Nisyros:  All in a day’s trek

I have been back to the UK planning to continue the blog about treks on Symi but mundane stuff got in the way.  Now I’m on Nisyros and as always blown away by this place.  Been out in the mountains every day, pushing the limits thanks to an optimistic report from the chief mechanic just before I left who reckons I’m firing on all cylinders, albeit, regrettably, with lots of additives.

I had intended, indeed planned, to write up a great short walk on Symi, but instead I’m writing about a great walk on Nisyros.

What I saw of it, the summer back home was good by UK standards but temperatures on Nisyros, though cool for August, are considerably higher (mid 30’s compared to 18-20oC)  I usually build back up slowly to acclimatise to the heat but decided “sod that for a game of soldiers” and on the first full day went for a challenging trek from the caldera rim, down to and along the caldera floor, then up at the far end 2 ½ miles away and back to the coast at Mandraki.  About 10 miles in all.  If you don’t know, Nisyros is a volcano, nearly circular with a hole in the middle ….. and is classed as ‘active’.

I saw far more that was interesting and dramatic in that one modest trek than on any comparable route that I know.  Anywhere! And as I was trying out a new camera I took lots of photos so this mainly a visual blog.

The trek began with a frappé in the Balcony Taverna cantilevered out over the northern rim of the caldera in the village of Emborios.

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From the Balcony Taverna looking along the caldera to the active craters at the far end

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Zooming in on the craters, ‘Stephanos’ centre, ‘Polyvotis’ on the right

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…. and zooming in even more on one of the many abandoned, and in this case derelict, houses in the caldera

Some of the houses in Emborios have underfloor heating from volcanic vents and the path starts steeply downwards in a narrow alley a few metres from the taverna between some which are being renovated, showing cavernous fissures in the floor and arched subterranean rooms.

The first part of the walk down to The Tarmac is described in Greek Island Walks 4

The rough-paved kalderimi has been generally well maintained but over the winter major soil slips have done a lot of damage in some sections. The path zigzags down between narrow terraces supported by dry-stone walls up to 10 feet high.  Alongside are signs of long-abandoned settlement.

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In deep shade at this time in the morning the paved kalderimi winds down past high, narrow stone terraces

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Some dwellings are very simple, built up entrances to shallow caves or overhanging rocks

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A common sight, carved stone top of a sterna with a stone bowl alongside.

Looking back on the right hand side the massive 60-foot lava bubble on the northern flank of the caldera can be seen through the trees.

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Lava bubbles in the cliff face

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Zooming in on the largest, right alongside a path and about 60 feet high

As the gradient lessens near the bottom of the kalderimi the old houses are bigger and the architecture more sophisticated, barrel-arch construction having resisted the soon-to-be-very-evident seismic activity.  Doorways may be low but the interiors are 8 feet or more high in the centre. Some are fronted by walled enclosures with gateways.

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Stone gateposts at the entrance to the small enclosure in front of two semi-detached houses near the tarmac

The kalderimi reaches the new tarmac road to the taverna at the side of the Stephanos crater but the old route continues straight across onto a raised causeway and then down between stone walls.  Here there are signs of even grander settlement and a larger grouping of ancient houses than anywhere else I have seen apart from the two main villages. In one place there are about 15 dwellings built into the rocks and under terraced fields, completely hidden to view unless you go right up to them even though only a few metres from the tarmac road.  Some have more than one room.

Like the other old houses, elsewhere on Nisyros, these do not show up on the satellite imagery of Google Earth because they are either under fields or roofed with local soil over the stone barrel-arches.  There is even what would become known centuries later and in other places as a street.

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Grand entrance to a pair of ‘semis’

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The houses

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Like so many others, each barrel-arched and earth-floored

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Others have rooms off to the side

It becomes clear looking around this settlement that there was a recognition of the superiority of an even older culture.  As I found on Symi, individual pieces from a more sophisticated architecture are incorporated into the construction and more sophisticated artefacts are ‘collected’ even if of no practical use any longer.  A number of these pieces are in houses near to what is undoubtedly a ‘throne’ or Seat of Authority, presumably where the head of the clan lived and presided .

