George Koksma’s first 5 days investigation visit to Kythera in July 1959


George Koksma’s first 5 days investigation visit to Kythera in July 1959


On request of the World Council of Churches, main office Geneva, George was asked to visit Kythera and together with the recently appointed Bishop Meletios to investigate possibilities to improve living conditions on the island. In this respect Bishop Meletios in a letter had asked the WCC for assistance in any way to achieve this goal.


Following has been taken from his handwritten notes on board aircraft from Athens back to Amsterdam.


Arrival at Kythera at Sunday 19th of July 1959 at 3.30 AM.

First trip at same day after church time at 11.00 AM. Participants: 1) His Grace the Bishop, 2) Mr. St. Zambounis of the Ministry of Agriculture, 3) Mr. G. Kalligeros, the local agriculturist, 4) the interpreter Mr. P. Maslatjidis, 5) the driver Vasili and 6) me, George Koksma.

  1. Visit to Potamos with a bright market of all possible goods, after church time. General impression of a village with its dry surroundings (Potamos = river!)
  2. Visit to Karavas with thorough inspection of the agricultural school. Cultivation of 6000 olive trees, flowers and vegetables. Further development of the school has been planned and parties concerned consider expansion in every regional possible direction ….. This place is the Bishop’s apple in the eye. From here they hope to distribute many olive trees over the place. Being there in spring, this very important area is garden like. On our way to the next visit, the Bishop showed me the abandoned place of the former (days) Bishops of Kythera, with the church of Agios Theodoros. The Bishop was willingly to sacrifice this sacred place for the benefit of his people, giving it as an agricultural center and for stationing agricultural machinery.
  3. Visit to the semi-agricultural and domestic school for girls (in Mylopotamos). Besides tomatoes and melons, they for the first time had tried to grow potatoes. The result was not too bad, though I did not feel if the kind used was the very best for that sort of soil and climate. The local agriculturist did not know either. I took some potatoes with me for investigation in Holland and promised them some Frisian seed potatoes. Furthermore I told the people over there, not to irrigate too much and especially not in the last period of the growth (the soil actually being still somewhat wet even after harvesting of most of them). The potatoes had not been properly put upon higher situated little rows. Mylopotamos has a spring and consequently the village can live, but their sorrow is the yearly, almost diminishing of the source of fertileness. They were afraid that some crack in the rock would be the cause, giving the water a way for seeking lower places into the rock bottom of the isle. They asked me for a remedy. I answered that an investigation would be necessary and that a cure might be the treatment with some bitumen product that I know well, but this all surely was not an attack upon the real trouble of the isle.
  4. Visit to the planes and slopes of the last existing woods on the west coast of the isle of Kythera. These woods have been burned down for some unknown reason and consequently the surface of the country shows all sign of erosion and the barrenness vegetation belonging to it.
  5. Visit to the Monastery of Myrtidiotissa (on the west coast as well). Here on behalf of the Bishop’s inspiring activities there have been created lovely gardens with all kinds of well mended trees and vegetables. These, relatively small, gardens were made possible by a water vein in the soil. Mr. Kalligeros had some poultry over there, white leghorns. I think a good race for the isle and a horrible bad stable for pigs. I told him of some special pig stables I had designed for owners in Friesland (Holland) and gave him some sketches. I will study the matter further being this entirely in my line. We were back at approx. 22.00 AM and then I heard the list of the Bishop’s wishes, attached separately further on. Close of the day at 1.00 PM on Monday morning the 20th of July ’59. The same day the same company set off again for further investigations.
  6. Monday the 20th of July ’59. Visit to the valley of the wandering rivers (Paleopolis). A long and tiring trip onto the hot and almost abandoned terrain along the Mediterranean coastline on the east side of the isle. When His Grace asked me if there was a possibility to have these troubles removed, I told him that levelling apparatus and a bulldozer was enough. The bulldozer seems to be there. But this case as well has another aspect, because of the heavy erosion both these wandering rivers (, showed me to) have made. This trouble also should not be cured with such makeshifts. In the vicinity of this place I may have found a good sample of marl. I took it home for a chemical test.
  7. Most of the sublime garden area in the center of the isle. A benevolent donor has given a shadowy rest place where a clear spring constantly gives ½ gallon water per second. This tiny flow is able to set growing: peach trees, oranges, pears, plums, grapes of a wine producing kind and even bananas. Outside of the direct influence many olive trees have changed the face of this lovely spot. That is what a very small stream of water is able to do! At approx. 19.00 hours we were back at the Bishop’s place and I was left to consider the very many things I had seen.
  8. Tuesday the 21st of July 1959. Visit of the solitary rock in the Mediterranean at some miles distance from the harbour (Kapsali). A short pleasure trip to a wonderful cavern into its bulk.
  9. After a new study of the (received) material I insisted upon a new visit to the far away valley of the wandering rivers in the vicinity of which in ancient days the glorious city of Skandia was drowned into the sea by a positive level change due to earthquakes. Assisted by all the charming companions (you should of course excuse the dear old Bishop that he did not jump from rock to rock in the dry stony brooklet bedding and through stingy thorn bushes. He was much occupied elsewhere.). I made a very rough and superficial levelling investigation on the different places. The first we found showed afterwards to be the best, according to Mr. Sambounis opinion. We visited also a bee stand as well.
  10. We had a short meeting with practically all the male inhabitants of a village we passed. The speaker of them urged me in fluent English, to come over and help them. Anew I made several calculations that evening.
  11. Wednesday 22nd of July ’59. Visit of several houses in Kythera, conversation with some of the inhabitants, visit of the harbour and afterwards a closer discussion about the methods, reports and duty of the agricultural specialist of the Government on the isle. He seems to me an able and quite good working man who might have some assistance however. Points of discussion were furthermore: import of a good species of rabbits, goats and cows and construction of suitable stables. There was a possibility to have a look at a canyon behind the town of Kythera as well. After a good rest, that I needed very much, we went, accompanied by His Grace the Bishop, at 17.00 h to:
  12. The Monastery of Agia Elesa at the west coast again (the coast length of 30 km leaves enough places!). The monastery is situated at approx. 1500 ft. above sea level. People of the monastery and out of its vicinity have to carry the water (rainwater from roofs and church square) to the brown gardens 1300 ft. below! Even the olive tree here seem to refuse its cooperation.
  13. A new visit to the Myrtidiotissa monastery was taken for a closer study of the gaps (crevice) in that neighborhood.
  14. Manufacturing of honey was again studied in Mylopotamos where His Grace had several things to do at the home economical school. In the meanwhile some inhabitants of another village over there, took (gave) me some sample of a natural cement, found in quite considerable quantities in the mountains. The samples are in my possession now and I will investigate them. Even if it only shows to be of catalytic value, it may be of great use.


