The History of Olympos Village
The archaeological excavations showed that Minoans and Mycenaeans settled in the Olympos region in the 15th century BC. According to the information found in ancient writers (Skilax, Stravon) and the archaeological findings, there were two important cities in the Olympos region since the 4th century BC, namely Vrikous, in the site of today’s Vroukountas, and Nisiros “homonymous with the island of Nisiros” in the site Palatia in Saria. In Steno of Karpathos or somewhere in this region there was the Porthmios Poseidon temple, a place of worship for the whole island of Karpathos during the classical and Hellenistic period. The famous inscription, known as “Dorian resolution of Karpathos”, was found in Vrikounta. This inscription concerns a doctor called Minokritos Mitrodorou, whom the inhabitants of Vrikous bestowed the highest honors because he had offered his medical services unselfishly and unimpeachably for more than twenty years.
From the ancient city of Vrikous, tens of carved tombs, ruins of walls and fortifications, and some parts of Hellenistic walls have been saved.
As the Byzantine monuments found in the Vrikounta and Palatia regions show, life continued in these cities during the Byzantine era. The ruins of the big basilica in Palatia (in the site of today’s Agia Sofia), in Steno (in the site of today’s Agia Aikaterini), and the Filios (in Archagelos) date back from around the 6th century AD, and it is believed that Christianity came to Karpathos, and especially Olympos, before that century. It is thought-although it hasn’t been verified-that Ioannis of Karpathos, an eminent figure of the 6th-century church lived in Vrikounta.
The inhabitants of Vrikous and Nisiros stayed in their cities until the end of the 7th century, and perhaps the 8th century, because of Arabic raids, they were forced to look for shelter, probably the entire cities, away from the sea, in naturally protected sites. It seems that Vrikous hasn’t been inhabitants, who in Palatia life continued, probably with Arab inhabitants, who used the city as their base of operations, because the position of the city allowed them to dominate in the passage between Rhodes and Karpathos. This theory is substantiated by the fact that only Arabs could live close to the sea during that period and, as archaeologists and historians tell us, the ruins found today in Palatia resemble the constructions of Syria dated before the 10th century. As it seems from the ruins and the deep clefts in the ground, the city of Palatia was destroyed by a strong earthquake, in the first two or three centuries of the second millennium AD.
The refugees from Vrikous and Nisiros, as it was mentioned above, must have settled in Olympos during the period of the Arabic raids (7th-9th century), which coincides with the iconoclasm period (8th-9th century). This theory is supported by the desertion of the ancient cities during that period and the dates of construction of the still existing Katholiki and Agios Onoufrios chapels, as well as the dating of the older decoration of the central church of the village, which can be seen in the west dome, now that the latter decorative layer has been eroded. There are no figures of saints in this decoration, although one can see only the common Christian symbols, such as crosses, fish, etc., which were allowed by the iconoclasts.
It is possible that the refugees from Vrikous and Nisiros didn’t settle Olympos in the beginning, but looked for a site somewhere close to their old homes. Exapitarea (which means place of expatriation) is believed to be one such site, where old ruins, perhaps dating from the 8th or 9th century, have been found.
The site of Olympos is excellent, as far as protection for the inhabitants is concerned. The site it was built is naturally protected from the north and south-west side and from there they could survey the open sea in the west. There were guards in nearby high points who informed the inhabitants whenever pirate ships were approaching so that they could be protected in their castle. Moreover, there was plenty of spring water nearby, and the main cultivated area, Avlona, wasn’t far away.
The central church of the village, a Kimisis ti Theotokou (the Assumption of the Virgin) is impressive. Built-in the Byzantine style, its whole interior is covered with murals dated from the years of Turkish rule. The icon screen, made of carved wood, is an excellent piece of art. Apart from the central church, there are a lot of picturesque chapels throughout the village and the region. Today’s village is certainly much bigger than the original 9th and 10th-century settlement. When the pirates stopped their raids, the village expanded both towards the east and the west mountainside. Along the mountain top, there is a row of horseshoe-shaped windmills, a distinctive feature of Olympos.
Today, many of the houses in the village are uninhabited because of immigration.