Cultural Portal of the Aegean Archipelago FOUNDATION OF THE HELLENIC WORLD
Main Image




empty empty empty

Search on map


The Project







      Μήλος (5/3/2006 v.1) Milos (5/3/2006 v.1)

Author(s) : Georma Frangoula , Mavroidi Maria , Karvonis Pavlos (7/17/2006)
Translation : Papadaki Irene , Dovletis Onoufrios , Nakas Ioannis (10/30/2006)

For citation: Georma Frangoula, Mavroidi Maria, Karvonis Pavlos, "Milos", 2006,
Cultural Portal of the Aegean Archipelago

URL: <>


1. Position - Environment

Milos is located at the southwestern end of the Cyclades, 86 miles away from Piraeus. Its shape is irregular. From north to south it measures about 11.2 km, while from east to west 17.6 km. What characterizes it is the gulf at its north part. It goes 5,5 nautical miles deep into the island and is the second largest gulf in Greece. The ground of Milos is mountainous for the most part culminating in Profitis Ilias (751 m). Its few lowlands are situated at its northeastern part.

Milos is a volcanic island, located on the south Aegean volcanic arc. It has two dormant volcanoes: that of Fyriplaka at the central part of the island, and of Trachilas at the northwestern part. The first one has a crater with a diameter of 1,700 m and is 220 m high. There are some hot sulphurous springs at the eastern part of the island and mostly the southeastern one, both on ground surface and underwater. This geological activity is also useful: the Public Power Corporation has established there a geothermoelectrical station, which covers a part of the island’s demand on electricity. The volcanic activity has created submarine caves of great beauty, such as Smaragdenia Spilia (“Emerald Cave”), Kleftiko and Papafraga. Milos’ ground is fertile, producing citrus fruits, garden produce, grain, olives and figs.

(Pavlos Karvonis)

2. Fauna of Milos: the Milos Viper

On the island complex of Milos there are many endemic species and subspecies of reptiles, namely species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The Milos Viper (Macrovipera schweizeri) and the Milos Wall Lizard (Podarcis milensis) are two of those. Even though the latter is quite common on the island, it is endemic.

The Balkan Freshwater Turtle (Mauremys rivulata) survives only in the area of Achivadolimni where a few individuals have been seen, whereas the endemic subspecies of the Water Snake (Natrix natrix schweizeri) is very rare on Milos. The subspecies of the Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata hansschweizeri) is also endemic. The Kotschy’s Gecko (Cyrtopodion kotschyi), the European Copper Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii) and the Mediterranean House Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) are also common lizard species on Milos. There are two more snake species there: the European Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax), probably the most common snake species in the area, and the Leopard Snake (Elaphe situla), seen mostly at rural land.

The Milos viper is seen only on Milos (where its largest populations live), Sifnos, Kimolos and Polyaigos. Until recently, it was included in the Vipera lebetina species, which is widely spread in North Africa and the Near and Middle East, from Turkey and Cyprus up to Kashmir. The geographical isolation of the Greek populations is believed to be 5 million years old. The differences that developed between these populations led scientists to classify it into a different species.

The Milos Viper has 23 rows of dorsal flakes in the middle of its body. It has small dimensions, since adults grow to an average length less than 85 cm, with a maximum of 1 m. Colour diversity is an attribute of this species. The individuals are usually grey-brown or grey-yellow, with bright coloured patternings in brown or yellow. On Milos, we also find whole-coloured individuals with red colour, which can vary from orange to a brownish red.

Its mating season is spring. It lays 4-13 eggs, usually 7-11. The young feed themselves mostly with lizards and invertebrates, whereas adults eat birds, rodents and lizards.

Unfortunately, the viper of Milos is an endangered species. This is due to a variety of reasons, the most important being the destruction of its habitat. Many collectors, attracted by the rareness of the species, have contributed to the further decline of its population. Many individuals are also killed on the road by cars.

The Milos Viper is a protected species according to Greek Law (Presidential Decree 67/1980, Official Government Gazette 23/30.1.1981). Therefore capturing, owning, killing and trading living or dead individuals is prohibited. The species is also protected by the Washington and Berne Conventions. It is also listed as strictly protected under the European Community Directive 92/43 (Appendix II), which means it falls into the same category with the Bear, the Mediterranean Seal and the Sea-Turtle Caretta-caretta.

The Milos Viper is a particularly significant part of our natural heritage, an integral part of the island’s environment and natural habitats. The species is also of great scientific interest due to the island populations’ geographical isolation from their closest relatives in Asia Minor and Cyprus.

