also, by Greece's extremes, found in the food and drink, flesh, nightlife, music, and the burning sun. These tensions intrigue and mystify the visitor - the barbarian who comes to the shores of Greece - but they are perfectly understandable to the Greeks who live everyday with the conflicting realities of life in the land of the gods.
Perhaps this tension is best exemplified in the islands that form an ancient triangle in the very heart of the Cyclades. They are cosmopolitan Mykonos, Sacred Delos, and mysterious Rhinia. Taken together, these sisters with their distinctive and contradictory personalities give the visitor a tantalizing taste of Greece known only to the Greeks.
Within this triangle, one can sun bathe nude or topless on some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece, literally dance until dawn at discos, take a magical, chartered cruise through the islands, go back in time with the ancients on an island declared 'sacred' by the Greek government, and/or spend an enchanted day alone on an uninhabited island where gentle waves caress a pristine shore, luscious watermelons hang from vines, and where the pure air is so still you can hear yourself breath.
Mykonos is famous world-wide for its chalk-white beauty and its vibrant night life. Celebrities and dignitaries from all over the world make this island a destination to shop, sun bathe, party, and island hop, and cruise ships from all over the world come here. It is not unusual when walking through the white-washed streets of the town center, called Hora, to see a world famous model or movie star gazing into a jewelry store while munching on a cheese pie, looking very much like Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffanys.' The glorious golden and jewel-studded rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces displayed in the windows of the jewelry artists of Mykonos will bedazzle even the most sophisticated celebrity.
The contrasts on Mykonos can best be seen early on a Sunday morning, between 6 and 8 am. During these times, worshippers returning to their homes share the streets with night people who have recently left the clubs and discos. Widows covered by traditional black dresses and head scarves pass young women scantily attired; each group stares in amazement at the other, saving their caustic comments for when they are safely out of earshot. Men and women selling produce from their donkeys stand far from young rent boys trying to make one more score before the 'night' ends. Music from nearby clubs plays softly, perhaps in deference to the hundreds of church bells tolling all over the island.
Orthodox priests walk about in long, black robes that 'swish-swish' as they dust the cobble-stones. Walking behind the priests giggling uncontrollably are tipsy drag queens with heavy make-up and orange-colored hair, their long gowns 'swish-swishing' in unison with the robes.
Shopkeepers open their establishments early on Sundays. The visitor sees one of Mykonos' famous icon makers and peaks into his studio. The walls are decorated with magnificent works of art in the Byzantine style, each an original, and beautiful icons of St. George and the Dragon and of the saints are on display. A few doors down the visitor comes upon a leather shop featuring expertly-made handmade leather handbags and sandals, side by side with harnesses, vests, gloves, and ominous-looking whips.
If Mykonos represents secular pleasures sought by the jet set, Delos is its opposite and is the most sacred of the Greek islands. At the very geographical center of the Cyclades, Delos is its spiritual center as well and was once the religious, cultural, and commercial focal point of ancient Greece. It was the jewel of the ancient world, a thriving commercial hub, and the 'summer home' of the rich and famous of the time. Although the island is a collection of ruins, they are splendid, magnificent ruins, and one can see Delos' past glory everywhere, especially in the exquisite, world-famous mosaic floors of the ruined palaces.
The third sister is Rhinia, a haunting, mysterious island four times the size of Delos and separated from it by a small strait. Called alternatively 'Great Delos' and 'Big Delos,' Rhinia is really two sections connected by a narrow isthmus. Both parts are uninhabited and by Greek law, no one is allowed to live on Rhinia or build a permanent home there; there is no running water or electricity and there are no roads on its rocky, hilly terrain. (There are rumors, however, of a few hearty souls who make the island their home) Very few tourists know about the island or have an interest in going there on a day's excursion, so, if you plan it correctly, it is possible to be the only person on one of its four pristine, sandy beaches.
