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Around the island of Tilos wearing traditional costumes

Tilos is a small island in the Dodecanese island complex of Greece in the Aegean Sea, between the islands of Kos and Rhodes. However, its small size does not make for a lack of culture and history as with most places in Greece. That was during a trip to six islands in the Dodecanese, in collaboration with Blue Star Ferries. I was looking for traditional female costumes, as part of my "Caryatis" photographic project.

The island of Tilos in the Aegean.

Popularly, Tilos was the son of Helios and Halia, the sister of the Telchines. He came to the island in search of herbs to heal his ill mother and later returned to build a temple to Apollo and Neptune. However, Tilos does not appear in Greek mythology and the name probably has an unknown pre-Hellenic origin. Pliny the Elder* notes that in antiquity Tilos was known as Agathussa. In the Middle Ages, it was known by the Italians as Episcopio, either because it was a Bishop's Seat or because of its position as Vantage Point. The island has also been called in Turkish İlyaki and modern Italian Piscopi.

Around the mountains of Tilos island, by photographer George Tatakis
Around the mountains of Tilos island


Tilos, albeit its small size, is full of mountains and trails that lead you to majestic scenery or even ruined ancient cities, that are in surplus on the island, so it is a good idea to have a car to go around, to explore the place. That is because the island flourished during the classical era, minting its coinage and being famed for clothing and perfumes. That is after the Bronze Age when Tilos was successively dominated by Minoans, Mycenaeans and Dorians. Herodotus refers to the centuries preceding him as the golden age of Tilos. In the 7th century BC even, colonists from Tilos and Lindos (Rhodes) settled in Sicily and founded the city of Gelas.

From the turn of the 4th century BC, for the next 200 years, Tilos was subject to the Seleucid Empire, Caria and then Ptolemaic Egypt under the influence of Rhodes, until, in 200 BC, the island was incorporated into the Rhodian confederacy. The island was conquered by the Romans in 42 BC. Archaeological finds from Roman and early Christian times demonstrate the prosperity of the island until the 551 Beirut earthquake.

To photograph the local female traditional costumes, I am always looking for interiors, that keep the traditional architectural elements and design of the place I am visiting. At the time of my visit, a couple of weeks before Greek Easter, the tourist period had not started yet, so the island was almost empty of people. The local population is very small (745 officially, but practically far less). Fortunately, I met the people from the municipality, who helped in my quest.

We found a local house in Livadia, the main port of the island, in the way I wanted, owned by a very kind lady, who travelled from another island to open the house for us and be able to do the photo shoot. The place had kept its traditional character and, although people live in it, there were very few modern appliances and interventions, which we either removed or covered.

Inside a local traditional house of Tilos, by photographer George Tatakis
Inside a local traditional house of Tilos

During the repérage I did by car on the first day, I liked the settlement of Mikró Chorió (Small Village) and I knew I should make a photograph around that place. That is the island's old capital, which was first settled in the 15th century by the Knights of the Order of St John, and overlooks the bay. It has been completely abandoned since 1960, its inhabitants having moved down to the harbour in the 1930s. There is a significant number of other settlements such as Lethrá, Gherá, and Panó Méri that have similarly been abandoned.

Around the abandoned settlement of Mikró Chorió, by photographer George Tatakis
Around the abandoned settlement of Mikró Chorió

Of course, the fact that the place was abandoned gives it its eery appearance and makes you feel that you stepped into a different era.

Mikró Chorió is easily approachable by car which you can leave at the place's entrance and then explore on foot. During the summer season, there is even a small bar inside the settlement, that offers the visitor a unique experience under the stars.

A place that you shouldn't miss during your visit.

Around the abandoned settlement of Mikró Chorió, by photographer George Tatakis
Around the abandoned settlement of Mikró Chorió


The island of Tilos has an inverted 'S' shape and is about 14.5 km long, north-west to south-east, with a maximum width of 8 km and an area of about 61 square kilometres. The island has a mountainous limestone interior, volcanic lowlands, pumice beds and red lava sand, like its northwestern neighbour Nisyros. It is well supplied by springs and is potentially very fertile and productive. Its coasts are generally rocky or pebbled, but there are also several sandy beaches.

