Dodecanese Archipelago: a journey through the seven islands of Greece

Dodecanese Archipelago: a journey through the seven islands of Greece

The Greek Dodecanese Islands, or Dodecanese, are located in the southeastern part of the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Turkey. Although the word “Dodecanese” means “twelve islands,” there are actually many more of them: about one and a half hundred. There are more than twenty inhabited ones alone. Another name for these islands is the Southern Sporades. Together with the Eastern, Northern, Western and Thracian Sporades they make up the bulk of the Greek islands. The word “sporadic” means random, inconsistent, isolated. This is exactly how they are located: sporadically, that is, at random.

In the Middle Ages, the Knights of St. John settled here, also known as Hospitallers, who were even called Rhodesians at that time. On the island of Rhodes, the main island of the archipelago, you can see the castle of the chief master of the order, and on the other islands many guard fortresses have been preserved in one form or another. Then, for a long time, the Southern Sporades belonged to the Ottoman Empire, and from 1912 to 1943 – to Italy. Both of them left a noticeable mark here. After the end of World War II, the Dodecanese Islands were reunited with Greece.

If the largest islands – Rhodes and Kos – are relatively well explored by our tourists, then the rest are much less developed. In this article we will tell you about the most interesting islands of the Dodecanese archipelago. We will move from north to south.

Dodecanese Archipelago: a journey through the seven islands of Greece


This is perhaps the most famous island of the archipelago. It was here in 97 AD. John the Evangelist wrote the Apocalypse, the final book of the New Testament. In the cave where he lived, his bed, carved into stone, has been preserved. The impregnable walls of the fortress-monastery, founded in the 11th century, rise above the island. The monastery is surrounded by Chora, a snow-white labyrinthine city, almost deserted and therefore mysterious.

Social life is centered around the main port of Patmos, which is called Skála, as well as in the towns of Grikos and Kampos. There are a lot of international young people who cluster around coastal cafes and move on scooters between the numerous beaches. And very close to Patmos there are three small paradise islands – Arki, Lipsi and Agathonisi. There are almost no people here, and the secluded beaches are exactly what you dream about in the cold Russian winter.

Dodecanese Archipelago: a journey through the seven islands of Greece


The main town of Leros, Platanos, smoothly transitions into the resort village of Agia Marina, stretching along the coast for several hundred meters. Above it, as expected, rises a medieval fortress, from which stunning views of numerous harbors and bays open up.

But the main thing worth coming here for, at least for a day, is the port city of Lakki, built by the Italians as a naval base at the beginning of the 20th century. Most of the public buildings and private houses in which the families of naval officers lived are today in disrepair. The appearance of this ghost town is absolutely surreal. It seems to be a chic seaside town, but there is not a soul on the streets and embankments, perhaps a flock of teenagers who have appeared out of nowhere will flash by, and a rare regular bus will make noise. The feeling that you are either in a dream, or among the scenery for some post-apocalyptic film: empty cafes and restaurants, shops and souvenir shops, huge mansions in which no one lives… And at the same time – sun, summer, sea.

Dodecanese Archipelago: a journey through the seven islands of Greece


The capital of Kalymnos is almost a metropolis by island standards. Most of the houses in it were also built by Italians, so you won’t immediately understand where you are – in Greece or Italy.

The island is relatively large, but a bit chaotic. The word “sporadic” suits it best. More recently, Kalymnos was known as the island of sponge fishermen. Even today all the shops on the island are filled with these sponges, but now they are brought from somewhere in China, and the locals no longer engage in such pampering, having completely switched to the tourism industry. But if you are lucky and you get to some village festival, you will see a very funny traditional “diver’s dance” preserved from those times.

Kalymnos has recently become popular among rock climbers and speleologists. And if you are one of them, then you definitely need to get here.

Once in Kalymnos, be sure to try the local specialty – muuri – lamb stuffed with rice and herbs.

Dodecanese Archipelago: a journey through the seven islands of Greece


On tiny Nisyros you can go to the mouth of an active volcano. The most amazing thing is that you don’t have to go up to it, but, on the contrary, go down. In the middle of the vast “lunar-Martian” valley there is a funnel with a diameter of three hundred meters, at the bottom of which several small yellow volcanoes are cheerfully smoking. The poster adds a sharpness to the sensations: “You descend into the crater of the volcano at your own peril and risk.”

