How do I stay for three weeks on a Greek island that contains more than 300 churches and 24 monasteries and leave the island with only a handful of photos of them? Tell me how that happens.
Here’s how: they’re everywhere. One can’t possibly photograph them all.
That was me last June when my husband and I spent three weeks on Skopelos Island in Greece, as part of our five-plus week journey across Greece. Yes, we were on the island for three weeks and yes, this meager post contains the entirety of my church photo collection. I wish I had seen more, but that’s for the return trip, right?!
No matter where you look, whether in town or in the countryside, you’ll see a church of some sort.
Some churches — whether they’re in the town (Skopelos Chora) or on the greater island — are quite large and are designed to hold a small congregation.
Others, on the other hand, are private and built by a family for their own use.
Even so, you’re looking at what photos I do have because (let’s be real), these churches are simply stunning.
Spectacular yet humble.
Ornate on the inside, yet unassuming on the outside.
In short, so very different from what I’m used to here in the United States that I was captivated.
Each church is so different in design from the others! To think that someone designed these buildings, supervised their construction, and saw them built in this little village where they continue to be used to this day.
Once you wander outside of Skopelos Chora, you’ll start to see the many small, private family churches that dot the countryside.
And now let’s head back to town to see a few more…
Thanks for reading!I hope you enjoyed these photos of the churches we saw on Skopelos Island in Greece, including those in Skopelos Chora. Follow my blog for more posts from our travels last summer. Also, check out my categories for more destinations near and far.
On every Sunday morning last June, my husband and I were mesmerized by the calming tones of musical chants floating on the breezes wafting across the natural amphitheater arrangement of Skopelos Town. Also known as the Old Town or Skopelos Chora, the largest town on Skopelos Island is home to 123 churches Greek Orthodox churches.
We discovered this church last June when we visited the island, one of three that compose the Northern Sporades east of Athens on the Pelion Peninsula. I’m not sure exactly where this church is within the town… somewhere down the hill, tucked among whitewashed homes and shops, nestled along a cobblestone street that may or may not show on Google Maps.
Follow my blog to catch my next post on the churches of Skopelos (both those in the Old Town and those scattered about the island), where I’ll show you a slew of charming places of worship, both private and others.
Click on this video to hear music similar to that heard on Sunday morning in Skopelos.
However, for some reason, I never devoted a post to Skopelos town, the largest city on Skopelos Island, and which is also known as the Old Town or the Chora. This post will remedy my negligence, and furthermore, in writing this, I’ve stumbled upon three more upcoming topics that need to be covered as well. These upcoming posts are listed at the end of this post, so press the Follow button and keep on reading.
If you’re unfamiliar with Skopelos…
Along with the islands of Skiathos to the west and Alonissos to the east, Skopelos Island comprises the Northern Sporades Islands. These small landforms are located east of the Pelion Peninsula in the inky blue waters of the Aegean Sea.
Skopelos covers 37 square miles.
According to our hosts at the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, the island has a summer population of approximately 6,000 residents. That number decreases by half during the winter months.
According to skopelosweb.com, Stafylos, the first mythical resident of Skopelos was the son of Dionysus, the God of Fertility, Euphoria, the Vine and Wine, and his mother Ariadne, daughter of the Minoas, King of Crete. Relics of these mythological lives were excavated in 1936. The grave of King Stafylos was found in the town and its namesake beach that to this day is named Stafilos. Inside the grave, excavators found the king’s sword with its golden handle. Today, this sword is kept in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Read this post about the museum.
Now that I’m back home and reminiscing…
I do wish I had taken photos of all of the “normal” places in this town… such as when we visited the bustling pharmacy, the chic coffee bistros (such as Kahili’s Bakery) on the main drag, the Vodaphone store, the grocery store where the locals shop, the hardware store up the hill, the butcher on the back road, the post office.
But when you’re spending time in a place that’s off the beaten path a bit, you start to feel intrusive when you’ve constantly got your camera out shooting every little establishment. Yes, it’s expected in the more touristy areas, but not necessarily in those places that provide the basic needs of daily life.
And, yes, most of those places aren’t much to look at, by the way, but they do show you a little town that functions like most others… except that people call out to each other and wave more, or they stop and chat for a few minutes, or they just quit working in the middle of the day and just… stop. doing. everything.
This more social atmosphere, I am convinced, is afforded when cars aren’t in the mix. When you can’t seal yourself inside your car and drive right up to the door of your destination, and you are required to walk there on foot, you tend to mingle with people more. True, in Skopelos Old Town, there are cars, and scooters, et al, but they don’t dominate the scene. Just keep your eyes and ears open and you can walk safely anywhere.
