The Rambling Writer Explores More Greek Islands, Part 6: The Traditional Village of Olympos

Join Thor and me for another hair-raising drive up the twisting mountain roads of Karpathos Island to visit the traditional village of Olympos perched high above the 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.

One of the main attractions of lightly-traveled Karpathos is the village of Olympos, which clings to the rocky mountainside and to its traditional dialect and customs, despite a new gloss of tourist shops. Once again, Thor girded his driving loins for the twisty steep roads, while I tried not to look too closely over the dropoffs:

We encountered an actual, rare guard rail as we neared the village (sign on left edge of photo). The welcoming committee of wandering goats came to greet us.

Around a sharp turn, we could see the stacked houses of Olympos terraced down a steep ravine.

During the Doric period, the closest settlement was named Vrykous, and a few remnants of its ancient walls remain. By the 8th century A.D., the residents had moved higher onto the mountain to avoid raids by Saracen pirates, founding the present village of Olympos. Until recently, it was very isolated from contact with modern life. Its 550 or so residents have preserved their original dialect, and many of the villagers still dress in traditional style.

The cobbled lanes winding between the terraced buildings are too narrow for vehicles, so pack mules carry supplies.

Several of the boxy houses have been converted to shops selling food and handicrafts. These weavings reminded me of traditional designs from the Andes I saw when visiting village markets in Ecuador and Bolivia. At lower left is one of the public fountains/watering stations seen everywhere in Greece — this one especially beautiful.

An open window offered tantalizing local dishes to the passerby:

Some of these wood-fired stone ovens are still in use.

We wandered the narrow lanes…

…along with a few tourists and villagers. Many of the older women in Greece wear the traditional black dress of widows.

As everywhere in Greece, a country devoted to the Greek Orthodox Church, there are numerous small chapels. This one is clearly very old:

The chapel interior. Several of the tin votive strips with images of body parts, petitioning healing for different ailments, hang from a cord:

These stone towers supported a couple of the windmills that were used to grind grains and pump water. The first windmills in the Greek islands apparently were built in the 13th century A.D., and most had fallen out of use by the 1950s. Interestingly, there is now a push to return to wind power with the strong prevailing north winds in the islands. The modern towers probably won’t be as picturesque as these antiques, but nevertheless a sign of eco-friendly progress.

This whitewashed old tower retains the wheel that held triangular cloth sails:

Standing above this windmill, I had to hold onto my hat in the powerful wind:

A distinctive house ornament, with the goat skull and horns supported on one of the dried thorn bushes that make cross-country hiking a painful proposition:

Many traditional skills are retained here:

As in most Greek villages distant from the bustle of larger cities, people live at a leisurely pace. Here, a priest in his black hat chats with a couple of men in chairs. I notice that the woman is sitting on the doorstep, perhaps ready to serve drinks to the men, which I have observed many times in my different trips to Greek villages. Gender roles are slow to change.

The church and many other buildings are beautifully painted and decorated.

A room with a view!

This gate features the double-headed eagle that we were seeing in many locations in the islands. It’s a symbol of power, commonly associated with the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox Church. Some scholars also suggest an ancient origin of the “dual eagle” symbol arising when Zeus sent two eagles flying — one to the east and one to the west — and where they met at Delphi became the center of the world.

Another double-headed eagle, and steps outlined in the common practice using whitewash:

Our favorite stop was this charming shop in a traditional one-room house where every inch is decorated with colorful plates and weavings. The owner was quite amused by giant Thor, especially when his head hit her chandelier and set it to swinging. She insisted on showing me how to wrap my head in one of her hand-made scarves (see top blog photo), so of course I had to buy it, along with some other handicrafts. We also invested in a couple of the votive tin strips with leg shapes stamped on them, as we’ve both been having mobility issues this year. Where is my fictional healer Ariadne when we need her?

This platform originally would have been for sleeping:

If anyone knows Greek, I’d be curious to learn what the inscription and these intriguing images mean:

Our cats Tucker and Turtle have now weighed in: “Too many goats on this island! Where are the Greek cats?”  So here is a contented Olympos feline advising us to enjoy an afternoon nap.

Next week: More wild west-coast roads and village life on Karpathos. And, of course, more goats….


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




The Rambling Writer Explores More Greek Islands, Part 6: The Traditional Village of Olympos — 6 Comments

  1. Oh, I loved poring over every one of these photos. The twisted steps! The narrow alleys! What a fun place to be a kid! (Not so sure about being an old person with arthritic joints) Some of those weavings I’d love to have.

  2. The Greek mountain villages are very compact. When I walk through the “streets” I can touch the houses on both sides.

    • And Thor hasn’t forgotten the terror of driving through other villages where a car would barely fit in the “road,” praying that we didn’t meet a car coming toward us….

  3. Thanks, Sherwood! Yes, my wonky hip didn’t appreciate all the steps, but exploring is worth it. I have several woven wall hangings from South America that resemble some of these, which I find very intriguing.