The harbour at Leukos on the west coast of Karpathos is arguably the best haven on Karpathos against the prevailing north winds: not only does it have three beach harbours but it is also sheltered by the lofty off-shore islet of Sokastro. So it would not be surprising to find extensive remains of occupation here. 

Bagnani and della Seta first observed a few scattered walls still standing around the harbours, and cuttings in the rock from industrial or commercial activities such as purple dyeing; indeed, evidence for this industry was excavated in the harbour in 2000 by Vasilis Karambatsos. This is further evidence of the maritime endeavours of the Early Byzantine inhabitants of Karpathos. Then the two men climbed up to the upper plateau where they discovered in a modern threshing floor “some large rectangular blocks, some still in position, coming from a Greek building perhaps a temple.” A huge natural amphitheatre facing west toward Sokastro is formed by semi-circular terraced fields descending from the brow of the plateau. Further inland, they explored an underground pillared cistern and extensive rock quarries. On the rocky islet of Sokastro, they discovered fortification walls surrounding many small barrel-vaulted cisterns and a few enormous cisterns. 

I still recall the feeling of exhilaration when, after clamoring up the terraced fields and reaching the top of the amphitheatre, I discovered the same Greek temple blocks exactly where Gilbert said they were in his report a century ago, the remains of an unknown city. He suggested that it might have been Nisyros, since the ancient geographer Strabo wrote that Karpathos had had four cities including Nisyros, and it has never otherwise been located.

Since the area around Leukos had never been formally surveyed, I initiated an archaeological surface survey around the harbours and Sokastro in collaboration with Michael Nelson, Amanda Kelly and Todd Brenningmeyer, none of whom, however, need be considered responsible for my flights of fancy. Under the aegis of the Canadian Institute in Greece, this survey was the first international project in the Dodecanese approved by the Greek Archaeological Service. 

In brief, the visible remains around the harbours including two paleo-Christian basilicas date to the Early Byzantine period from the 4th-5th centuries CE. The results of the survey have been published as “The Early Byzantine Settlement at Leukos, Karpathos” in the Annual of the British School at Athens 2015, pp. 1 – 47. The upper town on the plateau was not included in the surveyed area. The cisterns in the fortified settlement on Sokastro date to the Middle Byzantine period, and will be published separately.

There is some cartographic evidence supporting Gilbert Bagnani’s identification of the extensive remains as Nisyros: at least one medieval map located “old Nisyros” and a “once great city” inland near the only offshore island along the west coast of Karpathos, i.e., Sokastro. It may be that the upper city was called Nisyros and was more or less abandoned in preference to the harbours along the coast by the Early Byzantine period, if not earlier.