Greek islands are famous for their picturesque villages, aesthetically pleasing architecture, unique landscapes, and crystal-clear waters. But some of these islands are shrouded in mystery. For example, what is the story behind the vampire islands near the island of Skyros? And who were the “sea demons” that scared the locals on the island of Agkistri?
In the last episode of Helinika’s “Mysterious Greece” series, we discovered the most mysterious places in Athens, Greece. Today, we explore a list of six Greek islands that have sparked the interest of archaeologists, historians, and researchers of the unexplained. From Samothraki island in Northern Aegean to the tiny island of Antikythera, Greece is surrounded by legends, myths, and thrills. Stay till the end because no. 1 will surprise you!
Six Mysterious Greek Islands | Greek Mysteries
- Delos Island
- Vrykolakonisia (Vampire Islands)
- Samothraki Island
- Antikythera Island
- Salamina Island
- Agkistri Island (Kekryfalia)
The Mysteries of Agkistri
Agkistri (also seen as Angistri or Agistri) is a small island situated in the Saronic Gulf, in close proximity to the city of Athens. It is one of the greenest islands in Greece. That is why ancient Greeks called it “Kekryfalia” – which can be translated as “decorated/ covered head”. Today, Agkistri is mostly known as a popular weekend destination for Athenians. But the beautiful island is also associated with several myths and thrills.
Since ancient antiquity, the people of Agkistri feared the “Telhines” – sea demons who visited other islands as well, such as Rhodes and Crete. Although these creatures allegedly taught humans the art of metallurgy, they were also sorcerers that could cause the “evil eye”; they could harm humans with their jealous stares.
The myth of the Telchines survived for many centuries. In Medieval times, Telchines were now believed to be amphibian monsters that terrorized islanders who wondered around the streets late at night. They were short – not bigger than the size of an average dog – but they looked terrifying.
This is reportedly the reason why many traditional houses in Agkistri have enormous staircases leading to their front door. Many of these houses have ceramic faces built on their walls to scare away the Telchines.
According to modern historians and marine biologists, Medieval fishermen were probably terrified at the sight of the so-called “Jenny Hanivers” that were caught in their fishnets. Jenny Haniver is the name given to the carcass of a ray or devil fish that has been dried out or mummified. Their appearance is… terrifying.
Although Jenny Hanivers were often modified by humans and displayed in museums in the past, they can also result naturally under prolonged exposure to the sun. It is therefore believed that the island of Agkistri was not attacked by sea monsters but rather by… dried out rays. Looking at how these rays looked like, no one can blame the islanders for being terrified!
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Salamina and the Unexplained
Salamina (also known as Salamis or Koulouri) is another island in the Saronic Gulf. It is the closest island to the city of Athens and many Athenians choose to build their summer houses there. The island has a long history and it is mostly known for the battle of Salamis, the important naval battle in 480 BC, which resulted in the victory of the Greeks against the Persians.
But for reasons that are not yet clear, the island has a disproportionate amount of urban legends, ghost stories, and mysteries. For example, there is the story of the “haunted battleship” named “Lemnos” (link in Greek) that caused panic in the naval base of Salamis in 1932 and resulted in a police investigation.
Sailors had repeatedly reported seeing terrifying ghostly apparitions in the corridors. They would often exit the ship in the middle of the night, after hearing unexplained banging on the walls, along with whispers and screams coming out of nowhere.
According to newspaper reports of that time, most of the sailors had at least one terrifying experience and the police had been called to investigate the subject. But the sailors of the neighboring battleship “Ierax II” were not convinced. They decided to stay awake the whole night, staring at the nearby battleship for any paranormal activity.
A sailor named Emmanuel Maxouris couldn’t believe his colleagues believed in ghosts. He stood up and started yelling at them when he saw something staring at him from one of the portholes of “Lemnos”. He looked closely and he saw an emaciated hand touching the porthole and, right behind it, there was a skull staring back at him.
Maxouris ended up being hospitalized, since he passed out right after seeing the skeleton on the nearby battleship. It is not clear what were the findings of the police investigation but, after this incidence, everyone on Salamis believed that something out of this world lurked on the battleship “Lemnos”.
Salamina is full of many similar stories. Many believe that the forest area surrounding the monastery of Panagia Faneromeni is haunted. There is an urban legend that there is an old woman walking in the area late at night, asking people to follow her. If the person is not wearing a cross, he or she follows the woman in a trans-like state and disappears forever. Not only that but many of the nearby abandoned houses are thought to be haunted. Why Salamina has so many scary stories remains a mystery.
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The Secret in the Sea of Antikythera
Antikythera (also known as Aigilia) is one of the most mysterious Greek islands, after an archaeological discovery in 1901, which changed the way we viewed ancient civilizations. The tiny island is located between Crete and the Peloponnese and it is one of the least touristic Greek destinations.
In 1901, a mysterious artifact in the sea of Antikythera drew the attention of the international scientific community. That is the Antikythera Mechanism that was discovered in a nearby Roman shipwreck by a group of sponge divers from Symi.
The sponge divers had discovered the shipwreck by accident in 1900, after getting stranded in Antikythera thanks to a storm. A year later, they helped the Greek government explore it. The divers recovered several important artifacts: statues, coins, pieces of glasswork, and several other bronze items – including a weird looking machine. Unfortunately, one diver named Georgios Kritikos died during the expedition and two more were paralyzed after suffering from decompression sickness.
The items were transported to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, where archaeologists started examining them. That’s when they realized that one of the bronze items was actually a 2000-year-old complicated mechanism that displayed the motion of the universe and calculated astronomical events. The Antikythera Mechanism -as it was named- was the first analogue computer. This finding baffled scientists, since it required manufacturing techniques that are considered too sophisticated for that time period. Its exact use still remains a mystery.
