Gümüslük, ancient Myndos

On Saturday, the 21st, Zeynep took us to Gümüslük, a 50 minute bus ride to the western end of the Bodrum Penisula.

Gümüslük is the site of the ancient city of Myndos, the city Alexander the Great didn’t manage to conquer.  However; almost all traces of the city have slipped into the sea.   Today Gümüslük is a small tourist destination with hotels and small B&Bs, restaurants and some beaches and the usual rows of souvenir shops lining the path from the bus stop to the seafront.   Gümüslük also offers a sheltered, but crowded, anchorage for yachts.

Looking north on the north side of the headland sheltering Gümüslük
Looking north on the north side of the headland sheltering Gümüslük
Looking west
Perfect wedding venue Zeynep ……

We had a wander along the coast, then Zeynep took us up to a restaurant with a great view over the bay, but, when  we got there it was closed for a wedding!   We walked back down to the village and found a busy restaurant for a light lunch  with a welcome cold beer!

Of Myndos there is very little to see.   There is a sort of causeway, either an ancient road or the top of a wall which leads out to what Zeynep told us was called Rabbit Island.   Excavations are under way there now so the causeway leads to a rusty fence but as a kid Zeynep used to play on the island.

Rabbit Island

It is a pretty place and was great to wander round but exhausting.

“Aw, the old folks having a kip”

Halicarnassus

Halicarnassus was originally the capital of a small Persian client kingdom on the Carian coast.    But under King Mausolos the kingdom grew to encompass a large portion of south western Asia Minor.   It is the home of the original Mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the World and was the birth place of Herodotus who is credited as being the founder of the study of history.

In Greek Mythology the son of Hermes and Aphrodite,  one Hermaphrodites, stopped in a bay near Bodrum in his travels and rested beside a stream there.   A Water Fairy called Salmais instantly fell in love with him and although Hermaphrodites rejected her she prayed to the Gods that they would never be separated. …….. The moral of that story is be careful what you wish for!

Wooden model of the Mausoleum.

More recently ……. in 377BC King Mausolos came to the throne of Caria and moved the capital of his expanding Kingdom to Halicarnassus.   Prior to his death Mausolos had begun construction of his own tomb and when he died in 353BC his wife, Artemisa II continued the project.  Artemisa was also Mausolos’ sister, a practice common amongst Carian Royalty.

The tomb was massive, some 43 metres high. It was topped with a stepped pyramid supporting a four horse chariot bearing Mausolos and Artemisa.   The whole structure was clad in white marble. The Mausoleum survived through antiquity until 1304 when it was destroyed by an earthquake.

Burial chamber
The flat faces of the sections of column could have been machined flat.

In 1402 the Knights of St John of Rhodes arrived and started to build the Castle of St Peter, completing it in  1437.    In 1522 when the castle was under threat of attack Knights of the order began to repair it and used the ruins of the Mausoleum as a quarry, initially taking the marble for lime but then finding building stone as they dug deeper.  They eventually removed so much stone that they uncovered the burial chamber and sarcophagus.   They stopped work for the nigh and when they returned the following morning the tomb had been robbed.

The Myndos Gate

Much of the old city wall has disappeared or been ‘repurposed’.  The one section still standing is the western gate to the city, the Myndos Gate.  In 344BC Alexander came to Caria and being unable to take the City of Myndos (modern Gümüslük) took Halicarnassus instead, attacking the Myndos Gate.    Ironically the Myndos Gate is the only remnant of the wall to survive!

The amphitheatre on the hill over looking Halicanassos was also built by Mausolos and later expanded by the Romans.  In its heyday it could seat 13,000 people.

Today the amphitheatre has been restored to such an extent that it is still used as a concert venue.   The expensive seats are down by the stage, but the cheap seats offer an awesome view down across the harbour and out to sea.  The views in antiquity across the ancient town and the Mausoleum must have been breath taking!

The upper tiers of the amphitheatre remain in ruins

There are so many tombs on the hill that every time they break ground for a new building they find one.  Rumour has it that they just cover them up and build anyway.

