Welcome to Post Two of Sitz Unseen! In last week’s introduction to the Cycladic island of Sikinos, I wrote about the heroön-church called Episkopi and the nearby ancient settlement of Agia Marina. This church was my main research interest on the island, so I spent most of my time in that area. When archaeologists Alison Frantz and Homer A. Thompson and architect John A. Travlos visited Sikinos in 1967 to document the Episkopi church, they likewise stuck close to that site – their letters and notes from the project barely even mention Agia Marina or Paleokastro, the other ancient site on the island.
Paleokastro (“Old Castle”) is worth a visit, more for the spectacular views you get hiking there than the site itself, which is rather poorly preserved. It is located at the opposite end of the island, near a lovely little beach called Malta.
It took me two tries to finally find the ancient site, since it was marked at the wrong spot on the map in my hotel!
You can get close to Paleokastro by following Path 4 of the Paths of Culture hiking trails. ( http://www.monopatiapolitismou.gr/?p=562&lang=en )
There’s not much left of this ancient site, but the numerous sherds (pieces of broken pottery) on the ground made it clear I was in the right spot. Watching the ground for pieces of pottery when you are hiking is a great way to discover that you are close to an ancient settlement or farm. In fact, this is how archaeologists often identify new settlements during a survey. Avoid the temptation to take a sherd home as a souvenir though – this is illegal! There did not appear to be a path up to the summit of Paleokastro, so I did not explore the settlement more extensively, but I expect the view would be worth the climb.
You can get close to some of these sites by bus, rented car, or local driver (more on that next time). But if you are up for it, I encourage you to try hiking from the main town. As someone who grew up in the US, I was accustomed to going everywhere by car and had no sense of how long it takes to walk certain distances. My childhood impression was that in the ‘olden days,’ when people didn’t have cars (or at least a horse), it would take ‘forever’ to get from place to place on foot. On Sikinos, with unimpeded views of the landscape, I was routinely amazed by how much ground I could cover by walking at a steady pace for a couple hours.
Hiking also gives me a better perspective on the movement of ancient people on the island. Though they appear quite distant on the map, I estimate that in times of trouble, able-bodied citizens of ancient Agia Marina would have been able to flee to Paleokastro (or vice versa) within a day – though of course we have to account for the non-able-bodied as well as animals, goods, etc. Water must also have been a concern – when hiking from Chora to Paleokastro I was able to carry enough water for myself, but not much else. There must be springs somewhere on the island. This sounds like a good excuse to return to Sikinos for another hiking trip!
That’s all for now…I’ll have one more post on Sikinos next time!
*My thanks to CAORC for their support of this research, as well as to the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.