History of Kythira

Kythira History

Mythology – Classical Period.

Hesiod in his Theogony mentions that Cronus in the dispute for power cut off the genitals of the father of Uranus, which fell into the Kythira Sea. From the foam that was created, the Goddess Aphrodite was born. Then the waves carried the Goddess to Cyprus, where she was also worshiped as a Goddess and protector of the Island. The interpretation – desymbolization of the Myth refers to geological rearrangements that resulted in the emergence of the island from the Sea. The large number of paleontological finds in Mitata and Viaradika, originating from the Sea, attests to this. The first connection of Aphrodite with Kythira is in the Orphic where it is referred to as “Kytheria Goddess of Love and Nurture”. Aphrodite was more a goddess of beauty and illicit love and rarely protected conjugal life. Her sacred symbols were white doves, a pair of doves drew her chariot. Her symbols were also the apple, the poppy, the pomegranate blossom, the rose, the myrtle and the anemone. Based on the archaeological investigations (Diakofti, Dragonares, Agios Georgios on the Mountain, etc.), the Island began to be inhabited before 3000 BC, during the Minoan (3000-1200 BC) and Mycenaean periods (1400-1100 e.g.) It was a schematic center and station of the Minoans on their journeys from Crete to the Peloponnese, but also to today’s Great Britain. The first samples of local pottery date back to 3000 BC. with their main characteristic being the quality of the local clay, then the Kythirian potters were influenced by the Minoans, as shown by the finds from the tomb of Lion, outside Chora. Homer mentions in his epics that the Heroes Lycophron and Amphidamanda came from Kythera, where Paris and the beautiful Helen spent the first days of their love.
Kythira, due to its strategic position at the entrance of the Laconic gulf, was often the subject of a dispute between Athens and Sparta, under whose control they belonged for the most part. But the Athenians occupied the island several times (456 BC with Tolmides, 424 BC with Nikias, Nicostratus and Autocles and 394 BC with Cononas and Pharnavazos during the Perso-Athenian alliance) and settled garrison in it expelling the pro-Spartan authorities.
In the field of arts, during classical times, Kythira produced the poet Xenodamus, who was considered the equal of Pindar (6th century BC), the famous eulogist Philoxenos (5th century BC) as well as the poet Ptolemy, sculpture Hermogenes and the musician Alexander. After the Peloponnesian War and the subsequent decline of Sparta and Athens, Kythera also lost its importance and fell into a long decline.

Roman era Kythira

Roman era.

During the Roman era, they continued to be inhabited as can be seen from the sporadic testimonies of writers (Plutarch, Dio Cassius, Strabo) and from the few archaeological findings that date back to this era. From the 2nd AD century, at the time of which an inscription is placed, stating that the inhabitants of the island honor the Roman emperor Trajan, until the 6th century AD, Kythera is not mentioned in the records and it seems that it went through a long period of desolation or sparse population. This is also evident from the synaxario of Agia Elessa, who is said to have labored and martyred on the island in the 4th AD. century. Her martyrdom is said to have been followed by a small wave of pilgrims from the Peloponnese, who moved and settled on the island.

Byzantium Kythira

Byzantine and Medieval times.

