Olympos is the northernmost village on the island of Karpathos, located high up in Mount Prophet Elias. Till the late 1980s, the village was isolated from the southern part of the island. Even today the trip to Olympos takes more than an hour, due to the winding road that crosses a very mountainous area of Karpathos. The road weaves up and down steep hills and then the village comes into view. It is a very picturesque village, filled with beauty and rich traditions that have been preserved to date, thanks to this long-lasting isolation.
Olympos was built in 900 AD. by refugees from the ancient town of Vrykounda, one of the three ancient cities of Karpathos. Vrykounda was located in a small bay near the village of Avlona. The ruins of the ancient village can still be seen today. Vrykounda was not safe due to pirate raids so the inhabitants moved to a more protected place in the mountains, where they built the village of Olympos. The new village expanded and became the most important on the island.
In Olympos you will meet local women who are still dressed in their traditional dresses which include a black apron and a simple headscarf around the head during weekdays, and colorful clothes with a double row of golden coins on celebration days. Local craftsmen still make the traditional leather boots while others make musical instruments for feasts and festivals. And people still speak the local dialect that has remnants of ancient and Medieval Greek.
Walking through the narrow passageways and the numerous stairs, you will discover dozens of traditional bakeries, small orthodox churches and numerous windmills, some of them still in use. The shops sell handmade wooden utensils, crafts and excellent local products. The tradition can also be tasted in the family tavernas which serve fresh and exquisite dishes like ‘makarounes’, a local handmade pasta from a soft dough that is served with fresh mizithra cheese and sauteed onions. The traditional lifestyle is everywhere in Olympos. That is why it is considered a living folklore museum, making it a unique place not only in Karpathos but in the whole Greece.
Among the main attractions is the church of the Assumption of the Virgin, adorned with frescoes that date from the years of the Ottoman rule. In the Cultural Museum of Olympos you can learn more of the island’s cultural heritage while on the backbone of the village, numerous windmills are lined up, most of them ruined now. In the past Olympos was one of the largest producers of flour, supplying the rest of the island.
What makes the Olympos so beautiful apart of its traditions, is its exceptional location. Typical Karpathian houses are amphitheatrically built on the top and the slopes of the mountain, all with breathtaking view to the rest of the island and to the endless blue of the Aegean Sea. Unfortunately, many of the houses are uninhabited because of immigration but many have been renovated. Vehicles are not allowed and they have to stay in the car park, in the outskirts of the village.
Despite the mountainous terrain of the area, the residents took advantage of the water springs and any arable part of land they could find, in order to create farming fields. Being innovative and hard-working, they managed to become self-sufficient with their own crops, animals and windmills (almost all houses had one). The stone-built ovens were too many to be counted and all the women used to bake bread and food. The villagers were not only tough workers but also great musicians. Thus, some of the best traditional musicians of the island come from Olympos. Nowadays, most of the people are also engaged in tourism.