during my three year stay in greece, i managed to visit at least one island in each of the six major groupings, plus crete and evia, two large islands that stand on their own. after tinos, i had been to five of the six – the ionian, the dodecanese, the argo-saronic, the northeastern aegean, and the cyclades – so the next weekend, i went to the sixth, the sporades, choosing the island skopelos as my destination. skopelos is known, among other things, as the island where part of the film mamma mia was shot, so if it was good enough for meryl streep and pierce brosnan, it was good enough for me.
the trip took about four hours by ferry.
the water was incredibly blue.
skopelos town is a typical greek harbor town: built into a hill, a prominently-featured church, and lots of narrow pedestrian alleys (lined equally with local-serving businesses and tourist shops) and stairways flanked by houses, all leading down to the main road along the harbor.
the view from my hotel room.
in many respects, the photos that i took over the weekend all show the same thing – brilliant blue skies and water, dramatic ocean views, cute villages – so let’s cut to the chase: the church of agios (saint) ioannis kastri, which was featured in mamma mia. visitors to the sporades are somehow obligated to see the church, or at least are subject to incredulous gasps of horror from abba fans if they don’t, so i went on a drizzly sunday morning.
the church itself is not particularly interesting in terms of either architecture or decoration; in fact, it doesn’t even appear to merit its own wikipedia page, and that’s saying a lot. instead, it’s the setting that’s the attraction.
we took a long hike on the second day we were in tinos, using a guide that abby found on the web. the guide incorporated the marked hiking paths on the island, but also included byways that the author had found on his own excursions.
tinos is dotted with dovecotes, buildings that shelter pigeons. the venetians introduced pigeon-breeding to tinos and other cycladic islands, for the meat. especially during the second world war, pigeon meat was very popular. the majority of them standing today are from the 18th and 19th centuries. some of them are well maintained while others have been left to fall to ruin. inside, they aren’t very interesting and, unsurprisingly, they smell like bird poo.
we went through some dramatic scenery, but we also went through some hellacious weeds. the hillsides were filled with thorny bushes and undergrowth, and at one point, our guide mistranslated the word “right” as “left,” so we ended up plowing through knee-high scrub, taking much of it home with us in our shoes and socks.
weeds as designed by dr. seuss.
there’s no real path here.
it was a hot day, and – with the hills – the hike was brutal, but ultimately we were treated to a pretty spectacular view: next: onward to skopelos.
our time in greece is nearly at an end! for our last weekend trip to an island together, my wife and i chose tinos, one of the cycladic islands that we had not yet visited. the cyclades include andros, mykonos, paros and santorini, among many others.
the main town of tinos is called chora, and it is best known for the church of the virgin mary, or panageia megalochori – at least, that is the name according to the map. according to wikipedia, the church is called either panaceaevangelistria, the all-holy bringer of good news, or megalochori, she of great grace. wikipedia goes on to say
the complex is built around a miraculous icon which according to tradition was found after the virginappeared to the nun pelagia and revealed to her the place where the icon was buried. the icon is widely believed to be the source of numerous miracles. it is by now almost completely encased in silver, gold, and jewels, and is commonly referred to as the “megalócharē” (“[she of] great grace”) or simply the “chárē tēs” (“her grace”).
wikipedia further notes “by extension the church is often called the same [megalócharē], and is considered a protectress of seafarers and healer of the infirm.” due to this latter role, one frequently sees worshippers crawl on their hands and knees from port up to the church. there even is a carpet laid at the edge of the road for these pilgrims.
photography is not allowed inside the church, presumably to protect the icon. no one seemed bothered by the visitors using their cellphones to take pictures of other parts of the interior, however, so i discretely took some shots as well. naturally, the altar screen is fantastically carved and beautifully decorated, but the church also features hundreds of votive lamps with figures of boats, houses, tools, even body parts hanging from them. a woman working in the church explained that these were tammata, or vows, representing the objects of worshippers’ prayers or promises to the virgin.