Buses to the volcano depart from the main pier of Nisyros. But try to take an excursion to this netherworld when it’s not too hot, because otherwise you’ll be at risk of heatstroke.

Another interesting attraction is to take a local bus to the mountain village of Nikiya and look at the volcano from above. And then sit on one of the most cozy squares of the Dodecanese with a glass of ice-cold rakia or a glass of retsina.

Dodecanese Archipelago: a journey through the seven islands of Greece


Simi is an incredibly homely island. You need to come here for beauty and peace. In its central part there are small valleys, and the steep and rocky shores form many tiny bays with sandy beaches.

The capital of the island of Symi is perhaps one of the most photogenic towns in the Dodecanese. It is all made up of stunningly beautiful multi-colored houses with bay windows, tympanums, balconies, stairs, etc. From the Lower Town (Gialos) to the Upper Town (Ano Symi), a steep staircase street called Kalistrata rises, which means “beautiful path”. It leads to a traditional medieval fortress with equally traditionally stunning views.

The main attraction of the island is the Panormitis Monastery, dedicated to the Archangel Michael and standing right on the embankment. Its multi-colored bell tower, reproduced in many postcards, is reflected in the waters of the Aegean Sea, and the interiors are decorated with Byzantine frescoes.

Another natural wonder of Symi is the beach of Agios Georgios Disalonas, surrounded on all sides by three-hundred-meter-high cliffs. It is considered one of the most impressive beaches in the world.
And, yes, don’t forget about the food. Symi is famous for its shrimps fried in olive oil.

Dodecanese Archipelago: a journey through the seven islands of Greece


The easternmost of all the inhabited Greek islands. It lies just two kilometers from the Turkish coast and seven kilometers from the nearest Turkish city of Kas, which attracts many European tourists holidaying in Turkey. There is only one settlement on Kastellorizo ​​- Meyisti. This is what the entire island is sometimes called. Translated, this word, not without irony, means “the biggest.”

The island became famous after the 1991 release of the Italian film Mediterranean, which won an Oscar for best foreign language film. This military comedy was filmed entirely in Kastellorizo, and the flow of tourists, especially Italian ones, did not take long to arrive. If in 1991 Meyisty looked almost the same as in 1943 (the time the film is set),

then today it has become quite modern. And what kind of htapodokeftedes (octopus meatballs) are made here!..

Kastellorizo ​​is home to one of the most beautiful sea caves in Greece. This is the Parasta Cave, or Blue Cave. You can only get into it by boat. On the same boat you can go to one of the many uninhabited islands located in the neighborhood. The beaches there are simply excellent. And no one.

Dodecanese Archipelago: a journey through the seven islands of Greece


This is the largest island in our review. It is, of course, much smaller than Rhodes, but comparable in size to Kos. Most of the settlements are located in the southern, flat part of the island, and in the north there are real mountains, the peaks of which rise more than a kilometer.

Karpathos is worth visiting for lovers of antiquities. In many mountain villages of the island, the traditional way of life is still preserved. The residents of the town of Olympos are especially famous for their adherence to tradition, who even speak their own special Dorian dialect. It takes more than an hour to get to Olympos from the capital and main port of the island along a mountain serpentine road. However, you can also get here from the port of Diafani, located just ten kilometers away.

The main tourist attraction is to dine at one of the many taverns of Olympos overlooking the sunset. Needless to say, all the products here are only local and natural, and the dishes are made according to ancient recipes. The bread is baked right here, right in front of you, in a wood-fired oven, and the wine is from a neighboring vineyard.

Dodecanese Archipelago: a journey through the seven islands of Greece

Practical information

All islands are connected with each other, as well as with the administrative center – the island of Rhodes – by ferry service. In the summer there are two or three, or even more ferries daily. Tickets can almost always be purchased just before departure or the day before. The schedule of the main ferries can be found here.

From the large islands to the nearby small islands, you will be taken by local agency boats, which are usually located near the main port of the island. Most often it has the same name as the island itself. On many islands, ferries are met by local residents with the aim of renting out housing. If you wish, you can find a room for 20 euros. There are good bus connections within the islands. Taxis are relatively inexpensive. You can also rent a car, scooter (you need a license) or a bicycle. Unlike the rest of Europe, hitchhiking works well on the Greek islands.

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