The first official reference to Kythira during Byzantine times is considered to be that of 530, where the island is mentioned among the regions under on the throne of Constantinople, while in the same century it is also mentioned as the seat of the Metropolis. It has been suggested that the Metropolitan may have been a Titular, i.e. he held a title without having a flock, but this view is contradicted by recent archaeological findings and historical research, which shows the existence of a settlement in the 6th century at least in two areas of the island. The fragments of the early Christian mosaic floor from the church of Agios Ioannis in the Potamos area (Collection of Byzantine Art in Livadi), dating to the early 6th century and the mosaic floor of the church of Agios Georgios in Vounos, also dating to the 6th century.< br/> The lack of other evidence and the limited mention of Kythera in the sources between the 6th and 10th centuries may indicate that the habitation is not systematic and possibly limited, but we certainly cannot speak of complete desolation. Of course, the presence of Normans and Arab pirates in the area during those years led to the desolation of Kythera for long periods of time, as the island was vulnerable to raids and was used many times as a base for pirates. An important stage in the more organized settlement of Kythera seems to be the exercise of Saint Theodore on the island, where after his death (922), a significant number of new residents appeared in Kythera. According to the synaxari of Agios, the island at the time of his arrival in Kythira was deserted due to pirate raids. From these years, however, until the 11th century, there is no historical information again and the assumptions about Kythera during this time are based on the study of the Byzantine temples of the island, some of which are believed to date back as far as the 9th or 10th century ( Agios Andreas in Livadi).
New systematic habitation of Kythira seems to begin after the 10th century according to the dating study of many temples on the island and intensified during the 13th century. According to tradition, Paleochora was built by Byzantine settlers at the end of the 13th century. When the island was reoccupied by the Byzantines (in 1275) for a short period of time, after a short Venetian occupation (1236 to 1275), it received a number of settlers from Constantinople, during the reign of Michael VIII Palaiologos. Kythira was recaptured by the Venetians in 1930 and since then remained under their rule until the dissolution of the Venetian Republic in 1797, and is one of the few Greek regions in which Venetian rule has been maintained for such a long and uninterrupted period, if we exclude a brief occupation of the island by the Turks between 1715-1718.
The Byzantine capital of Kythira, Agios Dimitrios (present-day Paleochora), which had been built in a natural fortress to protect it from pirates, was finally destroyed by an attack against it in 1537, by the arch-pirate Hayderin Varvarosa who was in the service of the Turkish sultan . Then the small town was burned and those who were not killed were sold in the slave markets and the place was never inhabited again. It is said that Varvarosa then captured the castles in Kapsali and Mylopotamos, but this should probably not be considered valid, since there is no relevant convincing information in the sources of the time. Although it is reported that 7,000 people lived in Paleochora at the time, the number is considered excessive for the size of the settlement and the castle, and the reported desolation of the island at the time from the raid should not be considered universal. Soon, the Venetian state undertook a campaign to repopulate the island with new settlers, but also by purchasing many of the inhabitants then captured by the pirates. After 1530, the Venetians, taking over all the rights and powers of the Venieri family, ruled the island according to the standards of feudalism, as in the rest of the Ionian Islands. This period was very oppressive for the inhabitants. All the arable land belonged to the nobles (of Greek or Venetian origin) and there was a complete lack of granting of Right, even the removal from the island for any reason required the permission of the authorities. Securing little arable land forced the villagers to use small pieces of a few square meters, roughly walled off that can still be seen on the island today. The successive divisions of the land for reasons of farming and inheritance, had the result of leading to such small properties, that they managed to give the general description for every small property: “Tsirigotiko mertiko”!
The long-standing Venetian presence in Kythira naturally left visible traces, which can still be seen today in the language and architecture. Of particular interest are the relations with Crete, with refugees from Crete or the Peloponnese during the entire period of the Venetian occupation, during which the main body of families on the island was formed, many of which still exist today.
Throughout the Venetian rule, piracy proved to be a characteristic scourge for the island. Frequent raids by pirates literally ravaged the place, while cases of cooperation of the local population with pirate groups are not at all rare, especially Christian pirates who operated in the straits of the Peloponnese and Crete, but also the representatives of the Venetians where in remote possessions, such as Kythera, they did not shy away from working with pirates to sell pirate booty. The island was remote from the centers of Venetian power, and cases of tolerance of piracy by the local authorities or collaboration with pirate interests were not rare, as it is said that a significant portion of pirate booty was sold on the island’s market. In 1752, a large raid by Algerian pirates is reported, who enslaved many inhabitants of Kythira. The insecurity, together with the indifference of the Venetian authorities and the oppression of the local lords, led in 1780 to a revolution and an assassination attempt against the Prophet Petros Marcello, who, however, managed to escape.
At the end of the 18th century, with the presence of the competing outfits of the great powers in the region, pirate activity was slowly reduced, to disappear almost completely with the beginning of the 19th century and the Napoleonic wars.