(Maria Dimaki)

3. History

3. 1. Prehistoric Times

Human presence on Milos is attested from the second half of the 8th millennium BC (Mesolithic Period). At Nychia and Demenegaki there were facilities for the extraction of obsidian already since the Neolithic Period. During the Early Bronze Age (3300-2000 BC), mines developed at Chalakas, Pilos, Phylakopi and elsewhere. The first organized settlement of Phylakopi was built around 2200 BC. In 2000 BC the settlement was fortified, organized in blocks and acquired a road network and sewage system. The city was destroyed and was rebuilt in 1550 BC, while new disaster struck in 1400 BC. It was finally deserted in the 11th century.

(Pavlos Karvonis)
(Transl. Onoufrios Dovletis)

3. 1. 1. Obsidian

The word obsidian (in Greek: οψιδιανός, later οψιανός) comes from the Latin obsidianus. It is a hard volcanic rock with a glassy appearance and sleek black color. Due to its being a hard rock with sharp cutting edges after processing, it constituted, especially during the Neolithic period, a widespread raw material for the construction of tools (e.g. blades) and weapons (e.g. arrowheads).

In Greece, deposits of this rock can only be found in the volcanic island of Milos and the small island of Gyali, next to Nisyros. Geologists can distinguish between the deposit products of each island, making it easy to trace the origins of an archaeological find.

Tool samples and obsidian core process waste were found in the Franchthi cave in Argolis, in a layer dating from the 11th millennium BC (Upper Paleolithic period). Tools dating from the Mesolithic period (ca. 7250 BC) were also located in the same cave. Subsequent analysis showed that the rock originated in Milos. Hence, these finds constitute the oldest evidence of navigation in the eastern Mediterranean and of human presence in Milos and the Cyclades in general, already by the end of the Paleolithic period.

The results of research conducted by the British School of Archaeology in Milos at the end of the 19th century revealed two areas of obsidian extraction: Nychia, a hill west of Adamantas, the island’s modern harbour, and Demenegaki, on the west of the island. A lower quality seam was located in Mandrakia site, but there is no evidence of extraction and use, due to the rock’s unsuitability as a tool and weapon construction material.

The obsidian of Milos was used in the Aegean area during Prehistory; however, there is no evidence that it was exported to the Balkans, the western Mediterranean or central Europe, where the same product circulated imported from the Carpathians. Its use in Greece is estimated to have lasted mainly until the Late Bronze Age (1600-1200/1100 BC) and declined strongly over the Classical period (5th - 4th century BC).

According to an earlier theory, the rise and prosperity of the Prehistoric settlement of Phylakopi in Milos and its inhabitants resulted from the exploitation, extraction and trading of obsidian. However, C. Renfrew, the last excavator of the settlement, claims that it would be incogruous to speak of organized exploitation and product monopoly at this early time (Bronze Age).

(Frangoula Georma)
(Transl. Eirini Papadaki)

3. 2. Antiquity

After the 11th century, new residents settled at Klima, to the south of Plaka. During the Geometric period (10th - 8th century BC), Milos was a center of pottery production and miniature art. During the Persian Wars, the inhabitants of Milos participated in the sea-battle of Salamis against the Persians.

Contrary to the other Cycladic islands, Milos, an ally of Sparta, did not join the Athenian League. After the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, Milos did not take sides with either Athens or Sparta. During 416 BC, the 16th year of the war, the Athenians gathered 38 triremes and 3,000 soldiers outside Milos in order to force the inhabitants to join the league. After the people of the island rejected their demands, the Athenians occupied the island, killed the men and sold the women and the children as slaves. Thucydides, in his description of the destruction of Milos, set out the arguments of both sides in one famous dialogue between the powerful and merciless Athenians and the weak but upright inhabitants of Milos. Survivors returned after the Peloponnesian War was over.

During Hellenistic times, Milos shared the fortunes of the Commonwealth of the islands, while art and economy flourished. In 27 BC, it came under the Romans, without losing its prosperity.

