18: Ios: Homer’s Island

The journey to Ios

VC travelled from Piraeus to Ios overnight on-board a cargo ship. His narrative on the islands he passed by begins next morning. He doesn’t describe any of the intervening island stops but it would seem unlikely that the ship was bound only for Ios. He briefly mentions ‘the white houses of Paros‘ and ‘the walls of Marco Sanudo’, the kastro of Naxos, so, as with today’s ferries, it’s likely that the ship called at Paroikia in Paros and at Naxos before continuing on to Ios.

The map below shows the probable journey and the sites VC talks about en-route.

Naoussa disclosed her grand harbour, where the galleys of the Dukes and the fleets of Catherine the Great once took their ease.

Ios - Naoussa harbour
Ios – Naoussa harbour

The Castle of St. Antonio rose upon its pinnacle, as though Barbarossa had never opened his guns upon it

Agios Antonios
Paros – the Castle of St. Antonio (Agios Antonios) with the Paros/Naxos strait behind and Naxos beyond
Naxos Chora
Naxos Chora and Sanudo’s Castle

The walls of Marco Sanudo that for 350 years had proclaimed the Venetian lordship,

Naxos Portara (Temple of Dionysus)
Naxos – the Portara (Temple of Dionysus)

rose in almost plebeian contrast with the austere unchanging beauty of the temple of Dionysos.

Ios - the Acropolis atop the hill above the port of Yialos
Ios – the Acropolis atop the hill above the port of Yialos

The small town of the island, its classic Acropolis, rose up above us withdrawn from the peril of the sea.

The ride up to Chora

It’s a 15-minute walk from the harbour of Yialos up to the village of Chora, clustered around the peak of the ancient Acropolis, of which little is to be seen today. The path is the old kalderimi, the cobbled mule track, which VC’s mule would certainly have followed.

Street leading up to the Acropolis
Street leading up to the Acropolis

I rode up to the Chora into quiet and shady streets.

Dream come true - Evangelismos Cathedral now complete
Dream come true – Evangelismos Cathedral now complete

A Papa sat brooding under the walls of the grand new church he was building; the dreamer whose dream was coming true.

The square in Chora
The square in Chora

I entered its little square,

and climbed to the old Acropolis as the sun was setting. Siphnos, Kimolos, and Melos were irradiated in his golden light; Sikinos and Pholegandros lay dark upon the horizon; Crete, afar off, was like the fabric of a dream.

Sunset from the Acropolis
Sunset from the Acropolis

Homer’s Tomb

Setting out at dawn, VC started on the long ride to the reputed tomb of Homer in the northeast of Ios. Once away from Chora and the fertile plain, the countryside, even today, becomes barren and wild. The tomb is located on a promontory looking over the sea to the islands of Irakleia and Amorgos.

“You see without doubt, Sir, at the place where the shore of Nio (Ios) seems to advance towards us, is a little piece of ground covered with shrubs? This is the tomb of an old woman who lived a long time ago; she had a small house, far from the village, where she retired with her son; one night robbers entered the hut; they killed the mother, and they gouged out the eyes of the son. After they left, the man, despite his cruel wound, had the courage to bury his mother at the place you see. Then leaving his island, he went begging throughout the archipelago. Like the blind love music, he learned to play the lute, and he composed songs that he repeated in all the cities of Greece . . . this blind man became old, and yet he continued singing. Finally he died; they say he wanted to be buried there by his mother, whose tomb we pass by.”

The valley as we rose lay spread at our feet, the blue harbour of Ios was like a gem; the white town stood upon its hill, and ships sailed far across the sea. Sikinos and its waters were our horizon

Chora and Ios harbour from the road to Homer's Tomb.
Chora and Ios harbour from the road to Homer’s Tomb.
Homeros
Homeros

On the slope of the peninsula, and facing the East whence Homer came, there is an ancient burial ground, whose graves when they have not been violated, lie buried deep in the ploughed fields amidst patches of struggling corn. The petrified bones of those who lived here in a far age, lie scattered, gleaming like schist in the sun. They call the place Homeros.

