Place – History of Tinos

Tinos, the island of the Virgin and the most important pilgrimage destination for the Greek Orthodox, also has 62 exquisite stone-built villages, innumerable terraces on its steep slopes – like wrinkles on the earth according to one poet – 750 churches and chapels and 600 dovecotes. It is also known for its open heart, mystic, humble and captivating character.

This mountainous island has as its highest peak (729 m) Kapnia to the east, the imposing granite rock of Exomvourgo surrounded by rolling hills at its centre, flatter Kato Meri (Lower Places) to the north, with the valley of Komi and its famous artichokes at its core, and to the northwest Exo Meri (Outer Places) with its craggy slopes descending from Kardiani, Pyrgos and Marlas.

As you travel around the island, following the coastline and the usually wave-battered beaches, crossing the slopes ‘embroidered’ with drystone walls and terracing, every now and then – usually around the gullies and ravines – small oases of green planetrees and cypresses stand out from the barren rock. This is where the island’s delightful villages nestle, along with miniscule chapels and beautiful white dovecotes. It’s not by chance that the great philosopher Kornilios Kastoriadis called Tinos ‘the hand-crafted island’.

The most noteworthy villages are Koumaros, Tripotamos, Exomvourgo – a natural fortress used in times of pirate raids –, Volax, with its surreal landscape strewn with giant round boulders and, finally, Pyrgos, the village of the marble workers and famous artists (Giannoulis Halepas, Dimtrios Filippotis, Nikiforos Lytras) with its cemetery filled with examples of their art. The Museum of Marble Crafts brings to life the history and technology of marble from ancient times to our own day.

The heart and soul of the main town and port of Tinos is the church dedicated to the Virgin, which began construction in 1823 on top of an earlier church of Zoodochos Pigis and dominates the top of the steep Megaloharis Avenue. It holds the miracle-working icon – barely visible under all the precious ex votos – to which countless thousands of pilgrims offer thanks and prayers each year.

Tinos began to flourish when it passed into Venetian hands after the Fourth Crusade in 1204. They valued its strategic location for control over the Aegean and fortified it against both pirates and Turks. It was one of the last places in Greece to come under Ottoman rule and did not fall until 1715 (along with Nafplio and Monemvasia). Tinos played an active role in the Revolution of 1821, with its men and ships fighting for Independence on land and on the sea.

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