Routes re­vival on Samoth­race

The Paths of Cul­ture net­work aims to put a lesser-known Greek is­land on the map

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YAN­NIS PALAIOLOGOS

One can safely as­sume that few of the Lou­vre visi­tors who stand mar­veling at the Winged Vic­tory of Samoth­race promi­nently dis­played at the Paris mu­seum are fa­mil­iar with this cel­e­brated mar­ble statue’s place of ori­gin. A largely over­looked is­land in the north­east­ern Aegean, close to the coasts of both Greece and Turkey, Samoth­race (or Samoth­raki) whose of­fi­cial pop­u­la­tion of 2,840 shrinks con­sid­er­ably in the win­ter, is still just a place on the map for most Greeks, de­spite the is­land’s nat­u­ral charms.

Over the past cou­ple of years, the is­land’s lo­cal com­mu­nity has joined forces with the Greek So­ci­ety for the En­vi­ron­ment and Cul­tural Her­itage and the Hel­lenic Cul­tural Cen­ter in Paris to shed light on Samoth­race. “We are look­ing at ways to con­nect the Winged Vic­tory of Samoth­race with its home­land,” Thana­sis Vit­sas, the is­land’s mayor, told Kathimerini.

As part of the over­all ef­fort to es­tab­lish Samoth­race as a cul­tural and trekking des­ti­na­tion, it was de­cided to in­clude the is­land in the Paths of Cul­ture net­work es­tab­lished by the Greek So­ci­ety for the En­vi­ron­ment and Cul­tural Her­itage. A splen­did ini­tia­tive that is help­ing re­vive old tra­di­tional routes, with just mild in­ter­ven­tions made to en­hance paths, work has al­ready been car­ried out on Pat­mos, on the Small Cy­clades group of is­lands, at Marathon and in the Mainalo moun­tain range. Work was also set to start in Ep­i­dau­rus in early July.

A crowd­fund­ing cam­paign ( 2sotEFa) ti­tled “Samoth­race: Walk with Me” was launched with the ob­jec­tive of rais­ing 60,000 euros – the amount re­quired to de­velop a net­work of eight paths on the is­land.

“We wanted to raise the amount through a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign so to get as many lo­cals in­volved as pos­si­ble,” ex­plained the fundrais­ing ef­fort’s leader, Car­lota Mara­non, a Samoth­race-based Spa­niard with an ed­u­ca­tional back­ground in law, the- ater and jour­nal­ism. “If we de­velop the paths to­gether, we will look af­ter them to­gether,” she added in flu­ent Greek.

Hail­ing from Bur­gos in Spain’s north, Mara­non first vis­ited Samoth­race as a stu­dent in the late 1990s while based in Ko­mo­tini, north­east­ern Greece, in the Eras­mus ex­change pro­gram. In 2008, she de­cided to quit a mar­ket­ing man­age­ment job at a Madrid pub­lisher and re­lo­cated to Samoth­race, where her ac­tiv­i­ties range from bee­keep­ing to pro­vid­ing Span­ish lan­guage lessons.

The re­vival plan for the is­land’s old tra­di­tional routes was de­signed by Yian­nis Ste­fani­dis, a forester and as­so­ciate of the Greek So­ci­ety for the En­vi­ron­ment and Cul­tural Her­itage. He first trav­eled to the is­land in Septem­ber 2015 and made two fur­ther vis­its for a com­plete pic­ture that would en­able him to de­cide on the net­work’s eight paths. Ste­fani­dis was given an ex­ten­sive coast-to-coast guided tour that in­cluded ev­ery­thing from the mag­i­cal beaches in the south to the wa­ter­falls and high­lands of Saos, an im­pos­ing area at an alti­tude of 1,611 me­ters.

“The scenery is amaz­ing, es­pe­cially for a forester,” Ste­fani­dis en­thused. “A very large num­ber of trekking routes al­ready ex­ist and we wanted to choose a se­lec­tion tak­ing in the whole is­land,” he added.

Ste­fani­dis con­sulted Dim­itris Mat­sas, an ar­chae­ol­o­gist with 30 years of ex­pe­ri­ence on the is­land, for routes cer­tain paths would need to take as well as guid­ance on sign­post­ing, in­for­ma­tion to be pro­vided, in­clud­ing route lengths and de­gree of dif­fi­culty, as well as clear­ing.

“With the routes in their present state, with vir­tu­ally no sign­post­ing, peo­ple lose their way, which is extremely dan­ger­ous, es­pe­cially when head­ing down­hill next to streams,” Ste­fani­dis stressed, adding that one trekker died dur­ing such an un­der­tak­ing ear­lier this sum­mer.

The study is cur­rently un­der­go­ing re­vi­sions with as­sis­tance from the main­land Evros re­gion’s forestry ser­vice as a re­sult of stricter con­di­tions set by a min­is­te­rial de­ci­sion in Jan­uary for both new and re­vived trekking routes. Though con­di­tions have be­come more strin­gent, pri­vately run en­vi­ron­men­tal and moun­tain climb­ing as­so­ci­a­tions are now per­mit­ted to take on such ini­tia­tives with­out mu­nic­i­pal in­volve­ment.

The is­landers have em­braced the ef­fort. “Ini­tially, there was sus­pi­cion among the lo­cals but they’re now telling me, ‘We did not ex­pect such [con­struc­tive] work to take place,’” Ste­fani­dis noted. “The mayor, too, is op­ti­mistic as he sees the cam­paign gain­ing mo­men­tum,” he added.

The over­haul of the is­land’s paths may well serve as a cat­a­lyst for fur­ther ini­tia­tives such as a need to re­strict over­graz­ing, de­scribed by Vit­sas, the Samoth­race mayor, as a threat to the is­land, or an im­proved con­nec­tion with the main­land. On the day Kathimerini spoke to the is­land’s mayor for this ar­ti­cle, a fer­ry­boat route link­ing Samoth­race with coastal Lavrio, south­east of Athens, was sail­ing the route for the first time since 2007.

Samoth­race is still just a place on the map for most Greeks, de­spite the is­land’s nat­u­ral charms.

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