There is even a tomb in the back of a Carrefour Supermarket.  And you thought I was joking about Carrefour being on our tour of ancient sites!!!

Ancient tomb, right between the crisps and water!

Our bespoke tour of Halicarnassus was fantastic.  Bodrum is a party town and not really my thing,  but Halicarnassus, or what’s left of it, is right up my street!  So grateful to Zeynep for showing us around.

Bodrum

Bodrum is the site of the ancient city of Halicarnassos and home to one of the Seven Wonders if the Ancient World – the original Mausoleum.  Time, earthquakes and the Knights of St John have left little of the ancient city and less of the Mausoleum.

Modern Bodrum is a lively, bustling tourist destination for both Turkish and foreign visitors.  It has an almost endless strip of bars, restaurants and night clubs around the  harbour and the adjacent bay.  In the evenings these pump out a veritable cacophony but after the last ‘Call to Prayers’ from the mosques the noise really kicks off.

The Souk below St Peter’s Castle  maintains its old street plan but is now full of modern shops and boutiques selling an amazing array of completely genuine designer goods at very reasonable prices!

But they are the only prices which are reasonable!  Bodrum caters for well to do Turks who don’t mind splashing the cash.  We were warned to check any restaurant bills for over pricing as they even try to fleece locals.   Basically, everything so far has been very expensive, bordering on ‘rip off’.    The exceptions being places the jet set don’t frequent.   Zeynep took us to a tiny ‘kebab’ shop opposite the small mosque just along the road from the marina.  They only serve four versions of the ubiquitous ‘Doner’, each for 10 Lira, and they are delicious.  We spent almost 50 times that at a fancy, but underwhelming, fish restaurant and enjoyed the Doner far more! So much so we went back, and it was Valeria’s first ever Doner Kebab !!!

Another exception is the a massive fruit and veg market every Friday close to the bus station.   It is great to wander round and Valeria absolutely loved it! Zeynep was her Personal Shopper and I carried all the bags, Mercifully we only have a small fridge, but, ‘so many vegetables,  so little time’!    If you want a real ‘flavour’ of a place, visit the market and take in the bewildering array of local produce and the heady mix of spices and herbs filling the air.

Although St Peter’s Castle and the Underwater Archeological Museum are shut for renovations Zeynep took us on a guided tour of the major ancient sites of Halicarnassus  – the Mausoleum, the Myndos Gate, the amphitheatre and ……. Carrefour.

St Peter’s Castle

Turkey !

Our reasons for a return visit to Kos were two-fold.  The first was to meet Zeynep who was to travel with us to Bodrum, and the second was to officially leave Greece before entering Turkey.

With our plans to visit Turkey fairly well established before we left Roccella we have been chatting with Zeynep about perhaps meeting up in Bodrum; her parents have a house there.   As time went on the likely window of opportunity narrowed to mid July and finally settled on Wednesday 17 July, in Kos.  It was cheaper for Zeynep to fly to Kos, get an Air B&B and a ferry to Bodrum than to fly direct.   It was even better that we could be in Kos when she arrived so she didn’t need the room overnight or the ferry!  She arrived at just after midnight and after a welcoming glass of Prosecco it was off to bed.

That was the easy part.  The real faff was leaving Greece.

We’d been to see the Port Police when we arrived.  They directed us to Customs who would endorse our Crew List which would enable the Port Police to permit the boat to leave Greek waters.   The Customs Office was closed so we went back first thing on Wednesday morning.  The Customs office was in fact only interested in whether I had paid VAT on the boat; the Greeks are such sticklers when it comes to paying tax!!!   Having convinced the Taxman that I had paid VAT we were then directed to Immigration to endorse the Crew List, which did make more sense, but there is no ‘Yacht Crew’ lane at the ferry terminal.

Between Zeynep and Valeria we managed to get around the herds of tourists headed to Bodrum and got the necessary stamps on the Crew List.  It was made plain we had to then leave Greece almost immediately, tricky as we still had to visit the Port Police, who happily endorsed the Crew List and sent us on our way.