3. 3. Byzantine and Modern period

During the Byzantine period, Milos was integrated into the eparchy of the Aegean Islands, which had its see on Rhodes. The exploitation of its mineral wealth continued. After the Fall of Constantinople to the Franks (1204), Milos was integrated in the Duchy of Naxos, which was founded by Marco Sanudo. Hayreddin Barbarossa conquered the island for the Ottomans in 1537, but the Frankish family of the Crispi were allowed to remain as rulers of the island. In 1566, Milos was conceded by the Ottomans to the Jewish diplomat and administrator Joseph Nasi. After his death in 1579, the island was incorporated in the Ottoman administration system and flourished thanks to the privileges granted to it. It continued to flourish in the 17th century as well also thanks to the trade of products coming from piracy and to the development of shipping. Consuls of foreign powers settled on Milos. In the 18th century, its population decreased due in part to the pollution of the environment by the volcanic activity of Santorini. In 1771 Milos was occupied by the Russians within the framework of the Russo-Ottoman war. The island was recaptured by the Ottomans in 1774.

During the 1821 Greek War of Independence, the constant presence of an Ottoman fleet on the island made the inhabitants’ participation difficult. As the rest of the Cyclades, Milos was included in the territory of the newly established Greek state in 1830. Rapid development came in the 19th century thanks to the port of the island and the rich subsoil. After 1835, Cretan refugees came to Milos, founded Adamantas and augmented the island’s population. During World War II, on May 6th 1941, the Nazis occupied the island until its liberation at the end of the war. In the subsequent decades, Milos declined demographically due to migration in Athens and America. However, in the last decades the island’s economy has experienced a boost due to tourism.

(Transl. Onoufrios Dovletis)

4. Aphrodite of Milos

Aphrodite of Milos is one of the most famous original ancient Greek sculptures in the whole world. It took the name on the island where it was discovered and is currently preserved at the Museum of the Louvre, being one of its most important exhibits. The statue was discovered on 8 April 1820 by a Greek peasant, in a place that was later identified as ancient Milos’ Gymnasium. The French navy officer O. Voutier was there by accident; he realized it was a work of art of great value, thus he contacted the French consul of the island. The news of the discovery reached marquis de Rivière, the French ambassador at Constantinople, who eventually bought the statue, even under the pressure of the French war fleet at Milos. The statue was offered to King Louis XVIII, who immediately donated it to the Louvre.

It is a marble statue 2.11 m high and weighting approximately 900 kg. It portrays a young woman whose torso is nude while her garment covers her hips and legs. She leans on her right leg, while the left is bended towards the front and left. The torso bends and turns, giving the impression of movement, despite the statue’s static character. The face is composed, severe and noble. The identification of the statue with Venus is based on its iconographic similarity with other portraits attributed safely to the goddess; the theory, although by far the most probable, cannot be considered totally sure. The statue was made in the late 2nd century BC, probably by a sculptor from Asia Minor, and is a part of the movement for the revival of the values of Classical art at the end of the Hellenistic era.

A copy of Venus is today placed at the entrance of Milos’ Archaeological Museum, while the place where it was found is marked by a marble inscription.

(Transl. Ioannis Nakas)

5. Archaeological sites

Milos has two organized archaeological sites: Phylakopi, which is still being developed, and the Catacombs. We should also refer more explicitly to the ancient city of Milos. The ruins of the 4th century walls and the Gymnasium, above the Stadium, stand out. The ancient Agora was uncovered at the site Treis Ekklisies (“Three Churches”), where an Early Christian baptistery is also located. Mutilated statues have been uncovered, suggesting the existence of an Early Christian temple. The most significant and best-preserved monument of the ancient city is undoubtedly the theatre. It was built in the Hellenistic period and was reconstructed in the Roman period. Today the semicircular orchestra dating from the Roman phase can be seen. The seats were made of marble. We do not know the exact form of the scene; nevertheless, the extant architectural parts point towards types found in Asia Minor. Finally, we should also mention the Roman residences uncovered at Klima and Provatas. They were decorated with mosaics and statues.

(Pavlos Karvonis)
(Transl. Onoufrios Dovletis)

5. 1. Phylakopi

Phylakopi is one of the most important Prehistoric settlements of the Aegean, with a long excavation history. It is situated on the northern part of Milos island, with a long-range view over the sea area north of the island. Already in Antiquity a large part of the settlement was precipitated into the sea.

There have been references to the site, named after the neighboring village, dating from the Ottoman period; it is also mentioned in various 18th century travellers’ accounts. In 1896, the British School at Athens began systematic excavations on the site.

Archaeological research provided evidence of habitation from the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3000 BC) until the middle of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1250 BC), the only exceptions being a sanctuary and a megaron-like building of the Mycenaean period, which were used until the end of the Late Bronze Age, that is until 1100 BC approximately.

