Asfondilitis is a time machine that helps you travel back in time and discover a totally different Amorgos.
And you won’t be disappointed!
The once vibrant settlement, still untouched by time, is a unique example of Amorgean architecture. What really made Asfontilitis famous, however, are its 200 mysterious rock carvings scattered randomly around the ancient village.
Let’s get to the details…
What is Asfontilitis?
Asfondilitis (Ασφοντυλίτης in Greek) is an authentic agricultural village that retained its character & architectural characteristics. It’s a time machine, allowing us to see how people once lived, perfectly adapting to the environment.
And you know what?
They thrived on a barren & rocky plateau among the mountains. And even though it’s easy to visit today, it was once miles away from civilization.
To make up for the hard life, the early settlers were privileged with a magnificent view over North Aegean. They also had their own kingdom, but… we’ll get to that later!
I can’t even spell it…
…seriously why it’s such a hard name? The village is named after the snow-white flower “asphodel”. During its blooming the earth looked like a huge white carpet, welcoming the first springtime visitors.
Where is Asfondilitis?
The village is in the middle of Megali Strata, an ancient path connecting Aegiale with Chora. The people of Amorgos couldn’t make a single trip without pit stopping on Asfontilitis.
How to get there
- By car: 19 mins from Aegiale, 18 mins from Chora
- On foot: follow the hiking trail connecting Chora with Langada (4-5 hours). More info at Amorgos Municipality.
What makes Asfontilitis unique?
The most distinctive feature of the village is that all structures are made of dry stones, without any mortar (mud, cement) to bind them together.
Stones are masterfully stacked on top of each other, wedged together, making structures stable & durable.
As soon as the first settlers arrived on the plateau they faced two major issues, where to stay and what to eat.
That’s when the dry stone or drystack building technique walked in to save the day.
On the one hand, they’ve put some solid roofs over their heads. Carefully selected interlocking stones made their houses stable & strong. The same buildings endured until today, so we can only assume they did an amazing job.
On the other hand, collecting all those stones from the surrounding fields made the rocky plateau suitable for agriculture. Another point for a problem well solved!
Did you know?
The art of dry stone building is inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Some dry stone wall constructions date back to the Neolithic Ages.
Rock on – Asfondilitis’ drystone walls are handmade wonders
You’ve surely seen them!
Visiting any island in the Cyclades or, in our case, Amorgos, you must have stumbled upon those narrow, level expanses that resemble steps on hilly slopes or mountains.
Those walls, also present in Asfontilitis, are made of… dry stone.
They allow hilly landscapes to be terraced and then cultivated. The walls protect against flooding and soil erosion. At the same time, they sustain biodiversity, as a natural habitat for insects and reptiles.
Why there are so many wells?
Access to water was really difficult, forcing the settlers to dig, and dig, and dig, for more water.
The obscure stone wall paintings of Asfondilitis
Scattered around the village are some rather strange rock art.
They were made in the early 20th century, more than 100 years ago, by the hand of Michalis Roussos.
Born before 1900 he was the son of Nikitas and Irini and that’s pretty much everything we know about him. Sometime in his early life, he was completely paralyzed. Michalis couldn’t walk or do anything at all.
Accident or Magic?
Nobody knows what really happened. Some say that while he was in the mountain tending to his sheep, he got a cold. Others are sure that the nymphs punished him for hiding behind the rocks and watching them secretly. The most logical explanation though, is that he had a neurological condition that was left untreated and led to his paralysis.
Therefore, because of his problem, Michalis was asking his fellow villagers to move him around. He would sit and simply paint; names, people, things, everything around him.
The first stone carving is marked with the date 1897 and the last one 1943 when he probably died.
Fueling his artistic fire
The almost 200 rock paintings are about the village’s daily life, people & animals. It’s a pity nobody took care of them and most of them are destroyed. Some of them are still buried and hidden around the village.
Michalis enjoyed painting dancers, festivals and musicians. Such was his desire to walk, dance and have a normal life, but that was impossible.
His outdoor workshop
The place he loved the most was around the wells. That makes sense since it was the best spot to catch up with anyone passing by the village. None would go his way without quenching his thirst first.
His favorite theme was women. “Dafnoula” is the name of the girl he would most often carve in stones. It’s the only woman figure he named. Probably this was a way of expressing his feelings to her, but he never got any response.
He also carved numerous crosses, single or in sets of three. They were meant to protect the village from evil. Remember those nymphs we’ve mentioned before?
Such was the life of Michalis Roussos and his stone paintings. Pictures of another time, sealed by solid rock.
The kingdom of Asfontilitis
Greece might be the birthplace of democracy, but in Asfondilitis, monarchy was in full force.
Totally! To be more precise, the last king of the village (also named Michalis), died in 1957. Since then, no one else sat in the Stone Throne of Asfontilitis. Better polish that royal CV of yours!