Approaching Bodrum

The trip across to Bodrum was 2 hours, motoring in light winds.  Once into Bodrum and tied up to the Immigration jetty we then had to wait for 2 hours while our Yacht Agent conducted all our immigration proceedures.  Straightforward, but bloody expensive at €180, but there is no option, you can’t leave the boat until the paper work is all done.  Luckily we’ll be leaving Turkey from Bozburun, where it is supposed to be a lot cheaper!

Bodrum castle dominates the harbour
Bodrum castle dominates the harbour

But we have got here.  About a week late according to our original plans but that isn’t at all bad and it meant that we could meet up with Zeynep who has already got an itinerary worked out for us for our stay!

The Rodos Cup ……

We have just discovered that each year there is an inter island race called the Rodos Cup.  It starts in Kos, goes to Kalimnos, Nisyros, Simi and then Rhodos.  I know this because on Saturday, 14th,  the Port Police turned up with a  notice saying that between 17 and 19 July the port of Pali was closed due to the Rodos Cup race!!!

Happily were planned to go on Tuesday anyway !!!!

We’ve seen a lot of the Port Police in Pali. They check the port 2 or 3 times a week and are the busiest Port Police officers we have ever come across!    And a thoroughly nice bunch of guys they are as well, polite, efficient and enforcing the rules, which is good to see, if your papers are in order.  No DEPKA, go to Kos, now, and get one,  Flitting between Turkey and Greece without bothering with immigration?  Go back to Turkey, now.     They were even checking local fishing boats for life jackets!   I thought fishing boats were exempt from absolutely all rules and regulations!

Happily on Tuesday, 17th June, the weather was forecast to be relatively clement and we would be able to go across to Kos to meet Zeynep who was due to arrive on Tuesday evening, but more on that later.

Last night in Pali

And so on Monday evening we had our last night in Pali after almost 3 weeks here.  We arrived on 26th June, looking for shelter for a few days and just stayed; well I did, Valeria went home for 5 days.   But we have had the most fantastic time.  Nisyros is a lovely place, laid back, quiet and such a friendly island.   Our chosen car hire company, Manos K, would happily lend us a scooter to go to Mandraki to get cash, there is no ATM outside Mandraki.  They even rented us a car for 3 hours for a shopping run to Mandraki; fruit and veg selection is better there.   And our local taverna, Aphrodite, where we ate on many evenings presented us with a small bottle of Metaxa!     The only thing we could NOT understand is why so many people around the island use ‘worry beads’ ……

On Tuesday morning we were up at 6 am and were away by 7 in the morning calm.   Pali really is sheltered.  As soon as we were away from the harbour the wind was up to 28 knot, aparent wind speed.  But it was on the beam and we were soon galloping along at 6 knots under one reef in the Main Sail and we sailed virtually the whole way to the eastern end of Kos, before the wind figured we’d had it too good for too long.  As we approached Kos Town the wind stubbornly blew directly out of the marina no matter what our heading and we ended up describing a nice big circle around our destination, unable to tack and never really getting much closer!

We gave up at 11.30 and motored the last half hour getting in at 1220.   After a tidy up we went into Kos to find the Port Police to check out of Greece.   But that is another saga!

Nisyros in photos

Nisyros is only a small island; it has a diameter of 7 to 8 km and is about 41 Sq km in area.  It has 4 villages, about 6 roads and you can visit everywhere there is to see by car in 2 days.  There may not be much, but what there is, is worth the visit.

As our time here comes to an end here are the highlights in photos.

Pali
Mandraki
Church on the road to Mandraki
Monastery of Panagia Spelianie
Kastro
Porta, Nikia
Emborious
Caldera from the Balcony Restaurant, Emborios
The volcano
The old, abandoned, harbour of Avlaki on the south coast
Countryside above Avlaki
Pachia Beach. Black sand beach on the east coast of the isand at the end of the Mandraki-Pali road.
The island of Yiali

Although the generally blue and white colour scheme of the village’s with their narrow streets and splashes of colourful bougainvillea are typical of many villages in the island, what is so far unique are the decorated pavements.