MYKONOS - THE TOWN
Mykonos is the most popular and sophisticated holiday resort of the Aegean, and some travelers consider it the ultimate, cosmopolitan retreat in the entire Mediterranean. Luxury yachts from all over the world dock at its harbors, ferries arrive daily from Piraeus, Rafina, and Lavrion, and, with a new airport built just two years ago, more planes than ever before are now landing on the island. Mykonos has more bars, restaurants, and discos than most other Greek islands and the quality of the beaches, food, music, precious jewelry, and nightlife is second to none.
Mykonos is a Cycladic or 'White' island and is part of a complex of thirty-three inhabited islands forming an imaginary circle around Delos in the Aegean Sea. In the Cyclades, homes are chalk white and cubical and most were built by anonymous 'folk builders' using materials found on the island. In Mykonos, this approach to architecture has produced a town that is itself a work of art, a masterful collection of perfect, white-washed cubes that stand in dazzling contrast to the brilliant, blue sea.
The two-story homes are graced with wooden balconies, and distinctive drains and chimneys, and by ordinance, all homes must be painted white. Windows and perhaps a railing are painted red, blue, or green, but otherwise, everything is white except for garlands of fresh, multi-hued flowers carefully arranged on the wooden stairs.
Mykonos covers an area of twenty-three square miles and has a population of about 15,000 permanent residents. There are more than 500 churches on the island, many attached to private homes. The town itself is an actual maze and was deliberately built in this fashion to confuse pirates who came to rob and pillage. Many homes, shops, and tavernas have no numbers, so it is difficult to give or follow directions. The maze, however, makes the town even more romantic and creates literal surprises around almost every corner.
As you walk through the lanes, peer inside a home if the door is open and you may see a Mykonian woman sitting beside her needlework or loom in a room sparsely furnished with simple yet artistic necessities. On the walls will be icons and the floors will be covered with hand-woven rugs. In the narrow pathways men and women leading donkeys laden with baskets of produce will move slowly in contrast to the motor bikes with carts attached, zipping rapidly through the lanes to deliver supplies. Perhaps you will meet Petros, the pink pelican, who is the good luck symbol for the island and is most often seen in the Alefkandra section.
Much activity in Mykonos happens in 'Taxi Square' near the harbor front where the statue of Mando Mavrogenous proudly stands. She is the famous heroine who gave all her fortune to support her country during the 1821 Greek War of Independence. One can purchase the English language 'Herald Tribune' at the International News Stand just off Taxi Square, buy a cheese pie and other delicious treats at the bakery, scoop fresh yogurt into a take-away container, have an inexpensive, cafeteria-style lunch in a small cafe, or buy a take-away souvlaki at a stand. By the way, one can also get a taxi in Taxi Square; it is where drivers wait in line for customers.
The town is made distinctive by its huge, round windmills, which once were working mills used to grind wheat. Now they are the island's most famous symbols and their paddles share the skyline with the churches' domes and crosses, creating dramatic contrasts to the cube-like homes hugging the ground.
The windmills are located in the beautiful Alefkandra section of town known as 'Little Venice.'
Alefkandra is the loveliest corner of Mykonos. It has been painted and photographed by artists from all corners of the world and is why Mykonos is called 'The Venice of Greece.' In this precious spot, rows of chalk white, square homes have turned their backs toward the sea, hunching their wooden terraces and brightly painted balconies over the creamy sea foam. Restaurants in Alefkandra become part of this incredibly romantic landscape by placing their tables as near as possible to the sea and covering them with tablecloths matching the brilliant red or blue colors of the balconies and terraces.
At sunset, the rosy fingered sky kisses the wine-dark sea, and the seduction is complete. The mortal savoring his glass of nectar in Alefkandra at sunset is favored by the gods.
• THE BEACHES
Beaches on Mykonos have distinctive personalities and all you have to do is find the one that suits your mood or taste. If you crave solitude, choose those furthest from Mykonos Town-- Kalo Livadi, Lia, or Panormos. For topless or nude sunbathing, there is Paradise, Super Paradise, Agrari, and Elia. If you want to be near a mini gold course, bars, and tavernas, Aghios Stefanos is the choice. Aghios Stefanos, Aghios Ioannis, and Ornos are beaches which are closest to Mykonos Town.
