Image © Rhodes Guide /

Astypalea or Astypalia

Astypalea, called Ichthyoessa (Island of the Fish) by the ancients for its rich fisheries, resembles two islands linked by a natural bridge. The island is situated west of Nysiros and east of Anaphi. It has an area of 97 square km and a coastline of 110 km with predominantly rocky ground. It is however extremely rich in coastal formations with many natural harbors, bays and numerous islets.

The island itself comprises two rock masses, not particularly tall or steep, which are joined by an approximately 110 metre wide isthmus. The few mentions by writers and most of the more descriptive inscriptions prove that Astypalia was known and even famous from ancient historical times. Ancient inhabitants of the island were the "Kares" who named it "Pyrra"- Fire after its reddish coloured soil. For centuries the island belonged to the great naval empire of the Minoans.

Later inhabitants are believed to have originated from Megara, according to one source, and Epidauros according to another. The favourable position of the well- harboured island of Astypalia in the Aegean quickly captured the interest of the Romans. The alliance between the municipality of the island and the Roman senate lasted for centuries. Since the Romans used Astypalia as a base ITom which to thwart piracy in the Aegean. After the overthrow of the Byzantine Empire by the Romans, Astypalia, in 1207, came under the control of the Venetian Quirini house which later was to be passed on to the Grimani. In 1537, the former pirate and later admiral of the Sultan, the fearful Barbarossa, gave a violent end to Venetian dominance by taking the island from them. From then onwards the island was listed as one of the favoured islands of the archipelagos (maktou) and it followed the fortu- nes of the Dodecanese complex during sub- sequent Ottoman and Italian rules, until its in- corporation with Greece after world war two. Astypalia has 1073 inhabitants.

The main settlement of Chora is situated on the western coast south of the isthmus which joins the two parts of the island and is built on the very same site as the ancient city. Above the town dominates the fort which John Quirini the 4th restored and which is much sung about in the folk music tradition as the "Fort of Astropalia". Today the town has extended down along the coast until it joins with today's harbour. At a small distance from Chora is Livadi, a rich coastal valley. It produces exceptional quality citrus fruits and vegetables and ends upon an idyllic beach. In the northern part of the island there is a large and totally safe harbour with a small settlement called Maltezana. Vathi, situated along a picturesque bay, is another settlement which reached its peak in the past due to the vast quantities of lime which was enough to cover local needs and also be exported. Today, only 3 or 4 families live there permanently but come summer time it generates much tourist interest.

Many medieval ruins are found scattered all over the island. Ancient writers speak with marvel of the island's fine climate, the multitude of game which breed there (especially pheasants and rabbits) and of the abundant quantities of fish and sponges in the surrounding seas. It is worth noting that snakes are not to be found on Astypalia. The island always had a developed animal farming industry as well as producing exquisite farm produce and wonderful honey. Vegetation cover is poor and wells holding drinable water are few. Today, as is the case for all the islands of the Dodecanese complex, the main activity of the locals has to do with tourism.

The island has a substantial infrastructure for tourism. Sites to be seen on the island include the picturesque windmills, the unique small houses within the fort (Karae's lanes), the picture perfect beaches and the natural harbours. Within the fort are two old churches, namely St. George and The Virgin of the Fort (the Annunciation). However the main veneration site is 'Our Lady of the Door' (Portaitissa) which is celebrated with a festival on the 15th of August.

Traditional foods, sweets and drinks:
Dairy products such as: beaten feta cheese, mezithra, anthotiro cheese for spaghetti, ksialina (a type of yoghurt), oil cheese (cheese pieces in oil) etc.

Fish and seafood: salted fish (bream, sardine), sun-dried fish "liokafta" (bream), octopus, sargos, orfos, fagri, sinagrides, white-bait, skari, red-mullet-"barbounia".

Other dishes: lobster pasta, garlic macaroni, chick-pea, lentil and courgette balls "kef tedes" , black olives, stuffed courgette flowers, "dolmades". Sweets: honey biscuits-" melomakarona", finikia, loukoumades, sesame pasteli, halva with honey, fried pancakes-"xerotigana", crepes, syruped fruits (quince, orange, bitter orange, bergamot). Herbs-decoctions: sage, oregano, thyme, chamo- mile.

Astypalea or Astypalia reviews & comments

click here to add your review!

Astypalaia is an hidden gem which hopefully will remain relatively undiscovered by mass tourism. Beautiful beaches, which other than in July and August, remain quiet and peaceful.
The majority of tourists are from Athens with few international visitors. However, the island is certainly geared for the influx of tourists, with a lot off building work having taken place, creating a large number of reasonably priced apartments and hotels. If you like quiet Greece, this island is a must for you!

Commented by Peter Mowvley July 25, 2006

A beautiful island that has sadly begun to be spoilt by rapid development both in rural parts between Astipalea town and Livadia and, much more importantly, by unwise and often illegal building in the Archeologically protected High Town (the Chora). Glorious beaches and friendly people but don't go in August - it's just too crowded (mainly with Athenians)!

Commented by David Mowvley May 25, 2006

Let us know what you think about Astypalea or Astypalia - your opinion matters!
Rate this article or place (optional)