1. Geographical position - Environment
Antiparos is a small island of the Paros-Antiparos island group, located approximately in the center of the Cyclades. The two islands and the surrounding clusters of tiny islands (with Despotiko being the largest and most interesting one) are an exquisite example of natural beauty and archaeological interest. Antiparos is located at the southeastern of Paros. The Antiparos Strait or Kastro Strait (width 500-1000 m) separates these two islands.
The island’s relief is intense, with Profitis Ilias being its highest top (308 m.). The Antiparos cavern on the Agios Ioannis (St John) hill is also worth mentioning. To the west, the beaches are gentle and sandy, in contrast to the eastern rocky ones forming little coves. The landscape is typical of the Cyclades: scarce vegetation, hills with cedars and bushes fading into golden beaches, clear-blue waters and simple architectural design. Although its ground is volcanic and more gentle and fertile at the northern side, land cultivation is very limited. Small amounts of minerals used to be extracted in its now deserted mines.
Kastro (meaning castle), otherwise called Antiparos, is both the island’s main settlement and port. Its residents occupy themselves with tourism, fishing and stock farming. The village is quite picturesque, with a very interesting Venetian castle lying hidden in its core. The development of tourism has changed the landscape to an extent, but not considerably. Small settlements are being developed at Agios Georgios and Soros.
1. 1. The cave of Antiparos
Antiparos’s most significant place of interest is the renowned cave of Antiparos, a unique natural and historical monument. It is located on the Agios Ioannis hill at 171 m. In its impressive entrance, the enormous “hall”, there are two picturesque chapels: that of Agios Ioannis Spiliotis (St John of the Cave), dating back to the 18th century, and that of Zoodochos Pigi (Virgin Mary Source of Life).
The cave is precipitous, with three rooms. Both its size (95 m deep) and the fascinating white translucent stalactites and stalagmites adorning it make it one of the most remarkable caverns of the Aegean. There is also an impressive 8 m high stalagmite at the entrance of the cave, presumably 45 million years old and thus the oldest one in Europe. People used to tie ropes to it in order to climb down the cave.
Inscriptions and carvings with the visitors’ names are also quite interesting. Eminent visitors and travellers have admired the cave since Antiquity up to modern times, such as the ancient poet Archilochus, Lord Byron and Greece’s first king Otto. The cave (named also katafygi, meaning “refuge”) also played a vital part during Antiparos’s turbulent history by sheltering its residents. Amongst the first to hide in there, as cited by an inscription bearing their names, were the conspirators against Alexander the Great.
2. History of the island
2. 1. Prehistoric Times
Antiparos’s long history has been marked by neighboring island Paros, to which it has always been closely connected. Of all Cycladic islands, here is the place where settlement during the Stone Age took place for the first time. Archaeological research has uncovered the oldest Cycladic settlement on the islet of Saliangos (then a low peninsula of the isthmus joining Antiparos and Paros).
The Early Cycladic civilizations of Paros, Antiparos and Despotiko continued developing in the 3rd millennium BC. The first excavations conducted in the 19th century uncovered cemeteries, pottery and Early Bronze Age figures at Apandima, Soros, Petalides and Krasades. On Despotiko, tombs have been uncovered at Livadi and Zoumbaria, and also traces of a prehistoric settlement at Cheiromyloi. On the Strongylo islet, there are remnants of a Neolithic settlement, while Early Cycladic figurines have been uncovered on the Kavouras islet.
2. 2. Antiquity
Antiparos’s ancient name was Oliaros (woody mountain), as mentioned by the ancient geographers Heraclides Creticus, Strabo (Geographica) and Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia). It is also notable that they also mention the Prepesinthos islet, namely today's Despotiko. Phoenicians from Sidon are said to have been the first residents during historical times. Throughout Antiquity, Antiparos was considered a part of Paros. There are no significant ancient findings on the island, which must have been more or less deserted. Only some pottery dating from the Geometric Period up to Roman times has been found at some locations and inside the cave. Early Christian capitals and funerary stelae have been found at Agios Georgios.
Contemporary excavations on Despotiko may actually change what we know about the island, since a unique Archaic temple operating from the 7th century BC until the Roman period has been discovered there.
2. 3. Middle Ages, Modern Times
Historical information on Byzantine Antiparos up to the 13th century is scarce. That is when its contemporary name was first recorded. Pirates plagued the island throughout the Byzantine and Ottoman era, using its coves as bases, until Antiparos was at times almost deserted.
In 1207, Antiparos came under the rule of the Venetian Duchy of the Aegean. In the early 15th century, it was obliged to crew the Duchy’s galleys with 30 oarsmen, a number indicating its population. In the mid-15th century, the Venetian Loredano was dowered with the island for his wedding with Maria Sommaripa. The new ruler brought new residents and built the castle for their protection in 1440, which gradually developed into a settlement. In 1537, Antiparos underwent a disastrous attack by Hayreddin Barbarossa and was subsequently granted by the Ottomans to the family of Crispi. In 1566, the island was incorporated to the Ottoman Empire up to 1821, apart from the years 1770-1774, when the Russian fleet took it over within the framework of its operations in the Aegean at the Russo-Turkish war. The island suffered often from pirate excursions. In 1794 actually, pirates from Kefalonia and Mani are reported to have slaughtered and taken captive much of its population.
On Antiparos, there was also a high school attended by eminent Greeks, such as Neophytos Mavromatis, bishop of Nafpaktos, and the scholar Ananias.
The residents of the island were among the first to take part in the 1821 Greek War of Independence against the Ottomans. With the London Protocols of February 3rd and August 18th 1832 the island was integrated into the Greek state. During World War II, Antiparos played an active part in the Resistance against the Germans, serving as a secret base for the Allies. “Operation Antiparos” has marked its history and actually cost many lives of both Greeks and allies.
After the War, Antiparos suffered a demographic blow due to emigration, just like the rest of the Cycladic islands, while its resources were limited. It was an isolated island, contacting only with Paros. Dinos Dimopoulos gives us a characheristic picture of the island in his popular movie Madalena (1960).
The Venetian castle is located at the heart of the traditional settlement and used to be the only inhabited area. Probably built all at once in the early 1440 in order to provide roof and shelter to the island’s approximately 500 residents, it represents a peculiar and rare example of settlement formation. The circumferential three-storey houses are arrayed in a square forming a common central yard with a tower in its center, while a sole Gothic entrance, nowadays visible beside the Agios Nikolaos (St Nicholas) cathedral, allowed access to the settlement. Built-in coats of arms can still be seen at some of the houses, while all that is left of the great tower is its base. Within the castle, there are the picturesque churches of Agios Ioannis (St John), Agios Antonios (St Anthony) and Agios Nikolaos (founded in 1783).