One of these beaches is the long stretch of Eristos, which I visited by myself during repérage. I found the rocky geography interesting, and since I wanted to have a place by the sea, a significant characteristic of any island, I thought that this was the place to make such a photograph. The period when I visited was windy, which added to the texture of the sea and the overall feeling of the image.

At Eristos beach, during a windy day, Tilos island, by photographer George Tatakis
At Eristos beach, during a windy day

Acquire a print from the work

Make a statement in your home or office with unique, one-of-a-kind art from the work on the island of Tilos, by the awarded photographer George Tatakis. Not only will you be adding beauty and interest to your space, but you'll also be supporting important ethnographic work. Click here

Acquire a print of the work from Rhodes, Greece, by photographer George Tatakis

To the northeast of the plain of Mount Profitis Ilias (Elias the Prophet) is the island's capital, Megálo Chorió (Large Village), built in the early 19th century at the foot of the ancient city of Tilos. The archaic ruins stretch up to the site of the acropolis of the ancient city, dedicated to Pythios Apollo and Poliada Athina, and the Venetian Kástro (castle), built over it. To the west is Kharkhadió Cave, where excavations in 1971 unearthed Neolithic finds and bones of a dwarf elephant.

I wanted to make a photograph in that place, overlooking the castle. Driving around, I found a place with some ruins of the ancient wall, which I thought would work well as a foreground since the castle was at the far back.

At Megálo Chorió, overlooking the castle in Tilos island, by photographer George Tatakis
At Megálo Chorió, overlooking the castle


Byzantine period

Tilos followed Rhodes into the Byzantine Empire following the death of Theodosius I and was a member of the naval Theme of Samos between the 9th and 14th centuries.


The Knights of Saint John took control of Tilos in 1309, restoring the Byzantine castles, and building new ones to defend against pirate raids. It was evacuated in 1470 as the Ottomans began the Siege of Rhodes and control passed to Suleiman I in 1522 when Rhodes fell.

Ottoman occupation

In 1523, Tilos was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and the island was put under the privileged administrative and tax system known as "maktou." Christian pirates pillaged the island constantly.

20th Century

Ottoman rule lasted until May 12, 1912, when Italian sailors landed in the Bay of Eristos during the Italo-Turkish War. Tilos then became part the Italian possession of the Isole Italiane dell'Egeo. After the Italian Armistice of September 8, 1943, Tilos was occupied by German troops, and in 1948 it joined Greece together with all the Dodecanese islands. Since 1948, the population of the island has declined rapidly, as many Tilians migrated to the United States or Australia.

In late 2018 Tilos became the first island in the Mediterranean to run exclusively on wind and solar power. Before that, Tilos had an undersea cable connecting it to Kos via Nisiros. This struggled to cope with the large summer population and frequently failed.

The plethora of mountains and hills, as well as the remains of ancient settlements that I stumbled upon all the time, also inspired me to create some relevant images.

I, therefore, took the ladies to some steep places, on a rather windy day, and although we were in for a rough promenade, we came up with some interesting images!

Arount the steep hills of Tilos island, by photographer George Tatakis
Around the steep hills of Tilos island on a rather windy day

We made the final image, just before the sunset, atop a picturesque plateau amongst the hills of Tilos. A tree was the single inhabitant of that plateau, so we brought it some company.

Tilos is a small, but beautiful island, with very kind and hospitable local inhabitants. There are many people from overseas, especially the UK, who chose this island as their permanent residence, and I met many of them during the time I was there. A place I would visit again and make sure I check out this bar at Mikró Chorió, which I missed this time!

A picturesque plateau, atop a hill in Tilos island, by photographer George Tatakis
A picturesque plateau, atop a hill in Tilos island

* Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23/24 – 79), called Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist and natural philosopher, naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and a friend of the emperor Vespasian. He wrote the encyclopedic Naturalis Historia (Natural History), which became an editorial model for encyclopedias. He spent most of his spare time studying, writing, and investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field.





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