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Nissiros has the typical almost circular shape of a volcanic cone, as shown by the image used as background for this page: the life of the volcano is in its last stage: the crater has just a few fumaroles, openings in the ground from which sulphurous gases emerge.
Mandraki, the chief town of Nisyros, is built at the north-western corner of the island by the site of the Greek and mediaeval capitals. Here is a long and somewhat narrow hill, cut off by a low valley to the south, and by a deep ravine to the east, and further defended by precipitous cliffs against the sea. The old town of Mandraki is built in the ravine to the east of the castle and is invisible from the sea. (..) In antiquity it was partly independent, and partly subject to Rhodes; in the middle ages it was, till the Ottoman conquest, under the Knights of Rhodes.
Dawkins, R. M., & Wace, Alan J. B. (1906). Notes from the Sporades.
Mandraki, the village on its northern coast, notwithstanding its name meaning harbour, did not have appropriate mooring facilities even for the ships of the past.
View of the Castle
The castle now contains only a monastery built above the rock church, Panaghia Spiliani, where incubation (sleeping in a sacred area) is practised. Dawkins & Wace
Nissiros became a possession of the Knights of St. John soon after they completed the conquest of Rhodes in 1308. Because of its smallness it was assigned, in line with a practice common in the feudal system, to a knight who ruled it on behalf of the order. Only in the XVth century and in particular in its second half the rock overlooking Mandraki was fortified.
Remaining walls of the castle
In the foundations of this fort are many traces of Hellenic work, especially to the east. To the south of the castle there is a break in the line of the hill, which was perhaps made by the knights as a kind of fosse. Dawkins & Wace
Towers and walls protected only the eastern (land) side of the rock because the cliffs facing the sea were high enough to discourage assaults from the other sides. The coats of arms on the remaining walls belong to Grand Masters Milly (1454-1461) Orsini (1467-1476) and d'Aubusson (1476-1503).
On this hill stood the Greek town, whose walls can still be traced. On either side of the gate angle is a tower to give further protection to this weak point. Ready access to the top of the wall is afforded by two flights of steps. (..) From the point where it is destroyed, the conjectural line of the wall can be followed down to the sea on the north, where stands the castle of the Knights of Rhodes. Buondelmonte (a traveller of the early XVth century) says that the island possessed five castles, Mandrachi, Palaeocastro, Pandenichi, Nicea and Argos. Palaeocastro is the modern name for the Greek wall described above, and it hardly seems possible that it and Mandraki formed separate towns. Dawkins & Wace
The site of the castle of the knights is called the monastery by the locals, due to the old monastery built within it, while they call Paleokastro (Old Castle) the fortified acropolis of the ancient town, which is located one mile south of the castle.
On the top of the hill to the south they are well preserved, and the gate at the south-eastern angle is almost perfect. This gate is placed in a set-back close to the corner tower. (..) The gate is two metres wide, and there were two doors, single or double whose position is shown by the holes for the bolts or bars on either side; it is partly buried in the soil, and half its width has been built up by the owner of the vineyard to which it now gives entrance. (..) The gate as well as the wall is built of squared blocks of black volcanic stone, said to come from a quarry on the south side of the island. Dawkins & Wace
The walls were built by placing next to each other carefully cut stones: at some locations it is possible to see an earlier layer of the wall built with a less refined technique. Towers at each angle of the walls increased the strength of the fortification.
View eastwards of the countryside from Paleokastro
The ruins at the north-eastern cape of the island seem to be mediaeval, although local tradition places here the temple of Poseidon (who was thought to have created the island). (..) Nisyros is a volcanic island, and its crater is mentioned both by classical and mediaeval writers as being active. (..) The island is to-day rich, fertile, and well wooded. (..) It well deserves its Turkish name of 'Fig Island,' and in addition to this fruit produces in abundance grapes, almonds and olives. Dawkins & Wace
Due to the nature of the island its soil is very fertile and it is full of vegetation in particular almond-trees; for the same reason it does not have coves or bays which could be used as harbours.
View of Mandraki from Paleokastro: in the distance the islets of Gyali and Strongyli and (barely visible) Kos
Rhodes: the Gates
Rhodes: the Fortifications
Rhodes: the Town of the Knights
Rhodes: Byzantine, Ottoman and Jewish memories
Rhodes: modern Italian architecture
Kos: the Fortress
Kos: the Ancient Town
St. Peter's Castle (Bodrum)