Category Archives: Mykonos

Mykonos, Part 13, From the First to the 21st Century

With the fall of Rome, in the first century AD, Mykonos became part of the Byzantine Empire. It remained so until Constantinople fell in The Fourth Crusade in the 12th century.

Holy water at Panagia Tourliani
Holy water at Panagia Tourliani

In 1204 Andrea Ghisi, a relative of the Doge of Venice, occupied the island and it became part of the Venetian province of Tinos. Then, in 1390, at the request of the people of Mykonos, it was given over to direct Venetian rule.

In 1537, while the Venetians still reigned, Mykonos was attacked by the Ottoman navy, who established a fleet on the island. Under the Turks, it  was important naval centre, a position it enjoyed until the end of the 18th century. During this time it also saw a great deal of pirate activity.

In 1821, the Revolution against the Ottomans erupted. Led by Mando Mavrogenous, a wealthy local woman who sacrificed her fortune to the cause, Mykonos played an active role. Their efforts paved the way for national independence which was won finally in 1830.   Mando Mavrogenous is now a national heroine and her statue sits in square in the main town of Mykonos.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Mykonos slowly lost its hold as an important port and naval centre. After World War I,  people began to leave the island to find work in mainland Greece and in foreign countries, especially the United States.

1873, the French School of Archaeology started excavations on nearby Delos and the first tourists arrived on Mykonos.

By the 1930s Mykonos had become a holiday destination for the rich and famous and tourism had become the island’s number one industry.

During World War II Mykonos served as a major port for the Allies and was subsequently occupied by the Italians and then the Germans.

After the war, tourism picked up again and from the 1950s until the present day, Mykonos has played host to countless visitors from all over the world. Since has earned its stripes as one of the world’s most desirable holiday destinations, it looks set welcome millions more in the future.

Mykonos, Part 12, ancient history

According to an ancient legend, the island of Mykonos was formed from a rock thrown by Poseidon, god of the sea, during a battle with some giants. Poseidon was victorious and the vanquished giants were finally  laid to rest. Rocky outcrops around the island mark their graves.

The graves of the giants, Mykonos
The graves of the giants, Mykonos

The island took its name from Mykonos, son of Anios who was also the grandson of the god Apollo and the nymph Rhoe.

The discovery of Neolithic settlement in Mavrospalia places the first humans on Mykonos in 3000BC.

In the 11th century BC, the Ionians settled here, leaving coins stamped with their favourite deity, Dionysos, god of wine and celebrations, so it seems entirely fitting that it is should evolve into one of the world’s most popular party places.

Around 500BC, Mykonos was embroiled in the historic battle of Salamis between Persia and Greece. Mykonos fought on the Persian side. Why? Because they felt slighted by the fact that the name of Mykonos was not mentioned in the thanksgiving tripod presented to the Delphic Oracle by the rest of the Greek States. When Persia was defeated, Mykonos became a colony of the state of Athens. Its citizens were forced to pay heavy taxes and endured a long period of hardship.

The island’s fortunes of Mykonos changed when Alexander the Great swept into Greece in 336 BC. Mykonos grew rich exporting grain, agricultural products and high quality clay to support and sustain his campaign to conquer the world.

In 146 BC the Romans marched into Greece. They constructed cities and ports and Mykonos, a valuable outpost in the Mediterranean, grew truly wealthy.

Mykonos, Part 11, Oasis Garden

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Oasis – it’s a word that conjures up a haven of palms and endless sands, or at least shade and a pool in a parched landscape. The Oasis Garden Restaurant in Mykonos has neither palms nor ponds. But, tucked into the corner of a square overhung with bougainvillea and surrounded by neat blue and white houses, the Oasis Garden with its flowered, sheltered courtyard, is a haven of hospitality.

It’s at Oasis Garden that we spend our last evening on Mykonos. It’s a quiet Sunday night and until a quartet of young Brits drops in for a night cap, we’re the only customers. So the entire place is ours. We are at home, or at least at the home of old friends or neighbours. The meal is beautiful – from the tazsiki, taramasalata and Greek bread at the beginning, to the baklava at the end. The service is impeccable, the setting exquisite and the ambience wonderful. It’s a perfect last supper.

Mykonos, Part 10, Mykonos Fashion

While traditional textile weaving has declined until only two looms still clack away on Mykonos, fashion has found its own unique expression here and it’s booming.

Salachas
Salachas

In colours reflecting the bleached Cycladic houses, the bright Aegean sea and the clear Mediterranean sky, Mykonos style favours soft, light pure cottons or linens, in shapes fitted to the hot summer sun and the relaxed lifestyle.

