I’ve spent the better part of the last two decades getting lost all around the world. I wish I could boast that my extensive travels have left me with an impeccable sense of direction that allows me to find even the most poorly marked sites, but that would be a lie. The truth is that I spend an awful lot of time wondering where the hell I am.
Yesterday, I set off to visit an archeological site in Patmos, a stunning Greek island in the eastern Aegean, and wound up with nasty little cuts all over my legs and the mistaken impression that a small pile of rocks was Patmos’s Ancient Acropolis.
I had noticed a sign leading off the main road leading out of Patmos’s main port, Skala, which read “Castelli-Ancient Acropolis,” and had resolved to find it. My wife mentioned that it was billed as a good hike in the Lonely Planet Guide to the Greek Isles, so I set off early on a sunny day to try to find the site.
I walked up the gravel road in the direction the sign pointed for 20 minutes, occasionally looking back to savor the dramatic view of Skala’s harbor and the surrounding beauty. The path came to an end and I doubled back to ask a farmer where the site was. He spoke no English but got the point when I typed the word “archaeology” in a Greek dictionary app I have on my iPod.”Ah, Castelli!” he said, pointing vaguely towards the highest peak in the area.
I typed the word “path” into the app, and the farmer grimaced and said, “problem.”
I soon realized what he was talking about as I retraced my steps and couldn’t see a path to get to the top of the hill he was talking about. The land was divided by stone fences, and after some exploration I found gaps in the first few on my way toward what I thought was the site. But after a few minutes and several missteps onto prickly bushes, I had to hurdle a stone fence and then my hike slowly evolved into a rock climbing exercise as I made my way to the top of the hill.
As I neared the summit, I wondered how it could be possible that municipal authorities would post a sign leading to an archaeological site that required scaling fences and climbing rocks, but the farmer had pointed to this hill and it made sense that the site would be on the highest plateau in the area, so I continued on until I reached the top.
At the summit, I found nothing more than a small pile of neatly stacked rocks, but my efforts were rewarded with a remarkable 360-degree view of the island. I’ve been to my fair share of unimpressive archaeological sites, so I assumed I’d found my destination.
But after snapping a few photos and making a video, I noticed a small white chapel off in the distance and soon realized that my perilous rock-climbing escapade had been a mistake. The Castelli was down a ways. I went down into the little church, and since no one was around, decided to toll the bells outside it.
A short stroll brought me down to the real archaeological site, which dates to the 6th century B.C., and an actual path that led to the main road. Aha! The ruins are forgettable but the view of the rocky cliffs in every direction is one I will never forget. Goats stood on top of the ruins, staring at me as I looked out at the sea, hoping to somehow retain a piece of this glorious scene somewhere in the back of my brain.
After soaking in the scene, I made my way down to the legit path, eager to figure out how I’d failed to see it on the way up. It turns out that I followed a path at a point where I needed to go through an unmarked gate that is actually the entrance to someone’s property.
Why there is no sign here marking the path is a mystery, but the fact that this site is so hard to find also means that you’ll have the place and the magical view all to yourself.
If you go: From Skala, follow the harbor road away from Hora. After about 1 kilometer, you’ll see a sign on your left advertising Ancient Acropolis. Make that left and follow the road and bear right at the first crossroad. The road ends at a private residence, but just a stone’s throw before the end, you’ll see a gate on your right with a number 1 painted on it. That’s the path, follow it down to the little white church and then go down to the Acropolis from there.
(All photos and videos by Dave Seminara. Note: some of the photos were taken on my second hike to the Acropolis.)