Anglokratia Kythira

19th Century, Anglocracy, Union with Greece.

At the end of the 18th century, the rise of the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleon, as well as the collapse of Venice, brought the French to the island, who occupied it in 1797. They established a democratic state and burned the books of the nobles in an official ceremony (Libro d’ oro), giving the population hopes for justice and freedom. A year later, however, the Russians, in alliance with the Turks, became masters of the island, expelling the French from it, but they did not manage to hold it for long either.
In 1800, with the Treaty of Constantinople, the semi-independent state of the Ionian Islands was established, which also included Kythera. The agreement included the condition of maintaining the privileges of the nobles, this caused the rebellion of the townspeople and peasants. The withdrawal of the small garrison by Russians and Turks led the villagers to an armed uprising, which ended on July 22, 1800 in the massacre of some of the most powerful nobles of Kythera inside the palace of the Foresight, on top of the castle of Kythera and the looting of their houses with looting and their properties. For a relatively long period of time there were no coordinated authorities in Kythira and the villagers, after obtaining a charter, with the help of the progressive noble Emm. Kaloutsis, moved the seat of their power, initially to Mylopotamos and later to Aroniadika. In fact, they formed a special court, which met in the countryside and absolved them of all responsibility for the murders of the nobles and the appropriation of their properties. This period, during which there was no central authority on the island, is called the period of anarchy, and several interesting documents from this period have been saved and published by the Archives of Kythira.
At the end of 1802, the Senate of the Ionian Islands sent a strong military force to Kythira led by Efstathios Metaxas, who finally imposed order by arresting the leaders of the 1800 rebellion, of whom Dimitrios Belesis was sentenced to death and executed in 1805. In the same year, with the intervention of the Tsar of Russia, a constitution is granted and the Republic of the Seven Islands is established, which includes Kythera and which essentially constituted the first Greek state. With this constitution, the rights of the hereditary aristocracy were also abolished.
In 1807, with the Treaty of Tilsit, Kythera was again granted to the French, under whose authority they remained until 1809, when English troops occupied the island from the French, as well as the rest of the Ionian Islands, to begin the long period of British rule in Kythera. After eight whole years, the English granted a Constitution to the Ionian Islands, which they governed with a Commissioner from Corfu and his observers on each island. The constitution was quite liberal and allowed the expression of various political tendencies in the parliament of the Ionian Islands. With the Union of the Ionian Islands with Greece in 1864, Kythira now followed the fortunes of the Greek state.
During the Anglo-occupation, many public works were carried out in Kythera, which are preserved to this day. Most were done by the method of requisitioning labor and requisitioning means of transport (harm). Then the sanatorium (Lazareta) was built in Kapsali, the construction of the main road began and roads were built to connect the four departments into which the island was administratively divided (Livadiou, Kastrisianikon, Mylopotamos and Potamos). The most impressive project of this period is the bridge in Katuni, which was designed by the English chief engineer John McPhail, surveyor of the High Commissioner in Kythira and was part of the Livadiou-Avlaimon road. Many other bridges were built (Potamos, Myrtidia, Kapsali), the central market in Chora (Markato), water supply and drainage works and refreshment stands were built along the main road. At the same time, the lighthouses at Kapsali and Mudari of Karavas were built. The most important projects are the school buildings that were built at that time, many of which are preserved to this day (Mylopotamos, Ag. Theodoros, Potamos, Milapidea in Livadi, Chora, Fratsia). In fact, the English, in order to convince parents to send their children to school, used various tricks, such as exempting transport lives from drudgery, as most parents wanted children to help with agricultural work. This had the positive effect of Kythira having the largest number of girls in their schools of all the Ionian Islands.
Important measures were also taken by the English authorities for self-sufficiency in main products (oil, wheat, wine) and then a great increase in the planting of olive trees and vines is observed, due to the provision of incentives for this purpose.
The existence of the English administration led to the refuge in Kythira, especially during the Revolution of 1821, but also before it, scholars and fighters, such as Grigorios Konstantas, Dionysios Pyrrhos of Thessalos, Theodoros Kolokotronis and others. Later, the same thing happened during the Cretan Revolutions, whenever many Cretans found refuge for themselves or their families in Kythira, with which Crete’s relations have always been close and two-way. Eleftherios Venizelos fled to Kythira at that time, several times in fact, at a young age, he even stayed in Livadi during the years 1877-8, while his first wife was of Kythira origin, of the Katelouzou family. During the time of the Anglo-occupation, the timid tendency that had begun since the last years of the Venetian occupation to immigrate to Smyrna intensified. The rapid increase in the population due to the security conditions, but also the improvement of living conditions, resulted in the intensity of immigration, because, despite the prevalence of better conditions, the island was not sufficient to support such a population. In Smyrna especially the recognition of the privileges that applied to the English and to the citizens of the Ionian Islands, resulted not only in the rapid increase in the number of Kytherians seeking their fortune there, but also in their impressive course in the local economy, where they emerged as pioneers in shipping, trade and crafts, attracting more and more young immigrants from the island. At the same time, the migration to America and Australia began, which was to later lead thousands of Kytherians to these new host countries.