Ornos Bay is definitely worth a visit and you can get there by bus, or, if you are in the mood for walking, it is only 2.5 km. from the town. The area is being developed and has modern hotels, cafes, restaurants, tavernas, bars, a super-market and, of course, a beautiful beach. At Ornos Bay you can enjoy a variety of sea sports and relax at the El Greco, a highly-recommended restaurant right on the beach. El Greco has excellent Greek cuisine and a large selection of Greek wines. The area features a variety of hotels, such as Dionyssos, Eva, Yiannaki, Xidakis, and Club Mykonos, and there are also the Korfos apartments.
Paradise and Super Paradise, for nude or topless sun bathing, are very splendid, sandy beaches and seem to be the destination for most visitors. Hot and cold food is sold at snack bars, along with cold drinks and snacks, and there is frequent boat transportation back to Plati Yialos. Paradise Island has some of the best campgrounds in all of Greece and is a popular destination for college-age students.
Plati Yialos is one of the most popular beaches and many people who have private boats tend to come here. It is the longest on the island and is the beach for Class A hotels such as Hotel Akrogiali, Petinos Beach, Hotel Petasos and Hotel Nissaki. If you choose to sun bathe on Plati Yialos, you will be given a chair and umbrella at no charge if you have lunch at one of the hotels. Plati Yialos Beach is a good 'first day' stop because it serves as an introduction to the other beaches. Small boats leave from here to take visitors to Paradise and Super Paradise and you can rent boats at the dock to go elsewhere.
Other beautiful beaches are Psarou, Kapari, Aghia Anna, Megali Ammos, and Aghios Ioannis. If you are not sure what beach is for you, stop at the Mykonos Accommodation Center in the center of town and ask the friendly staff for help.
Mykonos has the only 'Watermania Village' in all of Greece and it is located on Elia, the beach beyond Super Paradise and Argari. There are water slides for adults and children, swimming pools, water games, aquatic entertainment, restaurants, pool bars, an amusement arcade, cafes and pool bars. It is a place where the entire family will be entertained and is becoming known as 'wet heaven.' The slides for children and adults are absolutely thrilling and you will want to ride them all afternoon.
• DIVING AND SNORKELING
For the more adventuresome, you can snorkel, windsurf, and jet-ski and even go deep sea diving. Mykonos has a diving school for beginners and the more advanced; it is certified by the world's largest certification agencies. Divers can get up close and personal with the countless species of flora and fauna and can view treasured, archaeological artifacts (but cannot remove them under pain of jail and hefty fines.)
TRAVEL AND ACCOMMODATIONS
Olympic airlines has regular flights from Athens to Mykonos and if you prefer to travel by ship, you have a choice of ferries, flying dolphins, hydrofoils, or catamarans that leave from Piraeus, Rafina, and Lavrion. Rafina, a popular departure port about an hour's drive from Athens, is now being used less for ferry travel as the boats are leaving from Lavrion, close to Sounion.
On Mykonos, you can travel to other nearby islands, such as Tinos, Paros, Andros, Ios, and Naxos, and you can also travel twice weekly to Santorini and Crete and connect to Samos, Sifnos, Serifos, Folegandros, Skiros, Skiathos, and Thessaloniki. Three times a week, boats leave Mykonos for Rhodes, Kos, Amorgos, and Koufonissia. All travel by sea depends upon weather conditions and the Meltimi, the wind.
You really should begin plans for a visit to Mykonos by making contact with The the Mykonos Accommodation Center (MAC). MAC has the most comprehensive information on the island and can help you with all of your travel needs, including accommodations, travel, and cruises. The agency can arrange wonderful accommodations for singles, couples, honeymooners, and families as well as packages for groups. The friendly staff will arrange tours, transfers, car rentals, yacht rental, and private plane charters. Arrangements can be made for special air fares for student travelers who are members of ISYC and/or are holders of youth cards. MAC arranges tours in the Cycladic islands and in Athens, and cruises and excursions throughout Greece.
