Nestled in the easternmost reaches of Greece, Kastellorizon stands as a captivating haven, brimming with rich traditions and a unique cultural tapestry. In the heart of the Aegean, this small island, with its Italian-influenced architecture and warm-hearted inhabitants, offers an unparalleled experience, especially during the Greek Orthodox Easter. Let us delve into the intricacies of Kastellorizon's Easter festivities and the enchanting customs that make this island a hidden gem.
Easter on the Greek island of Kastellorizon.
Megisti: The Quaint Town and Its Allure
At the heart of Kastellorizon lies Megisti, the island's main port and only town. With less than 400 residents, Megisti exudes charm with its narrow, picturesque streets and houses reflecting a strong Italian influence. The town serves as a captivating backdrop for the Easter celebrations, where the main church, Constantine & Helen, becomes the focal point for liturgies and Masses.
Connection with Kas: A Unique Blend of Cultures
Kastellorizon's proximity to the Turkish city of Kas creates a fascinating interplay of cultures. With the shores of Turkey visible from the island, the city of Kas, with its vibrant life and approximately 6000 inhabitants, becomes a frequent destination for the people of Kastellorizon. The seamless flow of boats between the two locations, especially during the summer, adds to the island's allure, connecting two worlds in a harmonious dance.
Mandraki: A Picturesque Port and Final Resting Place
Kastellorizon has also a second very picturesque port, called Mandraki. I found it as I was walking along the coastline of the town. There are some taverns and cafes there but were closed during the Easter period. I am guessing some of them would be open during the summertime. In Mandraki also lies the cemetery of Kstellorizon, which makes it the Easternmost Greek cemetery.
Chorafia: Elevated Elegance in the Town
Ascending to the elevated spot known as Chorafia, visitors encounter the main church, a spiritual hub during Easter. The narrow and beautiful streets within the town create a charming atmosphere. Inside the church, all Easter liturgies and Masses unfold, orchestrated by the sole priest available on the island. The uniqueness of Chorafia adds to the immersive experience of Easter on Kastellorizon.
Papa-Yorgis: A Traditional Easter Oasis
Capturing the essence of Kastellorizon's Easter festivities, Papa-Yorgis (Father George) and his shack, Paragka, stand as a symbol of tradition. Offering local dishes and drinks, this Easter tradition originated from ship workers celebrating Easter over six days. Though the shack no longer uses ship sails, its existence pays homage to the island's maritime past.
Culinary Delights: A Gastronomic Journey
As I had arrived quite early for Easter, the peak of Easter is between Wednesday and Easter Sunday, I was taking long strolls around the town which made me feel very calm and carefree. There were only a few people around and you thought you had the island to yourself.
The food in Kastellorizon is great and consists mainly of fish and seafood. The taverns all served very well-cooked meals at relatively low prices. The local fishermen provide daily delicious Mediterranean fish!
The Sacred Rites: A Glimpse into Easter on Kastellorizon
As Holy Wednesday unfolds, the Great Unction at the church marks the beginning of the Easter peak. Papayoryis blesses attendees with olive oil, setting the tone for the ensuing days of religious observations. The litany of the Epitaph on Good Friday becomes the most photogenic event, weaving through the town accompanied by the solemnity of lit candles, small children, and the army force.
Personal Encounters: Stavros Choulis and Easter Revelry
During my time on the island, I had the chance to meet Stavros Choulis, who lives in a traditional old house by the port with an incredible view and is very hospitable and good enough to have me inside his home. He got me drunk with Souma (a traditional spirit made of distilled grapes) and even showed me pictures of his family. His mother gave birth to 16 children.
Later he gave me a ride on his boat around the town and we had a beer at the other side of the port from his house.
Unique Traditions: Judah Mannequin and Easter Day Celebrations
The next day I found myself at another local house where they were preparing a Judah mannequin that would get burned on Easter day. The mannequin was made by a Dutch lady who stayed many years on the island and used to keep a puppet theatre back in her hometown in the Netherlands.
Holy Thursday and Good Friday: Solemn Observances
During the Evening Mass on Holy Thursday, the Gospels are being read and on the 5th the crucified comes out and a litany takes place inside the church. The Cross is then fixed at the centre of the church for everyone to worship.
Good Friday, as in most places around Greece, the most photogenic event takes place, the procession of the Epitaphios (the tomb of Christ). The Epitaph is prepared inside the church and on Friday night, it is carried around the town and people follow along with lit candles, chanting. The Epitaph is being escorted by small children and the army force.
The procession then goes back and brings the Epitaph back to the church.
Easter Day: A Festive Finale
I always like spending Easter in small places with not too many people. Especially the Greek islands have very nice traditions and atmosphere during Easter. I spent Easter day with my new friend Stavros and brought to him some roast lamb from a local tavern. He kept his door open and blew up balloons to give away to all the children passing by.
Kastellorizon's Easter celebrations offer a blend of tradition, spirituality, and community. The island's unique charm, coupled with its Easter customs, makes it a hidden gem in the Aegean. As we delve into the intricate details of Kastellorizon's Easter festivities, the richness of its culture becomes apparent, creating an experience that lingers in the hearts of those fortunate enough to partake in its celebrations.