What makes the story even more interesting is the fact that the mechanism was lost in a storm, during an attempt to transport it to Rome, and it was recovered 2000 years later… thanks to a storm. Although Antikythera is not full of mysteries like many of the other islands on the list, the Sea of Antikythera is definitely a mystery!
You may know Samothraki thanks to the statue of the “Winged Victory of Samothrace”, which is now displayed in the Louvre. Samothraki (also seen as Samothrace) is an island located in the northern Aegean Sea and a popular summer destination for northern Greeks.
In antiquity, Samothraki was not an area of political or economic significance. But it was an island of religious significance, housing the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, a temple complex where several religious ceremonies used to take place. It was also the meeting point for the members of the Cult of the Great Gods who participated in the Cabeirian Mysteries. Just like with the Eleusinian Mysteries that we have seen in the past, details regarding the Cabeirian rituals remain a… mystery.
Due to its religious significance, Samothraki continues attracting spiritual people from all around the world. Some of the most popular sights are its waterfalls and Oros Feggari (translated as Mount Moon in English). The island has also its own recent urban legends and stories. For example, many new age believers avoid camping in close proximity to the river Fonias. Fonias (Φονιάς) means “killer” in Greek, but this is not the reason they avoid spending the night there. The area supposedly has a strong energy that… can keep you up at night!
But the weirdest stories about Samothraki surround the “Vdelolimni” a small lake that it is rumored to be the home of the Topakes (Τόπακες) – weird creatures that live under the surface of the Earth and visit our world late at night. If you hear the locals’ descriptions of the Topakes, it doesn’t take long to realize that they refer to what we call “fairies” and “elves” in other parts of the world.
Locals and visitors have also reportedly witnessed a weird phenomenon at Vdelolimni (link in Greek). Every ten years, the lake appears to be boiling and a weird mist surrounds the area. That is your warning sign to leave the place as soon as possible, unless you want to come across the “Skylolakas” – a terrifying dog-like monster that jumps straight out of hell!
Although stories about fairies and other creatures existed since ancient times, the story of Skylolakas is a more recent one. According to the legend, during the Ottoman occupation of Greece, an Ottoman ruler summoned a demon to make sure that locals remain obedient. This resulted in the creation of a portal to hell that opens and closes every ten years.
The Greek Vampire Islands
If you have watched Helinika’s video on ancient Greek vampires, then you already know that legends about the undead existed in Greece for thousands of years. It may be easier to imagine a vampire hiding in a misty forest in Transylvania, but, what if I told you that vampires reportedly lurked in sunny Santorini?
Greek vampires do not have the classic Hollywood look – they are more similar to zombies than to Dracula or Edward Cullen. And they would terrorize the living during the night, by destroying their properties, eating their livestock, and, if they managed to get into a house, they would violently attack anyone living there.
The main reason someone would turn into a “vrykolakas” (as Greeks call vampires) is an improper burial. But the character of the person who was buried also played a role; mean-spirited and jealous people were more at risk. The same goes for people who were wronged and needed to bring justice.
Stories like this survived in many Greek islands -Crete, Santorini, Rhodes…- for thousands of years with only minor differences. In Medieval and Ottoman Greece, locals would often bury the dead in small uninhabited islands, since the “vrykolakas” cannot cross a body of water. These islands are known as “Vrykolakonisia” (Vampire Islands).
Opposite the island of Skyros, there is also a group of islands known also as “Vrykolakonisia”. But the name was reportedly given to these islands after they were used to isolate those who had contracted the bubonic plague during the worst years of the “Black Death”.
For reasons that are not fully clear, there has been an connection between the “Black Death” and legends about vampires. During this health crisis, bodies would be casually buried in a ditch before their proper burial, to avoid spreading the disease. Some patients were buried alive by accident and, when their bodies were dug out to be transported in their final burial ground, their arms and legs were placed in peculiar positions. According to historians, that led people to believe that the dead were angry for being thrown into a ditch without a proper burial ceremony and that turned them into vampires.
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The Mysteries of Delos
The most mysterious Greek island is located right at the heart of the Cycladic Archipelago in the Aegean Sea. Apart from the center of the Cyclades, it is also the center of the most extensive archaeological excavations in the Mediterranean. A place with a rich mythological and historical background. This is the mysterious island of Delos.
According to ancient Greek mythology, Delos was the birthplace of god Apollo and goddess Artemis. It is estimated that it was inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC and it later became the meeting point of the cult of Dionysus and Leto. But apart from an important religious site, it soon became a trade, political, and cultural center. Many archaeological findings were transported in Museums in Athens. Others, like the famous lion statues, remain on the sacred island.
The history of Delos has inspired many stories. For example, many people believe that Delos has a strong, almost therapeutic energy, thanks to the repeated cleansings that were performed there by the Athenians but also thanks to the island’s location (it is literally at the epicenter of the Cyclades). Moreover, some people believe that the buildings, sculptures and other items on Delos contain symbols and encrypted messages. Others even claim that the island is visited by UFOs.
Delos is now an archaeological site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that you can visit during the day by boat from Mykonos, Naxos, or Paros. The only residents are the people who have dedicated their lives in protecting and preserving the artifacts and monuments of Delos. As you can imagine, an island that is a sacred and fully-protected archaeological site deserves the first place on this list.
Which island is the most mysterious island in your opinion? Have you visited any of these places? Leave a comment down below. If you enjoyed watching this video, feel free to like and share. If you are new here, subscribe and stay connected! In the description you will find a link to Helinika’s Udemy course for learning Greek, among other helpful links!
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