Boutiques line the narrow laneways of Chora. Tailors and machinists beaver away still in back rooms and upstairs studios. Many have been here since the early days of tourism on the island. Many have outfitted some very famous figures

Salachas, in Georgiouli Street, is a small shop, crammed with linen and cotton garments all of Greek materials and all locally made. Grandfather Joseph Salachas was a tailor in the 1960s and among his clients were Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. It was who dreamed up the iconic knotted, bare-midriff shirt for movie star Jean Seburg.

Today, Joseph Salacha’s descendants keep up the tradition. His grand-daughter helped me to outfit three little chaps in beautiful blue and white striped shirts, teamed with soft white cotton three quarter pants.

You can find Salachas at:

  • 58 K. Georgeouli St., Mykonos Town, Mykonos 84600
  • Phone: 22890/22710

Mykonos, Part 9, The Weavers

In a warm, light-filled studio in a narrow street in Scarpa, Little Venice, Nikoletta Xidakis works away at her loom, surrounded by stands of bright yarn and shelves of seductively soft woollen shawls, scarves and rugs. She has plied the weaver’s trade here for over 50 years. A collection of cuttings from international newspapers, in shades of fading yellow, speak of her talent and the fame it has. earned her

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Mykonos has always been a weaver’s island. Archeological finds here have shown that even in ancient times, textile production was significantly developed. By the 17th century the weavers of Mykonos had won considerable fame. Over the next three centuries the textile industry grew until by the mid 1900s, it involved most of the island’s women. There were over 500 looms at work on the island. Mykonos textiles won international awards. Highly prized, they were sold abroad and used to decorate the Royal Place in Athens. With the advent of Tourism in the 1970s, a new market opened up. Weavers set up stalls in the streets of Chora and opened their workshops to the visitors. Textiles from this era, comprising over 500 different designs, can be seen in the town’s Folklore Museum. Inevitably, with industrialization, traditional textile production, which once supported so many families on Mykonos, declined. One by one the island’s looms fell silent. Nikoletta Xidakis is now one of the last two traditional weavers left on Mykonos. You can find her at:

  • Little Venice, Skarpa, Mykonos Town, Mykonos 84600
  • Phone: 22890/27503

Mykonos, Part 8, Around the Island

Our Sunday afternoon drive around Mykonos begins and ends with beaches.

A Yacht at anchor off a Mykonos beach
A Yacht at anchor off a Mykonos beach

With our Guide Spiros at the wheel of Windmills Tours’ unprepossessing little Econovan, we head out of Chora, past beautiful Mikhaliamos, the place of sand, then up over the hill. On the other side is Korfos Bay, where a tier of new houses is under construction. Since 1977, to preserve the integrity of the environment, the law on Mykonos has limited architecture to the Cycladic style. These Korfos houses are laid out along the hillside, like illustrations of each stage of the art. Some are just concrete shells, others have their coats of white plaster and others have their shutters in regulation colours of mauve, blue, turquoise or red. From Korfos we look across the bay to the island of Delos, Sanctuary of the gods, and to Saint John’s Beach, where the seminal feminist movie, Shirley Valentine, was filmed.

Driving across the island from Korfos, on a narrow road bordered by stone walls, we pass fields where a few scraggy sheep pick at sparse blades of grass. Once, Spiros tells us, these fields grew abundant crops of wheat and barley for export to Russia. Houses, like trees and foliage, are scattered. Some are crumbling into piles of rubble, others are freshly white-washed. We pass a huge cactus with fruit that look like an alien life-form.

The road takes us to Ano Mera, a village drawn in around a square, where a child’s bicycle lies abandoned, its wheels spinning idly, while handful of tourists and locals laze in the afternoon sun on a café terrace.

On the other side of the square is Panagia Tourliani. This 17th century monastery has an impressive bell tower with elaborate stone carving. It is also home to two museums, the Ecclesiastical Museum, were the precious Epitaphos of Eleni of Mykonos Town is kept and the Agricultural Museum, which has a wonderful collection of farm implements. The monastery church is regarded as the protectress of Mykonos and every year on August 15th, one of the island’s most important festivals is celebrated here. The church houses numerous beautiful pieces of folk art but its pièce de résistance is the stunning wooden iconostasis which was carved in Florence in 1175.

After a visit to the church of Panagia Tourliani, we suggest a spell in the sun on the café terrace, but Spiros knows a better place. We head down the cliffs into a semi-circular bay that is fast filling with Cycladic houses on the grand scale. On the beach thatched shelters are lined up. A life guard’s tower rises above them. This is Paradise Beach, place of endless summer parties. It’s almost deserted now. In contrast, the nearby beach bar is busy – it’s the hour for apératifs and Mezes. We find ourselves a corner table. Over Mythos and Mezes, we find our common ground. Spiros shares his dreams of an eco tourist resort, of a business introducing the finest Greek produce to the world – Symposio. We watch the sun sink lower in the sky.

