- View the interactive map of VC’s travels in Anafi
- The Island of Exile
- Meeting Manthaios Simos
- The Grave of the Turkish Pirate
- Anafiotika – a Piece of Anafi in the Centre of Athens
- The Ancient Capital
- The Temple of Apollo and the Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi
- The Peak of Kalamos
- The Monastery of Panagia Kalamiotissa
- The Castle of William Crispo
- The Garden of Fiorenza
- The Murder of Nikolaos Gavallas
- Join the Adventure
“In the whole of the Cyclades there exists no island so remote in its solitude as Anaphe. It is a mere speck on the waves where no one ever goes, and where the thousand inhabitants of its one village are as isolated as if they dwelt in an archipelago of the Pacific.” ANAPHE has changed little since Bent wrote these words. It remains as throughout its history, the most lonely and far-off of the Cyclades; the very threshold of the Rising Sun.
Anafi is more accessible today than at the time of Theodore Bent‘s visit in 1884 and VC’s in 1928. However, it still is relatively the most difficult island to get to in terms of flexibility and regularity of ferry links. Despite this, it is receiving increasing numbers of tourists attracted by its unique, small-island feel, its wild, attractive countryside and, of course, its beautiful beaches.
VC travelled to Anafi by steamer calling in at Folegandros and Santorini before reaching Anafi in the early hours.
I am on my way to it now; but the island is still without a harbour, and with a south wind blowing it may prove to be inaccessible . . . At one o’clock in the morning we arrive off Anaphe, and at this dark hour with the lonely island frowning down upon us from under the stars, high waves lashing its cliffs with foam, I wonder why I have come. A boat comes off to us and plunges like a terrified heifer at the foot of the gangway, apparently unwilling to take anyone ashore . . . the South wind splashes us all with foam . . . we land at a rough pier.
The island only acquired its harbour proper in 1986, up to which time, all visitors would have had experienced much the same as VC as they transferred into small boats to be ferried ashore.
Even though the harbour can now accomodate larger ferries, the high winds can present problems even today.
*** COMING SOON ***
The Island of Exile
In the boat ashore from the steamer VC meets one of the many exiles who were sent to the island.
I am on my way to [Anaphe] now; but the island is still without a harbour, and with a south wind blowing it may prove to be inaccessible . . . At one o’clock in the morning we arrive off Anaphe, and at this dark hour with the lonely island frowning down upon us from under the stars, high waves lashing its cliffs with foam, I wonder why I have come. A boat comes off to us and plunges like a terrified heifer at the foot of the gangway, apparently unwilling to take anyone ashore. We are a strange company who drop one by one into this boat. My neighbour is a Communist expelled from Athens . . . “I have no clothes except these in which you see me, and only a few hundred drachmae in my purse. No reasons have been given me for my detention. ‘You will go to Anaphe,’ I was told, ‘and stay there, until you are permitted to return.’ It is true that I was a Communist three years ago; but I am not one now.”
From the early 1920s through to the late-1930s, Anafi was used as a place of exile for political dissenters. VC talks widely of the ‘communist’ exiles on the island at the time of his visit in 1928, in particular, a group living next to the house of the Proidros Nikolaos Gavllas, where VC was staying.
Margaret Kenna’s research found that others were exiled for non-political reasons including “animal thieves, bouzouki players, hashish smokers, drug addicts and drug dealers“. The political exiles were largely well-tolerated by the local people and the Proidros’ wife, Maria, was moved to care for them:
She has a little habit of sighing to herself, and it may be it is this void in her life [of losing her children] that makes her so motherly to the poor Communists who have no bread. The neediest of them all, she has in every day to feed in her kitchen. The bright young Apollo who is so hard on all Capitalists, is sitting in her room when we return . . . He is enjoying a little family life, poor fellow. But she is concerned about these Communists, and so is the Proidros. The ten drachmae a day they are allowed by the State has not been paid. Someone has intercepted it on the way, or the promise of it has been forgotten.
During his stay, VC strikes up a relationship with a group of exiles who, on his last day in the island, become concerned that he should not miss the steamer that will take him away from Anafi, a distant dream which they all possess for themselves:
Will the steamer come this week, or will it not? . . . Night sets in and there is still no sign; the Agent can say nothing except that he will give me timely warning of the ship’s coming; but our Communists, who are intelligent folk, have become interested in my welfare and are taking it in turn to keep a voluntary watch by the windmill . . . In the house of the Proidros we have dined . . . The door is flung open and in rushes our Chief Communist, breathless, with his engaging smile. The steamer is in sight. We make a dash for the harbour nine hundred feet below.