Square outside Mandraki Town Hall
Mandraki sea front
A square in Mandraki
Mandraki War Memorial

Steps to the Monastery of Panagia Spiliani
Porta, Nikia
Nikia, outside the museum
Emborios
Emborios

Ancient Nisyros

The island has been inhabited since about 4000 BC but the most impressive archeological remains are those of the Kastro on the hill above Mandraki, the ruins of ancient Nisyros.

Kastro

In prehistory the small island of Yiali, just north of Nisyros, was the original draw to the area.  It is one of two Agean sources of Obsidian, the other source being Milos.  Apparently Milos Obsidian is harder, while Yiali Obsidian is more brittle and of less use in making tools and weapons,  instead being used for decoration.  Despite this the little island supported Neolithic settlements aimed at extracting Obsidian.    Nisyros by comparison has few if any traces of this early occupation.

During the Trojan War, believed to have been in the 13th century BC, Homer described Poseidon (creator of Nisyros) as supporting the Greeks and so that perhaps accounts for the presence of ships from Nisyros in the Greek fleet.  This suggests that Nisyros was a thriving population centre with enough wealth to have its own ships.

Approach to the gatehouse to the Kastro.

From about the 7th century BC the original town on Nisyros began to appear on the large flat topped hill above the current village of Mandraki.

By the 6th century the island was part of the Persian Empire.   Again ships from Nisyros were mentioned but this time as part of the Persian fleet which was soundly defeated by the Athenians at the Battle of Salamis in 480BC.  Salamis is one of the islands in the Saronic Gulf, South of Piraeus.

Main gate to the fortification, protected by a tower.

For about 200 years in the 3rd and 4th century BC the island was independent, even minting it’s own coins and during this period the fortifications around the ancient agora were constructed; and they were massive.

The walls were built on a volcanic cracks in the bedrock

Being built on a volcanic island in an earthquake zone it is suprising anything survived at all, but some serious restoration and underpinning work has been undertaken on parts of the wall.

Looking down towards the gate, in the shadow beyond the steps.
The walls were built with massive stone blocks and filled with rubble. Yiali in the background.

Steps up to the top of the wall.

Although each block of stone appears to have been individually cut to shape to fit it’s neighbour, making the project into a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle, the description of employing ‘extensive research’ in order to accurately make the reconstruction is probably an understatement!

Pieces of the jigsaw

The result gives some idea of the scale of the original construction.  It is impressive today, two and a half thousand years ago it would have been breathtaking and impregnable.

The wall reached 10 metres in places

The wall defended three sides of the site,  the remaining side being a precipice above the current village of Mandraki; the views are pretty stunning.

Mandraki and the Monastery of Panagia Speliani
Panorama north towards Yiali
“Windswept and interesting”

This site was amazing.  The mere fact that after 2500 years of earthquakes and warfare there was enough left to restore is a testament to the original build.

Mandraki

Mandraki is the main commercial harbour on Nisyros, the biggest village and the site of the original capital.

High above the town is the site of the ancient Agora and dominating the village, perched on a headland at its western edge is medieval castle built by the Knights of St John and the 14th century Monastery of Panagia Spiliani.     The monastery overlooks the village’s black stone beach, picturesque but not overly comfortable, probably accounting for the lack of sunbathers!

Black stone beach

As the first point tourists get to on the island it is pretty tourist orientated but in a subdued sort of way.  The day trippers don’t seem to penetrate too far into the town before they are whisked off to the volcano.   It is busy in the season,  but apparently when the tourists leave the population of the entire island drops to about 800.

It is all delightfully narrow streets and tiny ‘squares’ with mopeds and those convertible tuks-tuks whizzing about delivering goods, fresh off the ferries, to the shops and tavernas.  It also has a great archeological museum.

