History of Olympos

OLYMPOS IN KARPATHOS
(HISTORY AND LIFESTYLE)
Constantinos Minas, Lecturer of the Aegean University

Manolis Makris, writer

Location and geophysical situation

The region of Olympos lies in the north of Mount Kimaras and includes not only this northernmost part of Karpathos, but also the islet of Saria, which is separated from Karpathos by Steno, a straight about 100 meters wide, created by soil erosion. The Olympos region has an area of 37 square kilometers, excluding Saria, which is about a third of the whole island of Karpathos. Most of the region is extremely mountainous and covered with woods.

The main mountains are Ais Ilias (718 m), Orkili (713 m), Kimaras (692 m), Stioi (639 m), Malo (635 m), Korifi (588 m), Oros (561 m), Asia (531 m) in Karpathos and Pachis Vounos (630m) in Saria.

The most important plains of the region are the valleys of Avlona, Ahordea and Kilios in Karpathos and the valley of Pila in Saria. Smaller in area but still important, as far as agricultural production is concerned, are the regions Pei (the name comes from the ancient word πεδίον=field), Kampi, Ammoi (from the ancient word αμμόγη=sandy soil) in Karpathos and Nappa (valley) and Argos (plain close to the sea) in Saria.

One interesting element of the local geography is the partition of the region by the sea, where the impressive natural harbor of Tristomo is formed, with the many picturesque bays such as the Vroukounta, Fises and Evgonimos bays on the west side, and the Vananta, Diafani, Apokapos, Opsi, Kapi, Agnontia, Forokli, Kantri, Filios, Nati bays on the east side and the Giaplos, Palatia, Alimounta and Mea Alo, (long beach) bay in Saria.

Although the region doesn’t offer to plant growing, the diligence of the inhabitants, who didn’t leave even a square inch of soil uncultivated, made it possible to feed about 1.500 people, the inhabitants of the village in the 40’s and 50’s are perhaps in earlier years.

The Ancient Era

The archaeological excavations showed that Minoans and Myceanaens settled in the Olympos region in the 15th century BC. According to the information found in ancient writers (Skilax, Stravon) and the archaeological findings, there were two important cities in the Olympos region since the 4th century BC, namely Vrikous, in the site of today’s Vroukountas, and Nisiros “homonymous with the island of Nisiros” in the site Palatia in Saria. In Steno of Karpathos or somewhere in this region there was the Porthmios Poseidon temple, a place of worship for the whole island of Karpathos during the classical and Hellenistic period. The famous inscription, known as “Dorian resolution of Karpathos”, was found in Vrikounta. This inscription concerns a doctor called Minokritos Mitrodorou, whom the inhabitants of Vrikous bestowed the highest honors, because he had offered his medical services unselfishly and unimpeachably for more than twenty years.

From the ancient city of Vrikous, tens of carved tombs, ruins of walls and fortifications and some parts of Hellenistic walls have been saved.

As the Byzantine monuments found in the Vrikounta and Palatia regions show, life continued in these cities during the Byzantine era. The ruins of the big basilica in Palatia (in the site of today’s Agia Sofia), in Steno (in the site of today’s Agia Aikaterini) and the Filios (in Archagelos) date back from around the 6th century AD and it is believed that Christianity came to Karpathos, and especially Olympos, before that century. It is thought-although it hasn’t been verified-that Ioannis of Karpathos, an eminent figure of the 6th century church, lived in Vrikounta.

The inhabitants of Vrikous and Nisiros stayed in their cities until the end of 7th century, and perhaps the 8th century, because of Arabic raids, they were forced to look for shelter, probably the entire cities, away from the sea, in naturally protected sites. It seems that Vrikous hasn’t been inhabitants, who in Palatia life continued, probably with Arab inhabitants, who used the city as their base of operations, because the position of the city allowed them to dominate in the passage between Rhodes and Karpathos. This theory is substantiated by the fact that only Arabs could live close to the sea during that period and, as archaeologists and historians tell us, the ruins found today in Palatia resemble the constructions of Syria dated before the 10th century. As it seems from the ruins and the deep clefts in the ground, the city of Palatia was destroyed by a strong earthquake, in the first two or three centuries of the second millennium AD.

3.Settlement of Olympos

The refugees from Vrikous and Nisiros, as it was mentioned above, must have settled in Olympos during the period of the Arabic raids (7th-9th century), which coincides with the iconoclasm period (8th-9th century). This theory is supported by the desertion of the ancient cities during that period and the dates of construction of the still existing Katholiki and Agios Onoufrios chapels, as well as the dating of the older decoration of the central church of the village, which can be seen in the west dome, now that the latter decorative layer has been eroded. There are no figures of saints in this decoration, although one can see only the common Christian symbols, such as crosses, fish etc., which were allowed by the iconoclasts.

