Milos Means Mining – Milos, Greece

Every Greek hilltop with remains of a Venetian castle acts as a magnet, in Milos it’s so strong that it attracts tourists and locals alike. Milos is the southernmost island in the Western Cyclades.

Ruins of a castle can be thought provoking, and standing with an entire island at your feet is fascinating; strewn with white villages, water on each side and Cycladic Islands on the horizon. Even more exciting, in my opinion, are the views that take you by surprise: a magical scenery appearing through the branches of a tree or framed by a garden gate.

View From Plaka
View From Plaka

I would not mind settling down where I am right now, on the square in Plaka, the capital of Milos. The somewhat derelict neoclassical mansion, behind a rusty iron gate, appears vacant. Outside its gate, local farmers are calling out today’s special offers from their little trucks loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables. However, I’m actually curious to ascend the hill up to the Kastro, a curiosity awakened by Milos Mining Museum.

Island of Colors

The peak is adorned with a tiny white church and a Greek flag, faded and worn, fluttering in the breeze. “See the horseshoe!” someone exclaims. Milos is often described as horseshoe-shaped, since the island encircles a huge bay opening northwestwards. Plaka, on the eastern side of the bay, has grown together with the villages of Tripiti and Triovasalos. Most tourists stay in a fourth village, the nearby port of Adamas, also the home of the Mining Museum.

Milos is known as the “island of colors”. The usual ones are evident: the water’s deep blue, emerald green in the bathing bays; the white of the cube-like houses; the greyish brown of the scorched mountainsides; the light blue of the sky. But the pet name refers to a colorful underground, visible particularly along the coast as beautiful rock formations in spectacular colors, caused by a volcanic past. Just 1100 meters down, the magma is still sizzling, and volcanic fumes continue to emerge although the latest eruption occurred 90,000 years ago.

Looking Back While Ascending
Looking Back While Ascending

Unfortunately, the real landscape is not dotted with letters like the geological map inside the museum was. The letters are the initials of all the valuable metals and minerals abounding in Milos, indicating the actual spots where they occur. On the west part, K and B were found, kaolin and bentonite. Generally, though, the occurrences seemed far more widespread on the eastern part, apparently containing half the alphabet.

Big Mining Business

At last, I can see for myself that western Milos does look unspoilt and is rather inaccessible due to high mountains, with the Profitis Ilias as the highest. There are considerable height differences on the east side too, causing the roads to take on dramatic serpentine bends. Heavy trailers, on their way between the mines and the ports, groan under their loads. The scars in the landscape are unmistakable but should become fewer, thanks to a restoration program for re-establishing nature around abandoned mines.

Active mines are run by private companies who bought extraction rights from the state. In a recent count, these companies employed 25 per cent of the Miloan labor force, presumably the reason why Milos appears a bit indifferent towards foreign tourists. Greek visitors, on the other hand, are quite common. Adamas, the port, is somewhat of a tourist center. Its new promenade is creating a true cafe eldorado. The most popular excursion from Adamas is a sailing trip around the island to see the colors and shapes of the rocks.

Some years ago, when the mining companies used the bay for embarking and disembarking, Adamas was marred by a constant stream of reeking, noisy trailers. An occasional heavy trailer passes through even today, perhaps to remind the cafe customers that Milos is actually a place of big business. Beyond Adamas, another harbor can be discerned, and the big ship out there confirms that the bay is still used by the mining companies.

Family Excursion

Four Greeks soon keep me company; a middle-aged couple and one young couple. It’s obviously the younger lady’s first visit to the Kastro. She is enlightened by her potential future mother-in-law who is explaining good-humoredly and terminates every explanation with a Greek okay, “Endaxi?” Just to ensure that her educational efforts fall on fertile ground.

The young lady is in fact very curious. I expect she hears of dark obsidian, volcanic glass, made into knives and arrows in ancient times, later on fashioned into mirrors and decorative objects. There are many other names for her to keep track of if she is going to acquaint herself with today’s production as well: baryte, manganese, perlite, pozzolan and sulphur are only some of them.

Milos' Valuable Landscape
Milos’ Valuable Landscape

I willingly admit that Kastro was really worth a visit, first of all because the Mining Museum had given me a factual background directly related to the panoramic views. I’m skeptical of certain statements, though; made by retired miners, quite a few of them women, participating in a film running non-stop in the museum. They admit that working in the mines was tough, but claim that it gave them a good life nevertheless.

The problem is that I do not fully believe them. I suspect they were instructed to embellish their stories, or they are simply too polite to express themselves negatively now that they were allowed to appear in a film. And if they do tell the truth, they cannot be representative, so I think I will go and find other old people who also used to be miners, to get an unbiased picture of the working conditions in the mines of Milos.