Kythira (Κύθηρα, Cythera, Kythera, Cerigo) is an island of Greece, historically part of the Ionian Islands. It lies opposite the eastern tip of the Peloponnesos peninsula. It is administratively part of the Piraeus Prefecture (centered in the Athens metropolitan area) although geographically distant from the prefecture's population center. It has a land area of 279.593 km² (107.951 sq mi), the second-largest (after Megara) in the Attica periphery. It is also the second-least densely populated (after neighboring Antikythira) in Attica. The rugged terrain is a result of prevailing winds from the surrounding seas which have shaped its shores into steep rocky cliffs with deep bays. For many centuries, while naval travel was the only means for transportation, the island possessed a strategic location. Since ancient times, until the mid 19th century, Kythira had been a crossroads of merchants, sailors, and conquerors. As such, it has had a long and varied history and has been influenced by many civilisations and cultures. This is reflected in its architecture (a blend of traditional, Aegean and Venetian elements), as well as the traditions and customs, influenced by centuries of coexistence of the Greek, Venetian, Ottoman and British civilisations as well as its numerous visitors.
The island is home to numerous beaches of varying type and size, though due to the island's rugged and mountainous terrain, only about half of them are accessible by road.
The island is close to the Hellenic-arc plate boundary, and thus, a highly seismogenic part of the region. Many earthquakes in recorded history have had their epicentres near or on the island. Probably the largest in recent times is the 1903 earthquake near at the village of Mitata, that caused significant damage as well as limited loss of life. At the beginning of the 21st century, two main earthquakes have been of concern: that of November 5 2004, an earthquake measuring between 5.6 and 5.8 on the Richter scale and the earthquake of January 8 2006, measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale. The epicenter of the latter was in the sea about 20km to the east of Kythira, at a depth of approximately 70km. Damage was caused to many buildings, particularly old ones, mostly in the village of Mitata, but there were no casualties. Due to its strength it was felt as far as Italy, Egypt, and Jordan.
The Kythirian Straights, formed by the southeastern peninsula of the Peloponnese and the islands of Elafonissos and Kythira represent one of the most dangerous navigational hazards in the Mediterranean. The majority of sea-traffic transiting from Athens, Istanbul, and the Black Sea heading west of the Aegean Sea pass through the straights and are often subject to strong winds and shipwrecking on Cape Malea.
At the start of the second millennium BC it was a Minoan
colony and in 424 BC
it came under the sway of Athens
. In Ancient Greek Mythology
, Kythira was considered to be the island of celestial Aphrodite
, the Goddess of love, (cf. Cyprus
, the island of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love). Over the centuries it knew a succession of conquerors from the Romans
to the Byzantines
, Venetians and Turks
, and it was frequently looted by Barbary pirates
. Kytherians still talk about the destruction and looting of Paliochora
, it has become an intrinsic part of the Kytherian folklore, yet one can easily accept the stories of locals by noticing the number of monasteries embedded in the rocky hillsides to avoid destruction by the pirates. After a long period under Venetian
control, the island fell to France
in 1797, when it became part of the short-lived départment Mer-Égée
. Subsequently it fell to Russia
) from 1799 to 1807, then back to France, and finally to the British-controlled United States of the Ionian Islands
On the 21st of May 1864, the island was reunited with the then-young Greek state. In the capital, Chora (or Kythira), inside the castle, one can find the Historical Archive of Kythira, the second largest in the Ionian islands, after the one found in Corfu.
Like many of the smaller Aegean islands
, Kythira's population is decreasing. While the island had reached a peak population of about 14,500 in 1864, that has steadily declined mostly due to emigration, both internal (to major urban centres of Greece
) and external (to Australia
, the United States
) in the first half of the 20th century. Today its population hovers around 3,354 people (2001 census), but the modern Greek
diaspora has produced around 60,000 Kytherian descendants in Australia alone.
Kythira's economy is largely built on tourism
. The popular season usually begins with the Greek holiday of Pentecost at the end of May, and lasts until the middle of September. During this time, primarily during August, the island's population will often triple due to the tourists and natives returning for vacation.
Only five of the island's villages are on the coast (Platia Amos, Agia Pelagia, Diakofti, Avlemonas, & Kapsali) Additionally, the island is known for its active nightlife, which centers on the village of Kapsali at the southern tip of the island. During July and August, several traditional dances will be held in various villages. These dances usually attract the majority of the island's population, the biggest of which are the festival of 'Panagia' in Potamos on the 15th of August, and the wine festival in Mitata on the first Friday and Saturday of August.
Kythira is administratively exceptional in that:
- It geographically, culturally and historically belongs (is closer) to the Ionian islands.
- It is administered and belongs to the prefecture of Piraeus, in Attica.
- There are close ties and some service provision by the nearby mainland prefecture of Lakonia.
The capital, Chora, is located on the southern part of the island having no ports connected to the southern Peloponnese or Vatika
. Kythira's port for Vatika was previously situated at Agia Pelagia, although in recent years this port has been decommissioned and has been replaced by a new port at the coastal town of Diakofti, Kythira.
Most of the over 60 village names end with "-anika" and a few end with -athika, -iana and -ades. This is due to the villages being named after influential families that settled first in that region. For Example, 'Logothetianika' is derived from the Greek last name of 'Logothetis'.
The island in the past has been plagued by a poor infrastructure that has been unaiding to the effects of the weather on transportation during the winter months. However the construction of the new port in Diakofti along with the renovation of the island's airport have significantly reduced these effects. A new road from the island's most populated town of Potamos in the north to the island's capital of Chora in the south is currently in the planning and development stage.
Despite the fact that the island has been a trade route for centuries, construction of a modern port was postponed several times until the latter half of the 20th century. In 1933, efforts were made to construct a port in the village of Agia Pelagia, yet financial and governmental problems meant that decades later that one was built. That small port of Agia Pelagia (currently being renovated from a ferry dock to a tourist/recreational boat dock) was the island's main port until the mid-1990s. Around that time the new port of Diakofti, the site originally chosen by the island's British rulers in the 19th century, was constructed along with a modern wider road, aiming to support larger cargo and passenger vessels. The port of Diakofti currently serves scheduled routes to/from Gythion, Kalamata, Antikythera, Piraeus
& Neapolis - Vatika. Proposals have been made to attach a Marina to the south side of the port, however no plans or timetables have been produced. Additionally, the harbour of Agia Patrikia (north of Agia Pelagia) is the primary fishing boat harbour, housing two wide boatramps and a boat repair facility.
The island's primary airport is the Kithira Island National Airport
, located in the region between the village of Friligiannika and Diakofti, about 8km from the capital. The airport was revamped and extended at the turn of the 21st century, largely by private funds provided by the local population. The island is served by Olympic Airlines
The largest villages (2001 Greek census) are Potamós (pop. 396), Agía Pelagía (281), Chóra/Kýthira (267), Áno Livádi (175), Kálamos (157), and Livádi (126).