«Geological and cultural diamond»
As the boat approaches Mandraki, it glides next to the Gyali island (Glass), one of the islands of Nisyros archipelago. The surroundings are bizarre at first, having white pumice hills on the one side and dense pine forest on the other. It is definitely a strange place, yet it has many hidden treasures, ranging from a remarkable history to an astonishing beauty welcoming bays with turquoise waters. Access is easy from Mandraki with daily morning service for workers in LAVA Mining and Quarrying S.A., the company which is extracting and processing the pumice deposits and perlite since the 1950s. It is the largest export company of pumice stone (pumice) in the world with a production amounting to one million tonnes a year covering the whole of the Greek market, realising at the same time large exports to the Middle East, Europe, America etc. One of the few cases of product utilisation that results in a respectable income each year in the municipality of Nisyros, employing several employees at the same time. Specific reference should be made in the restoration of the landscape with constant tree planting. This is the consistent priority for LAVA S.A. one of the few companies with quarrying activity in Greece that respects the environment in which it operates.
The journey to the port or the neighbouring Saint Anthony island is about 15-20 minutes (2 nm) whilst in summer there are boats taking the island trip leaving from the port of Pali. As you approach the island, the ‘odd’ figure with the two hills of almost the same height (190 and 174 metres respectively), which are linked with a narrow isthmus that is approximately 900 metres long and 300 metres wide, becomes more acquainted. A huge white ‘embrace’ welcomes you to a nice beach from pumice in a setting reminiscent of unreal gigantic sculpture. Do not expect to see any tourist facility or something else, this is a unique case of archaeological and workplace with very beautiful landscapes, a unique experience.
The impressive volcanic structure of the islands of the archipelago, as well as Nisyros itself belongs in the South Aegean volcanic arc. The oceanographic vessel Aegean of the National Centre for maritime research (E.K.O.E.) has detected in the area between Kos-Nisyros and particularly around the islet of Gyali, several undersea volcanoes, similar to that found on the bottom of the basin of Epidavros. The first volcanic episodes in the region started 2.5 million years ago. Since then, with small or big breaks, the molten volcanic material is constantly gushing or ejected from inner earth, building several small to large volcanic centres. The larger part of Western Kos, Nisyros, and the smaller islands that surround, Pergousa, Pachia, Gyali, and Strongili, are all creations of volcanic action or more accurately what is left from the volcanic centres. The easily visited Gyali is perhaps the most interesting of them. It all started with a huge volcanic eruption in the area, some 160,000 years ago. The epicentre of activity was a volcano located near northern Yali. The eruption tossed in the air some 240 billion tonnes of molten rock that covered the greater part of Kos with layers of pumice and volcanic ash tens of meters thick. The thick clouds of ash went towards all directions, travelling at high speed on the surface of the sea reaching Kalymnos, the coast of modern Turkey, Pergousa, Strongili and Tilos, covering a total of 3000 km2. Layers with residue from the volcano have been found at a distance of 300 kilometres South of Kos island. At that time, Gyali and Strongili islands did not exist, while Nisyros was a submarine volcano that maybe only the peak was just emerging over the sea. Today we know that it is the youngest volcanic centre in the region and was created on the seabed, as marine fossils trapped in thick layers of pumice aged some 20,000 years. Together with the Islands Strongili and Saint Anthony belong in the volcanic complex of Nisyros. During the Neolithic period, settlers groups from the southern coasts of Asia Minor arrived in the Aegean Islands and Crete around 5000 BC. Little is known about them, but their presence in Nisyros is confirmed by a few discoveries and important remains of structures in Gyali. We know that obsidian from the island exported during the Neolithic period in the settlement of Saliangos, near Antiparos.
Unfortunately, our historical knowledge of Nisyros is not supplemented by archaeological revelations with the exception of the smaller islands around it, where was a thorough surface survey of the Aegean University in collaboration with geologists and archaeologists. In the volcanic island of Gyali excavations and investigations began in 1986 and continue until today. It was there were the archaeologist Professor Adamantios Samson detected important relics of habitation (settlement and cemetery) of the final Neolithic period (4th millennium BC) and remarkable portable finds, evidence of an early metallurgical activity. At the same time, the documentation of excavations of Neolithic positions in Gyali led to a more systematic surface survey and archaic-ethnological discoveries in the North-eastern part of the island, where the prehistoric habitation was almost non-existent. Large number of ruins were identified as younger agricultural constructions of the Ottoman times that are evident to an intensive utilisation of space with specialisation in agriculture and animal farming. It is a unique in density concentration of buildings in a very large space, with which there is no comparison between the winter quarters that we find in Northern and Southern Greece. Indeed, no one expected that such small islands would ‘hide’ such considerable historical memories.