The friendly staff at the Mykonos Accommodation Center can also help you plan your stay with a wide variety of accommodations ranging from very modest to luxury. If you are coming to Mykonos for the night-life, then you should find accommodations in town, where you can walk about and be in the center of everything. MAC is centrally and has a wealth of information in its office. Make it your first step after arrival and get all the information you need for a memorable visit.
If you want to stay on a beach, Plati Yialos is a good choice because you are only ten minutes by bus from Mykonos town and the buses run every half hour from early morning until 1 or 2 am. Remember, however, that night life on Mykonos begins about 11, so if you are planning to have a night on the town, Greek style, you will want to arrange for a taxi to take you back to Plait Yialos in the early morning hours. Good choices for hotels on Plati Yialos are Acrogialia, Petasos Beach, Petasos Bay, Petinos Beach, and the Nissaki.
Mykonos has five museums, the Aegean Maritime, Archaeological, Museum of Delos, Folklore, and the Agricultural, and each is fascinating and filled with treasurers.
The Aegean Maritime Museum in the in center of town and exhibits are inside and also in the garden. The visitor will see ship models from the pre-Minoan period to the 19th century and a varied collection of historical shipping documents, rare engravings and maps, ancient artifacts, navigational instruments, equipment and tools and rare, ancient coins. At the entrance are gravestone reliefs of Delos and Mykonos dealing with shipwrecks and sailors lost at sea.
The Archaeological Museum in town was founded at the beginning of the 20th century and has vases dating from 2,500 to 4,500 B.C. Gravestones from the nearby island of Rhinia are on display along with funeral jewelry. These items date to the first and second centuries B.C. A marble sculpture of Hercules dominates one of the museum's five rooms and is the principal attraction of the museum. Other items include a seventh century B.C. jar with Trojan reliefs, and a blackened, bronze hand of a child from the sixth century B.C. along with Roman carvings and bronze vessels.
The Museum of Delos is on Delos. One will find magnificent examples of Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman sculptures, including the Archaic Sphinx of the Naxias and Acroteria from the Temple of the Athenians. There is also a collection of vases of all periods and a variety of household utensils.
The Folklore Museum is located in the town near the tourist office. There is a large collection of commemorative plates of Greek kings and queens, as well as other collections of old Mykonian furniture, photographs, old looms, icons, and embroidery samples. The Agricultural Museum is a branch of the Folklore Museum, but it is located in Ano Myli (ask directions). It features a collection of old agricultural tools and machinery and the large Boris windmill, one of the finest in Greece that dates from the 16th century and operates just as it did when it was built. Another branch of the Folk Museum is Lena's House at Tria Pigadia (ask directions) in Mykonos Town.
Lena's House is an authentic, middle class Mykonian residence of the 19th century and represents a typical home of the time with a drawing room, two bedrooms, and two courtyards with a dovecote. It contains antique furnishings, splendid prints, tapestries, woodcarvings, mirrors, painted plates, and icons.
Night life in Mykonos is the best in the Aegean. If you like discos, being in the company of beautiful people, and staying up until dawn, Mykonos is the island for you. There are two major places you must visit for the Mykonos experience and they are Hotel Phillipi in the center of town and the Alefkandra section, on the sea. All of the celebrities who visit Mykonos will eventually end up partying at the Phillippi and if you want to see the rich and famous, this is the place to go. It is a rather large restaurant with an indoor 'garden' that serves as a dance floor. If you are lucky, you can sit at a table above the garden and see the celebrities down below.
The Alefkandra section has an abundance of night spots, bars, and tavernas, and it is here that you can 'taverna hop' with ease. A popular place is The Mykonos Bar, famous for Rhembetika music and as a place where you can see spontaneous, Greek dancing. Alefkandra is a very romantic place and one can try to find a private, quiet spot to sip wine with a loved one, but only in the early evening and perhaps just before dawn. The place rocks at night and into the early morning hours.
Another excellent way to see Mykonos at night is simply to follow your ears. Music comes from everywhere and as you walk about you will see revelers everywhere dancing to mostly live music. 'Hot spots' change from year to year, but news of favorites is passed along on the beaches and sometimes notices are placed on trees and posts calling attention to special parties.
