Kythira Island Name
Kythira has had its name since antiquity. It is also called Tsirigo as the official name Kythira can be spelled out also as Cythera, which can be simplified and be pronounced as Tsithera. The everyday use of this name has formed it to eventually be “Tsirigo”.
The name Kythira, though, derives from the Greek word “Akyhteros”, which means the person who does not have any charms. Since Kythirawas highly connected to Goddess Aphrodite, was the Goddess of love and beauty was called Kythiria, it finally took its name from her.
In various periods in history the island was also called “Porfirousa”, as the sea algae “Porfira” used to be collected here, and “Foinikounta”, as it used to be a colony of the Phoenicians (Foinikes in Greek).
Kythira had been inhabited since the Neolithic and Proto-Hellenistic Period (end of 6.000 B.C.) as findings on various spots of the island prove. At the end of the 3rd millennium B.C. the Minoan authority expands from Crete to Kythira too and the Minoans create a commercial naval station in Palaiopoli along with various more control centres.
The island, though, after the decline of the Minoan Empire, comes against its own decline too at about the 15th century B.C., when the Mycenaeans become the new colonizers of the island. The Dorians and then the Phoenicians take control of Kythira, when, as described by Herodotus, they built the temple to Goddess Aphrodite.
In mid 6th century B.C. Kythira become a part of Peloponnese with its authority centre in Sparta and, after short rule by the Athenians after the Peloponnesian War, stay as such till the 2nd century B.C. when it finally has its proper currency, and so it is deduced that it remained autonomous and was not affected from the expansion of the Roman Empire to the east.
Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans
Kythira eventually became a part of the Eastern Roman Empire at the end of the 4th century A.D. and remained like this till the invasions of the Arab and Saracen pirates in the Mediterranean Sea in mid 6th century. Crete was devastated at that period and the consequences and raids highly affected Kythira too, whose coasts cannot be inhabited and, thereafter, trading and marine activities cannot be developed.
With the dawn of the Byzantine Empire Kythira welcomes a Byzantine family from Peloponnese (about 10th - 12th century A.D.) and Christian churches started appearing on the island. On the 13th century the Venetians append Kythira together with other islands of Greece in their sovereignty. After various conflicts and disagreements between the Venetians and the Byzantium the Ottoman admiral Barbarossa gets to the island, in 1537 A.D. and ravages and burns down Palaiohora, the principal centre of the island, enslaving and killing a great proportion of its population.
During 1797 the Venetians succumb to Napoleon and the French take the authority of all Ionian Island and Kythira too with the Campo – Formio Treaty.
At the end of the 18th century the French are the rulers of Kythira and with a symbolic plantation of the Freedom Tree in the square of Eleftherias in Estavromenos village they want to transfer the air and the ideals of the French Revolution.
The ally of Turks and Russians between 1798 and 1799 brings about destructions and the conquest of the island from Russians against the French and the discrimination of the privileges between the aristocrats and the villagers causes revolutions and murdering of “nobles” on the island.
The Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 brings the French again on the island till 1809 when the British take control. They begin constructions by suppressing the Kytherians and even after the Ionian prefecture obtains its own constitution in 1817 they continue to be the island’s rulers.
During the Greek Revolution in 1821 many immigrants from Peloponnese pass to Kythira while many Kytherians go to Peloponnese to help in the resistance and others migrate to Crete, Izmir or other areas of the liberated till then Greek state to find work.
In 1864 the Ionian Islands are integrated with Greece. In 1903 massive earthquakes devastate the island and some settlements, mainly Mitata, are completely destroyed.
At the dawn of the 20th century great waves of immigration to Australia and USA began. Also, in 1916 a company of the Cretans’ Regiment comes to Kythira to integrate the island in the “National Defense Government” by Eleftherios Venizelos and, as such, the island takes part in the 1st World War in the side of the allies (England, France and Russia) against the Germans. In the 2nd World War the Kytherians are an active power against the Germans once more.
Kythira’s immigration starts to increase again as the devastated land cannot offer work and the means to survive to the young populations, who seek their future in Athens and the main cities of Greece and they even leave the country for Australia and USA.