Rhenia or Rinia island is a small treasure lying right next to Delos and its cosmopolitan cousin, Mykonos. Although so close to the vibrant Island of the Winds, very few people know of the incredible beauties that are waiting to be discovered here. This is a bit sad, considering how many people visit Delos and how close Rhenia is to the spiritual island (only a small area of one kilometre separates Delos from Rhenia). However, those that know even the bare basics about Rhenia admit falling in love with this little pearl in the Cyclades. Here are some facts that may justify this infatuation!
A 7-millennia sacred land
According to historians, Rhenia was populated about 7,000 years ago at a time when Delos was the spiritual centre of the Aegean Sea. Rhenia, although four times bigger than Delos, which is why it is often referred to as Big Delos, was always under Delos’ shadow. However, at around 530 BC, a tyrant called Polycratis conquered Rhenia and dedicated it to Apollo, the Olympian god of oracles, prophecy, archery, poetry, music, and healing, and messenger of Zeus, although his temple was in Delos.
Later on, Thoukidides, a Greek historian, mentions that Polycratis ordered to hook Delos to Rhenia with a one-kilometre rocky passage that the locals now call the Big Rematiaris and the Little Rematiaris. On these rocks, visitors are greeted with the ruins of a 20th-century Christian church and an ancient Greek temple.
From a holy place to a graveyard
Tyrant Polycratis ruled that Rhenia would be the burial ground for the soldiers that died in Delos. Not long after, the Athenians decided to perform a catharsis on Delos and turn it into their sacred island. This meant that women were not allowed to give birth in Delos. It also meant that nobody would be buried in Delos. So, whoever died in Delos was sent to Rhenia.
For that reason, all the graves at Delos were opened, and the bones of the dead were transferred to Rhenia, turning it into a necropolis. In fact, archaeologists discovered a huge hole in Rhenia island (they called it “the purification pit”) in the late 1900s that contained hundreds of urns with bodies’ ashes and vessels of offerings (i.e., glass, marble, ivory, etc.).
At the same time, a hospital in its ancient form was set up at Rhenia to treat those that got sick in Delos. So, Rhenia turned into a burial and treatment centre up until Delos’ glory and fame went down. After that, the beautiful island was deserted and left to its fate.
An uninhabited protected area
Today, Rhenia is a protected archaeological site and is only frequented by goats. You will find no telephones, electricity, or running water on the island, while grazing and farming are strictly limited. The very few farmers that are allowed to work on the land here have to pay a fee and use exclusively traditional farming techniques to preserve the natural landscape. Nevertheless, it is forbidden to build anything on the island. As for the 60 or so remaining houses, they are abandoned and stand proud reminders of a once lively place.
However, Rhenia IS a captivating Greek island that has not lost its charm and Cycladic allure.
What to do in Rhenia Island
With about 42 km of coastline, you have plenty of opportunities to explore crystal-clear waters and sandy shores. The four most popular beaches are Ambelia, Lia, Stena, and Glyfada, which are protected by a couple of coves. But, do feel free to wander some more and see what you can find in more remote locations.
The best way to reach the island is by boat, alone or with groups of other people via organised Rhenia boat tours. You may even arrange for a private helicopter ride or yacht cruise. Most of these tours offer drinks and meals onboard, as well as snorkeling and diving adventures upon request.
After enjoying the warm Mediterranean sky, you could view the ruins of the ancient Christian churches and the Greek temples, as well as warriors’ burial stones from thousands of years ago. But, it is not only archaeological sites worth exploring in Rhenia. You may even admire scenic 20th-century chapels that offer pristine views of the sea and the rest of the Cyclades.
All that aside, let’s not forget that Rhenia is a breath away from Delos and its profound energetic appeal. This means that Rhenia is perfect for spiritual practices, ranging from meditation to yoga. The best part of it all? Chances are you will have the entire island all by yourself! Worst case scenario? There are a few more people scattered throughout the island. Not even close to the overwhelming crowds in Mykonos, though.