NEWS

Thousands squeeze onto tiny Greek island to see solar eclipse

KASTELLORIZO – Astronomers joined thousands of lunar enthusiasts yesterday to look at the sky over the Greek island of Kastellorizo, the only spot on European soil where a total solar eclipse was fully visible. Daytime turned into night as more than 3,000 visitors crammed onto the tiny island of Kastellorizo for the natural phenomenon, which will next take place in 2088. What started out as a glorious sunny day on Greece’s easternmost island, only a few miles off the Turkish coast, turned into complete darkness for about four minutes at 1052 GMT when the sun was blocked out by the moon. Birds on the tiny island – once renowned for its flourishing trade before it was partially destroyed in World War Two bombings and most inhabitants emigrated in the early 1950s – fell silent and the temperature dropped several degrees. A sudden wind picked up as the sun disappeared majestically behind the moon on this island which once worshipped the ancient Greek sun God Apollo and where now Lycian ruins mix with tiny picturesque churches scattered around the arid landscape. «I have never seen anything like it,» the island’s Mayor Pavlos Panigyris told reporters. «This is like a huge celebration and we are happy to have about 3,000 visitors and the world’s best scientists to share this with.» Hoteliers and restaurant owners, whose establishments were full a month before the tourism season starts in earnest, probably thanked Apollo for the unexpected boom in business. «We are living the good old days when the island had 15,000 inhabitants, just like in the stories we heard from our grandmothers,» restaurant owner Maritsa Mayafi told Reuters. The sleepy island, deep in Greece’s backwater, is just a stone’s throw from the southern Turkish coast, and this solar eclipse has thrust it into the spotlight. Most hotel rooms on the island, which now has about 200 permanent residents, were booked by scientists years in advance. All remaining rooms were snapped up in the past months forcing authorities to open a public hall for overnight guests. «They have been coming here with yachts, speedboats, sailing boats, with whatever means they could,» Mayafi said. Hundreds of tourists set up tents across the island, slept in the open or even on fishing boats. Five ferries connected Greece’s most remote island with nearby Rhodes, shipping hundreds of people just for the day. There were also celebrations in Turkey. «There are no words to explain what I have seen. It’s such a wonderful view,» said Vedat Tanriverdi, research assistant at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, watching the eclipse in Turkey’s Cappadocia region, famous for its lunar landscape. People danced, sang, and played music. Whistles and applause were heard as the moon passed directly in front of the sun and cast a shadow over what was once an active volcanic region. «This was part of my holiday and it’s great. I took many photos,» said Scott Woodall, a US computer engineer.