RESTAURANTS AND TAVERNAS
Stop at the Mykonos Accommodation Center and get as much information as you can on restaurants and tavernas. And ask for a map. It is difficult for Mykonites to give directions to certain places, but if you have a map, the person can show you the approximate location of a restaurant or taverna you are trying to find.
Mykonos has excellent restaurants, but for the best dining on the island, make reservations at Katrine's. The food is superb, the waiters very attentive, and the atmosphere perfect. Katrine's was favored by Aristotle Onassis and he would make a special trip by yacht just to have a memorable dinner there. You may sit inside or out, but outside is preferred if you want to watch the crowds pass by and eat the way the Greeks do. The Hotel Phillippi is another excellent choice; here the seating is all inside, but the inside is a lovely, indoor garden.
If you like vegetarian food, the specialties at the Sesame Inn are excellent. At lunchtime, go to the Alefkandra section of town and dine at the outdoor, Alefkandra Restaurant. Here you will see Mykonos' policemen and cab drivers enjoying the specials and the 'catch of the day.' The prices here are moderate and the waiters say fish is straight from the sea, purchased just that morning from the fishermen. All in all, the food in Mykonos is excellent. It is the custom here to go into the kitchen and choose your food, if you prefer.
The best breakfast in town is at the Sailors Bar, but you will have to ask for directions on how to find it. Good tavernas are Niko's, which a friend says is 'near a church,' and another called Icarus, which the same friend says is 'through someone's back yard,' so ask a native, preferably a young person, for directions. These places are where the Mykonites go, so you will have unique experiences (if you can find them!!). There are small restaurants where you can buy souvlaki and a good one is in Taxi Square near the steps.
More than 6,000 volumes, most of which are in Greek, are in the Public Library of Mykonos housed in an old mansion on Ayia Kyriaki Square. The mansion was built in 1735 and was acquired by the Municipality in 1977. The books are a gift from the Mykonian historian Ioannis Meletopoulos and contain his complete library and books from the personal libraries of others. Included with the collection of books are Cycladic coins and old seals.
The library also contains sketches and books from the personal library of the legendary John Ratekin, an American artist to came to Mykonos to live in 1966, when gays began discovering the island. He is famous for his stark, dramatic black and white sketches of landmarks on the island, such as the Mykonos Bar and the windmills, and also for his poetry, some of which he wrote on walls. He befriended the fishermen and they him and he wrote their names on their boats.
Ratekin was part of the group that first assembled at Piero's Bar, one of the first on the island to willingly accept gay patrons. Soon artists from all over the world assembled on the island to paint the unique landscape, the cobble-stone pathways, and charming homes. But Ratekin was among the best of the lot and he stayed the longest and created exciting black and white sketches that he sold to tourists. He is also responsible for the first "Tourist Guide to Mykonos,' which featured his art work. His sketches are a historical record of the evolution of modern day Mykonos seen through the eyes of an artist. Many of his poems, paintings, and sketches can be found in the Municipal Library and were originally housed in his gallery, called 'the Dreammaker's House,' located in Alefkandra where the Veranda Café now stands.
It is said that when the lives of the devout islanders were in danger while they were at sea, their lives would be spared if they vowed to build a chapel upon return to the safety of land. And that is why, the story goes, there are more than 500 churches on Mykonos, most of them small, private chapels attached to or near the homes of the devout fishermen.
A very small number of these churches belong to parishes. Most of the chapels are humble structures and their beauty is in their simplicity. Inside, the faithful have placed their sacred icons with fraternal features of the saints. The interior of these chapels take on a haunting beauty when candles are lighted, making the small spaces very spiritual.
There are a few churches of note and one that is famous world-wide. Of note are the Metropolitan Church of Mykonos in Alefkandra, the nearby Catholic Church with its icons from Venice, and the Church of Ayia Eleni, the largest church in Kastro and once the Metropolitan Church until 1878. The monastery of Panayia Tourliani, built in the 16th Century, is of great importance and was named after Panayia Tourliani, the patron saint of the island. Each year on the first Saturday of Lent, the icon is brought to the town with great pomp and ceremony for worship, and is returned on Lazarus Saturday, before Palm Sunday.