It is possible that the refugees from Vrikous and Nisiros didn’t settle Olympos in the beginning, but looked for a site somewhere close to their old homes. Exapitarea (which means place of expatriation) is believed to be one such site, where old ruins, perhaps dating from the 8th or 9th century, have been found.

The site of Olympos is excellent, as far as protection for the inhabitants is concerned. The site it was built is naturally protected from the north and south-west side and from there they could survey the open sea in the west. There were guards in nearby high points who informed the inhabitants whenever pirate ships were approaching, so that they could be protected in their castle. Moreover, there was plenty of spring water nearby, and the main cultivated area, Avlona, wasn’t far away. There are still traces of the castle, and many places have names which remind us of it, such as Mesa Kastro (inner castle), a village district, and Oxo Kamara (gate), a district facing the sea, built outside the west gate of the castle, the one in the south entrance of today’s Platio.

The derivation of the names Olympos and Diafani

It is certain that the village was named after the high mountain on the side of which it was built. Today the mountain is called Ais Ilias (Prophet Elias) because on top of it, as it is common with many mountain summits of Greece, the chapel of Prophet Elias was built. In the ancient times however, as it was the case with many other mountains of Greece, the mountain must been called Olympos. Sometimes the village, and the famous mountain in Thessaly with the same name, is called Elimpos a name found in many documents of the beginning of the 19th century. Its official name today is Olympos (with a feminine article, instead the more common masculine one).

Diafani owns its name in a person called Diofani, who had strong connections with the place either as a landowner or as a monk. From the linguistic point of view this is the only convincing etymology of the name.

Later history

Not much information concerning Olympos and the settlement of the first inhabitants there, up to the last century, is available. The very few travelers who visited Karpathos, didn’t go as far as Olympos, although they describe with admiration the reputation the archaic language, the customs and the songs of the region enjoyed. Nevertheless, we can tell the history of Olympos during that period on the basis of the history of the island and the wider region as well as whatever was saved by the popular tradition, as follows:

Since the time Moavias, the governor of Syria, looted Karpathos in 647, Saracens raided the region, until Nikiforos Fokas finally forced them out of Crete in 961. In the following years Crete Kasos and Karpathos formed the “Thema of Crete” (Crete county) headed by a Byzantine general. When the Franks conquered the Byzantine Empire in 1204 the Cretan-Venetian Kornaros family successively governed the island until 1537 when the Turkish navy under Hairedin Barbarossa overthrew the Frank rule. During the Greek revolution for independence in 1821 Karpathos revolted and overthrew the Turk rulers. But it was given back to Turkey under the Provisions of the London Protocol, singed in 1830. The Italians took over from the Turks in 1912 until the Dodecanese islands joined Greece in 1948.

The special tax and administrative privileges granted to the islands during the Turkish rule helped the inhabitants develop a form of democratic local government and enjoy a satisfactory enough standard of living. Until the last years of Italian rule Olympos was governed by a council elected annually from all the adult men, who had wide administrative, tax, educational and judicial powers. It is especially surprising how these local governors managed to determine the annual use of land, satisfying the needs of the village and balancing the clashes between the agricultural and the cattle-breeding groups.

The village of Olympos today

Today’s village is certainly much bigger than the original 9th and 10th century settlement. When the pirates stopped their raids, the village expanded both towards the east and the west mountainside. Along the mountain top there is a row of horseshoe-shaped windmills, a distinctive feature of Olympos.

The central church of the village, a Kimisis ti Theotokou (the Assumption of the Virgin) is impressive. Built in the Byzantine style, its whole interior is covered with murals dated from the years of the Turkish rule. The icon screen, made of carved wood, is as excellent piece of art. Apart from the central church, there are lot of picturesque chapels throughout the village and the region.

Today many of the houses in the village are uninhabited because of immigration.

Diafani

The traces of a Minoan settlement in the cove of Kampi bay, the ruins of Hellenistic public baths in the Loutro (bath) site and the name-place Palaia (ancient) are signs that the Diafani site has been chosen for settlement since the ancient times. Because of the Arabic raids, the inhabitants of the region were also forced to abandon their homes and take refuge in Olympos.

In the end of last century, when the sailing boats of the pirates-not only Arabs but Lalianoi and Hydrans-were forced out by the engine-powered battleships, the inhabitants of the castle in Olympos took heart and moved down to settlements by the sea, just as the inhabitants of Koraki (Aperi) moved down to Pigadia during the same period. The reason for moving to Diafani is certainly not the fact that there was an ancient settlement there. The main reason was that the bay there served the needs of the people who had to go to Saria to cultivate their fields. The bay is the least exposed to the wind and the one closest both to Olympos and Saria.

