1. General information

Despite the fact that Rineia is a much bigger island (17 km2) it has been always overshadowed by the smaller (6.85 km2), but famous neighbouring Delos. Only a narrow channel, no more than 1 km wide, separates the two islands. In the intervening channel are two rocky islets, the Small Rematiaris to the north and the Great Rematiaris to the south, on which are preserved vestiges of a Hellenistic sanctuary and of an early Christian Basilica.

In 1154 AD, the Arab geographer al-Idrisi describes Delos as Ardilo, “a round islet, deserted, uninhabited, but with a port.” Delos and Rineia, whose name had been completely forgotten, were referred to collectively as Sdiles, Sdili or Sdilis and even today the Mykonians call the two islands Diles: Mikres Diles is Delos and Megales Diles is Rheneia. In the Mykonian Christmas carol, St Basil comes from “lower Diles”:

St Basil comes from Lower Diles
Holding a basket full of limpets
And another basket full of mushrooms.
He ate the limpets, asks for buttermilk
we offer him sweet wine and he jumps up and leaves.

2. History

Rineia was inhabited since the 5th milienium BC. In the historical scene the island appeared around 530 BC, when the tyrant Polycrates of Samos, who gained the upper hand in the Aegean owing to his strong naval force, “having prevailed with his navy, exerted his authority over the other islands, conquered Rineia and dedicated it to Apollo of Delos, attaching it to Delos by a chain.” (Thucydides)

On the northwest of the island (Ambelonas) an ancient city was discovered that had been abandoned in the 5th century BC when part of the hill on which it was built broke away and tumbled into the sea. It is possible that at the period when Delos still retained its exclusively sacred character, this may have been the original city where people lived who were not directly involved in the operation of the Sanctuary. It seems that following this disaster, some people settled on Delos.

In the Agia Triada region, vestiges can still be seen of the Hellenistic city and the Sanctuary of Heracles. In the south of the island, on a headland looking over the area, there used to be a lighthouse, perhaps a copy in miniature of the famous lighthouse of Alexandria. The east coast opposite Delos is occupied by the ancient cemeteries.

During the winter of 426/5 BC Athenians decided to “purify” Delos, ostensibly for reasons of piety. They opened up all the graves on the island, even the most recent ones, and moved the bones and funerary offerings to Rineia, where everything was buried in a common pit. At the same time, they decided that no one could be born or die on Delos; and that women close to delivery and the seriously ill should be transferred to Rineia. This pit, the “purification pit”, was discovered and excavated in 1898-1900 by Dim. Stavropoullos, the first Ephor of Antiquities in Cyclades. The thousands of finds he discovered are exhibited in Mykonos Archaeological Museum.

“Island of Ilithyia and Pluto” was what Dimitrios Stavropoullos called Rineia, referring to the fact that Delians lived on this island during the first and last days of their life; here they were born and died, first greeting and last bidding farewell to the sun which for the Greeks was always the supreme good.

In the hundreds of grave stelae that have been found on Rineia and Delos, the grief of the dead person’s relatives is expressed with restraint and dignity. The dead person is represented in some everyday occupation or saying goodbye to family. Funeral epigrams are equally restrained, and usually limited to the name of the deceased, place of origin and a typical farewell. There are many grave stelae for men lost at sea in shipwrecks or naval battles. Many of these stelae were erected by relatives or friends of the dead people on cenotaphs, since the bodies of drowned people were only rarely recovered.

But Rineia was not a vast necropolis. On the island must have been many treatment centres, to which Delians with more serious illnesses or women ready to give birth would be brought, as it was forbidden for anyone to give birth or die on Delos. To the west was the city of the Rineians and significant temples, and farms were scattered all over the island. Its fertile valleys were covered with farms; herds of goats, sheep and cattle grazed on the hillsides, among the verdant vineyards and the golden seas of waving grain. This picture remains the same, so that one has the feeling that on Rineia time has stood still. Hospitable villagers - who are not considered as resident population - cultivate the “lots” rented from the Municipality of Mykonos in almost the same way that their ancestors cultivated in antiquity, still threshing with horses.