The most famous church on the island and perhaps the most photographed church in Greece, is Paraportiani. An architectural masterwork, it is a complex of five churches, four of which are on the ground and the fifth on the roof. It is thought that this magnificent structure was built over time during the 16th and 17th centuries, but some speculate that the building began even earlier.
The church of Paraportiani is built above Ayios Evstathios (ask directions) and is reached by an exterior stone staircase on its east side. It is named 'Paraportiani' because it is reached by the 'side door' of the medieval castle of Mykonos. It is aesthetically, one of the most magnificent structures on the island and is easily the most photographed.
Greece is one of the few countries in the world where gold jewelry is made predominately by hand. It is said the jewelry artists of Greece are inspired by the muses, because their work is perfection itself. Eighty per cent of the jewelry sold in Mykonos is handcrafted and passes through up to five technicians before it is ready for display in the cases. Classic and modern designs are in abundance and the rings, bracelets, and necklaces feature precious and semi precious stones as well as rough stones and fossils.
The artists and artisans of Mykonos specialize in embroidered shirts and dresses, fabrics, flokati rugs of fluffy sheep wool, handicrafts, pottery, onyx, marble, alabaster, leathergoods, and, of course, gold and silver jewelry. A famous clothing designer, Yiannis Galatis, sells his creations from a shop on Manto Square, Zorbas is known as having the largest leather selection in town, and no one should leave town without the almond sweets made by Scaropoulos (and beloved by Winston Churchill) and the magnificent, gorgeous, and splendid Flokati or Kilmi rugs from Karamichos Mazarakis (he will ship to your home).
Mykonos is a gay-friendly island and many travel agencies specialize in catering to gay travel needs. You can make arrangements with a travel agent, such as Likouris Travel, or bargain for a room with residents who will be waiting for arrivals at the harbor or the airport. It is best to book in advance because with the new airport and jet travel to Mykonos, the island is more popular than ever. By all means, book your accommodations in town, because this is where the spectacular night life of Mykonos happens.
If you would like a very fine hotel, the Hotel Elysium is worth a look and it advertises itself as a 'hotel exclusively for gays.' Smaller more modest places also in town are the Alkyon and Hotel Lefteris. There are numerous choices in accommodations, and it is really best to make arrangements with a travel agent before coming or visit the Mykonos Accommodation Center upon arrival.
Bars were gays congregate are the Art Café Bar, near the bus stop, which also serves a very good, cooked breakfast. Pierros, Mantos, Icarus, Porta, Kastro, and Monparnasse Piano Bar are popular spots. The famous City Drag Bar is still going strong with a 1:30 a.m. opening time. Almost all restaurants on the island serve good food, but for lunch go to the Alefkandra Restaurant in the Little Venice or Alefkandra section of the island. Other good choices are Nikos, down from The City Club, Edem, Chez Maria, and the Sesame Inn.
Super Paradise is the island of choice for gay men and they congregate on the right hand side of the beach facing the ocean. An excellent variety of food is sold on the beach and there is a beach restaurant and a cocktail bar. Because Super Paradise is so very popular, it tends to get really crowded and some men now choose Elia, the island beyond Super Paradise. Another popular choice is Oronos Beach with the wonderful El Greco Restaurant. Many gays are now booking accommodations on Oronos Beach.
All guide-books and all guides will tell you that no one is allowed, by law, to stay on Delos overnight, but there is a wonderful story about how Lawrence Durrell, the famous Philhellene and English author, managed to do this and have the most magical night of his life. In his book, The Greek Islands, Durrell explains how he gained the cooperation of a boatman, practiced a slight deception on the men guarding Delos, and spent a romantic and spiritual night on the sacred island under the protection of Apollo himself.
Durrell hired a boatman, named Janko, to take him and his wife to the Bay of Phourni, below the old site of the abandoned Aesculapion. He had with him a sack that contained beer, bread, meat, and fruit and he also had sleeping bags. Janko dropped them off early in a very secluded area and then left. This was not unusual, because it was the custom for small boats to drop visitors off, then return in the early evening to take them back.
