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The island of Mykonos

Mykonos is one of the iconic Greek islands that you either love or you hate but it is all but mandatory to visit when you come to Greece. In the Northern Cyclades, Mykonos is a barren, exposed island whipped by winds summer and winter. Her barren landscape, caused by denuding of trees, as so many islands, for shipbuilding, houses and firewood in previous centuries, renders the island’s microclimate arid leaving the island parched in the hot sun of summer. Little is noted of the history of Mykonos except that the island is reputed to have been used by one of the Olympian gods to dispatch some Giants that were being a nuisance and the island takes its name from Apollo’s grandson Mykons. Mykonos’s early success seems to have been heavily dependent on its proximity to Delos next door and became wealthy as a spin off of the Delian wealth and importance.
Despite the odds this is now undoubtedly one of the most popular, of the islands Greece has to offer, with foreign and Greek visitors alike. The island is a playboy’s dream with nightclubs galore and chic eateries as well as boutiques at every turn. If you want nightlife you have arrived. For daytime there are sandy beaches with all conveniences of the modern age from comfortable sunbeds with umbrellas for shade, tavernas for refreshments and a show to watch, as the most exotic couples the world has to offer parade bye. During the sixties and seventies Mykonos was a popular gay destination in the Mediterranean which spawned the advent of gay ‘marriages’ on the island since long before there was a whisper elsewhere of such things. I unfortunately never witnessed any of them but the descriptions by some of the club owners on the island made them sound like outrageous events guaranteed to remain unforgettable. During the 70’s the island rose in popularity as less expensive charter holidays expanded their destinations and up to date, her popularity has not waned. Is it because the main town of Hora is picture-perfect with its windmills along the skyline from the old harbour, the numerous cafes and bars, the intricate pattern of the streets between the white cube houses, or is it the chic nightlife which starts after midnight and continues until after dawn, the wonderful sandy beaches or a combination of these elements?

Personally I find the atmosphere of Mykonos compulsive both winter and summer, perhaps liking it even more in winter when it is really wild and when there are fewer people around. Whether it is wandering the narrow, winding streets between the houses, the bougainvillea bright against the whitewashed walls or visiting the tiny boutiques selling all manner of treasures, each corner is a delight but what is really most attractive is the essential wildness of the island. The wind whistles and the sea storms, the barren rock, a harsh backdrop to the island houses. This is a place of permanence which has survived these raging elements for centuries. It seems that the geographical terrain, especially in Greece, dictates the character of the inhabitants. Perhaps only the very strong and versatile will survive in the rougher, craggier terrains such as Mykonos. The island is barren looking with bare rock creating a skyline behind the white cubed houses traditional to the Cyclades giving the impression not of welcome but certainly a there is a compulsion about the place. It needs a certain determination to even get to Mykonos through the persistent wind. Winter and Summer the wind seems to blow around the island, making going hard and creating an even more challenging environment. However, despite all of that, those that visit are entranced by the island, by the terrain, by the town and by the light of Mykonos. The small alleyways around Hora, wind mysteriously with no seeming rhyme or reason, purposely so according to legend, designed to confuse pirates that frequently raided the local islands hence protecting the Mykonians and their considerable wealth. They continue to confuse everyone who visits.

Climbing from the quay to the windmills above Hora. many of them now inhabited but most have working sails which still turn to the almost constant wind one comes to Little Venice, a delightful seafront area with houses built right up to the sea as in Venice. Some restaurants such as Sea Satin have evolved to take advantage of the individuality of the area and to offer the view of the amazing. An evocative and picturesque scene it undoubtedly makes. When I used to visit Mykonos regularly one of our haunts was Spyros’ fish taverna just across from Little Venice. So we sat eating fish with a view over little Venice. Nothing much is nicer than that. But then Mykonos is full of evocative scenes. Nothing beats sitting at a café on the old harbourside watching the fishing boats bobbing, the ferries come and go and the Pelican that habitually lives on the quay. There has been a Pelican there which goes by the name of Petros since a fisherman brought a wounded pelican ashore and nursed it back to health on the quayside. Unfortunately Petros has met a number of different fates, some not so pretty but is always reincarnated and returns to the waterfront in a seamless manner. You would be hard put to see the join. One of the first times I was in Mykonos I can remember sitting at a café on the old quay with some Greek friends and watching, as one does, Petros the pelican and enjoying the day as the beautiful people walk bye. One particularly attractive young woman, whom I estimated to be in her late twenties or early thirties went bye and one of our companions expressed his sympathy for her. I could not understand why this beautiful, seemingly happy young woman, in a wonderfully chic black outfit over her swim suit, setting off her blond hair and deep tan wonderfully well, should elicit such compassion. His reason was that to him she was obviously a widow in her widow’s weeds.
Anything less like a widow I have yet to see but head to toe black in Greece does indicate mourning although I am pretty sure this woman was not wearing it to indicate anything of the sort. Perhaps this kind of misunderstanding would not today exist as tourism has largely rid Greece of such naïvity. For the most part personally I regret that this is so. You will now find that most islanders are more sophisticated than the majority of visitors.

