Majestic and mystical; ethereal; elegant yet unpolished; in one word, authentic. In the south-eastern corner of the Aegean, west of Rhodes, is the tiny island of Halki, a truly untouched gem of the Dodecanese. It is the realm of rock and absolute peacefulness; an island with great nautical tradition and proud islanders with an innate politeness. The journey to Halki seems like an initiation in the art of living at a slower pace and in finding happiness in simplicity; the unspoiled beautiful scenery; the relaxing melodies of lyres; the sweetness of folk songs (“mantinades”); the ever-true look in the eyes of the locals.
Characterized by UNESCO as the “island of Peace and Friendship”, Halki warmly welcomes the visitor and unfolds its unique history that goes back many centuries. From antiquity, when the flourishing copper mines gave the island its name (Halkos is Greek for copper), to the ancient civilizations (Pelasgians, Carians, Dorians and Phoenicians) who prospered on the island; the Arabs, Genoese and Venetians who occupied Halki and built unconquerable medieval castles; the Turks who granted the locals with financial and educational privileges, thus contributing to the island’s great prosperity during the 19th century, to the rough years of the Italian colonists and the great emigration of Halki’s residents across the Atlantic.
The first sight of Halki is mesmerizing. Framed against an amphitheatre of houses rising on all sides of the small bay, Emporio (or Nimporio), the capital and only settlement of the island, emerges out of the turquoise waters like an old, romantic movie set. Brightly painted Italianated mansions with huge windows and tile roofs, restored neoclassical mansions and deserted captains’ houses tell the story of a glorious past; Halki was famous throughout the world for its sponge-diving and flourishing commerce. Stroll around the flagstone alleyways of the old town, decorated with bougainvilleas and opuntias (prickly pears), and feel the locals’ sincere respect to the natural beauty and aesthetics of their homeland.
Emporio is a town of many beautiful surprises. The majestic church of Agios Nikolaos, the patron saint of the island, built in 1861, has many stunning features: the ornamented wooden iconostasis; the sublime black and white mosaic floor in the courtyard and the impressive belfry, the tallest in the Dodecanese, that stands on an arch incorporating stones from the ancient sanctuary of Apollo. The all-white Town Hall, with the massive blue windows and the twin winding staircases leading to the building’s entrance is a sublime sight. In front of the Town Hall, stands the tall, central Clock Tower, an impressive tourist attraction. The picturesque quay with the appealing tavernas and cafés overlooks the three restored windmills on the low ridge to the right of Emporio, a picture-postcard and a sample of exceptional folklore architecture that stands strong through time.