1. Settings – Environment
Kastelorizo, or Megisti, is located midway from the Lycia coastline at a distance of 6.5 km, and 135 km from Rhodes, being thus the easternmost end of Greece. It is an arid waterless rock. Its sole and homonym settlement is located at its northwestern part.
Despite lack of resources, Kastelorizo has been called a “biological paradise”, whose balance remains undisturbed. Its fauna is particularly interesting: there is a wide variety of amphibians, serpents, insects, birds and fish, among which the Mediterranean monachus monachus seal and a rare kind of amphibian urodela, the mertensiella luscani, which has been declared an endangered species.
The island has been included in the European Ecological Natura 2000 Network.
2. 1. Prehistoric Times – Antiquity
Because of its isolation from the rest Dodecanesian islands, Kastelorizo followed a separate historical course.
Findings attest habitation since Neolithic Times, whereas during Mycenaean and Minoan times, it had become a trade station of Crete, developing trade relations with the Minoans. Its port was also the in-between station for trade with Cyprus.
It was colonized by the Dorians, who –according to Roman historians Libius and Pseudo-Scylax– named it Megisti (“Biggest”), probably because it was the biggest among the rest of its complex. It came later under Persian domination, while from the mid-4th century B.C. up to Roman Times, it was a major entrepôt, because of its strategic location and its safe harbor. At that time, the island was ruled by “epistatai”, Rhodian commanders. According to Titus Libius, Kastelorizo had become independent in 333-304 B.C., and coins were also minted. Eparch of Rhodes Sosicles Nicagoras also built the island’s fortress at the same period.
2. 2. Byzantine Times – Knights’ Rule
In Byzantine Times, the island was integrated into the island eparchy provincia insularum, just like all islands near Rhodes. It was later integrated into the Kibyrrhaiotai theme. The information we have is very little. In Middle Byzantine Times, the settlement was probably at Paleokastro, away from the sea. A group of pottery dating from the early 13th century was found in the cargo of a shipwreck. It is now exhibited in the Museum, demonstrating the island’s significance.
In 1306, the Knight Hospitallers’ order of Jerusalem took the island over and built the Castel Rosso where the ancient fort used to stand. Now, only a tower and a rampart are extant, where the Museum (Konaki) is housed. The island has been known ever since as Castel Ruggio and Chateau Rouge. According to information, Kastelorizo at that time was a place of exile, and its residents occupied themselves with seafaring.
In 1440, the Mamelouks of Egypt took it over, desolating the settlement and enslaving its population. It soon came under the Knights again though. What we know for sure is that its castle was rebuilt. Within the following centuries, the island became a battlefield because of its strategically location, coming thus frequently under different sovereignty.
2. 3. Ottoman period – Modern period
The Ottoman troops took it over at Souleyman II’s time, in 1522. During the Ottoman Rule, the island developed culturally and economically due to the privileges granted to it. Just like on the rest of the Dodecanese, the Ottoman power was represented by a dignitary sent there for tax collection and others for general supervision. Local elders were the administrators. During the Greek Revolution (1821-1829), men sent women and children to Karpathos, Kasos and Amorgos.
In 1912, the Italians took over the Dodecanese, save Kastelorizo. On March 1st 1913, the island’s residents broke down the Ottoman power and established a temporary local administration. France took the island over in 1915 and ceded it to the Italians in 1921 in exchange for money. They named it Castelrosso.
During World War II, Kastelorizo was a significant military base. After Italy capitulated in 1943, the British used the island as a replenishment station. On October 17th, German battle planes bombarded the island, causing extensive damage forcing residents to leave it. The July 6th 1944 fire completed the destruction. Kastelorizo was integratedinto Greece in 1948.
In the first half of the 20th century, residents turned to mass migration, partially because of the political instability caused by the successive conquests by European states. Residents migrated mostly towards Australia, where they established a prospering Greek community. It is strange that nowadays the island’s population stands at a few hundreds, while at Perth of Australia people from Kastelorizo stand at about 10,000.
3. Archaeological sites and monuments
3. 1. Palaiokastro
On the hill of Paleokastro, 1 km away from the settlement, extant are still remnants of a fortress reminding us of the imposing polygonal fortification of the late Classical period and the early Hellenistic period. The tower in the internal core of the castle, as well as the lower parts of the rest of the towers and the enceinte, are related to its first phase probably dating from the 4th century B.C. Inside the fortress, there is a Roman Times’ rock-hewn tomb, with a rectangular plan and a semi-circular exedra, reminding us of Lycian burial monuments. Additaments and changes had been made at the fortress during the Roman period, whereas it was used throughout the Byzantine Times and the Knights’ Rule. There are also two built-in dedicatory inscriptions of Rhodian commanders-epistatai of the 2nd century B.C..