Diafani has been quickly developed after the Second World War.

Avlona

The rural village of Avlona is situated north of Olympos and it is built in the east of the big and fertile valley with the same name. Avlona was the center of rural life of the region. There we can see about 300 “stavlos” as the farmhouses characteristic of Avlona are called. Each of these farmhouses has its own threshing floor and the place where the ears during the harvest of the surrounding fields are stored.

The Avlona “stavlos” was a complex, which served the needs of agricultural production, from the residence of the family and the necessary work (threshing, winnowing, storage of the crop, the seeds, the straws etc.) to the stabling of the domestic animals.

In old times, when agriculture and cattle-breeding in Olympos thrived, almost all the inhabitants of Olympos and Diafani moved to Avlona during the summer months and the region throbbed with life.

The inhabitants’ occupations

Olympos and the other villages of Karpathos is a rural district. The fear of piracy forced the inhabitants to abandon the seaside settlements and didn’t let them become seamen. The only alternative was to become farmers. There are very few seamen from Olympos nowadays and there were even less in the past decades. There were also quite a few shepherds in the past. Unfortunately, due to immigration, there are very few farmers and shepherds left in the village nowadays. Nobody was idle in Olympos, apart from the sick. The living conditions and the environment enforced a certain lifestyle from the early age. Weak people could not live for long in Olympos. One had to have a very good faced “from one to night to the next” which means “from sunrise to sunset”. The women were no exception. On the contrary, besides taking care of their children, the women had care of cooking as well whereas Saturdays were baking and washing days. On Saturdays the men were also busy digging, cutting wood, bee keeping or repairing their “stivania” (a kind of laced boots) or their tools. Only on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings were the men free to go to the kafenio where they learnt the news and met other people. The husband and wife in Olympos were two inseparable partners working together against the difficult conditions in order to make a living for themselves and they’re many-six on average-children. If, on the other hand they were down with their luck, and they had to raise a loan, the man would put his field or house in pledge. If it were necessary to spend his wife’s sovereigns (gold British sterling coins), he would give her his house or field in return.

Many inhabitants of Olympos were builders, quite a few of them were shoemakers, a few were blacksmiths. When the fields were abandoned and the ready-made shoes were introduced, the blacksmiths were gone and there is only two or three shoemakers left.

The typical Olympos house

The center of a traditional house in Olympos is the ground floor, which is separated in two parts: the patos and the soufas with the panosoufi. The soufas is a wooden construction with the panosoufi on top of it. The family as a bed uses it, while its lower part is used for storage. The soufas, is usually opposite the house entrance, and has a finely decorated frame in front, which is sometimes supported on the pole, which in turn supports the roof beam. During festivity periods the pole and the carved wooden decorations are covered with multicolored embroidery.

Another important part of the furniture of a traditional house is panga, which is a kind of sofa, placed next to soufas and at right angles to it. Its box-shaped separations are used for storing fruit, food etc. on the walls there are shelves decorated with ornamental plates. The house equipment is completed with the finely made carved wooden family altar on the east side of the house.

To the old house, which had a fireplace, another room was later added, the kellos. This room was used as a kitchen. The fireplace moved in this room, and on the roof of the kellos there is the anakapnea (chimney), which shows the presence of the fireplace. Since then, the kellos has become the center of daily family life in Olympos.

Many houses had an outside oven, which was also used by the neighboring families.

The typical Olympos house

The center of a traditional house in Oympos is the ground floor, which is separated in two parts: the patos and the soufas with the panosoufi. The soufas is a wooden construction with the panosoufi on top of it. It is used by the family as a bed, with its lower part is used for storage. The soufas is usually opposite the house entrance, and has a finely decorated frame in front, which is sometimes, supported on the pole which in turn supports the roof beam. During festivity periods the pole and the carved wooden decorations are covered with multicolored embroidery.

Another important part of the furniture of a traditional house is panga, which is a kind of sofa, placed next to soufas and at right angles to it. Its box-shaped separations are used for storing fruit, food etc. on the walls there are shelves decorated with ornamental plates. The house equipment is completed with the finely made carved wooden family altar on the East Side of the house.

To the old house, which had a fireplace, another room was later added, the kellos. This room was used as a kitchen. The fireplace moved in this room, and on the roof of the kellos there is the anakapnea (chimney), which shows the presence of the fireplace. Since then, the kellos has become the center of daily family life in Olympos.

Many houses had an outside oven, which was also used by the neighboring families.

11. Local idiom

The idiom used in Olympos is quite impressive and unique. Besides the place-names, many of which have an ancient origin, this is also the case with many common words, which have been virtually unchanged since the ancient or the Medieval Greek.

