Two and a half hours away from the noisy, smog-infested capital, lies in its peaceful Mediterranean environment a historic corner of Euboea, warm under the bright sun of the Aegean and rich in the intoxicating shapes andcolours of Greek tradition. It is Kymi, “The Balcony on the Aegean”, with its surrounding communities, one of the few regions still resisting the cultural alienation of our times. A geographically complex area which combines mountainous and coastal features, it reflects its historical adventures and maintains a remarkable consistency and purity in its folklore: language, traditions, customs, folk songs, local costume, embroidery and decorative items, architectural style – all remind of its noble inheritance.
Kymi is the administrative centre of Karystia, one of the three parts of the province of Euboea, and the see of the diocese of Karystia and Skyros. It is also, as it was in the past, the religious, financial, educational and cultural centre of the area. The town has a population of 2.888 people. It is connected with Chalkis by three routes: the coastal road from Kymi to Stomio Oxylithou, the old provincial road Kymi – Konistres – Avlonari and finally through Metochi and Steni. There is also a daily ferry boat service connecting the port with Skyros and in summer flying dolphins sail to Skyros and the rest of the North Sporades. A visitor may enjoy its natural beauty by swimming in the blue waters of the Aegean, walking in the shady woods with the rare local plants (like Campanula cymaea), quench his thirst in the cool springs (the Honeftico springis especially effective with kidney stones), and then taste its famous traditional sweets – baclava and amygdalota – in the hospitable local shops before going to see its historical sights.
The region is rich in history. It is first seen in Mycenean times, goes through Archaic and Classic times, Hellenistic and Roman times, Byzantium and Latin occupation, the dark years of the Turkish rule and the war for Independence, and reaches up to our days.
The region went through geological upheavals which created the lignite basin of Kymi where a rich variety of both flora and fauna fossils can be seen. It is part of the volcanic arch which starts with Oxylithos and ends in Thrace and is parallel to the arch of the South Aegean (Volcanoes of Methana, Thira, Nisyros). Yet the region has had very little seismic activity.
A fossilized bone of an anthropoid was also found in the cave of Scoteini Tharounia, which leads to the conclusion that during the Pleiocene an anthropoid, semi – erect primate, which might have been the ancestor of Australopithicus, lived in Euboea The caves of the area were inhabited as early as the prehistoric times. Neolithic hamlet were discovered at Avlonari and Tharounia. Copper Age findings like the hamlet escavated at Mourteri Ochtonias dating back to the Early Helladic period (2800- 1900B.C.) while the findings in the Avlonari valley are of the Middle Helladic period (1900 -1600 B.C.).
During the Mycenean period (1600 –1100 B.C.) the port of Kymi was a port of call or haven for Minoan-ships, as indicated by the copper Minoan talents discovered near it at the beginning of our century. The region of Kymi was – according to some researchers – the location of Euboean Oechalia, which was the theme of the epic poem” The Conquest of Oechalia” which tells of the destruction of the city by Hercules. In this period, some time in the 12th century B.C., the Aeolians came , driven here by the oncoming Dorians. A group of these Aeolians sailed across to Asia Minor to found the Aeolian Kymi near Smyrna. However, the permanent settlers of the island were the lonians, who came from Attica – again driven by the Dorians – around 1160-1150 B.C. Mycenean artifacts were dug up in Palaeocastro Oxylithou, in Avlonari and Andronianoi. The dome – shaped and vaulted tombs in the region of Kymi speak of the existence of a powerful ruling dynasty.
Kymi with Chalkis and Eretriawere the leading cities in the 2nd Coloniza tion. History honoured it by immortalizing its name with the establishment of its two colonies, Aeolian Kymi in Asia Minor and Campanian Kymi in Southern Italy. The latter was found-ed with Chalkis in 754 B.C. The Kymean founder of the city was Ippoklis. Campanian Kymi, the earliest Greek colony in the We A gave the natives the Chalkidean alphabet, out of which the Latin alphabet evolved.
That’s why the Latin alphabet – as well as the modern western languages – use eight letters similar to the Euboean ones (C,D, F, L, P, R, S,X). The great Latin poet Virgil immortalized “Cumaeam Urbem” (city of Kymaeans) in the 3rd book of the Aenead, and the “divinely-inspired oracle Cumaeam Sibyllam” in the 6th book. Sibylla was painted by Michelangelo in the famous frescoes on the roof of the Capella Sixtina. The age of Colonization is the starting point of the relationship of Kymi and Euboea with the “Graetsi”, the Greek – speaking inhabitants of Southern Italy. The towns of Kymi and Bacoli have been sister cities since 1983. A hamlet of the Geometric Age which was discovered at Viglatouri, Oxylithos, is more than likely to be the location of Kymi of this period.
