Karlovasi (also written Karlovassi; Greek, Καρλόβασι), the second largest town on Samos, is a port on the north coast, 32 km west of the capital Vathy, at the western end of the National Road 62 Samos-Karlovasi (Εθνική Οδός Σάμο 62 Καρλοβασιου, Ethniki Odos 62 Samou Karlovasiou) which winds along the coast from Vathy.
The town stands on a wide coastal plain and low hills, north of a pass which leads to the centre of the island, between Mount Kerkis (Όρος Κέρκης: or Kerketeas, Όρος Κερκετέας) to the west and Mount Ambelos (Όρος Ἀμπελος) to the east.
Two rivers flow through Karlovasi, the Megalo Rema which descends from Mount Kerkis, and Fourniotikos which springs from Mount Ambelos. Both rivers enter the Aegean on the eastern side of the town.
Although Karlovasi only has 6869 inhabitants (according to the 2011 census) it stretches 7 km from west to east, and consists of four districts: Old Karlovasi, Karlovasi Port , Middle Karlovasi and New Karlovasi. The districts were originally separate settlements, and though now joined into one municipality in 1958, they remain distinctly different - and a considerable walking distance from each other.
As its name indicates, Old Karlovasi (Παλαιό Καρλόβασι, Paleo Karlovasi) is the oldest part of the town, built to the west of the harbour, around the hill on which the Agia Triada Church (Αγίας Τριάδας, Holy Trinity) stands.
It is thought that this was the site of the ancient city of Gorgyia (Γοργυία, or Γόργυρα, Gorgyra) which had a temple dedicated to Dionysos Gorgyia. The ruin of an early Christian church and other archaeological finds indicate that the place was still inhabited in Byzantine times. However by around 1475 the area had been abandoned as most of the islanders, particularly those living on the coast, fled to other islands because of pirate raids.
From the 16th century, after Ottoman Turkey had taken control of Samos from the Genoese, the village, by this time known as Alonaki (Αλωνάκι), was repopulated by descendents of Samians who had fled to Chios (Χιοσάμιοι, Chiosamii), as well as settlers from Ikaria, the Cyclades and the Peloponnese.
Karlovasi Port (Λιμάνι Καρλοβασίου, Limani Karlovasiou; also known as Riva) grew rapidly during the 19th century with the increase in trade of the island's agricultural produce, including wine, olives and tobacco. Factories and leather tanning works, many of which used steam-operated machines, were built around the port. Several shipowners, manufacturers and merchants became wealthy and built their mansions, many of which can still be seen, and monumental churches such as Agios Nikolaos (see gallery page 54).
Today there is far less industrial activity at the port which now serves as a stop for ferries (see How to get to Samos). Much of the former industrial area is overgrown wasteland and what remains of the factories, tanneries and warehouses stand as ruins. Some of the old buildings are now used by the University of the Aegean.
To the east of the port is the district of Middle Karlovasi (Μεσαίο Καρλόβασι, Mesaio Karlovasi), once known as Kalyvia (Huts) because of the makeshift homes the settlers built when they first arrived here.
New Karlovasi (Νέο Καρλόβασι, Neo Karlovasi) is the modern centre, with the highest population density, the most shops and offices, and three science departments of the University of the Aegean (Πανεπιστήμιο Αιγαίου), with an estimated 1,000 active students living in the town. This is also where buses between Vathy and Karlovasi stop.
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© David John