I have seen the last of my friends; of the Proidros who grips me by the hand, but cannot speak; of Apollonos the Communist whose eyes sparkled at the prospect of being allowed to go as far as the ship. His own suggestion. But as he moves a step towards the boat, a soldier who has hitherto been silent, places his hand upon his shoulder and says “No!” The light goes out from his eyes, his face falls. “I am a prisoner,” he says turning away to hide his discomfiture.
Meeting Manthaios Simos
In 1883, the intrepid travellers Theodore and Mabel Bent employed Manthaios Simos, a native of Anafi, as dragoman in their journeys through the Cyclades in 1883 and 1884. Theodore’s account of their travels between 1882 and 1884, The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks, was published in 1885. From Theodore’s and Mabel’s writings, Manthaios clearly became the third member of the ‘team’ until Theodore’s untimely death in 1897; Manthaios accompanied the Bents on most of their later journeys in Greece and Turkey and their amazing expeditions to Arabia and Persia .
It’s evident that VC was following in the footsetps of the Bents while travelling in the islands researching his book, and one of the reasons he visited Anafi could well have been in the hope that he might find more information about Manthaios. VC could not have had greater expectations than one night at the house of the Proidros Nikolaos Gavallas:
We had other visitors after dinner. For one of these I was prepared by the Proidros, who informed me that a wonderful Dragoman who had travelled in the remotest parts of the Earth was coming to see me. He proved to be one for whom I had been looking since I came to these islands; Bent’s travelling-servant, of whom he says in the preface to his book, “I took a servant, a native of one of the islands, who became invaluable in assisting me to discover points of folk-lore which without him it would have been impossible to arrive at”
Manthaios regaled VC with stories of their adventures and VC’s account of that night provides a valuable additional dimension to the story of the amazing travels of Theodore and Mabel Bent.
He brought with him two faded English photographs of Bent and his wife, and as he sat in the Proidros’ room, with a stick in his hand and the lantern he had brought with him beside his chair, recounted some of those ancient adventures in his native Greek; for he had forgotten all the foreign languages he had ever acquired. In his own eyes, as was fitting, it was he and not Bent who was the central figure in all those wanderings.
The excellent website http://tambent.com is the definitive source for all information on Theodore and Mabel Bent and their extraordinary lives and adventures.
The Grave of the Turkish Pirate
The Proidros has it from his father, who had it from his, how the Pirati used to lie close up under the shelter of Anaphe-Poulo or other rocky islet, and of a dark night land and creep up to the town. The Anaphiotes kept watch and ward; and upon a certain occasion took prisoner a young Turk who was lurking in a ravine. He was treated it seems with some indulgence, and induced to disclose their plan of attack upon the island. So Anaphe lay in wait, and when the pirates crept up inflicted upon them a severe defeat. In this fight, the Turk who had fought on the side of his captors was killed, and his body was buried on a knoll half way up from the sea, where a newly-enriched person from Athens has built himself a pseudo-Castle to which he comes in summer.
In searching for the location of the pirate’s grave, we can find no other location which would better fit the description of ‘the knoll’, on the way up the old path from the harbour, than the the very prominent house, complete with crenellations, which can be seen from the Chora and from the old road all the way down to the port. Even though the house looks mostly modern, upon investigation there is an older part which could have formed the original house described by VC. However, the current owner is said to be a member of the Gavallas family, so, “a newly-enriched person from Athens” does not quite fit the story, unless the Gavallas family subsequently bought the house from the Athenian. Please blog any additional information on the house or any other likely site for the Turkish pirate’s grave.
Anafiotika – a Piece of Anafi in the Centre of Athens
. . . there are more Anaphiotes in Athens than in Anaphe. The City eats up the country-side. Over there they live in a quarter of their own under the Acropolis, known as Makri-Yanni, and every lad who leaves his island makes for it as for another home. They make good masons and builders.
The skills of the carpenters and stonemasons of Anafi were renowned throughout Greece and, in the 1830s, when King Otto become the first king of modern Greece, following the War of Independence which freed large parts of the country from Turkish domination, he chose builders from Anafi to work on his palace in the new capital of Athens. The Royal Palace, in present-day Syntagma Square, is now the Hellenic Parliament Building. At the time, when King Otto moved the capital from Nafplion, Athens was nothing more than a small village at the foot of the Acropolis; the Anafiote builders were given an area of land on which to erect their dwellings while undertaking work on the palace. Possibly from a sense of homesickness, they constructed a village, within the village of Athens, in the style of their Cycladic island home – single-storey houses in narrow alleys clinging to the lower slope of the Acropolis hill – so reminiscent of their Anafi Chora home. The area, now officially known as Anafiotika, is part of the famous Plaka district, much visited by tourists to Athens.
