General Information on Astypalea
Belonging to the Dodecanese, but closer to the Cyclades cluster, Astypalea is a charming destination with a typical Cycladic landscape. Shaped as a butterfly, Astypalea is 18km long, 13km wide and covers an area of about 99km.
The coast is rocky, and the beaches mainly pebbly. The main port Skala certainly has a Cycladic feel, with typical whitewashed houses at the hillside just below the dominating Venetian castle on the hilltop of Hora. Skala and Hora are linked via a steep flight of steps and also via a less arduous meander along the narrow road. Until the 19th century, Hora was the only settlement on the island. The other villages were founded on the remaining uncultivated spots of the island. The traditional houses are similar to those of the Cyclades; in fact, the Cycladic flair seems to overwhelm the Dodecanese one all over the island.
History of Astypalea
According to Greek Mythology, Astypalea and Europe (mother of king Minos) were the daughters of Finikos and Perimidis. Astypalea was abducted by Poseidon in the form of a winged fish-tailed leopard; this union resulted in the birth of Agaeos the Argonaut. The first settlers of the area, the Kares, named it "Pyra" (pyre) because of the red colouring of the soil.
The island was called “Ihthioessa” in ancient times, because it was a significant fishing land, and it was also known as the Altar of the Gods, because it was fertile, and full of flowers. Astypalea was the birthplace of the famous athlete, Kleomedes, who, according to myth, defeated Eccos in wrestling during the first Olympics, by killing him with a single punch. The judges stripped him of his title and forced him to pay a fine, since they did not think the death of his opponent was fairplay. Kleomedes, bitter, returned to Astypalea and demolished the column of a school, thus causing the death of 60 students. The locals stoned him, and Kleomedes sought refuge in the Temple of Athena and locked himself in a case. When the Astypaleans opened it, they discovered it was empty and Pythia told them Kleomedes was no longer mortal and was to be honoured as a hero.
The island underwent a Cretan occupation during the Minoan Era and later settled by Greeks from Megara. Based on archaeological finds, Astypalea prospered during antiquity. During the Hellenistic Era, it became an important port, while during the Roman Period, it developed even further, thanks to its many, natural havens which helped against invading pirates, as well as its recognition as a free state by Roman emperors.
During the Middle Ages, Astypalea was part of the Byzantine Empire until 1207. Due to the escalation of piracy, many coastal settlements declined as the inhabitants moved towards the mountains. From 1207 to 1269, under Byzantine rule, the Venetians settled in the island, and in 1310, John Querini the second, governor of Tinos and Mykonos, conquered it. The Querini family remained in power for about 300 years. The Venetians lost Astypalea in 1537 when Barbarossa the terrible conquered it. Under Turkish rule, Astypalea retained its privileges and was self-governed. The inhabitants later took part in the Greek Revolution of 1821, but, like all of Dodecanese, remained under the Turkish rule until 1912, when Italians took the reins. Astypalea was finally annexed to Greece in 1948.
Towns & Villages in Astypalea
Astypalea Town (Hora): The capital village of Astypalea, Hora, consists of the port of Skala and the hilly district of Hora, crowned with a fortress. The port can be a noisy, busy place despite its small size. Most visitors choose to stay in Hora, with its lovely whitewashed houses, brightly painted balconies, doors and banisters. The so-called Windmill Square –nine windmills lining the square– is the most prominent feature of the village.
Analipsi: This settlement is also known as Maltezana after Maltese pirates and is situated 12km away from the capital. It is the second largest settlement in Astypalea, a fishing harbour, with some great beaches around the bay. The region is surrounded by olive groves. Close to the village are some well-preserved remains of Roman Baths with intricate mosaics, which are definitely worth a visit. Few taverns, rooms and an excellent apartment complex are available in the area.
Livadia: This small seaside resort lies in the heart of a fertile valley just 2km from the capital. The beautiful beach of the settlement is the best on the island and, thus, the most crowded. However, for peace-lovers, more beaches can be found further to the south.
Vathi: When winds are too strong in Astypalea Town, ferries dock in Vathi. This small fishing village has an amazing harbour and is ideal for those in search of quiet vacations.
Beaches in Astypalea
Livadia: This is the most popular beach of Astypalea. It is situated near the homonymous village, a close distance from the capital. It is sandy with crystal clear waters and good tourist facilities.
Top Things to Do in Astypalea
1. The Castle of Astypalea: The imposing Venetian Castle of Astypalea stands at a height of 100 m over the town. It covers the entire plateau at the top of the hill and, during the Middle Ages, was surrounded by a dense cluster of houses; today only a few remain. The castle was built in the 13th century and is also called the “Castle of Querini”, named after the Venetian family that ruled the island until 1522. The family coat of arms still stands over its central gate. Outside, visitors can view the stone fortification walls and the embrasures that protected the island from pirates. Inside the castle, through narrow labyrinthine passageways, one can reach the houses of the Querini family which were occupied until 1956. Of particular note are the two beautiful old churches of Panagia Kastrou and Agios Georgios. The church of Panagia Kastrou was built in 1790.
2. The Church of Panagia Portaitissa: This church stands near the Castle of Astypalea in “Rodia”, which took its name from the tree which used to be nearby. According to tradition, it was built by St. Anthimos in the 18th century. Outside, one can admire its lace-looking dome, giving a unique beauty to the sacred building, and its imposing stone bell-tower. Inside, a valuable wood-carved screen is embellished with gold sheets right where the icon of the Virgin is placed; this is thought to be a copy of the icon in the Monastery of Irini in Mt. Athos.
3. Archaeological Museum: In Skala, there is a small but well-presented archaeological museum. Astypalea is a rich trove of archaeological treasure and many of the finds are on display here. The collection houses finds from the prehistoric Mycenaean period through to the Middle Ages. Look out for a fine selection of grave offerings found on two Mycenaean chamber tombs excavated at Armenohori, and the little bronze Roman statue of Aphrodite found at Trito Marmari.
How to Reach Astypalea
Air: There are daily flights between Astypalea and Athens (except Sunday), and three flights weekly from/to Rhodes .
Ferry: Situated between the Cyclades and the Dodecanese, Astypalea is the easternmost destination of some Cyclades ferry services, and the westernmost of the Dodecanese services. In summer, there are five services per week from/to Piraeus.
Getting Around in Astypalea
There is a bus service connecting Hora, Livadia, Skala and Analipsi. A small boat can take you to some of the more secluded beaches. Taxis are also available on the island.
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