Our last stop on the tour is at Psarou Beach- the playground of the rich and famous. There is a yacht anchored just offshore. The beach is empty this late in the afternoon but the churned up sand attests to a busy day. Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” booms from the nearby bar. It’s happy hour. But somehow the song strikes a harsh discordant note here. It bounces off the cliffs and echoes too loudly around the sheltered bay. It cuts across the gentle swish of the waves and the distant hum of a boat.

For us it’s a time for silence or perhaps for some poignant Greek music. It’s time to head back to Chora. It’s been an amazing afternoon with an erudite, eloquent and inspiring guide.

 

Mykonos, Part 7, The Churches

The gods have always been at the centre of life on Mykonos and since the beginning of time the people of the island have built temples, shrines and churches to honour them. Nowadays, Mykonos is home to more than a thousand churches.

A Mykonos chapel
A Mykonos chapel

Most of the churches on Mykonos are small, private chapels which sit close beside the homes of the families who built them. Here, the bones of ancestors find their final resting place in crypts, or ossuaries and their lives are commemorated here.   Family worship is observed and family occasions, like baptisms, marriages and name days are celebrated in these little chapels.

Other churches serve special groups, like the fishermen’s chapel, Agios Nikolakis, down at the edge of the sea on Akti Kambani. Others again serve neighbourhoods and villages for worship, baptisms, marriages and funerals. And every year, on the feast day of the saint to whom the church is dedicated, a spectacular festival is staged.

Although, on the outside, they almost all observe the modest traditions of Cycladic architecture, inside nothing is spared in the decoration. Religious paintings, wood-carvings, gold and silver filigree, tapestry and holy icons all contribute to give each church its own unique beauty.

On Sunday morning of our stay on Mykonos, the sky was blue, the sun was dancing on the sea and the church bells were ringing.

Mykonos, Part 6, Theoxenia cuisine

The September Saturday night on Mykonos is wet and cold. Seaside bars, restaurant terraces and nightclubs have no appeal, even on the most famous party island in Greece. The soft, warm light of Theoxenia’s bar and restaurant are seductive. We opt for a night in.

The bar at Theoxenia, Mykonos
The bar at Theoxenia, Mykonos

Sipping on a pre-dinner Mythos in Theoxenia’s lobby bar we watch more intrepid fellow guests set off for their Mykonos Saturday night out. A pair of vampires flits past, followed by Derby and Joan in Macs and Wellies. I catch the barman’s eye. He smiles and shakes his head. “You can’t possibly imagine …” he begins. But before he can complete his observation, he is called away by a customer. To bring him back to the subject five minutes later would seem nosy, if not rude, so I am left imagining what I couldn’t possibly imagine until dinner time.

Theoxenia’s restaurant continues the simple, understated stone, white and blue of its Cycladic exterior. A large wall of windows looks out over the sea. With the darkness of the autumn night behind them, they reflect the warm glow of the room.

Travelstripe is not a gourmet and you will rarely find effusive raves about food in these posts. But the cuisine at Theoxenia must not go unmentioned. Our meal began with a taste of a sort of frittata, courtesy of the kitchen – delicious! Next we shared Haloumi parcels, with olive tepanade and balsamic dressing on a bed of rocket and sundried tomato salad – even more delicious. This was followed by chicken breast stuffed with haloumi and sundried tomatoes served with baked aubergine (for him) and fresh salmon on steamed spinach and redoman with balsamic vinegar (for me) – more delicious still. Unfortunately, we were unable to even contemplate desserts after this marathon.

We returned to Theoxenia’s restaurant quite early the next morning. Outside that wall of windows the sky was blue and the sun was dancing on the sea. The air was heavy with the aroma of Greek coffee. There were full cooked breakfasts of several nationalities on offer but why would you, in fact how could you, when the buffet offered Greek yoghurt, honey, figs, bread, pastries and all kinds of local treats?

Mykonos, Part 5, Chora

Mykonos is certainly one of, if not the most beautiful of the Greek islands. It is known as the jewel of the Aegean and no wonder! Everything here is in complete harmony, both the works of nature and the works of man. Everything is to perfect scale. Nowhere is this balance more beautifully illustrated than in Mykonos town.

In a backstreet of Mykonos
In a backstreet of Mykonos

It is threatening rain – not an afternoon for the beach – so I turn up a narrow cobbled laneway away from the sea. Small white houses, with blue shutters and gates, crowd in around me. Mykonos Summertime, the island’s premiere lifestyle and travel magazine describes the island’s buildings as, “humble architecture, built at man’s height by free people who do not crawl to meet their master but who dare to look their God in the eyes” It is an apt description. Even monumental buildings, like churches are tiny, with a modest, understated, solid beauty.