The boatman came back to Delos, as Durrell planned, but he returned to Mykonos without his passengers. Janko's part in the deception was to make sure the guards saw the boat leaving from afar. He knew the guards would assume passengers were on board, but they were not. Durrell said the evening was perfect with Appolo protecting them, Zephyr controlling the calm breezes, and Aphrodite orchestrating the sunset. They swam nude by the rising moon and came back to drink the warm soup and coffee from the thermos flasks thoughtfully brought by Janko.
As dusk fell, they snuggled in their sleeping bags, but were awakened at midnight by the brilliant, white light of the moon. Deciding to prowl among the ruins, they climbed over rocks and through barbed wire, but they did not need lights because, according to Durrell, 'we could have read a newspaper by the moon's light.' They came upon what must have been the floor of a villa and, by the light of the moon, saw what looked like an ordinary fish design. Durrell went to the sea for a pail of water, splashed the sea water over the floor, and, like a photograph developing in a tray, the head of the most beautiful dolphin emerged. It was one of the famous mosaics that would be viewed by the public in later years, but he and his wife saw it long before others.
Durrell described Delos as 'silent and ominous' at night with snakes and lizards slithering about, but he said it was also magical. When the moon gave up its brilliance, they managed to sleep once again and in the early morning the boatman returned. Reluctantly, they boarded the boat this time and returned to Mykonos.
I am not advocating that you try this stunt, but if by chance the seas are calm and the moon promises to be full, and if by chance you meet a descendant of the boatman, Janko''
What is it that makes Delos so special? Major reasons are that it has been declared a 'Sacred Island' by the Greek government and that it contains ruins of one of the most important and glorious civilizations the world has ever known. The island itself is relatively small - six kilometers long and 1,500 meters wide, but it is monumental in Greek history and mythology.
Delos is not only the geological center of the Cyclades, but was once the commercial, religious, and commercial center of ancient Greece.
Delos is the birthplace of Apollo, the god of light. He was born to Leto of the lovely hair as she leaned against or held onto a palm tree. Leto, impregnated by Zeus, gave birth to Apollo and his sister Artemis, goddess of hunting. Zeus chose Delos for the birth because he had to find a sanctuary for Leto, far from the eyes of his jealous wife, Hera. Delos means "'that which appeared' and was so named because it suddenly appeared in the waves and sheltered Leto from Hera's eyes. That is the wonderful myth of Delos.
History tells us, however, that the island was probably first inhabited in 3000 B.C. and at the end of the fourth century it developed into a major commercial center, competing with Rhodes. By Roman times, Delos had roughly 25,000 inhabitants, more or less. Archaeologists uncovered evidence of Ioanians living here in the 7th century B.C., followed through the centuries by Athenians, Delians, Egyptians, Syrians, and Romans.
It was the jewel of the Aegean Sea and was the summer home of the rich and famous of the time. It was magnificent and majestic. Rumor has it that Cleopatra had a summer home here, but there is no archaeological evidence to support it, although the search goes on.
Delos' rule over the sea was established around 478 B.C.. when a Delian confederacy was formed to bring neighboring islands under its influence, thus establishing Delos' supremacy. During this time, lavish festivals were held every five years to honor the gods. Large barges brought animals from neighboring islands for sacrifice and the most nubile Delian maidens were chosen to dance and sing hymns in honor of the gods.
The island was once a burial ground for Delians, but sometime around 426 BC. , in order to secure the favor of Apollo and incidentally, to gain control of the shrine's treasurers, the bones of those who died there were removed to Rhenia, a nearby island where a new burial ground was created. Also, from that point forward, women who were about to give birth were taken to a nearby island for the occasion. In effect, no one was allowed to be born or to die on the island.
The island's fall was sudden and brutal. In 88 B.C.. during the Mithriadic War, all inhabitants - estimates range from 20,000 to 30,000, were slaughtered and the mansions and temples desecrated and demolished. Nest, the island was burned by an army of barbarians and for years after that pirates came to pick over the remains. It was not until late in the 19th century that archaeologists began excavations that revealed the glory of Delos and encouraged the Greek government to establish strict rules for this site.
