Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kampos, Ikaria

Image: Ikaria’s Atheras range in late afternoon light

As I write this, wild winds are roaring across the top of Ikaria’s mountainous Atheras range. The bolder-strewn, bare hills of the Atheras range divide the northern side of the island from the generally, calmer, southern side. Today however, the winds are whipping up stinging dust, tearing at clothes hanging on washing lines, pummeling trees and potted plants, people and animals, and making flight all but impossible for even the largest of local birdlife.

The evening ferry will almost certainly be cancelled due to the rough seas and wind-lashed waves (see Who Pays The Ferryman?), and who knows what sort of damage is being dished out on the terraces and family gardens that cover the valleys and hillsides. Ikaria is entering olive picking season, and I have visions of millions of ripening black olives being shaken to the ground from olive groves across the island. As long as the winds and gathering clouds don’t bring heavy downpours of rain, I suppose the locals will be happy. The last thing the island needs is another devastating storm to add to the damage caused by the recent thunderstorms that have wreaked havoc on this and other Aegean islands (see The (Greek) Gods Are Angry).

Image: Recent storms damaged this bridge near Rahes, Ikaria

I’ve been hanging out at Kampos*, once the site of the ancient city of Oenoe. Along with Therma (see Therma, Ikaria), Oenoe has a history that goes back to around 750 B.C. Echoes of this history can be seen in the church of Agia Irini (St. Irene), parts of which date to the 11th century.
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Image: Night image of the church of Agia Irini at Kampos, Ikaria
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Image: Remnants of building columns and other structures in Kampos, Ikaria


Near the church, the visitor will also find the remains of the ancient Oenoe temple (often referred to as a palati , or palace). The church and temple are thought to date back to the sixth century A.D. Today, Agia Irini is still used for regular church activities including weddings, baptisms, and memorial services.

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Image: Remains of the Oenoe temple wall at Kampos, Ikaria


Image: This temple seating faces the wall shown in the previous image

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But what happened to the original marble and stone with which the temple was constructed, I hear you ask. Well, dear reader, it was used by enterprising villagers to build their own homes and barns, and even to build new churches. The image below shows an old stone house on the valley floor near the old temple. The rectangular blocks of white marble that have been used in the house’s construction were almost certainly taken from the temple of Oenoe and other ancient structures.


As outrageous as this may seem, it would have made perfect sense for villagers to use the nearest source of building materials for their own purposes. One suspects they would have reasoned that since the old temple was no longer being used, they might as well utilize the stone and marble slabs for themselves. Bear in mind, we are taking about an era when everything was done by hand, and when the only mode of ‘transport’ would have been the humble, long-suffering donkey. Like I say, it made sense to cart temple marble and stone the short half a mile or so to your new home, rather than have to extract the stone far from your chosen site and move it laboriously a few pieces at a time.



Image: White marble slabs from ancient structures recycled into ‘new’ homes in Kampos, Ikaria

New discoveries of structures dating back to the days of the Athenian League and the Byzantine era, are still being made in Kampos. Some years ago, local villagers raised money to build a community centre less than a hundred yards from the Agia Irene church. During the excavation process, workers uncovered sections of walls and other early building remains, which have now been incorporated into the new centre.


Over hundreds of years, dirt, silt, mud and other debris has been washed from the hills of the Atheras range down onto the valley floor, covering a treasure trove of ancient sites. In fact the recent storms alluded to above have probably added hundreds of tons of new dirt and debris to previous layers. The remnants of Oenoe may never be uncovered again, which means we will never discover the full extent of its boundaries, the size of its buildings, or the uses to which they were put, and maybe that just the way it should be.


Let the earth keep its secrets, and let the living get on with the daily cycle of love, labour and life.

*A note about the spelling of Ikarian place names. It occurs to me that authors writing about Ikaria, are in desperate need an Elements of Style guide, since no two authors seem to be able to agree on the same spelling for many of the locations on the island. Even the spelling of ‘Ikaria’ is subject to variation, often being Anglicized to Icaria.


Those readers wishing to do further research or look online for more information about the island, are sure to find numerous discrepancies when it comes to the spelling of Ikarian place names. As always, I try to stick as close to the Greek spelling as possible, or adopt the spelling used in English language Greek publications. Hence, I prefer to use the letter ‘k’ instead of ‘c’, since the letter ‘c’ does not occur in the Greek alphabet.

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