There is plenty to do and see in Mykonos Four museums offer an insight into the past on the island and there are the boutiques and cafes to visit throughout the town. Or there are the many wonderful beaches to visit out of town. The best known beaches are Ornos, Paradise and super Paradise as well as their neighbour Elias but many others around the island offer sand and sun and clear waters. And there are of course 365 churches, that Mykonos is reputed to have, to visit. It is however, after dark that the reason for Mykonos’ current popularity becomes clear when the lively nightlife of Mykonos begins. Anything goes and the beat goes on until well past sunrise so only get involved if you have the stamina!

You will be in the company of locals, visiting Greeks, international visitors and some well-known personalities all of whom flood into Mykonos each summer to enjoy the entertainment which ranks along with Ibiza, Agia Napa as a Mediterranean hotspot.

Just two miles from Mykonos lies the island of Delos. A sacred sanctuary for millennia, this is a wonderful anachronism in the 21st Century. It is a small, unihabited, barren, island with no springs and little vegetation but of enormous interest from an historical point of view and with some strange ancient rules still enforced. The requirement that no one should die or be born on the island has existed since 540 BC or there abouts and is still in force today.

The Athenians when in the 6 century BC were at the head of the Ionian League, which essentially ruled a large part of what is now Greece, took the island which was revered at the birth place of Apollo the sun god and his sister Artemis the goddess of hunting, and manipulated it, variously exiling the local inhabitants, purging the island of the dead and banishing graves disinterring some bodies and removing them to nearby Rhenia and at the same time making Delos the treasury of the Ionian League. For centuries Delos was an important centre of the league at some times as its treasury but mainly as its religious centre. Delos boasted an oracle second only to the Delphic Oracle and each year a festival, The Delian, was held, to which the Athenians sent emissaries by trireme. These festivals were religious in character and its main reason was to celebrate the birth of Apollo.

Delos was under the domination of Athens from 540 until 314 BC after which a short period of independence was enjoyed until in 166 BC. This was the most prosperous period enjoyed in the island’s history. As the centre of an island confederacy and attracting great interest from Hellenic kings who contributed sanctuaries dedicated to various deities on the island, as well as the contributions from foreign merchants and bankers who settled on the island, Delos attracted huge commercial and trading wealth. By the time that her commercial strength had grown Delos’ strength as a religious centre had waned and the Delian essentially had become a large International trade show at which up to 10,000 slaves were traded in one day.

All good things come to an end and control was once again handed to the Athenians by the Romans in 166. The fortunes of Delos declined gradually until in the 3rd Century AD Athens put Delos up for sale but there were no buyers.

From that time it seems that the island was raided by pirates and that other local islanders visited to take stone and marble for their own buildings, from the island.

However much has been taken Delos has remained much in tact and has a wonderful array of temples and sanctuaries as well as some houses, a gymnasium and a stadium. The most famous and most photographed is the terrace of the lions with its marvelous white marble statues. There were originally sixteen lions but just five remain in Delos, guarding the sanctuary with the remains of three more still surviving. One other is to be found outside the Arsenal in Venice but the fate of the other seven is unknown. Other areas of interest on Delos include unsurprisingly a temple to Artemis, although the largest temple is dedicated to Apollo the sun god. This one could describe as a work still in progress as it was never actually completed; having been started in 475 B.C. but then work ceased until the 5th Century BC but for some reason was never completed.

Then there is the Temple of Hera which it has been discovered, was built in 500 B.C. over the remains of an earlier temple. During the excavation of this temple large numbers of artifacts were discovered including vases and many of them are on display at the museum.

A large number of mosaics were found throughout the town indicating the wealth and sophistication of the residents. Some of these have been moved for display in Athens.

The discovery of remains of a synagogue as well as two Christian churches indicates that although Delos’fortunes declined at the end of the 1st Century BC there were inhabitants on the island again at least in the early centuries of the 1st millenium.
Delos was first excavated and some restoration was undertaken by French in the 19th century attracting some interest and restoring Delos to some of its former glory.

Rhenia the island next to Delos has some important tombs as this was where those ready to die or give birth were banished to and where some remains exhumed from Delos were reburied.

One of the interesting questions concerning Delos is that of why there might have been a prohibition on birth and death on Delos. The only reason that occurs is that as the Athenians kept exiling the population of Delos as well, political rather than religious reasons could have been at their root and they were merely attempts at keeping islanders from claiming the spoils that Athens wished to reap from Delos. With no indigenous population then there could be no dispute as to title.
The more recent reintroduction of this rule seems to have been merely practical allowing the guards more control of activities on the island to prevent looting. Little evidence of a religious reason however has been produced.

The other question is how did an island, with no obvious port of any merit, become such a hugely important trading centre? Visiting Delos you will see that there is very little in the way of a natural harbour yet it seems that a huge fortune was amassed in trade and commerce on the island. There are reports that there was a huge seawall constructed which provided a massive half a mile of quay space and was divided in five basins. You will see that no trace remains of this gigantic construction but it would seem to be the only conclusion that can be made to explain the enormous volume of commercial traffic that must have been hosted so long ago by Delos.

What to do and where to go in Mykonos
Nightclubs in Mykonos Town
Astra
El Pecado
Caprice
Guzel

Nightclubs outside Mykonos Town:
Cavo Paradiso,Paradise Beach
Super Paradise,Super Paradise Beach
Kahlua,Parage Beach(until the evening)


Restaurants
Chez Catrine”s
Chez Maria’s
Sea Satin
Interni
Matsuhisa
Nammos in Psarou
Thalassa on Kalafati beach

Traditional Tavernas
Nikos taverna,
Kioupia,
Kounelas

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