Greece’s disappearing whistled language

Hidden deep in the south-east corner of the Greek island of Evia, above a twisting maze of ravines that tumbles toward the Aegean Sea, the tiny village of Antia clings to the slopes of Mount Ochi. There are no hotels or restaurants within 40km, and the tiny place is so remote that it doesn’t exist on Google Maps.

But as you travel here along a dizzying road from Karystos, through a mythical landscape of megalithic ‘dragon house’ stone tombs and giant Cyclopic boulders, you’ll hear an ancient siren song reverberating against the mountain walls. That’s because for thousands of years, the inhabitants of Antia have used a remarkable whistled language that resembles the sounds of birds to communicate across the distant valleys.

Known as sfyria, it’s one of the rarest and most endangered languages in the world – a mysterious form of long-distance communication in which entire conversations, no matter how complex, can be whistled. For the last two millennia, the only people who have been able to sound and understand sfyria’s secret notes are the shepherds and farmers from this hillside hamlet, each of whom has proudly passed down the tightly guarded tradition to their children.

But in the last few decades, Antia’s population has dwindled from 250 to 37, and as older whistlers lose their teeth, many can no longer sound sfyria’s sharp notes. Today, there are only six people left on the planet who can still ‘speak’ this unspoken language – and one of them recently invited me to Antia so I could meet the last whistlers of Greece.

Read more: BBC Travel

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