Although the town is similar to almost every other that we have visited in the islands, what really stands out here are the wonderful mosaic pavements made from black and white pebbles, simple but amazing intricate.   And it isn’t just pavements, almost any horizontal surface can be decorated with them.

The Town Hall

Mandraki is a confusing jumble of alleys and narrow streets but after your second visit they seem to fall into place. Following directions, such as go right at the ice cream shop then left at the baker suddenly make sense.  A lovely relaxed village which is really pleasant to just wander around.

 

Emborios and Nikia

The official Nisyros website only actually lists four villages on the island; Pali, where we are staying, Mandraki, Emborios and Nikia.  The latter are two small villages on the rim of the caldera of Nisyros, both offering fantastic views into it.

Caldera from the Balcony Restaurant, Emborios
Caldera from Nikia
Emborios

Emborios apparently used to be home to  blacksmiths, tailors and skilled stone masons although in the 1960s most of the population moved to Pali.  The current population is very small and the big draw for tourists appears to be the Balcony restaurant which offers great views over the caldera.  As might be expected with such an isolated location the village has a rather dilapidated, run down feel to it.

Run down except for the floors that is.   Every where we go on the island we find these wonderful ‘mosaic’ pavements made from black and white pebbles, and Emborios was no exception.

Nikia by comparison appears to be more cared for and appears to be more populous.  It  boasts the picturesque ‘main square’, the Porta, which fronts the Church of the Presentation of Virgin Mary.

The Porta,

All pictures you see of the village will include this one, taken with a wide angle lens as a panorama.    In reality the plaza is about 25 metres across and is taken over by sun umbrellas and tables from the taverna on the left of the picture!

The Porta in reality

Nikia has a far more ‘loved’ feel to it and boasting both the Porta and the Vulcanalogical Museum probably receives more visitors.

The Vulcanalogical Museum was, in our opinion, not really worth the entry money.  The Stefanos crater itself cost €3 each, the museum cost €4 and you could obtain the same information from the internet.  It would be far better located at the crater, but then all that European grant money wouldn’t encourage tourism to the village!!

Both villages have loads of character and are worth the visit.   But, they are very isolated  and would appear to be entirely reliant on tourism for support, so we are glad we went.    There are tourist buses which run to them but a hire car is better, giving more flexibility.   We visited the villages on separate days and added the crater and Mandraki as well, a steal at €25!

Polvitos is steamin’

Nisyros island is the cone of a dormant, but still ‘active’, volcano laying just south of Kos. Mythology has it that during the war between the Gods and the Giants, Poseidon picked up a large chunk of rock on the island of Kos and threw it at the giant Polivotis as he tried to escape, trapping him beneath it. That rock is the island of Nisyros. Apparently Polivotis is still rather miffed at being trapped beneath Nisyros and all the earthquakes in the area are the result of him struggling to get free.

From the Volcanological Museum in Nikia

A more scientific version is that Nisyros lays on the join between the Eurasian and African tectonic plates, as do Stromboli, Etna, Milos and Santorini and is a part of something called the Agean Arch which includes Kos and neignbouring islands. Although the area is still subject to earthquakes the last volcanic activity on Nisyros was a steam eruption in 1888. Today the main crater of St Stefanos just steams quietly to itself.

The island took its present form maybe 150,000 years ago. It is about 8km in diameter and it’s almost 700 metres high and apparently the magma chamber beneath Nisyros is ‘only’ 3 to 4 km deep and is rising!

The caldra from the village of Emborious

We visited the caldera on Saturday 30th and had a walk down into the St Stefanos crater. It is perhaps 30 or 40 metres deep and a couple of hundred meters across and appears to be mostly volcanic ash, which sounds hollow when you walk on it. The crater floor is littered with old fumaroles and sulphur deposits and on the eastern side are a line of them still steaming.  The smell of sulphur is all pervading and everywhere is streaked with yellow. It is really impressive.

Crater of St Stephanie from Nikia

St Stefanos crater from the west

Sailing south ….

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