The settlement is densely built; the excavators have put a great effort in order to sort out the various periods of habitation and the respective architectural remains. It is important to note that the town was surrounded by Cyclopean walls, which can still be seen today standing at great length and height.

The finds stand out for their variety, which denotes the various religious, social and economic activities of the settlement’s inhabitants, as well as the dense network with the rest of the Cycladic islands (Santorini, Kea, Naxos), Crete and the islands of the northeastern Aegean, but also with continental Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, largely based on Milos’ obsidian trade.

In terms of finds, apart from the numerous clay vessels, of special interest are the figurines (stone, clay and bronze), especially the one known as “Kyria tis Phylakopis” (Lady of Phylakopi), dating from the Mycenaean period and found in the sanctuary, an inscribed Linear A tablet, various bronze objects and stone vessels. One of the most impressive finds is a gold mask, also found in the sanctuary.

(Frangoula Georma)
(Transl. Eirini Papadaki)

5. 2. The Catacombs

Near the village of Trypiti and in a small distance from the ancient theatre the Christian Catacombs can be found. They are Milos’ most famous monument and unique in its kind in Greece. The Catacombs are each year visited by a great number of people, about 30,000, according to the curators. As many other monuments of the Cyclades, they were first explored by L. Ross in 1844, who reported that they had already been looted. Their systematic study, however, was the work of professor G. Sotiriou.

It is a subterranean cemetery, carved in the region’s soft stone, dated to the 2nd century AD that continued being used until the end of the 5th century AD. It must have been the cemetery of the first Christian community of the island. The monument is comprised by three catacombs with an equal number of funeral chambers (A, B and C) and smaller corridors, which start from each chamber. The corridors’ width varies between 1 and 5 m. Their minimum height is 1.60 meters, while the greatest does not exceed 2.50 m. The funeral chambers and the secondary corridors have the same arrangement: on their sides niche-like arched tombs (arcosolia) are carved, whereas tombs can often be found also on the floor. The tombs were covered by stone slabs, from which only parts are preserved on their original place. Some tombs have niches for placing lamps or funeral offerings. The arcosolia are invested with plaster, blue for their internal side, while their external border is decorated with a red stripe. Many inscriptions were found in the Catacombs; they are a further proof of the complex’s funerary character.

Catacomb A has a particularly spacious funeral chamber, where double tombs can be found, thought to be family graves. In one of the tombs of a secondary corridor an inscription is preserved, informing us that Stefanis, daughter of Milon, rested there.

Catacomb B has some very interesting features. The only two-storey tomb is found there. Some of the tombs of chamber B had, according to G. Sotiriou, a monumental façade that consisted of a pair of pillars and a thorakion (stone trestle) that closed the space between them. On one of this chamber’s arcosolia there was the painted image of a fish, a common Christian symbol, which is not preserved today. In the middle of the chamber there was a rock, interpreted as an altar by Sotiriou. This would mean that the Catacombs were also places of adoration. Due to the rock’s shape, however, that resembles a sarcophagus, it has been sustained that this was the tomb of an important person or of one of the first bishops of Milos’ Christian community. On one of the arcosolia of chamber B the most known inscription of the ones found in the Catacombs is still preserved. It informs us of the names of the first Christians, as well as the degrees of their clergy.

In the central chamber of Catacomb C traces of a fresco with boughs and birds is preserved. It is one of the few Early Christian frescoes that survive in our days.

Today’s form of the Catacombs is due to some 20th century interventions, such as the entrance to the funeral chamber B and the passages that unite the three, originally independent, catacombs. For the opening of these passages some walls and arcosolia had to be demolished. The existence of only one entrance was considered necessary, not just for reasons of guarding, but also due to the collapse of the Catacombs’ original entrances. The disintegration of the dilapidated stone and the collapse of part of the roof of chamber B led to the construction of a crude cement support which destroyed the architectural remains that documented the existence of the tombs’ monumental façades. Today only chamber B is accessible to the visitors, who can move around the room on a wooden platform that protects the floor but mars the monument’s aesthetics.

(Transl. Ioannis Nakas)

6. Museums

6. 1. Archaeological Museum

There are four museums on Milos. The Archaeological Museum is at Plaka, housed in a Neoclassical building from 1870 designed by Ernst Ziller. It operates since 1984 and comprises of four rooms. In the first one, we see a replica of the Aphrodite of Milos and display cases with obsidians; in the second one are exhibited the Prehistoric findings; in the third one the sculptures from Historical times are on display. Historical times’ pottery is housed in the fourth room. At the porch and in the yard of the museum are exhibited some sculptures and architectural parts.

