Kastrovouni: A Natural Stronghold, East of Kontakeika Village
Imposing and wild, Kastrovouni rises some 711 meters above sea level. It is located east of Kontakeika village. Situated among broken rocks, Kastronouni “hides” a troubled and unknown story which is the reason why I decided to write this article.
The cragginess topography makes Kastrovouni inaccessible from the east, while from the west two routes (paths actually) lead to the top. However, both paths are tedious and laborious. The south-western one, although recently cleaned-up by a group of volunteers, is quite steep and it is not recommended, unless you can endure the effort! The north-western path is covered by aromatic plants, offers an impressive view of the Aegean Sea, and leads to the northern edge of the plateau, following two hours of intense walk (rather climbing!).
Arriving at the small plateau that stretches beneath a steep top, you can see a “skeletal” forest (in fact a remnant of the great fire of 2000).
As I moved along is became increasingly evident to me that there is an abandoned settlement. From the Castle of Saradidon anyone can see crumbling walls, the ruins of two churches, and various other buildings, as well as numerous clay pot fragments and building materials. In the ruins of the Church of St. Nicholas it was found the icon of the Saint, as well as a relief depicting a man and a woman sitting on facing stools.
Information’s regarding the history of the castle is limited. However, according to the archaeological study of Mr. Constantine Tsakos, and within a wider historical context, we can assume that Kastrovouni was used as a hide-out as early as the 7th century i.e. during a period when the Arabs dominated the seas (previously controlled by the Byzantine Empire). Arab raids, combined with the decline of the Byzantine Empire, cause fear and insecurity in the residents of Aegean Islands. Unprotected and unable to face both the Arabs and pirate raids Samians found refuge in the natural strongholds of the northern coast, like Kastrovouni and Lazarus Peak.
Over the centuries and as the conquerors succeeded one another, the hide-outs evolved into castles (Castle of Saradidon, Castle of Louloudas, Lazarus, and other smaller in size). Such fortifications, combined with a network of observation posts (called “vigles”), warned Samians of imminent threats (by lighting fires) and offered a relative security to the defenseless population. Although the exact date of construction is unknown, some sources indicate that Kastrovouni was built by the Giustiniani family of Genoa, when Samos became their property in 1346, under the terms of a Treaty signed between the Giustiniani family and the Byzantine Emperor John V Paleologos.
Continuing my walk towards the top, through the burned forest, I saw the ruins of a tank used to collect rain-water, while a little further I saw the foundations of a household. Pieces of pottery can be seen everywhere and the walk begun to look like a journey into the past. Piles of ruined wall are everywhere, while in some places the fortification still stands intact (stones placed on top of each other without mortar, the so-called “dry stone” building technic). A little further I passed the ruins of the Church of St. Constantine (the second church of the settlement).
Finally I reached the top. Here one realizes the reasons why people chose this particular mountain as a hide-out. The view is breathtaking and the desire to gaze the skyline is inexhaustible. In the past, when the enemy was coming from the sea, this view was the best “ally” of Samians. As you can see in this high-resolution photograph, in the distance, behind Karlovasi, is the north coast of Ikaria Island, on the right-hand side Tinos and Andros Islands (Cyclades) can be seen, next is Chios Island, then the coasts of Turkey, and finally the area called Nisi, north of Vathi. Just below lays the largest part of the northern coast of Samos (the curve in the coastline is an optical illusion, caused by the overwhelming panorama which I made in order to integrate this view in one single image!).
Finally, for all those who think to try this walk in the “past”, I must point out that the strong wind that blows in the area, especially during the winter, has uprooted many logs making it difficult to keep contact with the path, especially close to the top. The path needs a clean-up and new info signs as soon as possible!
It is worth mentioning that a custom or a tradition has been established over the years: Young people from Kontakaiika climb the mountain, every year during the days of Greek Orthodox Easter, in order to place the Greek National Flag. So, here is a good opportunity for a walk in the mountain, during the winter, since summer is inappropriate for such an adventure due to the lack of shadow.
Lastly, I would like to thank the Primary School of Kontakaiika, the Library of Samos and of course iSAMOS, without forgetting the individuals who helped me complete this article. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart!
Photographs from Kastrovouni.