Nisyros: Nyfios, all a matter of timescale.

When someone says to me: ”I’ll do it soon” and I know that ‘soon’ is unlikely to be in the timescale I have in mind, I sometimes add the secondary question  “Is that on a geological timescale, a historical timescale or within my lifetime”.  The sarcasm occasionally speeds things up.  Fractionally.

My walk on Wednesday exemplifies these timescales magnificently because they are all exemplified.  I decided to go up to Nyfios a tiny deserted settlement dating back to Minoan times in a high-level hanging ‘valley’.  It’s not really a valley, rather it’s one of a number of smaller caldera, but it has the air of a hidden valley, surrounded by high mountains .

Once in the Nyfios valley the whole impression is of great antiquity.  The tiny settlement is built into the rock and is basically underground with a small church at the core of it.  The present buildings are fairly ‘modern’ on a historical timescale, probably going back only a few centuries (my guess) but there is evidence elsewhere in the valley of Neolithic settlement, with underground cisterns and a rock carved ‘grotto’ now a church. At the entrance to the settlement are Minioan ‘horns of consecration’, indicating that settlement predated what is there now.

Walk to the end of the valley and the view is straight down into the main caldera, probably the best view point of the many craters at the western end of the caldera floor. But here is the contrast.  The settlement is indeed ancient, evincing one of the oldest civilisations in Europe but the mountains and rocks which surround it are the newest in Europe.  Geologists estimate that Nisyros was created by volcanic action 150,000 years ago with many of the rocks dating back only to further volcanic activity in what is classed as ‘pre-history’.  The last few eruptions were ‘hydrothermal’ – mainly ash and gases rather than lava but they left huge deposits of pumice and similar material.  The last major eruption on Nisyros was in 1888 and the last significant ‘activity’ was the Seismic Crisis of 2003.

Geologically very young, historically very old but there are signs that the settlement has still not been entirely abandoned.  The roofs of the main settlement are very obviously being maintained and whitewashed and my guess is that this is to collect and channel water to fill the large sterna with winter rains.  Certainly the sterna I looked into was still half full whereas many of the smaller ones in the mountains are dry.

I always find the place absolutely fascinating and I’ll certainly be going back to do more exploring.

The return route is via a col alongside Oros Diavatis (‘oros’ means mountain).  The impression of antiquity pervades that too with an ancient threshing circle at the highest point.  It also affords views over the pumice-island of Yiali and Kos to Kalymnos beyond.  Very dramatic.  But I can’t help but be ambivalent about the pumice quarrying on Yiali.  Operated by Lafarge it has a global market and certainly brings wealth to Nisyros, and to Greece, beyond tourism.  The company’s claims of it being an ‘environmentally friendly’ operation somehow don’t seem to square with the visual impact.  I spent part of my life finding ways to prevent such visual impact in the quarrying industry in South Wales but I guess things are different here.  I don’t begrudge Nisyros the income from the royalties.

Half an hour into the walk at the Evangelistra monastery and just a reminder for those who don’t know anything other than Grey Britain that at this time of year the skies here are blue …. or bluer

On the flank of one of the larger secondary calderas, terraced fields stretch up to the top of the mountain

The main settlement at Nyfios built into the rocks

Looking across the roof-top threshing circle to Oros Diavatis

Another sign that human activity continues: the inside of the underground church

Looking down into the cluster of still-active craters in the caldera

Looking across Yiali to Kos and Kalymnos beyond

Pinnacle of rock marking the start of the ‘back-path’ to Nyfios

At the top of the pinnacle: is that cross natural or carved? I climbed the pinnacle a few years ago and it’s no place to be wielding a hammer and chisel

The Lafarge pumice operation on Yiali:

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