6. 2. Folklore Museum

The Folklore Museum is also located at Plaka, opposite the Korfiatissa church. It was founded in 1967 by the Union of Milians living in Athens. It is housed in a 200 years old building. Its exhibits concern everyday life on the island from the 17th century on. It has also an important collection of traditional textiles and embroidery. The historical archive is kept on the loft.

6. 3. Ecclesiastical Museum

The Ecclesiastical Museum is housed in the Holy Trinity church at Adamantas. Its exhibits are icons and fretwork dating from the period of Venetian rule, as well as votive offerings of Milian migrants to Russia.

6. 4. Mining Museum

The Mining Museum operates at Adamantas since 1998. The history of mining activities on Milos unfolds on the ground floor. There are topographical charts, instruments and photos of modern exploitation. The island’s mineral wealth is exhibited on the first floor, with samples of minerals and information on how they are processed and used. In the basement there is a room used for exhibitions or educational programs.

7. Church architecture and art - Emmanouil Skordilis

Traditional architecture on Milos has many and significant churches to show. Most churches of Milos are small single-room churches with an arched roof. The churches standing out at Zefyria are Panagia (Virgin Mary) Portiani and Agios Charalambos, which are connected to each other, as it often happens on the Cyclads. These are single-room churches with an arched roof and a dome. They had been built with light local perlite. Out of the rich decoration of Portiani, a few fragments have been preserved, whereas its wood-carven iconostasis has been moved to the Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) church at Adamantas. At Plaka, the Panagia (Virgin Mary) Thalassistra church was built in the 18th century, precisely at the time Zefyria was abandoned by its inhabitants. The Agia Triada of Adamas was built before the Cretan refugees settled in 1835. Valuable works of art, e.g. the wood-carven epitaph, attributed to hagiographer Emmanouil Skordilis, are kept there; they had been moved from Zefyria. The Agios Nikolaos church of the Neoclassical style was built at Trypiti approximately in 1880.

Cretan painter Emmanouil Skordilis, who settled at Zefyria after 1645, played a significant part in the development of ecclesiastical art on Milos. Influenced by the Flemish style, he produced a great number of works, which are characterized by the simplicity and kindness of the figures. Most of his works are now kept in churches of Adamantas. The fresco of the Nicene Creed, at the Panagia Portiani of Zefyria, dating from 1664, is also attributed to him. Antonios Skordilis was obviously a descendent of Emmanouil. He too was a hagiographer and was active from 1690 to 1730. The influence this very productive painting workshop had was obvious in the folk hagiography of Milos and the entire southwestern Cycladic complex during the 18th and 19th centuries.

(Pavlos Karvonis)

8. Mines

Milos dominates the mining history of the Aegean with subsoil rich in minerals (obsidian, alum, sulfur, grindstone, etc.).

8. 1. Sulphur mines

At Paliorema, on the eastern coast, functioned since 1862 the sulphur mine of Viktor Melas. It was the oldest and most systematic Greek company of that field. In 1890, the mines came under the Company of Public and Communal Works. They stopped functioning in 1905 though, since the production of cheap sulphur in the USA with the Flash method sealed the unit’s fate. In 1910-1918, the sulphur mines operated occasionally. They operated again from the 1930s on. The infrastructure we see now was built then: offices, labs, store rooms, an electric power production unit, a drawing board, a carpenter’s workshop, machine works, a restaurant, facilities for crushing and melting minerals, and the employees’ dormitories.

During the War, the company suspended its activities and continued in 1953 up to 1958, mostly thanks to the patent method of Svoronos, a landmark in the development of mining technology. After the price of sulphur fell, the company was finally shut down in 1978.

8. 2. Other minerals

The manganese deposits at Vani of Milos were intensively exploited at times, mostly in 1886-1909 and 1916-1928. The mineral’s low content in manganese, combined with the immense manganese deposits found after 1920 in other European areas, made exploitation at Vani non-profitable. As a result, mining activities in the area ceased after 1928.

During the two World Wars, kaolin was extracted on Milos. It was used for making porcelain and fire-proof materials.

The exploitation of barytes began experimentally in 1884. It became more systematic probably after World War I.

The grindstones of Milos were also renowned for their quality.

From the early 20th century, a gypsum mine was also in operation on the island.

(Maria Mavroeidi)
(Transl. Onoufrios Dovletis)




Entry's identity



empty press image to open photo library empty
 Open Audiovisual Gallery