Tinos, right from the start
I insist that it was the Virgin Mary who saved Tinos! For decades, in the collective consciousness of generations of modern Greeks, the island has long been associated with religion. And let us thank God for that. The full-scale touristic pilgrimage to pay homage to the Blessed Virgin has been limited to the Hora, the main town, and, in a sense, this has saved the rest of the island from excessive development. Therefore, today the island offers itself to a new generation of unconventional visitors, combining the charm and works of the old world with more than a frisson of contemporary excitement.
To me, Tinos is its mainland. The mighty and mysterious Exomburgo presides over it; you can see it from the sea as you approach the island. It is a bare, steep granite rock putting its inimitable stamp on the landscape. Like the eye of a deity keeping a close watch on the history of the land and the choices people have made, overseeing this wonderful agrarian microcosm, defining the atmosphere of the medieval villages surrounding it, it occasionally disappears into the clouds and dispenses thunder and lightning from behind the veil! Its slopes saw the development of the ancient settlement of Borgo, upon which the Venetians, who ruled Tinos for 500 years, grafted the values of Western civilization and built a castle on its summit. It was this castle that the Ottomans blew up in 1716 creating the impressive ruins that so grip the imagination of hikers as they follow the track to the monastery of Agia Eleni perched above it. The rock face is also teeming with dedicated, fearless abseilers, at whose gravity-defying antics we marvel with bated breath from the safety of terra firma.
The granite of Xompourgo rolls out to the sea into the bay of Livada, creating exquisite landscapes in the area of Petriado, the like of which are hard to find anywhere else in the world. When I first came to the island, I was told about Volax, a village named after the round granite rocks scattered in its midst. The result of an ancient explosion? The aftermath of the battles between the Titans and the Olympic Gods? Although the scientific explanation of the phenomenon is less enthralling, the myth fires the imagination of the bouldering athletes who come from all over the world to put themselves to the test. Well-equipped hikers walk past them, both young and old, following the signposted trails. “We have never seen a more beautiful Greece,” said a family on the track to Agape. Indeed, Tinians, being for the most part farmers and livestock keepers (as well as artists-at-heart) created with their own hands, the landscape that we take for granted today. They built the terraces that dominate the slopes, the utterly unique, lithographed dovecotes, cells for their handiwork, footpaths to their fields and, of course, their wonderful villages. Forty five of these are inhabited today, in impressively fine condition, like open air museums of folk architecture. Indeed, wherever they built, they first found shade and running water, kept their backs to the sharp northern wind, then proceeded to establish their communities, with churches and feast days, completely in harmony with their natural surroundings.
The northern wind
Did someone mention the northern wind? This blustery trademark of Tinos has recently brought to the island a new, photogenic crowd; surfers, the whole range from novices to expert wave tamers! So, on days the wind is at full pelt and conventional beach goers are a bit thin on the ground, cars loaded with boards head to Komi and sporty, tanned, handsome boys and girls from far and wide ride the waves of Megali Kolympithra!
Aeolus, the god whose throne is high up at the top of Tsiknias, is responsible for these winds, which might euphemistically be termed “bracing”. During the Argonauts Campaign, Hercules had the audacity to kill his twin sons and ever since, in an act of mourning, Aeolus regularly lets his winds loose across the island. Perhaps, it is the atmosphere they create that inspired the artists, sculptors, painters, intellectuals that Tinos gave birth to or adopted: Halepas, Sohos, Gyzis, Filippotis, Lytras, Cornelius Kastoriades, Kostas Tsoklis…they have all left their mark on the island and garnered a considerable number of devotees as a result of their work. Museums and festivals of all sizes in the main town and the villages, official public initiatives or private projects-both Greek and international- render Tinos an ideal destination for visitors seeking a cultural and spiritual uplift.
The sound of the hammer of the marble sculptors spreads like mist over Exo Meria, the northern part of the island, around the village of Pyrgos. The land offered the marble, the Venetian rule played an important role in the development of marble sculpting, and the amazing Marble Art Museum of the Cultural Foundation of Pireaus Group in Pyrgos presents visitors with the whole story from mining and technology to the artist’s workshop and the gallery, which on Tinos often means the open air. Today, the centuries old tradition continues in the Preparatory and Professional Fine Arts School of Pyrgos. Tinian sculptors labour passionately in their workshops with the same tools and in the same way their predecessors used to. They are easy to find, repeating archetypal motifs and adding their own signature touches. Those who dare to come up with new ideas and new uses frequently command international acclaim.
Speaking of Tinos, one cannot but mention the culinary surprises! The island is rightfully proud of the excellent produce of its soil as well as the new and innovative projects such as Nisos beer and the wines of Tinian Vineyards which, as worthy ambassadors, carry the Tinian message to the world. A large number of production and processing units – now carrying their own brand names- are conquering the Greek market, revealing a dynamic community which does not solely rely on the providence provided by the Virgin Mary, who, I suspect, now has a satisfied smile on her face. And yet another reason for this might be the initiatives of the island’s restaurateurs, the flagship of which is the Tinos Food Paths, conquering the hearts of foodies from all over the world and a source of inspiration as well as a model for the gastronomy of the Greek islands as a whole.
Tinos rests on people’s Faith, on pilgrims’ pledges, the prayers of the Orthodox and Catholic communities. It follows the gentle tread of the nuns of the Holy Virgin of the Angels and the Ursuline Sisters. It is the wild goats of Tsiknias and the thyme giving off its scent under the hikers’ steps. It is the ashen stone terraces of the summer and the verdant spring valleys. It is the shadows of the clouds scuttling over the island, the wind bending the trees and waves. It is the remote beaches, the marble cemeteries, the village feasts and the spring-like steps of the Tinians dancing the traditional “balos”. It is the new tourist accommodation, the award winning restaurants and the races on the historic tracks. It is the boats coming in and out of the port, in their eternal role as Tinos’ protectors, saviours and conduits to the world outside….
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