We travelled to Skopelos so my husband could serve his three-week residency at the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts. He had applied for the residency in July of 2018 and had been accepted about a month later.
We didn’t really know much about Skopelos Island when we applied for the residency.
However, after his application was accepted, we began to do more research on the island that would be our home for three weeks the following summer.
We quickly learned that Skopelos Island was the shooting location of the 2008 movie, Mamma Mia! starring Meryl Streep.
While the island’s economy experienced a boom during that time, life on the island eventually returned to normal; today, Skopelos Island has retained much of its charm and non-touristy feel.
With the Mamma Mia! buzz long over…
And, based on our visit that is also long since over, I would agree that yes, Skopelos Island has much to boast about… incredible beauty, intriguing history, and a quiet small-town atmosphere. With the Mamma Mia! buzz in the past, Skopelos Island provides an authentic Greek island experience.
Part of that might be because there’s no airport like there is on Skiathos Island right next door. (In fact, being a regional hub of sorts, compared to Skopelos, Skiathos feels congested, chock full of tourist retail shops and restaurants. Follow my blog for a post on Skiathos soon.)
The good news: there’s no airport on Skopelos.
The bad news: there’s no airport on Skopelos.
To arrive on Skopelos means taking a ferry, and there are several types of watercraft at your disposal: freight ferries, passenger ferries, hydrofoils, water taxis, and more. Find schedules at this website.
We found that there’s no need to book ferry tickets ahead of time. Even though we were unsure what boat would work best for our schedule, the clerk at the ticket office knew. It was just easier to let them figure that out for us. And there really aren’t more than a couple of choices any day anyway.
The ticket office, which will have tickets and schedules for all the ferry companies, is located near where the taxis will drop you off from the airport. It won’t be hard to find. After unloading from taxi ride from the Skiathos Airport, our taxi driver noticed us scanning the street for the ticket office. As he sped away, he read our minds, gave us a loud whistle, and pointed us down the block. Sure enough, the ticket office was about 100 yards away.
Still, had he not whistled at us, we could also have asked anyone standing nearby. There were waiters, restaurant owners, and others eager to seat us for a cold drink at the several eateries that line the main street across from the ferry docks.
They were more than happy to help us find the ticket office as well. While it’s obvious their true motive is to fill another table in their establishment, they are actually very helpful and to me did not seem overbearing at all. They can call a taxi for you, hold your luggage, or direct you to their restroom.
For now, enjoy these photos from Skopelos Island and the its largest city, Skopelos Town.
Our host from the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts met us at the parking lot. At that point, we drove outside of the central business district to a grocery store about a mile away. We zipped along the narrow streets alongside scooters, trucks, motorcycles, and more compact cars.
Once we returned to our room, we unpacked, put the groceries away, and enjoyed the incredible view from our balcony. Sitting on our balcony during the day or at nighttime and watching boats and people, mere tiny dots way down below, come and go provided my favorite memories from our time on Skopelos.
It’s the little things, people.
My husband worked during the mornings in the studios at Skopelos Foundation for the Arts just up the hill from our studio apartment. During the afternoons, we would walk down, down, down the hill into the central business and residential district.
By the time we devoured lunch — Greek salads usually — and ventured down into the town, the cobblestone streets were quiet with the afternoon break that most businesses take. The streets were eerily vacant, and it compelled us to whisper our conversations, since we definitely had the feeling that people were napping inside their homes as we walked by.
It’s impossible to take a bad picture in Skopelos Old Town. Seriously.
Venetian influence and power can even be found here in the Old Town.
This wall in the photo above is the only remaining piece of the original Venetian Castle of Skopelos,which was repaired by the Venetians in the 1300s. In fact, we were amazed at how far Venetian influence extended from northern Italy and across the Mediterranean. When we visited the island of Crete a few weeks later, we would tour another Venetian Fortress and also walk atop Heraklion’s own Venetian Wall.
I’ll include this photo of a chapel in the Old Town in this post, but there are literally hundreds more on the island.
Follow along for a future post about this and other beautiful Greek Orthodox churches.
You can’t visit Skopelos and not meet a feline friend.
No rushing allowed…
Eventually, it became time to leave Skopelos after our three-week visit. We were glad we planned to spend enough time there to visit the grocery store a few times, walk downtown nearly everyday for various needs, and just to feel as if it was our home-away-from-home.
We would love to revisit the town someday–whether it’s just the two of us again perhaps with a group of students from the university where my husband teaches. In fact, I would even like to experience Skopelos in the winter months when the population plummets. I know it would be a drastic difference, but I would still like to experience it.
Thanks for reading! Even though it’s been several months since our visit, I’m still finding topics to revisit and write about. In the words of Anais Nin, writing lets you taste life twice.