Thursday the 23rd of July ’59.

His Grace the Bishop thought it wise to call all the village leaders to a meeting at his place, where he was able to show them what was going on. His grace made a speech. So did Mr. Maslatjidis about the work of the World Committee at Ioannina. So did Mr. Sambounis about the feelings of the Greek Ministry of Agriculture in connection with the inhabitants of the island and so did I without knowledge of the meaning of (what was said by) my predecessors.

I told them that I was sure that the very big problems of their island could be solved. They themselves had to do the work, to His Grace the Bishop they owned the multitude of ideas for rebuilding everything and if they did not severely pray to God for assistance, nothing at all would happen. Perhaps I might be of some help, but this was depending on several conditions.

The farewell of the island some hours later, was nearly heartrending.


His Grace the Bishop’s wishes and schemes:

  1. Reforestation. Growing of olive trees, carob trees, almond trees and other species
  2. Increase the number of domestic animals, like cows, goats, sheep, rabbits, pigs and poultry. In this way more food will be available for the population
  3. Intensification of the Karavas agricultural school. Establish a model farm at Myrtidia
  4. Establish a central cooperative agricultural machine park at Agios Theodoros to be run by farmers of the island and to be used for cultivation of unused land, for instance the properties of Kytherians who left the island long ago, property of the Church (a considerable amount), areas left behind by the English occupants. A future revenue from these properties could be used for a further development of the island. In case an emigrant returns to Kythera and finds his property flourishing, His Grace is of the opinion that a certain arrangement should be made with the emigrant, for instance that the cooperation still will get 25 to 30 % of the earnings of this property.
  5. Irrigation.

Advices and personal opinion. Promises.

