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Catacombs

Outside the walls of the ancient town of Milos and near the village of Tripiti, 150 meters above sea level, I will find the Catacombs of Milos.

They were discovered by looters and became known after the looting in 1840. The German archaeologist Ludwig Ross studied the monument in 1843, three years after their discovery. From inscriptions he found on site, he deemed that the catacombs belong to the 2nd century AD and even perhaps the 1st. They were used as a cemetery and as a place of worship since the time the new religion began to spread, and until the 5th century AD. The Catacombs span 185 meters in length and number 291 graves. Ross estimated the number of graves across the adjacent region to be around 1500-2000 and the general number of burials 8000. Others calculate a necropolis of 10,000 dead. The Catacombs of Milos are unique in size throughout Greece and are among the most famous and remarkable Christian monuments in the world, alongside the catacombs of Rome and the Holy Land.

This labyrinthine complex consists of three major – initially independent – underground galleries (A, B, C) cut into the porous volcanic rock, five aisles and a rectangular burial chamber in the form of the cubicula of the Catacombs of Rome. Each catacomb has a different width (1-5 meters) and different heights (1.60 to 2.50 meters). The total length is 185 meters, and in the walls of the galleries 126 "arcosolia" (apsidal carved tombs) are preserved until today. The arcosolia were decoratively painted (red stripe on the rim and deep blue on surface of the drum), but few traces remain today of the colorful decoration.

The current form of the catacombs took its shape in the 20th century due to some work done then, such as the entrance to burial chamber B and the passageways that connect the three originally independent catacombs. Today I can only visit the Second Gallery (B), the Catacomb of " the Elders" as it is called, and take a tour on the specially constructed wooden-plank platform. On the right side of this catacomb we can see the unique two-storey tomb and fragments of the most important inscription, written in capital letters within a red rectangle. There is a rock in the center, under which one of the first bishops of the Christian community of the island was probably buried, and which the early Christians used as an altar for their religious functions.

Of the catacombs that cannot be visited, A (west of today's central underground gallery) has large width, a spacious burial chamber and distinguishing double family tombs carved in the walls. Catacomb C (east of today's central gallery) survives only partially and there are traces of one of the few surviving Old-Christian murals, which depicted branches with blossoms and birds.

The activity of the first Christians in the catacombs stopped either shortly after the establishment of religious toleration with the Edict of Milan (313AD), or progressively until the abandonment and destruction of the ancient city of Klima because of earthquakes in the 5th or 6th century AD. The existence of the catacombs resulted in Milos being proclaimed a "Sacred Island" by the Greek Church in 2009.