Volcano Island | A Guide to Nisyros
Low-key, tasteful and with a stunning natural wonder at its heart, Nisyros has been building a loyal following in recent years.
CENTER OF TOWN: Spend some time in Ilikiomeni Square at the heart of Mandraki, Nisyros’ small capital, with its giant ficus tree, its tavernas and its pastry shops. In the charming, bougainvillea-adorned streets leading off it, you’ll come across elegant houses – some inhabited by people who tired of city life, whitewashed churches, workshops and stores, elderly ladies knitting on stoops, and dozens of cats living large.
SACRED PLACE: The 15th-c. Panaghia Spiliani Monastery stands watch over Mandraki and appears to hover in the night-time sky like an illuminated apparition. You’ll have to climb 130 steps to reach it, but it’s worth it. With an intricately carved wooden iconostasis from 1725 among its treasures, it is considered one of the most important monasteries in Greek Orthodoxy and attracts pilgrims from all over Greece.
The celebrations marking the Dormition of the Virgin on August 15 is a two-day affair that culminates in a panigyri, a festival with food, drink and dancing, including one folk dance led by a woman holding aloft a collection cup for donations, before everyone sits down to a meal of chickpea stew at the village’s main square.
THE VIEW FROM ABOVE: The imposing Dorian-built fortress of Paleokastro, which rises up above Mandraki, makes you wonder how the ancients managed to move and stack up such enormous stones. This is a great place to enjoy a sunset or a full moon.
A VILLAGE REBORN: The village of Emporios, perched high on the caldera wall and invisible from the sea, was abandoned after a destructive earthquake in 1933, but has started to rebound in recent years; many of its traditional homes are being renovated by new owners to be used as either private dwellings or as commercial guesthouses. The village is known for its two excellent tavernas and a natural sauna in a small cave at its entrance.
FOCUS: THE SLEEPING GIANT
Nisyros is Greece’s youngest volcano, and still active (though not erupting). Ancient Nisyrians chose to believe that their island was a piece of the nearby Kos, which angry Poseidon, the god of the sea, had thrown on the giant Polybotes during the Gigantomachy, trapping him underneath, causing him to groan and puff in anguish for eternity in his efforts to break free. How else could they explain the fumes that rose from the earth and the regular earthquakes?
Science, of course, gave us a more plausible explanation; that of a volcano that began to emerge from the Aegean Sea about 150,000 years ago and that eventually, following a series of eruptions, acquired its craters and took the shape and size we know today.
A walk around the approximately 4,000-5,000 year-old Stefanos is an amazing experience. This is one of the largest and best-preserved hydrothermal craters in the world, with a diameter ranging from 260m to 330m and a depth of 27m, with an otherworldly surface of hydrogen sulfide-puffing fumaroles (the holes in the ground). This landscape has been a source of inspiration for many visiting artists, such as film directors, photographers and painters, over the years.