Marble plaque at Homer's Tomb
Marble plaque at Homer’s Tomb

. . . if indeed it be true that an old blind singer of the name of Homer was sailing from Samos to Athens, his ship propelled by the North-East wind could only have come this way;

Homer's Tomb
Homer’s Tomb

and if it be true that he was taken ill and was like to die, his companions may well have laid him here.

Meeting Stefanos Lorentziadis

Approaching Chora, on his return from visiting Homer’s tomb in the North East of the island, VC passed by the home of an elderly man who was sitting on his doorstep.

On my return in the cool of the evening from Homeros, and as I neared the town of Ios, I saw an elderly man seated alone upon the doorstep of his house, with something about him that was almost English — or at least not Greek. He looked a little wistfully upon the world, regarding the passers-by, and this led me to stop my mule and wish him the time of day.

The man turned out to be Stefanos Lorentziadis, the younger brother of the three sisters who’d looked after and entertained Theodore and Mabel Bent over 40 years before. From Theodore’s and VC’s accounts, and from further research in Ios, we have been able to uncover the intriguing history of the Lorentziadis family from that time to the present day.

Finding Stefanos’ house

VC describes in some detail Stefanos’ house and garden and gives us a clue to its location. We’ve found a possible location which has yet to be confirmed by either the Lorentziadis family or somebody who can gain access to the tomb to read the inscription. Read the blog on searching for Stefano’s house.

Stefano’s garden lay upon the slope of a narrow ravine; a jet of water trickled through it into a reservoir under a vine, thence creating freshness and verdure wherever it went from terrace to terrace, till it reached the bottom of his ravine. Upon the far side rose the Acropolis of Ios, the remains of its Hellenic walls and its mediaeval tower; and these as we sat on his terrace glowed rose in the twilight through the solemn frieze of his darkening cypresses

The ravine with Chora on the left and the house on the right
The ravine with Chora on the left and the house on the right
The tomb at the end of terrace
The tomb at the end of terrace

Through the dim orange groves there gleamed the white marble of his brother’s tomb

 

If you have any more information on the tomb, or on Stefanos’ house, please post a blog message.

Ekaterina Lorentziadis’ costume

In VC’s account of his meeting with Stefanos Lorentziadis, he includes part of Theodore Bent’s book telling of the evening in 1884 when Theodore and Mabel were entertained by a ‘woman of surpassing beauty‘ wearing the costume of Ios.

Ekaterina's costume
Ekaterina’s costume

. . . a woman of surpassing beauty entered in the costume of Ios; her veil was bespattered with gold, with streamers which hung down behind it; in front of it was a sort of crown; her dress was of green and gold brocade. Over her heart was what we should call a stomacher, but the Greeks more polite an ésokardia; her feet were in dainty little shoes. Nothing could look more glorious than this woman, with perfect features, brilliant complexion, and rich dark hair. We stared at her in mute admiration. It was Ekaterina who was the original of this beautiful apparition

From Stefanos, VC learned that, not long after Theodore and Mabel’s visit, Ekaterina tragically died aged just 22. The chance of her costume surviving for 130 years was almost negligible, but, survive it did. It was discovered by chance by a member of the Lorentziadis family, Spyros.

The Lorentziadis Family

By chance, VC met Stefanos Lorentziadis as he was returnng from visiting Homer’s tomb. Stefanos was a member of what had been the prominent ‘first family‘ of Ios during Theodore Bent’s visit in 1884 when they entertained him and showed him great hospitality. At least 4 demarchs and the local schoolmaster had come from this family Note 1. The news on the family from Stefanos in 1927 was therefore surprising:

But there are none of us now in the island.

How could such a prominent and numerous family have disappeared from the island over the course of just 40 or so years? Read the intriguing story of the Lorentziadis family.

Saint Theodote and Paleo-Kastro

The next day, after meeting Stefanos Lorentziadis, VC is on the road again, this time to the church of Ayia Theodoti and the Venetian fortress of Paleokastro.

In the morning I rode away to St. Theodote and the Venetian castle of Paleo-Kastro.