Despite parts of the original village being destroyed by archaeological excavation work in the 1950s, Anafiotika retains the distinct feel of an island village, and several homes are still owned by descendants of those early Anafi emigrants. One such is number 5 Anafiotika, where gentlemanly Nikolaos Sachas lives today; his father was born in the island, and Nikolaos still frequently visits his family home in the Chora of Anafi.
The Ancient Capital
The next morning we set out on a journey across the island to its ancient capital and the temple of Apollo Aeglites. The mitre-shaped hill of Kalamos with its chapel of the Virgin daringly built upon its peak, and its white cliffs gleaming under the clouds that hung over it, was the ultimate goal of our journey.
We reached a small chapel built of old marbles, in time to take shelter in it from a sudden storm.
Outside the chapel, which marks an ancient site, there was a sarcophagus of white marble, of a surprising beauty in this wilderness . . . its chorus of children bringing sacrifices to Bacchus and joyous with wine
There were two proud Sphinxes on its narrow sides,
. . . and opposite the children’s choir, Bellerophon and Pegasus, the lithe warrior on his horse spearing the lion prostrate at his feet.
Another such memorial, of finer execution, had been shattered and built into the walls of the rude chapel by which we stood.
We climbed to the old city over the graves of its dead, rifled by generations of spoilers. Statues of white marble, headless and now turning grey, lay abandoned in the fields: here a woman still beautiful, her bosom and graceful form, in its delicate pleated robe wound round her; there a stately personage the very fall of whose robe bespoke his dignity. Here were the remnants of colossal walls, and of chambers in which faint traces of coloured frescoes still survived; cisterns of water, still pure and drinkable; a well-head of white marble with its groove for a lid to rest upon, and headless statues half-buried in the soil. Old streets were now become terraces of corn, or gay with poppies and asphodels. The circumvallation of the city was disclosed by the great blocks nobly cut and laid without cement; in stern contrast with the rude masonry of later days.
We climbed by the line of the eastern wall where it looks towards the temple of Apollo Aeglites, to the Acropolis of the city. Here there still lingered in successive terraces, the remains of a temple to the Pythian Apollo and Artemis Soteira, in a situation of the most proud and commanding beauty.
We came away from it down the hill-sides, covered with brushwood and wild thyme, and coloured with wild flowers; each footstep carrying us nearer to the sea and its ancient harbour, with the stairs that went down to its waiting ships. With a sure eye, these early settlers picked out in each island the noblest and the loveliest of its sites.
Katalyma was the name of the harbour for the ancient city of Anafi and was directly beneath the mountain-top city of Kastelli at present-day Katalimatsa Bay. It would appear to have been a significant size but little remains today where the harbour settlement was actually located, although, parts of its original marble structures are spread around the local area, and maybe other parts of the island, incorporated into other structures. See the blog post Finding Katalyma for more pictures and details.
The Temple of Apollo and the Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi
After leaving the Ancient Capital and descending down to its sea port at Katalyma, VC and the Proidros took the track which follows the line of the coast to the very east of the island. Today, the track is one of the most attractive of the waymarked walking paths in Anafi.
We came to the small bay made by the encroaching sea between Kalamos and the rest of the island; the sea-approach to Apollo Aeglites and to the edge of the monastery lands.
The path ascended from it to the narrow neck of land upon which Temple and Monastery stand, between two seas.
Fluted columns of white marble mark the precincts, and massive walls of the same rich fabric tell their tale of ancient days.
The ancient Temple of Apollo has been rifled to build the Church; its pronaos stands almost as it was
The Court of the monastery is entered by an arched gateway of white marble that has been built of the stones of an earlier time.
The monastery church, a parvenu in the midst of greatness, stands in the centre of a court whose high containing walls of marble belong to the past.
They cover a vast area, their uncemented blocks of enormous size as true in their setting as when they were first laid.
Upon these noble walls quarried from the neighbouring hill-side, the outlying buildings of the monastery have been built of rough stone and mortar plastered with white lime.
The Monastery of Panagia Kalamiotissa
The Proidros, to whom these scenes are familiar, relates tales and incidents of his youth, when he came up here in his father’s company for the annual pilgrimage. The entire island, he says, was assembled here upon one occasion, when out of the sky there fell a thunder-bolt, killing dead the Έgoumenos of that day and six other men who stood beside him. The Έgoumenos was a man from Santorin to which Anaphe belongs, and had expressed his intention of closing the monastery, but the Panaghia to mark her displeasure, struck him dead together with those in his company; for though these men were Anapheotes they were of doubtful character.
