Karpathos is perhaps the worst-kept secret in the Aegean. A spectacular island, the second largest in the Dodecanese, behind Rhodes, Karpathos has rich rewards for those who endure the long ferry trip from Pireaus, or the difficulty of finding a seat on the small planes that service the regular daily flights from Athens.
Karpathos has spent its history in relative isolation. It sent ships to the Trojan War, and was an ally of Athens in the 5th century BC, and, later, an important Roman and Venetian naval station. Otherwise, its history is one of relative calm and isolation, with its people in a constant battle to carve a living out of the mountainous terrain of this sliver of land that lies in the southeastern corner of the Aegean.
The hard life of the island led many of its sons and daughters to the maritime shipping business and, more recently, to the lands of opportunity in the New Worlds that emerged in the 19th century. There are thriving Karpathian communities today in the US, Canada and Australia, where many of the locals ended up, looking for a better life.
The bond with the old country, though, is extremely strong for Karpathians. Many of them have returned to the island, and have opened businesses here, mainly catering to the tourism industry. You have the feeling that most hotels and restaurants are owned by returning immigrants, and English seems to be the prevailing tongue in many of them.
The island’s charms include the landscapes, the villages and the beaches. Basically a mountain range jutting out from the sea, Karpathos offers spectacular views of the Aegean from anywhere on the road that connects Pigadia, the capital, in the south, and Diafani, the secondary harbor, in the north.
The island’s villages are picturesque and traditional, with wonderful architecture and charming little, narrow streets running through them. Although Spoa, Mesochori and Pigadia are beautiful, unspoilt Aegean settlements in their own right, Olympos, in the north, is an absolute must-see and one of the most spectacular sights of the Aegean.
The working windmills, the brightly-colored houses, the cliff-hanging restaurants and the unique food served here make Olympos an absolute delight. Uniquely in Greece, the women of Olympos still dress in traditional garb daily, providing a charming, living exhibition of traditional village life that does not exist anymore anywhere else in the country.
The beaches are mostly empty or almost empty, many of them sandy, and all of them offer crystal clear waters and deep blue Aegean skies. From the busy resort area of Amoopi (“Sand Hole”), near Pigadia, to the delight that is Apella beach (recently voted the best beach in the Mediterranean), the island features spectacular swimming and diving.
History of Karpathos
Traces of human life that have been found come from the end of Neolithic Era (4.000-3.000 BC.). The first habitants of the island came from Asia Minor and were relatives with pre-Hellenic people who lived in Crete and other Greek islands (Kares etc.) The primitive Neolithic civilization of Karpathos continued to the 3rd millennium, but around 2.000 BC. Minoan colonists from Crete brought economic and cultural development to the island. During Neoanactoric Era of Crete (around 1.700-1.450 BC.) – known also as the Era of Minoan Sea Domination and Colonism, Karpathos seems to have had definite Minoan characteristics. It had a large population and was culturally and economically developed.
The historian Diodoros Sikeliotis mentions that the first people of Karpathos were the first people who were sent by Minoas to Karpathos as colonists during the period of the Minoan Sea Domination. After them came colonists from Argos (apparently Mycenaean) with Ioklos, son of Demoleon, as leader. Homer, as well as the archaeological references, confirm the presence of Achaians (Greek Mycenaeans) on the island, despite the fact that the Minoan character of the civilization existed till the end of the Bronze Era. Karpathos took part in the Trojan War under the orders of Feidipos and Antifos. There are no findings from the end of the Bronze Era till the Archaic Period.
It seems that in those times Dorian population dominated and the four cities which Stravon mentions may have been built from the Archaic times or even from previous years. During the Classic and Hellenistic times Karpathos seems to have had cultural and economic progress. This was due to a great extent to the economic and cultural relations with Rhodes, especially with Lindos.
The major village of those times was apparently Karpathos which was possibly situated in the area of Aperi. This village as it is known today seemed to be the capital of the island the following years. It continued to be during the Turks domination till 1892 A.D. when capital of the island became Pigadia, the seaport of the city of Karpathos in antiquity, and in those times was called “Poseidion”. The other three cities were Arkesia, near the village of Arkasa, Vrykous, (today it is called Vroukounta, in the northwest of Karpathos) and Nisiros which possibly was situated on the island of Saria. Saria in ancient times was an independent island and was called Saros.
After 478 B.C. Karpathos became member of the 1st Athenian Alliance as was proven from the taxes the members used to pay. In 404 B.C., the end of the Peloponesean War, the island was subdued to the Spartans, but after the sea battle of Knidos (394 B.C.) came under the rule of the Athenians and became member of the 2nd Athenian Alliance.
During the Hellenistic Period a great part of the island was under the rule of the Rhodean State, in other words the Lindian State.
Romans – Pirates
Under the domination of the Romans, Karpathos becomes an island of strategic importance because it becomes one of the three Naval Stations of Rome in the Mediterranean.
Karpathos maintains this strategic power during the Byzantine Empire as well. Historical sources mention that the ships of the Karpathian Naval Station lead Nikiforos Fokas to Crete in 961 A.D.
During the rule of Emperor Dioklitianos (284-305 A.D.) Karpathos was incorporated in the “Provincia Insolarum” and during the rule of Emperor Herakleius (610-641 A.D.)
Almost three centuries (mid 7th till mid10th century A.D.) of decline and desolation follow. Pirates from N.Afica and Asia cause terror and fear to the islanders especially the populations living near the coast. In these years most coastal settlements are abandoned and the populations move to the Medieval mountain villages which are still inhabited even today.
Between 1204 and 1312 A.D. Karpathos was found in the centre of conflict among the Byzantines, the Genoan St. John Knights and the Venetians who claimed the island each for their own interests.
The mountain villages, and especially Olympos.
The beaches, all around the island, especially Apella, Ahara and Kyra Panagia.
The local traditional and organic food, available in most taverns.
The views of the sunset from the mountain villages.
Visit Olympos, if that’s the only thing you do in Karpathos. Come early in the evening, to enjoy the views and the sunset.
Try to reach the isolated beaches in the north, for beauty untouched by the tourist hordes.
If in the mood, walk along the mountain paths, for unadulterated, unique views of the Aegean.
The beaches of Karpathos are almost all pebbly, with emerald overtones. Some of the better-known beaches are Ai Yannis, Achata, Kato Lakos, Kyra Panaghia and Apella. Farther south, windsurfers will appreciate the brisk conditions at Agrilaopotamos. From Diafani small boats can take you to remote Aghios Minas, Nati and Forokli beaches. Tell the boatman to take his time picking you up…
1 Blue Flag Beach: Agios Nikolaos
Festivities & Local Traditions
Every September the Wine Festival is organized on the Lastos plateau in Karpathos.
“Psilokouloura,” “onion breads,” the fish “Skaros” or “the Karpathian” as the local people call it because it swims only in the Karpathian Sea. These are only some of the many products, which the island has to highlight.
Makarounes (type of pasta), Kolokythopoulia (zucchini flowers), Skaros yahni (baked fish), Ofto (stuffed lamb baked for about 20 hours in the traditional Karpathian oven served on Eastern day),
Fakorizo, Kopeles (herb pies), triangles, Sisamomeli (sweet, made from sesame and honey served in weddings), Tourtes or Mizithropites (pies filled with locally made Sitaka or Mizithra cheese), Pougia,
Airport Tel. 91030, 91036, 91047, 91020
Port Office Tel. 22227
Hospital Tel. 22228
Post Office Tel. 22219
Police Station Tel. 22222
Official website of Karpathos: www.karpathos.gr
Sources: www.karpathos.gr and nylou.com