Olympos, or Elympos, is the northernmost and most mountainous village of Karpathos, amphitheatrically built on a slope of mount Profitis Ilias. Nearly 52 kilometers from Arkasa and about 46 frim Karpathos town. Diafáni is its harbor. The broader region of Olympos, taking up most of the northern part of the island and the small island Saria, comprises of mountainous land of approximately 37 km2, most of which is covered with forests or is used as pastoral land.
The first time Olympos was mentioned was by Buondelmonti in the 15th century. The settlement though must have been founded between the 10th and 15th centuries. There are several traditional stories about its founding. According to one, its residents are descendents of the residents of ancient Vrykos (modern Vrykounta), located at the northern part of the island, where they had fled seeking refuge from Arab incursions of the 7th-9th centuries. According to another, they are the population that went to the hinterland after the city was destroyed by earthquake.
There is another theory as well, according to which Olympos was named thus because of its altitude (mount Olympos of Thessaly is the highest in Greece) or by residents of village Elympi of Chios, who transferred the name, the customs and the peculiar dialect of their village to their new home.
The information we have on the settlement during latter times is little, since Western excursionists never went there; they only carried an echo of its peculiarities in their texts. According to traditional stories, Olympos was initially out of sight from the sea; a fortified settlement smaller than the modern one, which had a castle with many entrances called “kamara”. That is how it’s believed the «Exo Kamara” (Outer Kamara) neighborhood –it was out of the walls– got its name. Most probably, it is one of the Aegean settlements built in safe locations in the islands’ hinterland, so that residents could avoid pirate raids. In the 18th-19th centuries though, when Aperi was the island’s administration center up to 1892, Menetes and Olympos were the largest settlements. Olympos was one of the most significant production centers of the island, especially for breadstuffs. The numerous horseshoe-shaped windmills attest this.
Residents of Olympos were either shepherds or “despéries”, who cultivated the land. The first lived outside the castle walls, while the latter within them; therefore, they were called “castrini” (Castle people). Save the limited cultivable land of that area, the despéries also used more distant regions, where they built huts. These buildings later turned into “stables” (typical farm houses), or even into permanent residences: e.g. Avlona or Saria.
Due to its geographical isolation, Olympos has many cultural peculiarities compared to the villages called “Kato Choria” (Lower villages). Its economic and social development differs. Therefore, Olympos has preserved peculiar customs, its idiom and traditional garment, which old women wear up to now.
Olympos is also known for its enormous musical tradition and the renowned feasts. On religious festivals, weddings and name days, residents feast with the local tunes of the pear-shaped lyre, the violin, the tsambouna and the lute. They adapt extemporary couplets differently each time to iambic fifteeners called mandinada, relevant to the feast (e.g. wishes to the wedded couple), everyday life and current events. They often form dialogues, making the feast more interesting. Only men participate at the feast; women watch from a distance. The most significant festivals take place at Olympos on August 15th, the day the church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary celebrates for three days, and at Vrykounta on August 29th, on St. John’s day, when the settlement’s residents and other Karpathians go to the impressive cave with the church and spend the night outdoors.
The custom of the kanakaris and the kanakará (beloved son and daughter), relevant to family structure and bequest, is widely spread on islands. On Karpathos, and especially Olympos, it was the most significant factor shaping social relations. This custom had an impact on the society of Olympos. A social group of landowners came from hereditary transmissions. This group accumulated the community’s economic, administrative and social powers. Within this peculiar group, inbreeding was common. Their symbol of power was the church of the Virgin Mary, where only they could go. When the settlement expanded out of the castle walls, first-borns retained the exclusive right of living at Exo Kamara, which had a view to the sea. Up to 1922, the kanakarides had private pews at the Dormition church and private slabs called “merées” on the narthex floor for women. They also built private churches and had their own windmills and watermills, as well as the most fertile lowland fields of the community. The “kolaína” characterized the kanakará; no other woman was allowed to wear it. It was brocade with sawn golden coins, Venetian florins, Byzantine coins, pounds and other coins.
Today Olympos is still a well kept secret of Karpathos, tradition,culture,folklore,music,craftsman and many others are what describe this village today. Reaching Olympos is still adventure, the road from Spoa towards the village is a difficult gravel road, a jeep(4x4) is a must. A boat excursion from Karpathos Town is a very good experience to reach the village Olympos.