The story of Anafi thunderbolts **************************
The Castle of William Crispo
I leave [Maria Gavallas] as evening comes on, to climb to the old castle of William Crispo and of Fiorenza who was Lady of Anaphe in her day, and of a great lineage. It is in ruins and few go near it.
There are scant remains of William Crispo’s castle today but the views across Anafi and the surrounding Aegean reinforce its past strategic importance. Today, a small chapel and a radio mast occupy the site.
Anaphe feels very lonely until at sunset the declining sun reveals the faint outlines of Santorin and his ascending cloud.
The Garden of Fiorenza
The great Venetian families have vanished so completely from the scene of their dominion, that in going to and fro amongst the isles I often wonder how they lived. Here in the rude fortress on the hill it must have been a hard life for a lady. But to-day, while waiting for the ship that is to take me away, and looking out across the bare island hills, my eyes lighted upon a garden half-concealed in a ravine, under some palms and pines and olive trees.
An example of VC daydreaming and letting his imagination run riot? The ‘garden’ was clearly largely real but Fiorenza’s connection with it is almost certainly a figment of his imagination and his desire to come up with a good story. He provides no background evidence to support his assertion that Fiorenza, the daughter of William Crispo, Duke of the Archipelago, had any connection with ‘the garden’ over 400 years before, However, it’s a nice thought and the photographs from the blog seem to tie in with VC’s description.
The Murder of Nicholaos Gavallas
VC stayed with the Proidros, Nikolaos Gavallas, in Anafi and, from his writings, he clearly felt great affection for him. At the end of the chapter, we learn some shocking news about the fate of Nikolaos.
On my return to England I receive the following letter, of which I give a translation:
With abiding sorrow I write to inform you of the death of my dear husband and your beloved friend, Nicholaos Gavallas, President of the Community of Anaphe. The murder was committed by a young man of 25; a degenerate; for the sole purpose of robbing him. In the afternoon of the 19th of November, to buy goods from a sailing-boat, he induced my poor husband to accompany him to a lonely part of the island, and there shot him, who was so unsuspecting, through the back of his head. He then flung his body into a crevasse ten metres deep after robbing him of all he possessed. Thus was he left lonely with no one to care for him. We knew not what had become of him till three days had passed, when his body was washed up by the sea. The murderer was arrested, and is to be tried in Athens where he will have to render an account of his sin; but oh! Kyrios, what consolation is there for me?
I end by asking you to pray for the soul of your friend.
Widow of the murdered President of the Community of Anaphe.”
There are some footnotes to add to this story, and some unanswered questions.
Margaret Kenna, an English social anthropolgist, recounts that the local people tell the story of the Proidros’ death slightly differently. Rather than the murder being “committed by a young man of 25; a degenerate; for the sole purpose of robbing him“, locals tell that the murderer was a relative of the Proidros who wanted money for some legal purpose. When the Proidros refused, he shot him, one assumes in rage, and tried to dispose of the body. It could be that Maria may have wished to hide the family shame when telling the ‘degenerate’ version to VC.
During Margaret Kenna’s stay in Anafi, the Proidros at the time was one, Michalis Gavallas, whose father was Nikolaos Gavllas. It’s easy to make the asumption that he was the son of VC’s Proidros. However, VC tells us that Nikolaos and his wife Maria had no surviving children:
They had no children, and this was their grief. All her maternal instincts were lavished upon him.
They lost all their children in Egypt, and when she talks of them she puts her hand to her head, as if to make a pillow; they are asleep she says, and a look of pity comes into her eyes as she glances up at her man.
How could Michalis Gavallas have been the son of Nikolaos Gavallas when VC’s Proidros and his wife Maria had no surviving children? As is often the case in Greek families, the same first name propagates down many generations and across branches of the same family.
From generation to generation they bear but one name Nicholaus Gavallas.
Margaret Kenna met with Michalis Gavallas’ daughter, Stella, who told her that the Nikolaos Gavallas who VC stayed with, and who was shot, was not her grandfather but her grandfather’s cousin. The direct family line from VC’s Proidros had died out with the death of Maria Gavallas some years after her husband was shot.