The French School of Archaeology began excavations in 1872 and in 1904, what is known as 'the great excavation' took place. This is when many public buildings and private houses were uncovered and some were partly reconstructed. Work is still in progress. Four of the famous nine lions that are symbols of Delos have been removed to a museum to protect them from corrosion and the magnificent animals now guarding the Path of the Lions are casts of the originals.
Mighty pillars, crowned by clouds, guide the entrance to the primitive paradise called Rhinia, the third sister in the Cycladic triangle. On the one side, the huge rocks are rugged and weather-beaten, their age hidden in the dark stones. On the other side, the surfaces are so smooth and shiny, reflecting rays of the sun, that the giant stones appear newly risen from a protective cave in Poseidon's bosom. Proud as sentries these pillars stand, ancient companions to the sea.
Tinted with deepening shades of blue, green, and purple, the water is an artist's pallet. Near the shore, the color is a subtle blue, becoming a bright blue/green and then a rich, dark, wine-colored purple in its deepest part. Two lovely coves protect the solitary, sandy beaches, named Stena, Lia, Glyfada, and Ambelia.
Rhinia is called 'Big Delos and is four times the size of its sister island. It is the ancient burial ground for warriors who died on Delos and whose bones were then transferred to its land, many, many years ago. One can see grave markers and burial stones on its rocky, hilly terrain. It is a popular belief that the island is 'haunted' by the ghosts of the warriors buried there. Uninhabited, the island has no plumbing, electricity, or telephones and by law no one is allowed to live there. Mykonians bring their sheep and goats there to graze and concrete huts are scattered about the island to provide temporary shelter in the event of storms.
Some tourists come to the island during the day for the experience of being almost alone on an uninhabited island, but there are only a few who seek this experience. At times, parties will be held on the island and notices will appear in Mykonos announcing the event; all the available boats will be chartered and people will descend on the island with sleeping bags, party all night, and hope that the winds, (the Meltemi), will permit them to return the next day. But these parties have been discouraged by the officials in Mykonos because of the obvious danger.
Mykonians come to Rhinia to fish and to escape the tourists, and the fisherman who took me to the island told me he and his friends have had magical experiences there. They come as a group in a caique, bringing food and drink. They make a bon fire for cooking and for light, and they eat, drink, play the bazooka, and dance under the brilliant, white moon. When night falls they sleep in the caique and, weather permitting, return to Mykonos the next day.
I was introduced to the elderly fisherman, Gregoris, by friends and he took me to Rhinia on three occasions when he went there to fish. He dropped me off on one of the four beaches, then went elsewhere to his 'secret' fishing place. The first day I explored the island, looking for grave markers and other artifacts of burial sites, but on the next two occasions I took a picnic lunch and wine, practiced yoga postures on the warm sand, and swam natural in the crystal clear waters. All three times I was alone on the beach and was enveloped by a sense of peace and a stillness that is almost impossible to describe.
A friend who lives on Mykonos and is very familiar with Rhinia went there with a companion in the early evening and described her extraordinary experience for me. 'We saw the sunset from high atop the most southern part of the island. If you looked to one side, the moon was out and full, with a still yet blue sky. If you looked the other way, the sun was setting. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. It was a truly magnificent gift from the gods.'
It would be almost impossible for the ordinary tourist to go to this island alone at night, and it is most likely forbidden, but the island can be visited during the day. If you plan carefully, are attentive to weather conditions, promise to respect the warriors in their ancient graves, and find either a fisherman or a charter service that will take you there, you will have an experience that is as close as possible to being transforming.
The Cycladic Sisters, Mykonos, Delos, and Rhinia, each with her own personality, are among Greece's most precious treasures. The visitor who ventures to the Cyclades will experience the sacred and the profane, the sublime and the absurd, the Ottoman and the Venetian, the glorious ideal and stark reality, the goddess and the harlot, the perfect beauty of the sun god, Apollo, and the wild revelry of the wine god, Dionysius. In short, the visitor will experience Greece.
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