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A carved piece of stone incorporated into the entrance to one house

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… a large dressed stone in the corner

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… with a fragment of a fine white marble vessel inside

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Outside the house, a threshing circle

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… and the carved top on a sterna, a bowl of black lava more than a metre wide, and another fragment of the same fine white marble vessel

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The Seat of Authority carved from a large rock incorporated into a terrace wall

But these houses are not entirely abandoned.  In some colonies of bats have moved in.  More disconcertingly, in one a 6-foot long snakeskin hung from the roof where its previous owner had presumably squeezed between stones to slough it.  Maybe I should check what is slithering above my head in the rooves of these old houses more carefully as I grope my way inside.

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Part of a small colony of horseshoe bats

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A closer look

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They start to become disturbed sensing my presence .. so I leave

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Sloughed snakeskin 6 feet long above my head

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A closer look

As if that wasn’t enough interest. I continued from this ancient settlement to the southern end of the caldera and the craters.  First stretch is through open woodland, mainly oak, olive and terebinth on a plain otherwise devoid of any other vegetation at this time of year.  Even some of the deep-rooted trees have died.

In a short distance fissures start to appear snaking through the landscape, the result of a significant tremor in 2003 (if I remember correctly).  Some are shallow, others up to 20 feet deep and maybe 50 feet wide.  This was not a place to be when it happened as whole trees fell when the fissures opened and bleached animal bones lie in the bottom..

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Looking through the treed but otherwise barren landscape, Emborios on the caldera rim behind

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Zooming in on Emborios, the Balcony Taverna on the right.

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The damaged houses zoomed in on from The Balcony in Emborios, almost certainly damaged by seismic activity evident in the ground  a few metres further on

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Large trees dying in the extreme drought

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… some trying to screw themselves out of the ground

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At first shallow, the seismic fissures soon become deeper

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…. and wider

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Standing in the bottom of one of the accessible ones.

Reaching the active craters towards the southern end of the caldera I chose to climb up the narrow path to Polyvotis rather than the larger, Stephanos which attracts most visitors because it’s closer to the coach stop and the taverna.  A narrow neck with an even narrower path separates the two Polyvotis craters which I guess at some point will merge.  This is a strange world of vivid colours, sulphur encrusted steaming fumaroles, deep vertiginous canyons through stratified rock, and the cracked bed of the sulphur-covered crater floor which floods in winter.

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The narrow neck between the two Polyvotis craters

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One of the groups of sulphur encrusted fumaroles

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… doing what fumaroles do – fume

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Looking along the length of the main Polyvotis crater

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Closer look at the cracked bed of the sulphur-covered floor

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Looking down the upper section of the seismic fissure canyon

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… and the lower section, maybe 80-100 feet deep

How’s that for interest and variety on a few hours wild walking?

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5 Responses to Nisyros:  All in a day’s trek

  1. Scary but fascinating all at the same time. Nostalgic yet timeless how did you feel afterwards putting physical exertion aside?

  2. Hi Barry,

    My name is Wumme (Volker) . If you talk to a real Nisyrian, they will tell you who I am.
    My posters are hanging in front of Sideris Kantina next to Stefanos.
    First I congratulate you for the phantastic photographs.
    Since I am now finishing a comprehensive scientific volcanological e-book “Nisyros Volcano” (within the Springer series “Volcanoes of the Earth”) I would like to include some of your pictures, of course labelled with your name. Is that possible?

    Best regards
    Volker

    • BarryH says:

      Thank you for your positive comments on my photos. Obviously I have many more than are on the blog, some of which will be posted on the blog soon. Contact me by e-mail and tell me which shots you would like and I can advise whether there are better alternatives.

      I am generally happy for my photos to be used for academic purposes.

      Best wishes

      Barry

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