Anaphi ‘… there exists no island so remote in its solitude as Anaphi,' wrote Theodore Bent after his visit in January of 1883. ‘It is a mere speck in the waves, in the direction of Rhodes or Crete, where no one ever goes, and where the 1,000 inhabitants of the one village thereon are as isolated as if they dwelt in an archipelago in the Pacific.' Anaphi is the most arid of the inhabited islands in the Aegean: precipitous, rocky, and virtually harbourless, but with an unforgettable and dramatic profile.
According to one tradition, Anaphi was first settled at the same time as Thera by Phoenicians in the company of Membliaros, companion of Cadmus, and was named ‘Bliaros'. According to Apollonius of Rhodes, its name (cognate with the Greek word, ἀναφαίνειν, ‘to make apparent') derives from the moment when Apollo revealed the island to Jason and his fellow Argonauts in a flash of lightning during a storm which threatened their lives, thereby offering them safe haven. Others suggest the name is a crasis of two words ἄνευ and ὄφις, implying that the island was ‘without snakes'. Other antique sources refer to the quantity of partridge on the island. Like Ancient Thera, Anaphe was a Dorian colony of the 9th or 8th century BC. In the 5th century BC it was assessed to pay a tribute of 1,000 drachmae into the Athenian League. The island seems to have reached a peak of prosperity, with many new impressive buildings in the 4th century BC; in the same period, it also began minting its own coins, bearing the head of Apollo on the obverse, and a krater with a bee on the reverse. This prosperity was perhaps not unrelated to the proximity and increased influence of Ancient Thera. The island, later known as ‘Nanfio', was given by Marco Sanudo to his comrade in arms, Leonardo Foscolo, in 1207 at the time of the establishment of the Duchy of Naxos. In 1269, a local privateer, Giovanni della Cava, commanding a detachment of the Byzantine fleet, captured and held it until 1307, when it once again returned to Venetian control, this time under Gianuli Gozzadini, who subsequently controlled it as a fief for Nicolo I Sanudo in Naxos. In 1480 the island passed as a marriage dowry to Domenico Pisani, whose family held the island until it was sacked by Khaireddin Barbarossa in the winter of 1537/8. From 1540 Anaphi was formalised as an Ottoman possession, which it remained until the Greek War of Independence, apart from a brief interval between 1770–74, when it was taken by Count Alexei Orloff during the First Russo-Turkish War. During the Russian occupation, many of the island's antiquities were removed to St Petersburg. In 1821, Anaphi contributed two boats and crews to the cause of Greek Independence, and in 1832, the island was assumed into the Greek State. Such a large number of islanders emigrated during the 19th century to Athens that the picturesque quarter of Plaka below the east face of the Acropolis, around the church of Aghios Giorgios ‘tou Vrachou', is to this day called Anaphiótika.
At c. 4km from Chora the road begins to traverse the southern slope of the hill of Kastelli. The summit to the north was the acropolis of Ancient Anaphe, now crowned with the remains of Venetian fortification; below stretched the area of habitation. To the south by the shore was the city's port, grouped around the bay of Katalymákia, or Katalymátsa, whose name derives from the ancient Greek words for an inn or hostel. The area visible on the undulating land above the shore, a few minutes' walk below the road, is marked by a large number of curious, stone cairns which are said to have been raised by local mariners who traditionally added a stone when departing for a journey: the inlet here was formerly the island's harbour. The soft earth consists of a high proportion of volcanic deposit from Santorini. Although most of the surface finds were taken from here in the 18th century by the Russian occupiers during the First Russo-Turkish War, there are still remains lying all around, and the area in general is asking for excavation. On the sharp rise to the north side are many classical spolia: fragments of capital and architrave and fluted column. In the middle of the rear ridge is a small chapel, constructed from many large pieces of ancient masonry, and with an upturned capital serving as a table by the door. A ridge, marked by the mariners' cairns (partially consisting of antique fragments), runs west from here to a point where there is a clear view of the ancient harbour-inlet, with the sweep of what were once terraced habitations behind. Amongst their remains are blocks of architrave in marble from Naxos or Paros, and an eroded, carved stele still standing.
The extent of the site suggests that the main concentration of the population of Ancient Anaphe may latterly have been here by the port. The presence of some discarded marble elements which have been (re-)cut for use in a church templon, indicates that the site also continued to be used into Christian times.
As the road momentarily climbs inland, a footpath leads left up the adjacent slope of the hillside towards the summit of Kastelli, and to the interesting church of the Panaghia sto Dokari, which is gained in about ten minutes.
The north side of the church is buttressed on the outside by a segment of ancient retaining wall in large, regular limestone blocks; the goat-byre a short distance to the southeast of the church similarly has its rear wall (visible from inside) composed of the same massive elements.
The general construction of the blocks is of a kind that would suggest 4th-century BC work, although the size and shape of the elements may indicate an earlier period; what exactly this configuration of walls formed is hard to ascertain from the scant evidence. The most notable remnant, is the beautifully decorated, marble Roman sarcophagus* beside the church, which stands complete with its broken lid carved as if with roof-tiles. There are eroded reliefs on all four sides: a scene of dancing putti and of gryphons on the long sides, and of a Siren and of (?) Alexander Taming Bellerophon on the short sides.
The footpath, though faint, continues to the summit of the hill (325m above sea level) where a network of walls remain from the ample medieval, Venetian fortress, built around the panoramic outcrop of rock on the summit which had functioned since earliest antiquity as the ancient acropolis. Leonardo Foscolo, in the 13th century, probably established his first abode on the island here, before the founding of Chora. The medieval walls incorporate many ancient blocks, and there are the remains of the base of an ancient temple.
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)