In a touching gesture, showing the deep respect and friendship VC felt for the Proidros, he financed and arranged the erection of a marble plaque in the village to commemorate Nikolaos Gavallas. It reads:
Ο ΦΙΛΟΣ ΤΟΥ
Β. Κ. ΣΚΟΤ Ο’ΚΟΝΟΡ
The English translation of which is ‘IN MEMORY OF NIKOLAOS GAVALLAS OF THE MUNICIPALITY 1929 THE FRIEND OF V. C. SCOTT O’CONNOR’.
Margaret Kenna saw the plaque and took a potograph of it which she reproduced in her book. Since the book was first published, the plaque has been removed and is now part of the collection of the Museum of Anafi.
Two issues arise from the plaque. Firstly, the positioning of it would have been significant – it might even have been on the wall of the Proidros’ house. Secondly, ‘Isles of the Aegean’ was VC’s last published work and we know very little about his life after his visit to the Islands up until his death in 1945. Did he come back to Anafi for some kind of ceremony for the placing of the plaque? It’s hard to believe that, given his depth of feeling for the Proidros, he would not have returned to honour his friend.
Any further information on the location of the plaque, the location of the Proidros’ house, local memories of the erection of the plaque or VC’s possible return to Anafi would be welcomed. Why not create a blog post if you have photographs, stories or any other information about the plaque or VC’s involvement in it.
On a last note, the Gavallas name is still in existence in Anafi and it seems there are a number of branches of the family. The war memorial in the plateia of Chora names two patriots from the family who died for their country. The cemetery contains a grave for a Nikolaos Gavallas who died in 1968 at the age of 64; he would have been in his late twenties at the time of VC’s visit. We understand there is at least one living Nikolaos Gavallas, who owns the very prominent house, complete with crenellations, which can be seen from the Chora and from the old road all the way down to the port. It’s unoccupied for much of the time, with its owner said to live in Santorini. This house may have another connection with VC’s visit to Anafi as discussed in The Grave of the Turkish Pirate above.
Join the Adventure
Join the adventure – become a contributor to this website and help us track down further information and photographs related to VC’s travels in the Cyclades. You can create a blog post describing your findings, your adventure, relevant people you met etc. You can upload photographs attached to your blog post. Your blog post will available for all visitors to the site to view and comment on. If your post contains key information, we’ll include it in this main page, and include an accreditation to you. You don’t have to stick to the items below, anything relevant to VC, the book and his journeys, and Greece, its history, its people and its customs, will all be welcome.
The Inscription at the Temple of Apollo Aeglites
An inscription has been found here which names seven consuls from different parts of Greece, who resided at Anaphe; from Thessaly, Mykonos, Cnidos, Paros, Chios, Lacedaemon, and Siphnos
Can you find this inscription? Photographs can be uploaded to a blog post.
The Peak of Kalamos
VC describes the dramatic climb to the peak of Kalamos. Do you have photographs of the trek which can be uploaded to a blog post?
We sleep at the monastery, and at dawn I arise and look from the edge of its old walls upon the rising sun. My purpose is to ascend to the summit of Kalamos and look from there upon the Aegean.
We make our way up its stony intractable surface, through a maze of sheep and goat tracks worn without order or design by a myriad hoofs, amidst the small growth of aromatic shrubs upon which they have browsed from immemorial time
Half way up these tracks become a footway, the precipices to right and left more formidable, the view continually more grand and wild.
At another point in this road of a dramatic beauty, where the path narrows to a yard in width, and the cliffs fall vertiginously sheer to the sea, he pauses to relate how when the pilgrims had arrived at this spot and had thanked the Virgin for bringing them thus far
Monastery of Panagia Kalamiotissa
VC visited the church of the Panagia Kalamiotissa at the peak of Mount Kalamos. A track to the peak and the church starts from the rear of the lower Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi. If you make this trek maybe you could look out for the following things VC mentions. Photographs and stories can be uploaded to a blog post.
On attaining the ridge upon which the chapel of the Virgin stands like an oblation up to heaven, we stand upon a blade-edge, no more than a yard in width, and the sheer fall of the cliffs upon either side to the sea is alarming. My first instinct in such a place is to sit down; and then only to look with caution over its terrific edge.
The chapel of the Virgin has a campanile of bells, and about it some bare rooms for the use of pilgrims.
At my feet lay the Byzantine dome and bell-tower of the Monastery, enclosed within the old marble walls of Apollo Aeglites; two thousand years and more of recorded history in one small space. Facing towards Santorin, the new Chora shone white under its windmills; and upon its grander site, the old city of Anaphe from its lofty Citadel, reached down to its tombs and its harbour by the sea. Beyond these were the summit peak of Vigla and the splay of the island north and south.
There are, still cisterns in the precincts of the Madonna’s chapel and traces of old walls and houses.