Saint Theodote

The white dome of Ayia Theodoti
The white dome of Ayia Theodoti

St. Theodote lies in a valley by the sea on the other side of the island. Its sandy shore looks towards Naxos and Heracleia and Amorgos; its flanks are barren and precipitous hills, that tower in the sun-mists like mountains inaccessible to man

The church of Ayia Theodoti with its dance floor used on the day of the Saint's festival
The church of Ayia Theodoti with its dance floor used on the day of the Saint’s festival

To its white dome, gleaming here in this now desolate place, the island people come, as they have come from time immemorial, with their wives and their little children, to celebrate the festival of the Saint

The beach at Ayia Theodoti
The beach at Ayia Theodoti

Paleo-kastro

The track up to Paleokastro is in somewhat better condition today than that described by VC. It’s an uphill climb of half a kilometre and is signposted from the main road leading down to the beach at Psathi, about 4kms further on.

The track up to Paleokastro
The track up to Paleokastro

. . . this mule track, though it could scarcely be worse as such, is yet a mule track, and the coming and going of man and beast have worn a footway of narrow dimensions whereon there is room, but only just room, for two small hoofs at a time. The persistent traveller unconcerned with the danger of narrow and slippery ways, can ride up almost to the very walls of the castle.

The track to Paleokastro looking back
The track to Paleokastro looking back

The track near its end is composed entirely of white or rose marble, or of grey, that is of a crystalline and snowy whiteness when fractured. But in the last lap of all, human feet alone will serve. I for one when I looked up from the sea below to these dazzling battlements against the sky, doubted whether I should ever get there, but an island mule will go almost anywhere.

The walls of Paleokastro
The walls of Paleokastro

The perimeter of the castle is of hewn marble strengthened with a little mortar; less noble than the great stones of the classic or the cyclopean age; yet impressive enough.

The chapel at Paleokastro
The chapel of Panagia Paleokastritissa

A small Chapel to Our Lady survives, converted to the Greek ritual; the oratory of its once Catholic lords.

The chapel of Panagia Paleokastritissa
The chapel of Panagia Paleokastritissa

According to Theodore Bent, this chapel belonged to the Lorentziadias family. Mabel Bent was invited to inscribe her name on the tempelon of the chapel but no trace of it has yet been found.

Irakleia from Paleokastro
Irakleia from Paleokastro

The outlook from this place of pride is superb. It looks across the sea to Heracleia and below to a small bay where the blue and jade waves mingle about a rim of foam. For all its ruin it is still white and clean; for marble does not lend itself to dirt, and the sun and the wind labour continually to purify it.

Farewell to Ios

The male costume of Ios
The male costume of Ios

In this good company I passed the evening; a flagon of the red wine of the island circulating round the table amongst the men; the women taking but a very little. The men here still wear the traditional costume of the island; consisting of a short jacket and wide trousers with gaiters, made of their native wool and stained a tawny colour with the lees of wine. Notwithstanding the bad name they had in the days of piracy, when their safe harbour swarmed with corsairs, and the standard of their lives was lowered, I found them rather kinder and pleasanter than most of the other islanders of the Aegean. Piracy happily ceased with the Revolution, and a sort of Indian Summer has descended upon these isles, which now makes them as safe and peaceful to travel in as any part of the world.

VC’s travels in Ios

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ResearchAgios Ioannis Prodromos

After visiting Paleokastro, VC rode to the summit of the island to the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Prodromos.

From the Kastro I rode up a desperate hill and a wilderness of stones to Pyrgos, the summit of Ios. Rousing the red-legged partridge as we went, we reached an abandoned monastery in a place even more solitary

Its Chapel is reduced to a shambles of white marble and of goats’ dung.

A cross is cut on the lintel over its door, and blocks of the same princely material lie useless and undesired in a cell.

Outside it in the monastery court a fig tree of great age still puts out a few leaves from its withered and blackened trunk.

From this abandoned habitation I looked far down upon the white houses of Ios, the narrow water of its harbour, and ships slowly making their way through the sun haze as if they belonged to some other world.

Have you visited the monastery? Maybe you have some photographs or some interesting narrative you could contribute. Please upload anything you have to a blog post.

Notes

Note 1 The book “Historical Collection from the Island of Ios” (Ιστορική Συλλογή της νήσου Ιου), written by Evaggelos Kostopoulos, printed in Alexandria, Egypt in 1909, contains a section on demarchs of Ios on pages 50 to 53. Return from Note 1