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Seafarers and Successive Conquerors

AndrosSeafarers and Successive Conquerors

Around 700 BC, Paleopolis succeeded Zagora in importance, and for the next several hundred years, until the Late Roman-Early Byzantine Era, it was the island’s chief settlement. Very little remains of this once important city, but a modest museum on the road above above the lush village of the same name documents finds made here. The prize, however, a Roman copy of a Praxiteles Hermes, resides in the larger museum in Hora. (The Hermes is one of the very few Roman legacies of note: these western invaders occupied the island between the Hellenistic and Byzantine eras, presiding over four centuries of cultural stagnation.)

If you can brave the some one thousand steps down to the sea from the main road, you will be rewarded with a swim in clear waters just above the archaic jetty. During Paleopolis’s heyday, Andros came into its own as a nautical power and, to this day, the island is rightly known for its wealthy shipowning families, and the humbler working seamen who man the great ships. A colonial power in the Geometric Period, Andros seeded settlements on the mainland; in one of them, Stagira, was born the great philosopher and tutor of Alexander the Great, Aristotle.

Paleopolis Archaeological Museum

Verdant vernacular, Paleopolis

Though there is little to see “on the ground” at either Zagora or Paleopolis today, there is one extant and dramatic Hellenistic ruin that continues to draw visitors. The so-called Tower of Aghios Petros, located 2 miles (3km) east of the modern port town of Gavrion, once rose to five imposing stories, though the centuries have since decapitated the structure. A watchtower, fortress, lighthouse, treasure-vault, or all of the above, this 65-foot (21-meter) tall Andriot outpost, built of massive, mortarless, locally quarried schist blocks and punctuated by lookout windows, bespeaks the early presence of other persistent visitors to the island: pirates.

The Tower of Aghios Petros

Marino Dandolo's Castle

Through 1202, Andros was an important Byzantine center of learning. Emperor Leo V (the Wise) completed his education at the island’s philosophical school. The Crusaders did not do well by Andros, but the Venetians did, from 1207 until 1536. It was a Venetian, Marino Dandolo, who built the fortified castle accessed by a now-fragile-looking arched bridge at the far, far northeast tip of Hora. A romantic ruin today, damaged by Nazi bombings in World War Two, the “Kato Kastro” is a reminder of the once mighty Venetian presence.

Under Ottoman domination, from 1566, the island was ruled by the Russians for a brief period in the 1770s, but was incorporated into the modern state of Greece with the 19th-century War of Independence. On May 10, 1821, a renowned native son, the philosopher Theophilos Kaïris, raised the flag of the revolution above the Church of Saint George in Hora. Today, in Hora, the Kaïrei Library serves as the island’s historical archive, and houses the former freedom fighter’s three-thousand-volume collection.

Café habitué, Hora

9th-10th Century Byzantine Lion