Kassos Island

HOMER Way back in time Kassos was first inhabited by Phoenicians who named her "The island of sea foam". Later it was settled by Dorians previous to the Trojan War (1193 - 1184 BC), which was recorded by Homer in the Iliad, and he mentions the fact that Kassos too joined in the campaign against Troy. Kassos has remained the same name since Homer's time, previously having been called successively Amphi, Astravi and Achni. During the Persian Wars (490 - 479 BC) all the islands of the Eastern Mediterranean, including Kassos, were dominated by the all-powerful Athenian State (as recorded in 437 BC) and had to contribute 1000 drachmes annually. However, according to Demosthenes the General in this Rhodian War the unity of the islands was broken, and they eventually submitted to Macedonian rule. Throughout Alexander the Great's campaign Kassos maintained a neutral stance. During the wars with King Mithridates V (87 - 65 BC), all the islands put up a stout resistance to this ruler of the Barbarians on the Euxine Pontus.




Roman Empire : The Roman civil war following the assassination of Julius Caesar in 53 BC found the islands on the decline, but still retaining their autonomy until the reign of Emperor Vespasian (69 - 79). Thereafter Rhodes and the rest of the islands were decisively subjugated by the Romans, and finally, in the reign of Diocletian (284 - 305) they formed part of the 18th Province of the Roman Empire, Kassos being linked with Crete. Later on, in 730 the islands of the Eastern Aegean were named Dodecanisia (from "dodeka" - twelve and "nisia" - islands).

Middle Ages : During the period 825 - 961 the Spanish-based Arabs made their appearance, capturing and occupying Crete from which they made their onslaughts on the islands. The Emperor Nikephorus Phokas of Byzantium succesfully put an end to them, ridding the Aegean of a scourge, soon however to be replaced by Venetians, Genoese and Franks. At all times all the islands, Kassos included, were harassed by pirates: - Melitians, Turks, Tunisians, Algerians, Tripolitans, Doultsineans, Cretans, Maniots and Kephallonians. In 1207 the island was occupied by Venetians from Crete and in 1287 by Genoese. In 1306 Kassos and Karpathos were taken by a Venetian called Andrea Cornaro. Subject to continuous attacks by pirates, in 1418 was laid waste and re-settled, together with Astypalea, by Albanians.

Turkish occupation : In 1537 Kassos and Karpathos were occupied by the Turks. During the Turkish occupation all of the islands of the Dodecanese enjoyed a privilege granted by Sultan Suleiman, according to which all Turkish generals, admirals and civil officials, should the at any time come into contact with the islanders, were forbidden to maltreat them or interfere in their affairs. For this reason they paid a special tax in kind twice annually. They were allowed self-government by elected elders of the community. The only Turkish official present was the so-called Soumbasis who refrained from interfering in regional issues. According to accounts of Greek and foreign travellers, Kassos was deserted and in ruins from 1579 -1599. Settled a new before 1622, she detached herself from the Archbishopric of Karpathos and established herself as a Patriarchal Province. In 1670 the population totalled 5.000.

Russian occupation : During the Orlof Revolution (1768 - 1774) the island was occupied by the Russians who repeatedly embroiled themselves in clashes with the Greeks. After the signing of the Koutjouk Kainartji treaty (10-12 July 1774), the Russians evacuated the islands and they were once more under Turkish domination The French philosopher Claude Savary, who visited Kassos in 1778, gives a very vivid account of his landing in the historical little port known as the Bucca. He also writes of the legendary hospitality, the traditions, dress, customs, their bravery and most commendable abilities for survival. The Kassiots together with the rest of the islanders of the Dodecanese, despite Turkish oppression, managed to live their usual lives: they were self-ruled, maintained schools and upheld national and religious morale.