From that point up to the Modern times the town of Kymi is not prominent, as it joined the Euboean League, the confederacy of the Euboean city – states, in 411B:C. So it followed their common path as concerns their relationship with the Athenian League, Thebes, Macedonia, Alexander’s succesors.
An important fortified hamlet of the Classical and Hellenistic periods was excavated in Kastri Potamias, and is thought to be the location of Kymi of those times. Later on the region will come under the Roman rul^, and even later, it will be a part of the Byzantine Empire.
In 1204 AD, after the Crusaders of the 4th Crusade took possession of Constantinople, Euboea is granted to Latin lords and is divided into three fiefdoms. The region of Kymi is part of the central fiefdom under the rule of the Dalle Carcery, the Ghisi, and finally under the Venetians. There was a brief period of retur^p the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Michael VIII Palaiologos, thanks to the Italian knight Likarios from Karystos who freed the island in the name of the Byzantine Emperor around 1270 – 80 AD, and even took the legendary fort of Cuppa where he raised the Byzantine flag. But after his death the Venetians took the island again. In this period, Avlonari (Avlona, Valonis, Avalone) is the seat of the military governor (Capitaneus Avalone) and the see of a bishop, with the church of Saint Demetrios in Chania Avlonariou his Cathedral. It goes through a period of great prosperity at the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14thcentury due to the enthusiasm of the Greek population inspired by the
achievements of Likarios and the presence of Byzantine troops. The twenty-five villages of the area were rich in agricultural products like wheat, oil, wax, honey and silk. What remains from that period are the castles and towers which existed or can still be seen in the villages:
AVLONARI: a. a tower (Valonis, Avalone) b. a castle (Potiri, S.E. of Avlonari)
GAIA: Sarakinocastro or Argyrocastro
KADI: a tower
KALIMERIANOI: Castrovalas (Castrum Valla)
KOILI: two towers
KIPOI: a tower
KOUROUNI (ANO): a tower
KYMI: the castle of Saint George (Apokleidi)
OCTONIA: a castle (Graspilea)
THAROUNIA: a tower
TRACHILI: a tower
VITALO: a tower (Sklipa)
VRYSI: the castle of Dragonara (Cuppa).
The castle of Castrovalas in Kalimerianoi belonged to the Latin Patriarch of Constantinopie who had transferred his see to Chalkis after the city had been taken again by the Byzantines in 1261 AD. Byzantine churches with remarkable frescoes’ of great artistic value were built In this period. Churches with cross – shaped roof are: Saint Thekla in the village of the same name (mid. 13th – early 14th century), the Trans- figuration of the Saviour at Pyrgi (1296), the Dormition of the Virgin in Oxylithos (late 13th century), Saint Demetrios in Makrychori (1302), Saint Demetrios in Avlonari (1304), Saint Nicholas in Oxylithos (1304), the Odegetria in Spilies (1311), Saint Charalampos of Lefka (11th-12th century), the Dormition of the Virgin in Mantzari Monastery. Single – aisled churches with a barrel – vaulted ceiling are Saint Nicholas in Pyrgos and Saint Anna in Oxylithos. In the summer of 1470 the Turks under the leadership of the Conqueror himself took the island and destroyed the castle of Cuppa.
The region experienced the dark years of the Turkish yoke and also suffered greatly from the pirates of the Aegean. The Kymaeans declared their participation in the revolution under the local leaders George Pappas, George Giannakis and Demetrios Dimou on Itzou hill of Kymi in June 1821. A prominent member of the Philiki Etaereia of the area was the Konistrian doctor George Chrysochoos. Kymi took part in the war for Independence with its shipowners, its sailors and its ships.
The town had probably been totally destroyed during Morozini’s campaign (1688) and rebuilt some decades later by locals. People from Crete, Sifnos and elsewhere also settled here, bringing with them their skills of viniculture, sericulture and shipping. These were the business activities that flourished mostly in Kymi, especially in the 19th century.
After the refoundation of the town, stonemasons from Western Makedonia and Epirus came and helped with the building, decorating it with hand-some buildings (houses, churches) made — just as the bridges and watermills — of the local stone of Vitalo.
Most important examples of this architecture are the churches of Panagia Liaoutsanissa in Kymi and Saint John the Theologist at Dendra, the Secondary school of Kymi and the fire- destroyed flourmill in Paralia.
