Agios Efstratios

1. Geographical position, natural environment

Agios Efstratios (mostly called Ai Stratis) is a small volcanic island in the northeastern Aegean among Limnos, Lesvos and Skyros. It is located 21 nautical miles from Myrina of Limnos, with an area of 42 km2. Skerries Daskalio, Velia and Dodeka Apostoloi surround the island, which is practically a massif, with Simadi being its highest top (298 m). Its vegetation is confined at the northeastern part, where some oak woods remain. Its largest plain is at Alonitsi and was once a large vineyard. There are many caves at its southern part. The whole island has been included in the European network "Natura 2000" as a Site of Community Importance (SCI).

The settlement of the same name (Agios Efstratios), along with its anchorage, holds a population of 371. Fishing and stock farming are the residents’ main occupations. Throughout modern times, and up to the early ’60s, a great part of the island's economy was based on collecting acorns.

2. History, archaeological sites and monuments

Historical accounts and travellers’ texts shed light to the island’s history. Pausanias called it Nea (“New”), since it was thought to be the new island that surfaced from the sea after Chrysi island, to the north of Limnos, sunk. At Agios Alexios in Alonitsi, there are some remnants of an Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC) settlement. On Agios Minas hill we have ruins of the ancient city, and in the Evraiki area we have remains of an ancient cemetary. The island took its current name during Byzantine times, and particularly during the turbulent time of Iconoclasm. When iconoclasts persecuted St Eustratios, he landed on the island and sought refuge in a cave still bearing his name. A built-in funerary slab at the church of the saint attests he was buried on the island. His head though is kept at the Megisti Lavra monastery, at Mount Athos. In 1024, emperor Basil II granted the monastery a great part of the island’s land, some of which is still owned by monasteries of Mount Athos (Megisti Lavra, Dionysou, Karakallou), which sublease it to the residents. Up to the late 14th century, Agios Efstratios suffered incursions and predations by pirates, whereas in the 15th century it probably was deserted. The Ottoman geographer Piri Reis described it in the 1520s as uninhabited.

In the mid-16th century, residents settled permanently at the mouth of the harbor. In 1693, the Church of the Five Martyrs was built in the castle area. Its frescoes are superb. Agios Vasilios (St Basil), a domed basilica built in 1727, is the only example of monumental post-Byzantine architecture that survived the devastating 1968 earthquake. In modern times, some neo-classical buildings were erected on the island. An outstanding example is the building of the Marasleios-Logotheteios School, which was a primary school from 1912 up to 1968. The settlement of Agios Efstratios was built then at the northwestern part of the island.

Between 1928 and 1963, the island was used as an exile destination. In fact, from 1936 to 1948, there were 300 exiles, all of them sent there because of their political beliefs. Malnutrition and disease, as well as the circumstances of foreign occupation, decimated them. Among them there were people with an important contribution to literature and art, as the poets Kostas Varnalis, Giannis Ritsos and Nikos Karouzos, the composer Mikis Theodorakis, and the actor Manos Katrakis. During the difficult days of exile (1951), the later actually put on the Persians of Aeschylus.

3. Agios Efstratios today

Nowadays, there is some gradual touristic development. Visitors can enjoy the clean sea by the beaches of Agios Antonios, Tagari, Gournia, Kalami, Aidari, etc., which are accessible by boat. There are some small picturesque coves along the port up to Trypiti cape. Visitors can have fresh fish and enjoy the high quality dairy. There are many itineraries to Limnos, Kavala, Lesvos and Rafina in Attica.