Finding Kastro: The Medieval Capital of Skiathos Island

In the 14th century Skiathos island was plagued by regular pirate attacks from the notorious Saracens and others. So the island folk uprooted their lives in their little harbour town, took what they could carry and sought refuge on a cliff-top. They fortified themselves in a part natural, part manmade fortress on the northernmost part of Skiathos Island. The fortress became known as Kastro.

Death by hot oil

Today, there’s something spectacularly remote and dramatic about the site. Of its four sides, three with their sheer drop overlook the sea. The only access to the fourth side, which had high battlements in its day, was by means of a wooden drawbridge, which has since been replaced by a stone stairway. An ideal lookout point, enemies could be spotted from a distance, the alarm would be sounded, and the drawbridge would be raised. Any pillagers who reached the steep climb to the iron entrance gate would have had hot oil poured over them. Kastro was virtually impenetrable.

Life was tough and unusually close-knit

With limited space, there were some 300 small, dark houses, built close together. The foundation remnants of some can still be seen today. There were 20 small churches, of which two survive along with parts of the fortress wall, an old cannon and the original iron-gate entrance. The cemetery was outside the fortress walls. Also inside, large water tanks were always well stocked. In the event of a siege the inhabitants could survive and even thrive inside the Kastro for extended periods of time.

Testimony to the resilience of a proud people

Little pathways meander through what must have been a fairly insulated life. People lived here for hundreds of years. At one time occupied by the Venetians and then the Turks, Kastro was abandoned in 1830 after the War of Independence. Turkish occupation is a sore point for most Greeks and one cannot help but notice the Greek flag prominently and proudly displayed at Kastro’s highest lookout point.

How to get there

The most commanding visual approach is by sea. Kastro looms over the cliff top, which rises from the ocean to meet it. Daily boat excursions stop at the beach below. Do take a hat and don’t attempt it if you’re expecting a short, leisurely stroll to the top. It’s a fairly steep walk up stairs. While largely overgrown, Kastro’s atmosphere is incredible, particularly if you have the space all to yourself. To avoid the crowds and the heat, you might prefer to take the inland approach by car, quad bike or scooter in the early morning or late afternoon. Regardless, Kastro is, undeniably, a must see experience for the whole family.