Monday, 24 September 2007

Secret Sigri

It's cold! Instead of 28°C it's now only 18°C and the storm blows the waves into fuming white horses. That's a beautiful sight, but it really makes you think it's winter, like summer is definitely over.

In a few days the normal good Greek weather will return. Life will take its normal course. The elections are done, the children are at school, autumn can start.

This used to be different. Years ago the summer would last until the 15th October. From the 15th June until the middle of October whole villages moved to the seaside. The Australian writer Betty Roland described in her book 'Lesbos, the pagan island' how in the sixties Eressos and all its inhabitants, shops and kiosks moved by car and donkey to Skala Eressos, to live there for the summer.

I'd already asked myself why it is that on the Greek islands there are so few old villages at the seaside. The answer is simple. The people used to live as high as possible in the mountains, or as far away from the coast, so that they were difficult for the pirates that regularly looted the islands to find. Lesvos was even a pirate nest in the 15th century. Then the famous pirate brothers Barbarossa, born in the village of Papados on the Gulf of Yera, ruled all of the Mediterranean. (see: Boulevard News 20).

Skala means stairs, and so Skala were the stairs to the sea: Eressos and Skala Eressos, Kaloni and Skala Kaloni, Sykaminia and Skala Sykaminia, Kydonis and Skala Kydonis, Loutra and Skala Loutra, Polichnitos and Skala Polichnitos. Skoutaros doesn't have a Skala but has its summer houses at Anaxos, Andissa goes to Gavathas and Old Andissa and Clio goes to Tsonia.

Now most summer villages have been changed into tourist villages. Especially Anaxos, once a beautiful beach surrounded by fields and summer houses, is now stuffed with apartments and hotels. The villages that used to be deserted in the summer are no longer empty and I bet that many an old Greek now suffocating in the summer heat will long for the good old time when the whole village moved to the seaside.

The few villages that are at the seaside, had, just like the capital Mytilini, a castle to protect them. The most famous seaside village with a castle on the island is Molyvos. Petra is also by the sea but has no castle. It's probably the Maria church on the rock of Petra that protects this village. A seaside village which also has a castle is the village of Sigri. Sigri doesn't know mass tourism and is situated alone at the far western point of the island.

Many tourists will probably have had a quick view of the village, visiting the Petrified Forest and after that going to the museum of the Petrified Forest at Sigri. That's a pity, because Sigri has a lot more to offer to tourists. Especially to people that don't like mass tourism and like quiet beaches.

Sigri is the only white village of Lesvos. The merry white houses look out onto the port where even ferries sometimes go. In the summer the village has a few restaurants and most of them serve lobster as a local speciality. In the winter only the taverna in the port is open.

The large bay before the village is protected by the long island of Nissiopi where you can see some petrified trees. The port itself used to be protected by the Turkish castle that was built by sultan Mehmet in 1746. Especially the huge entrance doors are still very impressive. The big church Agia Triada is also a remnant from the Turkish occupation. The building used to be the mosque of the village. At the left side of the castle is a picturesque bay with a sandy beach that lies hidden from the winds that always seem to blow in Sigri.

That wind blows full on the beaches of Faneromeni, north of Sigri, where often you will find huge waves, a yet undiscovered paradise for surfers. At the beginning of this beach you will find rocks that seem to meander in funny shapes and where you can clearly see how very long ago lava embraced marble. The colourful lines make beautiful designs on the rocks. At the other side of the beach you will find the small Church of Zoedochos, built around a small cave. Behind this beach, along the river of Tapsas you will find surprising green fields with grapes, figs and almond trees. The small lanes are bordered by huge reeds that bow over the road, forming shadowy and cool tunnels.

If you would see the nicest view on the island, you also have to go to Sigri. Then you take the road to Eressos, which goes over rough and bare mountains. When you come over the top of the last mountain, the valley of Eressos opens up to you: sharp mountain tops, brown yellow slopes, white houses like white flocks in the scenery, files of green trees that snake through the landscape, wherever there is water in the ground. It is a breathtaking view.

I don't quite understand why Sigri hasn't yet been discovered by mass tourism. It's a lovely little village, with beautiful beaches and good restaurants. But maybe it's best like it is: a village that's not spoiled by Greeks who stuffed it full of apartment buildings, restaurants and shops. It's still a pure seaside village where the salt wind not only keeps the houses cool, but also the heads of the inhabitants, not yearning for the big money.

Unlike the municipality of Zacharoa, where in August during the latest wildfires on the Peloponnesos there were the most victims. Last week it was announced that the municipality together with the Ministry of Finance signed contracts with building developers in order to rebuild the burnt seaside. Hundreds of illegal buildings will be legalised and they'll add more buildings. They say that it'll be good for the local economy. So the arsonists got what they wanted! The region however is an area protected by the ecology department of Europe. After the elections the Greek government saw what a mistake was made and another Minister cancelled all the contracts.

Not knowing all the dirty games that were played in his municipality, last weekend the mayor of Zacharo died of his wounds sustained when he personally fought the flames...

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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