The king was 6-feet tall & imposing, a member of the Greek royal guard during his military service. Such was his physical strength that he was the one placing the large lintel (the finishing horizontal piece over doors) in the houses of the settlement.
But there were more ranks!
A guy from the village was the king’s viceroy and another one, Nicolas Dimitrios, led the king’s guard, the royal bodyguards.
Even though the king had no official power outside his tiny realm of Asfontylitis, it’s always a cool thing to be the king!
Did you know?
Several families lived permanently in Asfondilitis until 1950. On the 1st Sunday of each month, a priest would come from the nearby village of Potamos for the Sunday mass.
Spanning through the ages
The area was inhabited since antiquity when the first Cycladic civilization appeared in Aegean.
As you can imagine, Asfontilitis was a village of shepherds & farmers. In early spring they led their herds from winter sheepfolds, up to the mountainous pastures. The farmers visited the village once in autumn, to sow and a second time in the summertime to reap.
The few brave souls living permanently up there were cattle raisers, beekeepers or fishermen.
An early description of the village came in 1885 from James Theodore Bent, an English explorer & archaeologist.
The mountainous village where we dined, bore the long name “Asfontilitis”. It’s a dairy-making village made up of hovels. The one we stopped was full of cheeses set to dry on sticks, hanging from the walls so that they would form shelves. Senior citizens wear an ancient type of costume, made up of a strange vest and a red cap, a woven cover that hangs down from one side. This is made by their wives by woving the material and painting it with some kind of berries they find on the hills.J.Th. Bent
A monument of traditional folk architecture
The farmhouses of Asfondilitis were not simple, stand-alone buildings. Each one had several supporting structures. This enabled families to be self-sufficient.
Inside the houses, you can still see stone beds, workbenches and ovens. The roofs were built by mud and dry seaweed, supported by wood pillars made of cypress trees.
Why Asfondilitis has no windmills?
A huge mountain on the back of Asfontylitis prevented the strong northern winds from reaching the village. Building windmills would be fruitless.
So, what made Asfontilitis stand the test of time?
Well, stone. And more particularly, the expert craftsmanship of stone.
Stone also made the village pleasing to the eye. It’s difficult to be distinguished from the surroundings making you think that the village naturally blends in within the landscape.
That’s the simplicity and at the same time the complexity of the Greek traditional folk architecture.
The village is deserted and not maintained by the local authorities. Therefore, make sure you don’t litter and take care while exploring around as the buildings are old!
Why aren’t the buildings painted in blue and white?
Life was harsh back then and there wasn’t time for aesthetics. Besides, the blue & white colour trend arrived in Cyclades during the late 1930s. The only building dressed in white is the church of St. Nicholas & St. George.
Is Asfontilitis worth a visit?
The dry-stone settlement of Asfondilitis is a great story of survival, earth & stone. With only but stone, the early settlers have accomplished an architectural monument surviving the centuries.
And there it stands, a village not affected by time, showcasing all the natural elements of the region.
It’s a mysterious, yet beautiful, abandoned settlement, a true gem of Greek rural history. A walk around the village will provide some peaceful moments and some wonderful views over the Aegean.
It’s surely one of the most interesting things to do while in Amorgos!
Therefore, I recommend visiting Asfontylitis, simply to wander and to get lost among its stone paths with only but prickly pears around you…
…and many animals! Pigs, cows, donkeys, chickens, your new best friends chilling on their pens.
Meet a different Greece in Asfondilitis!
Taste something different…
There’s a little restaurant (To Steki tou Machera) in the village run by Mrs. Sofia since 2015. With no electricity, everything is cooked traditionally, in a wood-fired oven. Booking is required at +306936671031, as food quantity depends on the number of visitors.
Know before you go
The village is in the middle of the road connecting Aegiale with Chora. Learn more about the village here!
You can reach the village either on foot (hiking) or by car. More details about getting to the village here!
It’s an abandoned settlement built completely using dry stones, taking full advantage of the surrounding resources. The village is also famous for its mysterious rock painting. Learn why Asfondilitis is worth a visit!
Michalis Roussos, a disabled child, more than a century ago. Learn more about his sad story here!
I would suggest early morning or late afternoon. Avoid midday when the sun is hot and the temperature is high.
There’s a small traditional restaurant, called “To Steki toy Machaira”, however, reservations are required. Get more details here!
Asfondilitis at a glance
|Location: Amorgos, Old Strata Route||Amenities: Church, Restaurant|
|Recommended time: 1 hour||Suitable for: Explorers, History Buffs, Culture Lovers|
|Highlights: Stone carvings, dry stone settlement||Location: Google Maps|
I would like to thank llias Provopoulos – Journalist & Writer, Vivianna Metallinou – Architect & Historian of the Environment, for their precious research.