We weren’t inside this little church for more than twenty minutes, but that was long enough to be reminded yet again of my ignorance on… well, so many things. Architecture and Greek Orthodoxy are topics that come to mind, as well as the history of the 100+ public and private churches that exist in Skopelos, the little Greek town we’re residing in while my husband completes an artist residency.
We discovered one of those churches, the Church of Agios Michael Synadon, on our second night on Skopelos Island northeast of mainland Greece. The church is tightly wedged into a small neighborhood and you can easily pass right by it if you’re talking or, like my husband Mitch and me, concentrating on the steep walk down from the top of the hill to the harbor-front shops and restaurants of Skopelos Town.
As you walk by, following the well-marked path from the hilltop, you pass the backside of the church. The apse first caught Mitch’s eye and caused us to stop and wander around the corner to the front of the church.
In fact, according to this Skopelos News blog, another detail that makes the church so notable is the stele placed just below the apse window (see the light-colored stone directly below the dark window in the picture above). A stele is a piece from an old Greek grave that dates from the second century B.C. Steles may feature carvings such as flowers and inscribed names, as this one does.
Another detail worth noting, according to Skopelos News, are five large gray stones, remnants from Roman-era sarcophagi (coffins). There are three on the front side of the church and two on the back. They are the largest stones that you see in the pictures above.
The main front doors of the church were locked, but a door off to the side was not. We knocked and walked inside to meet a woman with shoulder-length brunette hair and dark brown eyes.
“Καλησπέρα,” the woman said, Greek for “good evening.”
“Kali-spera,” we replied and followed her into the nave, the main sanctuary. Inside, it was musty and dark, lit only by a box of candles burning on a table near the front.
“You are Greek Orthodox?” the woman asked us quietly, hesitating in her choice of English words.
“No,” I replied, wondering if that would affect our visit.
She continued, “You are from where?”
“United States,” I replied. She nodded and smiled, and walked to the wall to turn on the lights. The chandelier hanging above us glowed brilliantly, illuminating the entire room filled with icons, paintings, frescoes and artwork, carved chairs and other furniture.
We walked to the front to view the icons there. Finely applied oil paints revealed brilliant cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes, typical for post-Byzantine era portraits. Several had pierced silver elements attached to the paintings, in effect creating mixed media icon artworks.
I stood below and to the side of the chandelier and gazed up at the fresco-painted dome and then around me. There was simply too much, too many details to absorb. I didn’t even think to ask when the church was built.
I still haven’t been able to determine how old the church is, but it does resemble another church in style and materials that we stumbled upon in Skopelos known as Panagia Eleftherotria. According to Skopelos News, archaeologist Adamatios Sampson claims Panagia Eleftherotria was originally built in the 16th century.
Wanting a photo, I asked the woman if I might take one. She smiled and sighed and I wondered if I had overstepped. Surely I wasn’t the first tourist wanting to capture the beauty of this small place. But then she nodded and I took two pictures on my iPhone, taking care to silence it to avoid that annoying click.
We then thanked the woman and the three of us walked back to where we had entered. On the white plaster walls of this side room thirty to forty small paintings, miniature icons, hung from two wires. The woman searched for the English words that suggested these paintings were created by her students. She showed us some larger paintings also tucked behind the smaller ones, which I believe she said she had painted. One Virgin Mary rendition measured approximately 24″ x 30″.
I asked her if the artwork was for sale, since the manner in which they were displayed indicated that they might be. She shook her head, and then I remembered that buying and selling wouldn’t be appropriate in a place of worship. She motioned with her hand to her side and said, “Shops,” indicating perhaps that her work was available elsewhere in town.
Finally, we asked where we could leave a donation. She led Mitch back into the sanctuary, where he placed a €5 into a brass offering box near the front of the nave. We then exited the Church of Agios Michael Synadon.
Outside, we took another few minutes to study the exterior, which was covered with a mixture of bricks, marble stones, the large sarcophagi, plus an assortment of porcelain dinner and serving plates inset as accents into the facade.
In the short span of twenty minutes at the church, there was just too much to see and honestly, I felt like an intruder… an outsider very ignorant of the traditions and rituals that this little building upholds. Maybe that’s the most valuable lesson that traveling to new places teaches us: how much we don’t know.
As we left, the woman called to my husband from the doorway of the side entrance. He walked back to her and then returned with a souvenir for each of us: a small color printout of her Virgin Mary painting.
Thanks for reading! So far during our time in Greece, we have never been treated like outsiders. On Skopelos Island, the residents seem eager to ask where you are from and always have a “Ya-sis” for you in the day or a “Kali-spera” in the evenings. Even when we visit a church we know very little about, the Greeks seem eager to inform us– if they speak English, which most do– about what we are seeing.
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