On a hill, high above the lake of Dystos we find the ruins of the village Sarai. And there are quite a few buildings left. It is a deserted area, not far from the provincial road that runs from Lepouron to Karistou in the south of central Euboea, around twenty kilometer south of Aliveri. A region of amazing beauty that has been inhabited since 7000 BC when the first agricultural settlements were established in Greece. Archeological remains of some historical eras are preserved and scattered over the hills and surrounding mountains and valleys.

Swamp and mosquitoes
It’s said that the town of Sarai was inhabited during the Turkish occupation. Why the village was abandoned is not entirely clear. It may be that the Turkish inhabitants left the village after the liberation of Greece, or that a malaria epidemic caused the residents to die or move to areas with fewer mosquitoes.

It was not the first time that malaria caused disaster in this area. In ancient times they tried to drain the lake and probably malaria epidemics were the reason. It is a pretty shallow lake with depths of only two to six meters. The scorching heat of the Greek summers and the extraction of water for the irrigation of the fields in the area made the lake like a swamp. The mosquitoes caused malaria epidemics that were uncontrollable.

Carved contract
It is known that already in the fourth century BC the important ancient Euboean city of Eretrea made an agreement with a contractor to drain the lake. The agreement was carved on a bas-relief with mythical figures and is displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens.

The area must have been inhabited for thousands of years. This is proven by the fact that during periods of great drought, discoveries were made at the bottom of the lake. Archeologists found drainage systems, foundations of buildings, sarcophagi (decorated stone tombs) and fountains. It is unknown how they could build here. Either the lake was dried up, or the ancient Greeks had find ways to drain the lake and sent the waters to the nearby Euboean Gulf.

Local legend of the shepherd
According to a local legend, the lake arose from a well at the foot of the hill in the shadow of a huge walnut tree. The tree was so big that a thousand sheep could rest in her shadow. The water from the well leads to a cave. One day, the owner of the herd became angry with the shepherd and said he would fire him as soon as all the sheep were shaved. Furious, the shepherd threw all of the wool into the well and the natural underground drain to the cave became blocked. Slowly the well began to flood and the subsequent rain made it flood even more. This is according to the legend how the lake arose.

Ancient Dystos
Nowadays, not far from the banks of the lake a small agricultural village called Dystos is located. But in the fourth century BC there was an eponymous town, though not at the same location. Around the lake you can find the remains of the ancient town of Dystos: city gates and walls built with gigantic blocks of stone. In 1844 the ruins were visited by the first king of Greece, King Otto and Queen Amalia.

Island with Venetian tower
The Venetians have also left their mark. High on the conical hill named Kastro the ruins of what must once have been an imposing Venetian tower are visible. Today there is only a corner of the tower left and some remains of walls spread over the flanks of the hill. They think that the hill once has been an island in the middle of the lake and was inhabited. From Sarai you have a magnificent view on the hill.

Nature protection program
Apart from archeological remains, amazing views and an enchanting nature, the area is also one of the most important bird breeding sites in Greece. In this area many rare bird species breed but also come to hibernate. That’s one of the reasons it’s protected by the European nature program Natura 2000. Unfortunately, the local population does not really have the impression that the area is actively protected by the authorities. Let’s hope this will change for the better.

How will I get there?

From Amarynthos to Sarai: 35 km/23 miles (43 min drive by car).
From Amarynthos to the new town of Dystos: 26 km/17 miles (34 min drive by car).

From Aliveri (Karavos) to Sarai: 19 km/12 miles (25 min drive by car).
From Aliveri (Karavos) to the new town of Dystos: 10 km/6 miles (16 min drive by car).

From Almiropotamos (Panagia) to Sarai: 15 km/9 miles (23 min drive by car).
From Almiropotamos (Panagia) to the new town of Dystos: 22 km/13 miles (23 min drive by car).

From Nea Stira to Sarai: 24 km/ 15 miles (31 min drive by car).
From Nea Stira to the new town of Dystos: 30 km/19 miles (30 min drive by car).

From Marmari to Sarai: 50 km/31 miles (1 hour drive by car).
From Marmari to Sarai: 57 km/35 miles ( 1hour drive by car).


Featured image of building at Lake Dystos by Rebecca Loftiss [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons.

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