My laneway leads me to Akti Kambani, the main waterfront. At one end of the bay is a little church where seafarers give thanks for a safe return. On the waves beyond it, a flotilla of caiiques bobs idly at anchor. In more clement weather, the bay would be empty and all boats would be away, ferrying sun-lovers to the outlying beaches. Now, one small, sad-looking group of beach boys is huddled under a flapping umbrella outside a café, with their hoodies pulled up and their tans turning blue.

Further along the waterfront I find Mando Square, named after Mando Mavrogenous, Mykonos’ most famous heroine who distinguished herself in the fight to overthrow the Turks in the 15th century. A statue to her memory stands in the centre of the square. The bay ends in a cluster of nightclubs. It is three in the afternoon, not yet party time, but even so, their closed doors have a look of finality.

I turn away, into another lane. Two storeyed shops crowd in on either side. In one, a rack of hoodies catches my eye. I have to have one. The lane is cold and like the boys down near the bay, I’m turning blue. I pick out a pale pink number with the symbolic Mykonos anchor embroidered on the chest. As the lady in the shop helps me into it she tells me that the business was her childhood home, until the sixties brought the first tourists. Then, like many other householders in the street, her parents turned the ground floor into a shop and moved the family upstairs. She lives there still with her own family.

Luxuriating in the fluffy warmth of my new pink hoodie, I follow the rise of the lane up the hill. I pass walls, hung with bougainvillea, threaded with pomegranates and apples. The lane opens into a square hung with canopy of grapes and bougainvillea. It is the perfect place to stop and just ponder this place called Mykonos.

I can find no more words so I’ll conclude this post with the proud “voice” of the island Mykonos Summertime

“The light of Apollo is evident everywhere on the island and art, beauty and form are all visible in the simple and eloquence of the dazzling white structures and a centuries old labyrinth of tiny streets and alleyways. The light is further enhanced by the reflection of aqua jewelled and crystal clean waters”

 

Mykonos, Part 4, Petros the pelican

I was enjoying the last drops of a hot, strong, post-prandial Greek coffee on the terrace of a café in Little Venice, Alefkantra, when a large pink bird waddled past. He paused, preened, then hopped gracefully up the café steps. All heads turned as he passed, cameras clicked and flashed, a waiter with an armful of carefully balanced plates stood back and the Maitre d’ rushed out to usher him through the door.

“Who was this famous fowl?”  I wondered.

Petros the Pelikan of Mykonos
Petros the Pelican of Mykonos

This was Petros, the pink pelican, the Mascot of Mykonos. With his girlfriend Irini, (also a pelican, also pink) he wanders the steep stone laneways, dropping in for a snack at cafés and restaurants along the way, posing for pictures, visiting friends, blending with the tourists and enjoying every moment of his life as the island’s most celebrated bird.

Petros was not the first pelican to make his home on Mykonos and assume the mascot’s mantle. Nor has he been the only Petros

In 1954, after a fierce storm, a local fisherman found a pelican washed up on the beach. He was exhausted, bedraggled and unable to fly. The fisherman nursed him back to health and before long he was a familiar figure, waddling the laneways, dropping into cafes or preening in the squares for a photo opportunity.  The people of Mykonos named him Petros. Everyone, islanders and tourists alike, fell in love with him.

Petros seemed set to live happily ever after on Mykonos, and although nature designed pelicans to live in pairs, he seemed content with his bachelor life. However, a well-meaning match-maker and rather famous Mykonos visitor, called Jackie Onassis, decided that he should have a wife. She found him a partner in Louisiana. Her name was Irini.

The wedding of Petros and Irini was a big fat Greek affair, with crowns, canopies, several priests, the whole population of Mykonos and a multitude of tourists in attendance. The marriage, however, was not a match made in heaven.  Petros didn’t warm to Irini and she gave him the cold shoulder. They went their separate ways.

When Petros met with a tragic accident in 1985, Mykonos went into mourning.  Then, in May 1986, a generous German travel operator by the name of Rudolph Kaestele sent the people of Myknonos another pelican. They called him Petros II. He arrived at the airport with a tiny German/ Greek dictionary hanging from a chain around his neck. He was ferried by Mayoral limousine into Manto Square, where he was met with music, dancing, baskets of fresh fish and flowers.

Then came the moment that everyone had been waiting for,  Irini minced into the square. Would Petros II warm to Irini?  Would she give him the cold shoulder?

As soon as he saw her Petros II opened his beak and gave a long cry of approval.  Irini was unable to resist. They waddled off into the Little Venice sunset in Alefkandra. And the rest, as they say, is history.