As you walk around the harbour of Skiathos
with the restaurants packed cheek by jowl, the waiters
accost you in a dozen languages to sit and eat. How else
could they fill their tables to bursting, with tourists
with bulging wallets? Don't even think about sitting down.
How could you deprive the nice sunburnt tourists queuing
behind you of a place? Carry on walking and further down
slip into one of the quieter side streets. Just a few
metres away from the seething crowds of tourists you'll
find an authentic piece of Skiathos.
In the Middle Ages, and later too, Skiathos was harassed
continuously by pirates. Things are not much different
today, except that instead of pirates there are now tourists,
who literally take over the island each year. In the summer
months Skiathos is the captive of mass tourism. Charter
flights land daily and the island is flooded by northern
Europeans hungry for the sun and Britons who rush to lie
on the beach.
In 1964 Skiathos was
fortunate(?) in being designated by the Greek National Tourism
Organization as a development zone for tourism. Since then there
has been rapid change. The first project undertaken in this framework
was the construction of the coast road from the town of Skiathos
(the only settlement on the island) to the famous sandy beach
at Koukounaries. Over the years a host of tourism units has been
built along this road, from luxury hotels to cheaper accommodation
for mass tourism. Skiathos is classic example of 'exploiting'
a Mediterranean seaside zone. The first large hotel was built
above Koukounaries beach, which takes its name from the unbrella
pines that grow there. With the completion of the airport for
charter flights from abroad, in 1984, Skiathos surrendered itself
totally to mass tourism. Today the hotels, pensions and holiday
flats offer 16,000 beds, in order to cope with the summer invasion
of tourists. This number is more than excessive, considering that
the local population is only 4,000.
Skiathos is not only mass tourism
If your idea of a holiday is enjoying yourself until the early
hours and spending all day on crowded beaches, then Skiathos is
the right place. In the town of Skiathos there are tavernas, bars
and clubs galore offering a frenetic night life for all tastes.
As to beaches, the island has over 60 , most of them sandy. And
if you prefer pebbles, there is the renowned Lalaria beach on
the north side of Skiathos.
The tidal wave of tourism has not manage to engulf the Chora of
Skiathos entirely, for it still largely preserves its architectural
heritage. Ugly new buildings, in the all too familiar Modern Greek
style, have sprung up around Chora, but the damage is not too
great. Whoever has visited places like Majorca or the west coast
of Spain, with the endless stream of huge concrete hotels, understands
all too well what full tourism development means.
Skiathos lies just 4 km from the Pelion peninsula and 6 km from
Skopelos. The sea around the island is full of reefs and shallows,
and visitors with yacht or pleasure craft should be worry of these.
It was here, some 2,500 yeras ago, that the fleet of King Xerxes
of Persia was badly damaged when it was cast upon the ridges by
a storm. There followed the naval battle with the Greeks off cape
Artemision (480 BC) and the ignominious defeat of the pErsians
in the naval battle of Salamis.
The Skiathians have a glorious maritime past: they were outstanding
seamen as well as skilled shipwrights. Ship-building yards flourished
during the 19th century. The vessels were constructed of timber
from the pines that grow in abundance on the island. The appearance
of steam ships brought the demise of the Skiathian shipyards,
but a small boatyard continues to exist, where traditional wooden
caiques are built.
Skiathos is 48 sq km in area, 12 km long and about 9km wide. The
terrain is mountainous and mainly covered by pine woods, maquis
and cultivated fields. The highest point is the summit of the
limestone hill called Karafiltsanaka, 436 m a.s.l. The north side
of the island is largely unspoilt, in striking contrast to the
south, with its tremendous tourist development. Here you can find
a little peace and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of the
A trip around the island, to discover the lovely landscapes and
to visit interesting places, is well worth the effort. A pleasant
excursion is that to the Monastery of the Evangelistria (Annunciation),
founded in 1704 by monks from Mount Athos. It is famed for the
role it played in the years of the Greek War of Independence,
when it was a safe-haven for freedom-fighters.
In the footsteps
of the Middle Ages
In the dangerous years of the Medieval period life was not easy
for the island's inhabitants. In the mid-14th century, excausted
by continuous attacks by the pirates, the inhabitants abandoned
the old capital of Skiathos which had been located at the centre
of the island since antiquity, and built a new settlement on a
high crag overlooking the sea, in the north part of the island.
Only a few ruins remain of Kastro, as it was called, but the place
is worth visiting for its superb site and the vast vista over
the Aegean. At the end of the Greek War of Independence the Chora
of Skiathos was established again as the capital of the island
and remains so to this day.
In front of the town of Skiathos is the Bourtzi, a densely wooded
hillock on a tiny peninsula separating the passenger-commercial
port from the harbour for fishing boats, caiques and sailing craft.
Bourtzi was originally an islet, which is now joined to the island
by a small mole. when the island was captured by the Gyzi brothers,
in 1207, they built a Venetian fortress here: only remnants are
visible today. However, it seems that this failed to protect the
population from pirates and prevent its migration towards Kastro.
Skiathos is the native island of Alexandros Papadiamantis, who
lived there in the late 19th century and is distinguished as the
most important Greek short-story writer. Among his short stories
which give a uniquely vivid picture of daily life in those days,
is one entitled "The seal's Lament", which attests that
seals were once a part of everyday life for the island's inhabitants.
The house in which Papadiamantis was born and died, in the town
of Skiathos, is now a museum.