Also of great interest are the geological formations, obvious products of volcanic eruptions. Earlier, in 1922, when the islands were under Italian occupation, the Italian archaeological School of Athens under Allessandro Della Seta amongst the findings in the cave of white stone in the mountains of Zini in Kefalos of Kos Zini found Obsidian blades. The volcanic stone that came from Gyali island of Nisyros it is found in abundance in the north-eastern part of the island and was used for making blades. The trade continued, especially with Kos and Kalymnos, until the first period of the Mycenaean era whist there were trade relations and exchanges with the island of Milos. The residents considered the local obsidian unsuitable for tools, although this did not mean that it was not used for making stone vessels and jewellery, as evident by finds of the late Minoan period of Crete. The walking tour will bring you to the left (NW) peak of a pine hill where excavations took place that brought to light the Neolithic settlement of the island. In the island of Gyali, as well as the surrounding island territories, the vegetation is identical, of bushy nature. Not surprisingly, there is presence of pine forest (Pinus brutia), a forest type that spreads in the Aegean Sea and the Middle East, but questionable is the lack of such forests in Nisyros, although the two islands have the same rocks and they are even of the same age, whilst the distance between them is minimal. Apparently, the absence of such pine forests in Nisyros is probably due to anthropogenic factors. Going down the hill you reach the chapel of St. John the Baptist, where the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew planted a small tree of cedrus during his visit on August 6, 2001. Returning to the Inland of the island, you head to the right (NORTHEAST) side of it and everything seems different. The pumice that formed long ‘mountains’ here before has completely disappeared. Instead it is dominated by obsidian with innumerable small and large pieces with solid dark tumours with smooth surfaces that sparkle in the sunlight. Here, in this part of the island is where perlites is extracted, which is lighter from pumice and is suitable for insulation applications. Although this seems strange, we see that activities developed in the passage of time did not leave the island to be deserted. Long ago was Gyali island a separate settlement with 7 inhabitants in 1961, 32/1971 66/1981, 16/1991, 13/2001 respectively.
The nearby visited by tourist boats island of Saint Anthony (just 79 acres) lies at a distance of half a mile with a gorgeous beach in a majestic creek. There, a little higher, at a low peak not exceeding 35 metres of height, lies the white chapel from which the islet-seawall took its name the islet-seawall, located opposite the bay of Gyali. In the book of vessel Piri-Reis we see also the name ‘little bride’ a modern Greek name that is not in use today. Maybe the name prevailed in older times, after the whiteness of pumice, before they built the chapel. In the same book Yali island is mentioned as a first-class anchorage, and the largest part of the description comes from an era when all these information were required in order to support the battle of the Turkish fleet against Rhodes in 1522. Hundreds of years later, however, we get the same findings from Greek admiral Miaoulis. Before the naval battle of Gerontas, the Greek fleet was anchored in the safe port of Yali where there was, not surviving today, the well that used to supply water to the men of the fleet.
Pergousa and Pachia
West of Nisyros lies Pergousa or Rigousa, in which two orthogonal ancient towers, the remains of fortress settlements and also lies the harbourless Pachia with semi-collapsed walls and many wells. The arrival of scientists, responsible for the program for the study of rocky islets in the Aegean, came together with a surprise similar to that of Prasonisi (North of Antikythira), i.e. the presence of kykladosavra (erhardii Polarcis). This lizard ’seems to have the ability to pass through water and dams thus colonising various islands’, says Dr. Moses Miller.West of Nisyros lies Pergousa or Rigousa, in which two orthogonal ancient towers, the remains of fortress settlements and also lies the harbourless Pachia with semi-collapsed walls and many wells. The arrival of scientists, responsible for the program for the study of rocky islets in the Aegean, came together with a surprise similar to that of Prasonisi (North of Antikythira), i.e. the presence of kykladosavra (erhardii Polarcis). This lizard ’seems to have the ability to pass through water and dams thus colonising various islands’, says Dr. Moses Miller.
In addition, the particular ecological aspects of the Islands lead the populations of such species to develop special adjustments consistently differentiated in relation to neighbouring populations. It is impressive that kykladosavra has 29 subspecies in the Aegean while the slow-worm (Cyrtopodion kotschyi) over ten. The study of the fauna of the Islands around Nisyros as well as Nisyros showed once again that the fauna of the Eastern Aegean are influenced by the fauna of Asia Minor. This indeed is a less well-known side of the Greek nature, which, the more studied, the more it reveals its richness and beauty.
Kandeleousa or Fanari
The utmost remote island of the group is the Kandeliousa (8 nautical miles from Nisyros), or Fanari (Lantern), as recorded in a map of Greece under G. Delishe (circa 1683), which it probably had a lighthouse since its name obviously came after that. The current lighthouse of the island was built in 1890.