I had never planned to visit Tilos. To be honest, I didn’t even know where it was on the map. This summer, a friend invited me there and I decided to give it a chance, after hearing what a relaxing and welcoming retreat it is.
When one first arrives to the island and finds out that there are only three villages, one of them abandoned, he checks when the next ferry is coming. It doesn’t take long to realize that it is actually a very interesting place with a variety of things to do and discover. Here are a few facts I was amazed to discover about Tilos this summer:
1. It’s the island of herbs
Tilos is inhabited by ancient times. It is part of the Dodecanese island complex, located between Kos and Rhodes. According to the myth, Tilos was named after the son of Helios (Apollo) and Alia. When Alia fell seriously ill, Tilos went to this island to find the herbs that could cure his mother. When she was cured, he built a sanctuary on the island in the honor of Apollo and Poseidon. He then stayed there as a priest. The myth proves that in ancient times the island was famous for its herbs. Even today, in its hills and slopes grow 400 types of flowers and herbs, spreading their beautiful aromas. There are many marked paths where you can admire the nature of Telos, if you are up for hiking.
2. Sicilian city Gela was a colony of Tilos and Rhodes
Telinis was the priest at the temple of Apollo in the 7th century BC. According to historians of that period, he left in 600 or 690 BC with a few Rhodians for Sicily. There he built the city of Gela. Later his descendants Gelon and Ieron became tyrants of Syracuse.
3. Erinna, the Greek poet, was from Tilos
Erinna lived either in 600 BC (some say that she was a contemporary of Sappho) or, most probably, in the 4th century BC. She is known for her poem the Distaff (Ηλακάτη) and three of her epigrams found in the Palatine Anthology. In the same anthology there are epigrams by others dedicated to her, mentioning that her poetry was as great as Homer’s and maybe better than Sappho’s. Unfortunately, it seems that she died when she was 19 years old and only a few fragments of her works have been found.
4. Dwarf elephants used to live here
Thousands of years ago dwarf elephants were living on the island. They came from Africa when the sea level was lower and Tilos was connected to Minor Asia. When the sea covered a big part of the land, the elephants were disconnected from other populations and, probably, some important food sources, and they went extinct. Bones have been found in the cave of Messaria and are being exhibited in a small museum in Megalo Chorio. Mrs Vicky will give you an excellent and very interesting tour at your visit!
5. It’s the island of the 7 castles
There are seven castles on the island and they are all accessible by marked footpaths. The most known is the Castle of the Knights, just above Megalo Chorio village. It offers a great view of the island and the Aegean. At night it is lit up and looks beautiful from the village and the nearby beaches.
The Castle of Agriosykia is on a hill above Livadia, the port of Tilos. It was built in the 15th century. The Castle of Messaria is between Megalo Chorio and Mikro Chorio. It was built in the 14th century by the Knights of Rhodes. Close to the fortress still remain the small Byzantine chapels which were built during the 13th century.
6. There are more than 200 chapels on the island
Every piece of land has a chapel on Tilos – locals say that there are 286 churches on the island! Most of them are very old and were built by families as offerings to the Saints. The chapel of Panagia Politissa, which was built in 1897 close to Livadia, is one especially worth visiting.
Apart from the old small chapels, I also recommend visiting the church of St. Taxiarchis in Megalo Chorio. It was built in 1425-26 by people who came to the island from Smyrna, and it was operating until the 19th century. The decorations are extraordinary: wood-carved, colorful images with exceptional attention to detail! The floor is decorated with a traditional Dodecanese pebble mosaic.
The Monastery of St. Panteleimon is also a special sight not to be missed! It was built in 1470-80 and it is one of the oldest monasteries in Dodecanese. Built on a mountain, the scenery is fantastic: in a quiet and peaceful place with big old trees – one of them planted in 1800! The trees offer their shade during the hot summer days, and a great view of the sea. Here is the best place on the island to be when the sun sets!
7. The whole island is protected by Natura2000
More than 100 bird species have been spotted on the island, many of them endangered, such as: Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata), Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae), European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), European scops owl (Otus scops), European roller (Coracias garrulus). On Tilos, hunting was banned more than 20 years ago. As a result, the island is a thriving paradise for birds and other animals. It is an ideal destination for bird watchers, especially during the migrating periods, which are in May and September to October.
8. It is going to be the first energy sustainable island in the Mediterranean
An initiative by European enterprises and the Greek University of Piraeus is going to make Tilos the first Mediterranean island which will produce its own energy, solely by renewable sources. The project is funded by EU’s Horizon2020 program and it is planned to be delivered in the next four years.
One more “secret” is that the locals are very friendly indeed and you will have a great time if you decide to visit!
I would like to thank Manolis, Michalis, Telis and Giorgos Chatzifountas, Stathis Kontos and Vicky Logotheti for kindly sharing all this information with me.
Do you know any more “secrets” about Tilos? Share them with us!