The Mermaid Madonna & The End of The World
Here are two places in the north-east of Lesvos.
They are both by the sea, they are both beautiful in their own very different ways,
and they are both among our favourites.
Apart from that they could be in two different worlds.
Skala Sikaminias, originally the harbour for the hill village of Sikaminia 1¾ miles above,
(and if you walk up the steep zigzag road in the sun, it feels ten times that),
later became, and remains, a thriving fishing village in its own right.
When in the 1950s Stratis Mirivilis set his novel 'The Mermaid Madonna' there,
and the decaying village of Molivos started to be revived as a tourist destination,
inevitably Skala Sikaminias too began to attract visiting holidaymakers.
(Administratively, until recent local government re-organisation Sikaminia and Molivos
were both within the 'demos' of Mithimna)
Today, while the locals still mend their nets and unload their catches, the little harbour is ringed with fish tavernas,
which attract Greek families from other parts of the island as much as tourists.
It remains a charming and intimate place, well worth a visit.
For a lazy day, take the daily excursion boat from Molivos in mid-morning,
wander round and have lunch, and return on the boat later in the afternoon.
Or if you are feeling energetic, Skala Sikaminias is an 13½ kilometre walk along the coast from Molivos.
If you feel like a swim, there are pebble beaches alongside the concrete road to the west of the harbour,
or go along the small beach beyond the harbour tavernas and take the path over the headland
to the long and under-stated beach of Kagia in the next bay.
But do not expect to find the Mermaid Madonna.
In the novel, this is a wall painting of the Virgin Mary with the tail of a mermaid,
painted by a reclusive sea-captain in the harbour church in the early years of the twentieth century,
and some guidebooks have reprinted this fiction as fact.
However the current paintings in the church were done in 1992, with not a mermaid's tail in sight,
and there is even some doubt as to whether the church itself was there until much later:
a late painting by Theophilos, dated 1933, does not seem to show it.
Palios is eight kilometres east of Mandamados along a dirt road.
On the edge of wild heath-land there is a tiny harbour, a short jetty with a few small boats,
and three or four fishermens' cottages around a dusty open space,
with sometimes a few browsing chicken or goats.
Off-shore is a group of small islands.
Apart from that, nothing, apart from a couple of holiday cottages on a low ridge on the far side of the bay.
To translate Thomas Schröder in 'Lesbos',
"Here one is really at the end of the world; for lovers of solitude this is perhaps the perfect place"
It is difficult to believe that this area was inhabited from the Hellenistic period
(the middle of the first millennium BC) or even earlier, that there was once a large city here,
and that until the early twentieth century there was an important harbour, guarded by a small castle,
in the next bay bringing Greek pilgrims from Anatolia on their way to the Taxiarchis Monastery at Mandamados:
its function ceasing with the expulsion of most of the remaining Greek population from Turkey after 1922.
The harbour is now a silted-up creek, and only the ruins of the castle
and a number of tombs cut into the solid rock nearby remain as evidence of its former glory.
There is a walk around Palios, including the graves, castle and harbour, in 'On Foot - Circular Walks on Lesvos'
and Skala Sikaminias features in both that and 'On Foot in North Lesvos'