3. 2. The Lycian Tomb
The Lycian type tomb located to the east of the port is the chief monument attesting the island’s relations with the opposite Asia Minor coastline. It’s a rock-cut tomb with temple-shaped façade of Ionic order, dating from the late 4th century B.C. or the early Hellenistic Times.
3. 3. Vigla
To the south of the location is Mount Vigla. Walls of fortifications have been uncovered there. Because of their “Cyclopean” masonry, they were considered Mycenaean, although according to recent studies they remind us of equivalent structures ordinary in Lycia from the Classical up to the Roman era. They were built in a rectilinear direction and 60 m of them are still extant. The walls of Vigla were probably used for protecting the mainland in case of an attack from the side of the port.
3. 4. Byzantine – Post Byzantine monuments
One of the most significant Post Byzantine monuments is the 17th century church of Aghios Georghios Malaxos, or tou Psifiou, at Chorafia, where the modern Aghios Georghios Santrapes church is located. Nowadays, only a small part of the floor, some small antae and a few chancel screens are extant.
At the location of the katholicon of the stavropegic monastery of Aghios Georghios tou Vounou was also an Early Christian basilica. Only part of its pebbly floor has been preserved, with its recurrent four-leaved roses.
After entering the port, one can see the mosque, which was still in use up to 1913. According to tradition, that was the location of the church of St. Paraskevi. It is being repaired since 1995 in order to house the island’s folkloric collection.
4. 1. Settlement
The settlement has been built along the two natural bays, namely the main port and the Madraki cove. Its original core was on the hill of Ai-Nicolas, in the interior of the castle. The island’s economic development within the second half of the 19th century soon led to the expansion of the settlement, which is now amphitheatrically organized. Out of the 15 original neighborhoods, some no longer exist. The isolation from the Asia Minor coastline, the French and Italian dominations, the 1926 earthquake, factors that favored migration, the bombardments and the 1943 fire, which devastated entirely the older neighborhoods, utterly changed the settlement’s image. Nevertheless, residents returning from abroad breathed life into the front row of houses at the quay, the “Kordoni”. The architecture of the settlement illustrates the island’s history. Houses are organized in a complex communication network with slab paved streets and stairs, whereas the central public buildings, the Town Hall, the public market and the casarma are built according to the Italian Rule architecture. The school’s building is a copy of the neoclassical University building of Athens.
4. 2. House architecture
The island’s houses are two- or three-storey buildings, with a narrow façade, a gabled –rarely hipped– tile roof and an impressively uniform exterior. They rarely had a yard; as a result, all rooms for family activities (sleeping, leisure, working, living and storage rooms) had to be confined in the interior. Houses were structured in levels strictly organized according to their functions, fulfilling the families’ special needs.
The economy of Kastelorizo was directly connected with the opposite coast of Lycia. Residents always occupied themselves with seafaring and fishing, providing themselves with timber necessary for building ships from the Asia Minor coastline; at the same time, they kept landed property and second houses there. During the 19th and the early 20th century, the economy and population of Kastelorizo developed significantly. In the mid-19th century, dockyards were built at Madraki and the island’s fleet was traveling within a few years from the Black Sea up to Western Europe. Ship owners were at the top of the social pyramid. They built the impressive houses at the neighborhood of Kav(v)os, creating the “front row”. Minor ship owners and merchants followed, while at its base were sailors, fishermen, divers, carpenters and shop owners.
Megisti Museum: the island’s archaeological findings are housed in the Konaki at Kav(v)os. The museum is a two-storey building with a yard and an enceinte with battlements. Its ground floor was the western end of the Castle during the Frankish Rule. During the Ottoman Rule was added the upper floor. The building functioned thereafter as the Ottoman commander’s seat. Its current form is a result of many repairs conducted over the past centuries. Its rooms house the archaeological collection with findings of the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman eras, and the Byzantine and folkloric collection. Among the most significant exhibits are sculptures and pottery of the Hellenistic period, inscribed luster ware (12th century) –these were in the cargo of a shipwreck at the Afros bay– architectural parts of the Early Christian Times, frescoes from Aghios Nicolaos tou Kastrou, Post Byzantine icons, traditional garments of the island and house ware.
7. Folk culture
On the eve of the name day of St Constantine and St. Helen, kids light big fires called “chalabounes”, while on the name day of Prophet Elijah residents jump in the sea wearing their clothes , shouting the name of the saint and inducing everyone to join them.