The Rambling Writer Explores More Greek Islands, Part 5: The Ancient Acropolis of Karpathos

With the fringes of Cyclone Zorba whipping up wind and rough surf, Thor and I climbed the ancient cliff fortress of Arkasa. And then, of course, we managed to find a sheltered cove for a swim in the brisk, clear Karpathian Sea.

NOTE: Since our trip last fall to Greece to research more settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT, Thor and I knew we had to return to this magical region. My first entry in this new blog series posted here on Saturday, 10/20/2018. It gives an overview of our rambles from Athens to seven islands in the Dodecanese and Cyclades groups, ending our ferry-hopping pilgrimage on the anciently sacred island of Delos.

Thor and I woke up to still-unsettled weather for a third day on Karpathos, with a cool wind stirring up the coves that would usually be calm this time of year. The breeze couldn’t keep us off our room’s balcony, where the owner served us a sumptuous breakfast featuring her homemade baked goods and apricot preserves to sweeten the yogurt. We were encouraged to take the leftovers for a picnic lunch.

The nearby village of Arkasa has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The Mycenaeans arrived around the 14th century B.C. to build a fortress and settlement on the rocky acropolis above the present-day village, and later structures came during the Hellenistic period (around 300 to 50 B.C.). We decided to explore, and quickly realized that the ancient sites on Karpathos are mostly undeveloped, with visitors free to wander and find their way. There are few, if any, informational signs, and what’s available is sketchy, even with further research after our trip. With so many layers of antiquities buried or exposed everywhere in Greece, there’s a scarcity of funding and personnel to protect and manage all the sites.

Stones have been the main building material, past and present, creating fences and terraces.

We started with the Byzantine chapels at the base of the outcrop, with evidence of early Christian chapels from 400 to 1300 A.D. It’s unclear how old the existing small stone chapels are, but the layers of mosaic floors, both inside and beside the structures, date from the 5th and 6th centuries. As on other islands, some of the mosaics on Karpathos were taken by the Italians to Rhodes to decorate the Palace of the Grand Master.

One stretch of the mosaic flooring is exposed to the elements, with only some partial fencing to protect it from people and goats, and other mosaics are along pathways where anyone can walk on them. We were saddened to see them being eroded and the pieces scattered, but understand that the locals can only do so much to protect them.

The larger of the traditionally loaf-chaped stone chapels is still in active use:

People have tied tin strips with body parts to this beautifully carved shrine, petitioning healing. On my first trip to Greece many years ago, I had recently undergone knee surgery, so I made sure to get a strip with a leg for healing.

The second old stone chapel was not in use…

…but the narrow door was unlocked. A skylight or chimney opening revealed this lovely mosaic floor:

We had to find goat tracks to climb the steep acropolis outcrop, avoiding many prickly varieties of thorn bushes, among them what we dubbed “barbed wire bramble” and “rusty chicken wire.” We did find short segments of old cobbled stairways/paths with terraced rock walls:

The Greek islands are pretty much riddled with caves, and many have been walled off for animal pens or as the abodes of hermit monks in the past.

Rockwork, some dating to the Mycenaeans, some Hellenistic or later, created terraces over much of the acropolis. Across the bay is Finiki, the hamlet where we were staying.

There are remains of stone structures:

And marble columns:

Also carved embellishments, this one with the classic Greek key-wave design:

Across the acropolis, looking out over the Karpathian Sea (a sub-basin of the Aegean), what may have been a lookout tower. The area was known for pirates, some of whom may have had headquarters here at various periods.

Far below the cliff, beautiful clear pools beckoned, though it would have been difficult to get down to them.

The high outcrop of the acropolis would have been a strong position of defense against invaders. Plenty of rocks to hurl down on attackers!

Thor alerted me to intruders approaching, and I took up a rock to defend us:

Luckily the approaching invaders were only some browsing goats. They really can eat almost anything! We headed back to the room to grab our snorkel masks, determined to get into that gorgeous blue sea, and on the way encountered these two fellows lounging on the road:

After a quick lunch at a seaside venue, The Taverna Beneath the Trees…

…we scouted out coves and spotted these rocky pools:

Around the corner following the coastline, finally we came upon the perfect pebble beach with an easy entrance and a cliff blocking the wind and waves. The amazing clarity of the sea in Greece fills us with wonder every time we swim there — like floating in liquid air, the rich blue calling us deeper.

Thor had found his beach paradise!  He was swimming toward the small islet offshore and spotted a cracked pottery amphora on the bottom. When we dived down to touch it, we realized it was welded to the bottom rocks by time and sea growths. It’s common in the islands for divers to find antiquities, which is why scuba diving is strictly confined to certain areas.

Chairete!” Rejoice!  We salute Poseidon and the Nereids for sharing their magical ocean realm with us mere mortals.

Next week: the traditional mountain village of Olympos.


You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from another research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at




The Rambling Writer Explores More Greek Islands, Part 5: The Ancient Acropolis of Karpathos — 6 Comments

  1. There is so much history in Greece. You find mosaics and pieces of columns in the most unexpected places. Pottery shards litter the ground like gravel.

  2. Amazing. So much sere beauty and intriguing stories simply everywhere you look. (Also the evidence of a whole lot of quake damage, which–along with the heat–is why I’m grateful for armchair ‘travel’!

    • Yes, this is the realm of Poseidon “Earth-Shaker”! We were sheltering from the wind at our swimming cove, beneath a cliff overhang of porous limestone. As we were leaving and looking back at the cliff, suddenly realizing how unstable it appeared, we thanked Poseidon for sparing us from an earthquake.

  3. I look at all that history just scattered for the looking, but impossible to keep up with and protect–I remember a thousand year old wall in the basement of a pub in the UK–and remind myself that the people who lived here took advantage of stone. We now know people lived so many places, very early, and built civilizations–but with different materials, sometimes ones that degraded and turned to dust.

    I hope we keep learning things of value. I hope a few of our works will survive.