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      Φολέγανδρος (5/3/2006 v.1) Folegandros (5/4/2006 v.1)

Author(s) : Kalliri Lara (8/29/2005)
Translation : Papaioannou Helen (11/1/2006)

For citation: Kalliri Lara, "Folegandros", 2006,
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1. Geography and enviroment

Folegandros is the southernmost island of the Western Cyclades. In Antiquity it was know as "made of iron" and "jagged" because of the harshness of its landscape. The shape of the island is oblong divided naturally into two parts by the bays of Angali (to the southwest) and Vorina (to the northeast); the land between the bays forms the narrowest part of the island (1100 m). The greater part of the coast is steep and rugged, particularly on the east side.

The climate is dry with a little rain. Its summers are fresh and its winters mild but with frequent gale force winds. There is little drinkable water; there is a water network fed from communal wells and reservoirs, while there are also private tanks and wells.

It is a rocky and rather barren place, where bushes, weeds, herbs and wild flowers prevail. The dry stone walls that are seen everywhere throughout the island enclose arable land most of which today is unexploited. The small harvests of wheat, barley, olive oil, wine, pulses, onions, figs and other vegetables contribute to household economy.

Folegandros is a passage and a rest station for many migrating birds; among the few indigenous species are partridge, wild pigeon and different types of crow.

2. History

During its history Folegandros has been known by other names, all of wich derive from the ancient name: Belikentra (12th century AD), Polykandros (from Venetian rule until the 19th century). The Ottomans named the island Bolu Kandire.

There are two main versions as to the name's etymology. According to the first the name comes from the Phoenician word "phelekgundari" which means rocky land. According to the second, Folegandros got its name from Folegandros, its first mythological settler, son of Minoas, the king of Crete. However, the two versions are not necessarily opposing each other. It seems that the second one was invented in order to give an explanation for the island's name and to provide a "foundation myth" for the community of the island's ancient inhabitants.

The Leleges, the Carians, the Phoenicians, the Dorians and the Ionians all seem to have inhabited Folegandros at one time or another. The earliest settlement in evidence, the remains of a Prehistoric settlement at Kastellos, in the north of the island, dates from the Protocycladic period (mid-3rd millennium BC). In the 5th Century BC Folegandros was subject to the Athenian League.

It appears that during Roman times, although Folegandros was used as a place of exile, it experienced relative prosperity, whereas in the Byzantium period it was in decline. In 1204 it came under Frankish rule; the Gozzadini family held the island until the 16th century. At that time it was incorporated in the Duchy of the Aegean. From the 13th until the 18th century the island was repeatedly attacked by pirates.

Folegandros came under Ottoman rule with the end of the Duchy of the Aegean in 1566. It was colonized by Sifnians, Cretans and others within the framework of the colonization plans of the Sublime Porte. For a while the island came again under the Gozzadini, but in 1617 it came under Ottoman rule. Between 1770 and 1774, during the Russian-Ottoman War, it was under Russian rule with the rest of the Cyclades.

Folegandros was incorporated to the Greek state in 1828, as all the Cycladic islands. During the 19th Century it was financially supported by islanders who had emigrated to Constantinople and Alexandria; thus it experienced a period of a relative prosperity. From the 1920’s until the end of the military junta (1967-1974) it was often used as a place of exile.

From the beginning of the 1980’s the tourist industry has developed significantly in Folegandros. The new infrastructure has improved living conditions, while, despite intensive building, the natural and built environment of the island has remained essentially unchanged.

3. Settlements

The harbour of Folegandros is Karavostasis; being in the east of the island it is protected from the south, west, north, and north-westerly winds. It is the major costal village of the island but is hardly inhabited during the winter. The first steamship to run the infrequent route to Karavostasis started in 1891 but the present jetty was only built in 1984.

About 3.3 km from the harbour, in a small plateau 210 m above sea level, is Chora, the capital of the island and one of the best preserved traditional Cycladic settlements. Archaeological findings both in the settlement and in the area of Paliokastro, a hill above Chora, indicate that the area has been inhabited at least since the Classical period. Although the historical evidence is meagre, we do know that the Venetian Marco Sanudo, the Duke of the Duchy of Naxos, ordered the building of the castle on the northwestern edge of the plateau.

In the period of peace that followed the pirate raids, the settlement began to expand beyond the walls of the castle and to take the appearance it has today; its main feature, unique in the Cyclades, is the great number of adjoining squares.

The second settlement is Pano Meria. Built on both sides of the road leading to the northwest edge of the island, it is not a typical densely-built Cycladic settlement. The reason for this is that the settlement developed gradually during the 19th Century, when the landworkers of the area were given land for cultivation (koligies) by the potentates of the island against a yearly payment ; they started to settle there constructing buildings for both themselves and their animals; in the course of time they acquire land property. Pano Meria became an independent community in 1914. Today it is part of the Folegandros Municipality together with Chora.

Up to a few decades ago most of the land around Pano Meria was farmed. The dry stone walls that even today are found everywhere created arable land by holding in the soil and the rainwater. The inhabitants' only occupation was agriculture or livestock farming, which made them almost completely self-sufficient; goods that they could not produce they acquired by barter trade. However, the harsh way of life and the development of tourism have led to the change of living conditions; today only the elderly occupy themselves with farming.