1824 : In 1821 Dimitris Themelis of Patmos was selected by the Philiki Eteria - the organisation responsible for the Greek uprising - to act as General Commissar, and he was sent to the islands together with Evangelos Mantzarakis of Kephallonia. In May 1822 he visited Kassos, a pioneer island in the Greek uprising: historical records extolling the Kassian contribution are numerous. During that time the Kassiots owned a mercantile fleet numbering approximately 100 well-armed vessels engaged in raiding nearby islands and the coasts of Karamania, Syria and Egypt. The power of Kassos at that time interfered with the plans of Mohamed Ali, the Turkish governor of Egypt who wanted to establish a base on Crete prior to attacking the Peloponnese, and he therefor determined to destroy Kassos. Forewarned of his intentions the Kassiots persistently appealed to Hydra - also with a powerful fleet - for help, but this was not forthcoming. The destruction of Kassos was entrusted to Ismail Gibraltar, a formidable ex-pirate of great experience who reached Kassos on the 27th May 1824 with a powerfull fleet of 45 ships, and a troop of 4.000 Albanians under the command of Hussein Bey. The battleships were drawn up at the tiny island of Makra, from which a bombardment began of Agia Marina opposite. The Kassian artillery along the shore put up a brave counter-attack and the siege went on until the 7th June when, despite the heroic resistance put up by the islanders, 1.500 Albanians managed to land at Antiperatos. It is possible that this, the only accessible spot west of Phry, was revealed by a traitor. The four men guarding it were killed and the Albanians proceeded to Agia Marina where the non-combattant population consisting mostly of women and children were relentlessy butchered. The whole island was plundered, destroyed and burnt to the ground. Kassiots such as Theodoros Kantartzis, Markos Maliarakis, Hatzinikolas Makris, N. Ioulios, N. Grigoriadis, Manolis Manolis and others, who fell for the ideals of freedom and the integral unity of the island, wrote the history of the holocaust with their heroic self-sacrifice.

Italian occupation
: When the Greek Revolution came to its successfull end and a new nation was formed in 1829, Kassos and the rest of the Dodecanese were omitted; they were to remain under the Turkish yoke - a period of 400 years altogether. In 1912 the Italians, in their war against the Turks, occupied the Dodecanese, including of course Kassos. Nevertheless, the Kassiots, unable to supress their urge to manifest their nationalistic dreams, continued to press for union with the motherland. This however was something that did not take place until the 7th March 1948. At this point the fact must be mentioned that the population of Kassos has dwindled sadly. In 1821 it amounted to about 11.000, in 1912 it was 6.700, during the Italian occupation it dropped considerably, and today it is only about 1.200.

Today Kasos is located in the southernmost region of the Eastern Aegean and lies between Crete and Karpathos. It has an area of 64 square kms and a population of 1088 people, the distance from finiki port is about 5 N.miles and the flight from Karpathos to Kassos is nearly 4 minutes.

The land is mountainous and rocky with few areas suitable for agriculture. The visitor to the mountains of the island will find rare wildflowers and birds species. Kasos has a mild, healthy climate.

It is a steep, rocky, grey island, which emerges from the sea. However, this first impression of the mountains of Kasos as wild, subsides when the first houses come into sight. Then Kasos slowly becomes a friendly, warm, hospitable place.

In this friendly place the five villages of the island can be found. These being: Fri, the harbour; Agia Marina, the biggest village spread out at the top of the hill with a great view of the sunset; Arvanitohori, at the base of the mountains; Poli, the oldest village built around the hill with the castle ruins and Panagia, above the hold harbour of Emborio. Together they comprise the municipality of Kasos which is under the administrative jurisdiction of the province of Karpathos.

The capital Fri has the only harbour of the island. Beside the port for ships is the small harbour of Boukas, a rare example of an old pirate refuge, where the fishing boats moor and the fisherman drink their coffee at the traditional coffeehouse and sell their fish. Boukas is part of the soul of every person from Kasos, as it closely connected with the sailors’ return to Kasos. Near Fri is Emborios, the name of the old port, which has beautiful old stone houses and the church dedicated to the Birth of Our Lady. Also impressive are the churches of St. Spyridon and St. Marina.

The old aristocratic captain’s houses are quite impressive, while in the villages the houses are whitewashed with narrow flagstone paved lanes. Of exceptional interest are the shepherds’ huts “mitata”, which attest to a long tradition of animal herding. The fine quality dairy products of Kasos are produced within these huts. However impressive the exterior of many of Kasos’ houses may be, it never lives up the riches that are kept hidden inside. Furniture, utensils, mirrors and lamps, which have been brought back from the four corners of the earth, decorate the “soufa” and the many shelves these houses have. The hard work of the sailors was equaled by the hard work of the talented Kasos women, who would knit and embroider by hand with loving care.

Within all the settlements as well as in exotic locations there are churches and chapels with pebbled flooring and beautiful wood carved iconostasis. Examples are the monastery of St. Mamma the lookouts post over the Egyptian Sea and St. George at Hadies which has a large hostel and is the favourite saint of the people of Kasos. These two monasteries soften the wild scenery. At both monasteries the most traditional festivals take place.

There are a hundred churches, both small and large (eith tall bell towers), scattered amongst the houses on the whole island, proof of the faith of these people who lived on the sea, always in the company of danger.

To the south is the bay named Helatros, whose sea is ideal for all those who wish to swim in sparkling clean waters. The beaches of Fri, St. Konstantinos, Armathia and Helatro are offered to all lovers of the sea.

Taking a small trip across to Kassos island is sure worth the time, daily flights with Olympic air and boat excursion from Finiki port is possible.