Egg shaped, isolated and
very near the Dardanelles, Samothraki is only 29 nautical miles from
Alexandroupolis in Northern Greece. Its land mass is 178 sq. km and its coastline
It has the highest mountain
of the Aegean, Mt. Fengari, (1648 meters) or the Mountain of the Moon. Its steep shores are not inviting for beach lovers. The
population is about 3,000.
Samothraki is the most mysterious feeling of the
Greek islands and one of the most dramatic. The mysterious feel of the island is enhanced by cliffs, nightengales, plane forests, waterfalls and the theatrical backdrop of Mount Fengari. The island has gnarled oak and plane trees, thick forests of olive and pine, dense shrubbery and damp glades with waterfalls.
The island is often wind-whipped and has no natural harbor. On the gentler slopes you can see poppies and other wild flowers in the spring. Thre are numerous frogs, toads and turtles as well as swarms of butterflies.
It's off the accessible routes for day-trippers and has no hordes of tourists detracting from the natural drama of the island. There are many ruins to see. There are two routes if you want to climb the peak: a six-hour round trip begins at Therma, and a longer but easier route begins at Profitis Ilias.
Kamariotissa is the working port. It has an exposed, rocky beach and most of the island's tourist facilities. There are four windmills by a small lagoon.
Most of the population is high on the slopes of Mount Fengari in Chora. Chora is situated in a picturesque amphitheater below the ruins of a Byzantine castle. Chora has white-washed houses with red-tiled roofs in the traditional style. In summer, a small Folklore Museum is open. There's a modern statue of Nike at the town's entrance.
On the southern slopes of Samothraki, you'll find Alonia with its Roman baths, Profitis Ilias with tavernas that serve dishes made of kid (the goat, not the human), Lakoma, and Panagia Kremniotissa with its view toward Turkey. The island's main beach is below the church at Pachia Ammos. The only way to reach the rugged southern coast beyond this is by boat, but you're rewarded at the end of the trip by a view of the waterfall Kremasto Nero or hanging water. There is a small beach below the waterfall.
Therma (or Loutra) has been a resort since Roman times. It has hot springs, as you might guess from the name, with two rustic outdoor pools for taking the waters. There are waterfalls and cooler waters 1.5 km east at Krya Vathra (or Gria Vathra).
Sanctuary of the Great Gods
For almost 1000 years, this magical site and sanctuary was the major religious center of ancient Aeolia, Thrace and Macedonia. It's located at Paleopolis on the plunging crags of the northeast slope of Mount Fengari. Most of the ruins visible today date from Alexander's time, when the sanctuary was expanded and improved.
The Greeks who colonized Samothraki in 700 BC combined the local deities with Olympian deities. The principal deity of Thrace was Axieros, the Great Mother, an earth goddess. The Greeks associated her with Demeter, Aphrodite and Hekate. Her consort was the fertility god Kadmilos. Their twin children were kabiri, meaning Great Ones, and later were recognized as Castor and Pollux. The term Great Ones came to mean the entire divine family. The cult was open to all comers, but had a vow of silence for any who became members, and many of its mysteries are unknown today. Breaking the vow of silence was punishable by death, so not many secrets remain in public knowledge.
The Samothraki Dance Festival
Since 2002, there has been an electronica dance festival here at the end of August. It's a seven day camp-out on the Multilary Camping Grounds with thousands of participants who dance and chill on the island of the Great Mother.
Drinking and Dining
There are quite a few cafes, bars, ouzeria, and other eating establishments with decent food.
In ancient times devotees would come from all over
the Mediterranean to be initiated into the Chthonic worship of Anatolian gods,
including Cybele, the Great Mother. This involved baptism with warm bull's blood.
Poseidon sat atop Mount Fengari to observe the tides of the Trojan War, according to legend. Samothraki was visited often in antiquity and was the site of a cult centre of the Great Gods of the Underworld, which brought the many who sought the baptism mentioned above.
According to Herodotus, the oldest shrine on the island was built by non-Greeks adept at the old mysteries. These islanders introduced herms or statues of Hermes with an erect phallus, to the Greek religion. By the mid 5th Century, Samothraki's sanctuary was well known. Fascination for the religious rituals begun here lingers, even making its way into Geothe's Faust.
Hellenistic and Roman rulers used the island for a naval base, thinking that its sacred soil would protect them from harm. The sanctuary operated until the 4th Century when Theodosius the Great banished paganism from Greece. After that, the island was mostly forgotten, although it suffered the usual Aegean attacks from pirates, Turks and others.