12. Songs, music, dances

Although there used to be much more, even today there are many traditional songs written if fifteen-syllable lines, called sirmatika, which are generally sung with a characteristic slow music. More particularly, the songs start very slowly; somewhere in the middle of the song the beat becomes faster and becomes a crescendo towards the end. The songs are heroic songs originating from the Byzantine era, ballads, some are historic songs, love songs, some talk about immigration and people who have immigrated, and finally some songs are satirical. Some of these songs can be sung while the participants remain seated, while in others the people can dance a particular dance called sianos. Besides sirmatika there are also quite a few songs which are sung while the participants dance the zervos dance, the lyrics been written in 13-syllable lines, as well as gonatistos (a dance characterized be the distinctive movement of the dancers’ knees). Moreover there are some songs with their own melody.

The extempore mantinades (couplets) are still flourishing. With the mantinades the inhabitants of Olympos praise and express their wishes to the newly wed couple, to the child who has just been christened, to distinguished fellow-citizens, or to immigrants who have recently returned from abroad. Other mantinades commend on social issues, and they are often used to sing with grief and tears about people not living any more.

It is believed that there used to be about seventy melodies for the mantinades. About forty of them are still used. Some melodies are used in particular situations. The melody for fevgio (departure) for example, or the melody of patinada (night cantata) and the kamouzelliarikos (for carnival festivities). Fortunately the young people of Olympos, both in the village itself and in the Olympos communities of Rhodes and Piraeus, thanks to the Olympos Associations there, learn to enjoy the traditional way of entertainment and keep the ritual which calls for respect for the older people, self-respect and decency.

Opportunities for entertainment are the wedding, christenings, efkises (name days), the week before Lent, Clean Monday (equivalent to Ash Wednesday) the Tuesday after Easter, 15th August, the Agios Giannis of Voukounta festival, 8th September, 14th September. In the old days, Agios Georgios in Pilai and Ai Minas festivals used to be celebrated.

The order of a feast in Olympos is exemplary, where only men participate. The relatively few women, who are present, watch seated on the rest of the floor and the young women sit decently on the soufas and panosoufi. After dinner the priests and the chanters sing hymns and at the end of each hymn all the participants hit the rim of their plates with the forks expressing in this way, as it has been done since the Byzantine era, their participation in the private and the public joy. The priest gives a toast personally to the best singer (usually an elderly man) who has to sing the song of tavla (sung while people remain seated) and the first mantinada of the feast. In the public feasts where people can dance, the musicians sit in the middle of the square or the hall, the men around the musicians and the women outside the circle formed by the men.

In the daytime people usually dance in Plati, in an area probably less than a hundred square meters big. This is the largest space available, in front of the central church of the village. In the nighttime the feast continued in a big house, but in the last years the Municipal Building of Olympos of Diafani has been used for this purpose. In the festivals, of course, people dance in the churchyard. The day Ai Giannis of Vroukounta is celebrated, on 29 August, a spacious threshing floor was used for dancing, and in the last few years an especially asphalted area.

The dances of Olympos fall into two categories: a) the sianos (slow) goes with the sirmatika and the mantinades which, as mentioned earlier, have many themes but at some point they always praise the main dancer and his vantes (the ladies dancing before and after him). b) The lively pano choros where the first one or two dancers make lots of characteristic evolutions. Because, as it was mentioned earlier, the inhabitants of Olympos were too many for the dancing space available, the pano choros- there was no problem with sianos-became ΪstetosM, which means that, although it kept being of course, the dancers advanced very slowly, they almost danced in the same place. In the other villages of Karpathos, which were neither so crowded, nor there was lack of space, the dancers could advance, not only anticlockwise but towards the center of the circle and back.

13. The local dresses

In the old days the rich landowners used to wear a red fez bought from abroad, long breeches, the perikos, a kind of tight double-breasted jacket all made of cotton and woven in Olympos. Less rich landowners wore tighter breeches and a tall cap whereas the majority wore woolen short breeches. In the last 30 to 40 years the men don’t wear breeches or potouri any more. The trousers, which appeared for the first time in the early 20th century, prevailed completely.

The women use two kinds of dress: a) the one they wear everyday which comprises long underpants and shifts beneath the kavai and the apron. The same dress, decorated with embroidery and accompanied with multi-colored kerchiefs, could be worn by the young girls in celebrations and in the church .b) to sakofoustano (a dress consisting of a shirt and a skirt), decorated with embroidery and accompanied with multicolored kerchiefs was worn the young women in church, in festivals and feasts. The kavai was usually matched with the stivania (boots), whereas the sakofoustano was worn only with slippers.

Today few people work as farmers or shepherds where it was necessary for women to wear warm clothes, and only older women wear the traditional dress, as well as the younger women during feasts and festivals. Unfortunately, the traditional dress has become museum piece.

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