Principally I quite agree with His Grace’s insight. Trees have to be planted as soon as possible and as many as the soil can bear. The other points, 2 and 3 are necessary and desirable as well. Point 4 is ingenious, but point 5 is more than necessary, it is of vital importance, it means no less than the survival of the island of Kythera. It will be perhaps 5% of the island’s surface that is giving life to the population. This probably may be raised by practicing the improvements mentioned or hinted at in points A4, B4 and A6 to another 5%, but this will be the summit and still the increasing dryness keeps its ominous threat. The erosion has gone too far! Certainly I am willing to do everything that is in my power to realize these wishes and schemes, but I have seen the terrain and I am sure, that it is possible to keep some of the tremendous amount of yearly precipitation into the island. The yearly amount of water coming down on Kythera is 200.000.000 m3. A part of this amount would mean growing of every tree thinkable in sub tropic areas, wheat, vegetables and all the things the Bishop should like to ask for.

I propose to you the building of diverse weirs or barrages, to keep something of the annual torrents in hand, to raise the groundwater level of the isle and if possible to make some ponds, from where areas may be irrigated. In this way springs would come out of the soil at diverse spots, sediments would no longer go down to the sea and even a modest power station might gleam in the future.

The costs of such dams are relatively small, for the material for the erection of the composing cyclopic walls are at the sites directly available and a work camp working together with local farmers might do the work with me. For every cubic foot of weir I need no more than 7 kg cement (250 kg/m3). For the first little dam, an experimental sample perhaps, it will take approx. 50.000 kg or 1000 bags (approx. 80.000 drachmas) and maybe 5000 kg of reinforcement steel.

Road construction seems to be in progress, but needs pressure, being this of the very first importance.

Concerning the agricultural measures of all possible kinds I should like to hive the following impressions. It seems to me desirable for cattle (not the Frisian races, but) Schweitzer cows. For goats Zanen goats. For pigs the great Yorkshire race. The most suitable stables I am willing to make them, it is my specialty. For poultry White Leghorn. Sheep and rabbits are too unfamiliar to me to give any opinion. Though I don’t agree with people mentioning Flemish Giant for rabbits. They are too vulnerable, their eyes, for instance.


Normal encyclopedia information tells that the isle of Kythera must have been one of the beloved places were honeymoon people spent their holidays. Honeymooning never is done in deserts. But Kythera in those days certainly was no desert. On the contrary, it was one of the best known Aphrodite culture places, a fertile spot, woods and growth of all kinds of trees and plants. Hardly imaginable if one beholds the typical erosion landscape that covers nine tenth of the island. This dry terrain today does not give the faintest remembrance of a once better vegetation. Everything has been washed away, the last minimum of useful soil, despairingly clutched between the tough roots of thorny things (even in place A4). It seems to be a long way from a place that once was worthy of the name of a goddess of fertileness and love into a glowing dry desert. Indeed, this way lasted some 3000 to 4000 years, but there is no single reason to assume, that the isle by now has reached the terminus of this Via Dolorosa. The little spring that diminishes so alarmingly in Mylopotamos, certainly has not found a crack in the rocks, but is a sign of the nearing point of absolute dryness. The quite sufficient amount of rainwater caught by the islands surface in the rainy period, has conquered the dust obstacles and flows so quick to the sea that practically nothing is left to soak in the rocky soil. Meanwhile the use of water (in Mylopotamos) does not decrease. But Mylopotamos, within a measurable period of time, will be a dry place. Also the mills since long have disappeared out of the river. When this spring has dried up another number of the discouraged population will leave Kythera. Within some 200 years Kythera will be desolated but for some officials, some fishermen and a single priest. A needless loss for the important junction, stronghold of the free world, modern Greece.

When I came back on Friday the 24th of July ’59 another child of Greek parents, “sold” to America illustrated to me how imported rebuilding of society in this area may be. Instead of being an empty rock under a burning sky, Kythera easily can be the bearer of 10.000 inhabitants, all devoted to their very great leader the Bishop.

George’s proposal to WCC Geneva officials.

My wife and I we will be at your disposal if you are able and willing to leave Kythera to our care. I think that most of your conditions are known to us and accepted, but we would like to ask your attention for some extra wishes: -) a jeep for carrying us and our eventual collaborators everywhere over the island; -) a house to live in and permission to carry some of necessary furniture with us, but certainly my piano.



Fatsadika, August 2015.

In Word by Jean Bingen

File/Bestand: Jurjen Koksma 1907–2004, Kythira 1960-2004.


1960 arrival at Kythira
1960 arrival at Kythira >> a good read The Arrival Introduction

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