Neoclassical architecture in the end of the 19th century also influenced the area with noticeable buildings in Kymi and Avlonari. These buildings are both private and public: detached houses, two – storey buildings with a store at the ground floor and a house upstairs, schools with pediments, like the primary schools of Kymi (donated by Andreas Sygros) and of Avlonari.
The Folklore Museum and the Town Hall of Kymi are housed in two – storey neoclassical buildings. Shipping played an important role in the prosperity of Kymi in the 19th century. An indication of the flourishingshipping was the fact that a Navigation Frontistirion (training school) started operating as a higher school of education in the town in 1854. Because of this maritime tradition there is a Merchant Marine School in Paralia Kymis, training deck officers since 1957.
At the same time small family businesses and farms also prospered, focusing mainly in sericulture, viniculture, oil production and fig production. The Kymean silk materials and the fine – spun silk head – dresses were sold in every village and town in Attica and Boeotea. Viniculture in particular boomed, and the famous Kymean wine (made of the local red grapes) was exported to the ports of the Black Sea and to France to give colour to their wines. The region is still well-known for the high quality of the local olive-oil and figs. Mining of the lignites of Kymi was started in 1835 by the Bavarians who named the first shaft at Kazarma after the king Otto. Mining was continued at the location Etzi up to 1962, and resumed again in 1986 in the called Charokopos. The rich local folklore is exhibited in the remarkable Folklore Museum of Kymi (founded in 1981), which is recognized as one of the best of its kind in Greece. There is a branch of the Museum in the Chrysanthopoulos house in Pyrgos. A visitor can see in it various aspects of family and social life of the 19th and early 20th centur and admire local art, especially the local costume, which combines ancient and Byzantine Greek elements with European Renaissance influences. Another thing which is worth mentioning of the region is the local dialect, which still keeps the ancient way of pronouncing the vowel sounds u, ω, οι, aslul (e.g. Koumi instead of Kymi).
Modern religious practice and art is represented by remarkable monuments and holiday festivals. In the Cathedral of Saint Athanasios, an imposing church in the main square of Kymi, there is a liturgical epitafios of the 14th century, which was one of the main exhibits during the 1985 festivities “Athens, Cultural Capital of Europe”. The wood – carved iconostasis (1869) was painted by John Basdekis and Pantaleon Zografos. In the church of Panagia Liaoutsanissa (1849), which is a combination of the Byzantine and basilica designs, there is a remarkable marble icinostasis and pulpit, made by the well-known sculptor John Halepas, father of the creator of “Sleeping Girl” Giannoulis Halepas. Icons by Constantine Artemis, student of Nikiforos Lytras and Nikolas Gyzis, can be seen in the churches of the old Bishop’s residence (now Mylonopouleio Foundation). In the same site one can see the small church of Saint John the Baptist, a work of the eminent architect Sotirios Magiasis, who made it as a mausoleum of the donor. An especially interesting local religious festival is that of August 15th, when a traditional beef – and – onion stew is offered to participants in Oxylithos and Kalimerianoi. This custom originally started in the previous century in Kymi – where it drew many visitors – with the church of Panagia Liaoutsanissa as its centre. In 1893 it was blessed by Saint Nektarios who was preaching in Euboea at the time.
After the Greek defeat in Asia Minor the custom died out in Kymi, but it survived in the two villages above. Another religious festival combined with a country trade fair takes place in the first days of October around the church of Saint Demetrios in Avlonari. There are three monasteries in the area, with an important religious history. The Monastery of the Saviour in Kymi (16th century), the Mantzari Monastery at Oxylithos (probablyl 1 -12th century) and the Lefka Monastery at Octonia (11 -12th century).
Famous people were born in Kymi, like the great doctor George Papanikolaou (1883- 1962), the hero of the Balkan Wars and liberator of loannina Major John Velissariou (1861-1913), the famous painter and etcher (member of the French Academy) Demetrios Galanis (1879-1966), the presiding priest of the Greek Community in Marseilles, Archimandrite Gregorios Zigavinos (1835-1910), who was reputed for his varied literary output and charitable works, Archbishop Porphyrios III of Sinai (1878- 1969) and the well-known author Vasilis Loulis (1901-1972).
A bust of G. Papanikolaou stands in the central square of Kymi that is named after him, and the houses where he was born and lived up to his teens can beseen nearby. The statue of Major Velissariou stands on the hill of Profitis Elias, on a site especially designed by the architect Dem. Pikionis. Gr. Zigavinos’ tomb is there too.
So whatever a visitor may wish for, unspoilt nature, ancient and medieval monuments, remarkable Byzantine and modern churches, traditional and neoclassical buildings, the living traditions and folklore, the traditional sweets and the hospitality of the local people could fulfill every expectation and offer an unforgettable experience.