The other villages of Folegandros are Petousis, a small old farming settlement in the south of the island, Livadi, a holiday resort near Karavostasis, and Angali, also a holiday resort, which is only inhabited in the summer.

4. Archeological sites

At Kastello, a small rocky peninsula at the north of the island, the remains of a small Prehistoric settlement have been found; it dates from the mid-3d millennium BC (Protocycladic II period). At the site of Paliokastro a little above the church of The Virgin Mary (Panagia) there is some evidence of an ancient acropolis of historical times. Sherds were found at the site dating from the Classical to the Byzantine period. Below the church of The Virgin Mary, in the graveyard of Chora, parts of a 4th century BC wall are preserved. Other findings include inscriptions from the Classical and Roman periods, parts of statues from the Hellenistic and Roman periods and ceramics from different periods.

The Castle (kastro) of Folegandros consists of a group of houses designed for defence, one next to the other on the edge of the cliff forming a natural fortification for the inhabitants of the settlement. The cliff on the one side and the backs of the houses on the other gave protection from pirate raids. Every evening a bell would ring calling the workers from the fields to return so that the Lotzia (from the Italian loggia), the main entrance of the castle, could be locked. During the worst period of raids there were 150 to 200 large families living in the castle. It was inhabited continually for the eight centuries, is still inhabited today and has been proclaimed a listed settlement by the Ministry of Culture.

At the base of the cliff on which Chora is built and 10m above sea level is the Chrysospilia cave. The cave is 300m in length, the greater part of which is unexplored. Human skeletal remains, potsherds and a Roman water cistern have been found in the cave. It is of great archaeological interest as the area is considered to have been a sacred place where coming of age rites took place in the 4th century BC. Hundreds of names of adolescents with their surnames that denote the place they came from are either carved or written with a clay based mixture on the walls and ceilings of the cave. To date more than 400 male names have been deciphered together with a very small number of female names. This site, unique in Greece, has safe access from the sea only in good weather. The cave is not yet open to the public as the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology and Speleology is still researching the area.

There are also many churches on the island, such as Ag. Aikaterini (St Katherine), Ag. Antonis (St Anthony), Ag. Nikolaos (St Nicholas) and the church of Christ or Pandanassa, with icons of the Cretan school. Panagia (The church of the Virgin Mary), dedicated to the dormition of the Virgin, overlooks Chora. It was probably built on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Artemis and Apollo; the present structure was built at the beginning of the 19th century. The church, a single-aisled domed basilica was once a catholic convent. On the bell tower, the torso of a Roman marble statue is built into the wall; inside the church there are icons from the 17th and 18th centuries. Here can also be found the impressive silver-clad icon of Panagia Odigitria ("The Guiding Madonna", a type of representation of the Virgin in Orthodox iconography) that is connected with many myths and legends of the island and during the Easter celebrations is carried in procession throughout the island.

5. Traditional Architecture

The oldest buildings, the houses in the medieval settlement of the Castle, are small dwellings with limited internal space, which is supplemented with external architectural elements: broad steps, used as a sitting area, small courtyards and low benches. The size of the houses (monospita) depended on the length of the wood available for the rafters. This was usually about three metres by nine. The thick stone walls were plastered on the inside but only whitewashed on the outside. The floors were either of trodden earth or of local green slate. The same slate was used on the roofs and was then covered with seaweed and clay.

Most of the houses consist of one room for the whole family. It had a hearth for cooking and a niche for a sink. The few "mansions" (archontika) that were built at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century are clearly distinguishable from the monospita. Many have two storeys, carved lintels and impressive entrances and windows. During the same period emigrants returning from Constantinople and Egypt started to build larger houses outside the confines of the castle.

6. Museums

The Folklore Museum of the cultural society "I Folegandros" opened in the summer of 1988 in Pano Meria. It is housed in a renovated "themonia", a typical dwelling to be found in Pano Meria. "Themonies" are small complexes of buildings, autonomous units serving agricultural and livestock production. Apart from the living areas there is a cellar, an oven, a store-room, a stable, a barn, a hen house, a threshing floor, a water tank, a wine-press, and an olive-oil press. In the area outside is a lemon orchard, a vineyard and a vegetable garden.

The Folklore Museum with its various buildings and equipment is a genuine representation of how such a household operated until quite recently. A small stone building that was recently added houses a small library and an accommodation and study area for researchers.

7. Folk Culture

Because of the island's morphology and the isolation of the inhabitants, developed a closed family agrarian economy was developed. Typical tools and other remains of agricultural work are displayed at the Folklore Museum. Of particular interest is the anti, a " primitive" system for olive pressing.

Traditions concerning the worship of Virgin Mary are still kept alive today. On Easter Sunday the festive procession of the icon of the Virgin Mary takes place in Pounta, on Monday the procession takes place in Pano Meria, and on Tuesday the procession is taken to Petousis, Livadi and Karavostasis, where the icon is taken into the houses as well as onto fishing boats in the harbour. This procession that lasts three days is the most important religious ceremony of the island; it is carried out on foot and is followed by crowds of people.

Weddings also retain their traditional character. One of the most important delicacies at weddings is pasteli, a sweet made from sesame and honey, which is offered to all the guests. All the women of the village help with the preparations; the whole ritual is called sisami and lasts for a week.




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