20th Century Kythira

20th Century.

The main feature of the 20th century in Kythira is the great migration, from among which the strong migration flow towards Smyrna began. The large presence of a population of Kytheraic origin in Smyrna, which at the time of the Catastrophe in 1922 numbered 14,000 people and was the largest group of the population of Greek origin in the area. The Kytherian parish had its own schools and churches and had significant participation in nursing homes and hospitals, which were maintained by the wealth that came from the successful presence of the Kytherians in the economic life of the place. Unfortunately, this living part of the Kytherian Diaspora had the fate of the rest of the Greek element of the region after the tragic Catastrophe of 1922. Most of the Kytherian refugees, who escaped the Turkish atrocities, were dispersed almost all over the world. The main destinations were, of course, Greece, Egypt and Australia in the second phase. A few hundred refugees, most of them from Smyrna, arrived in Kythira.
The wave of immigration had already intensified since the early years of the 20th century and large groups of Kytherians found themselves in the USA and Australia, where many associations were quickly founded with their members’ nostalgia and love for their homeland, which was very difficult to visit, due to the transport conditions of the time. It is worth noting that most immigrants left without their families, those who already had families and many of them never returned. During the Balkan wars of 1912-3 hundreds of volunteers flocked to Greece, mainly from the USA, to serve the country in the critical period of the wars. Many of them, who had not succeeded in the place they had fled to, then found a good excuse to return.
In the First World War, Kythera went through a short, but memorable, adventure, when they joined the Venizelos movement and were for a short time an Autonomous region with its own administration and services and strong ties with Venizelos Crete, but also Great Britain, the which strengthened the movement of El. Venizelos. At that time, in fact, the peculiar Kytheraic state formation had also declared war (!) on Germany, accepting the relevant decrees of Venizelos and, according to one version, after the complete dominance of Venizelos and the removal of the king, when the autonomous administration of Kythera was also dissolved, the local authorities ‘forgot’ to restore things with Germany. In the German-Italian occupation that followed the Second World War, the population of the island rose to 15,000 people. Initially the island was occupied by the Italians and later handed over to the Germans, who built small bases in Kapsali (Trachilas), Agia Elessa and Karava.
Kythera was the first part of Greek land to be liberated from the occupation troops. Allied forces (mainly British) with Greek participation arrived by ship in Avlemonas from the Middle East and on September 15, 1944 they landed in Kapsali. Immediately after the occupation, a new migratory current, more intense than ever before, swept Kythira and in two decades literally deserted the island, leaving the villages deserted and the land uncultivated. Solid population groups left in two main directions. Internally to Athens and Piraeus, where a large group of Kytherians had already been successfully active since the end of the previous century, and externally to Australia, where Kytherians now arrived by the hundreds. Thus, the population of Kytheraic origin in this country was estimated from its beginnings at 60,000 people.
The fact that the island was a crossroads of cultures and preserved a large part of its cultural heritage led to its declaration as a cultural monument of Europe.

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