Kastelorizo: The history of the remote island that stands firm in the Turkish challenges

Kastelorizo stands (colorful) rock between the Turkish challenges in the Aegean and the Greek determination.

A rock of 10 square kilometers sails in a sea of problems: Great honor to write about Kastelorizo, the farthest southeastern piece of land in Greece and Europe. Some people have known Kastelorizo since the geography class in the schools. Others, in the 70's, had heard about Kastelorizo and its surrounding islets from the TV reports about the Lady of Ro: Despina Achladioti, for 40 years from 1943 until her death in 1982, raised the Greek flag in the acritic islet of Ro.

The years passed and the acritic Kastelorizo was the island that always occupied the politicians of Greece and Turkey, less the tourists who fell away and more the locals who listened… the breath of the Turks from their shores and Greeks only from the television if they had a good signal. In 1991, Kastelorizo was introduced to a worldwide audience by the Oscar-winning film "Mediterranean".

Until one morning in April, George Andreas Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece in 2010, chose Kastelorizo to announce the unconditional surrender of Greece to the International Monetary Fund and the ECB, automatically making the island of Dodecanese »In the financial crisis…

But what is the story of Kastelorizo ​​before George Papandreou's advisers discovered it with a magnifying glass on the map and the sermon on the beginning of the Odyssey stigmatized it? Kastelorizo ​​from the Middle Ages onwards has received innumerable occupations due to its strategic importance and geographical location on the canal with the coasts of Asia Minor and for its advantage that it has a safe natural port. The official name of the island is Megisti and it is only 1.25 nm. from the southwest coasts of Asia Minor and 72 n.m. from Rhodes. It is 328 nm from Piraeus. and 150 n.m. From Cyprus. It has an area of ​​9.1 sq.km and a coastline of 19.5 km. The islands of Ro, Strongyli, Agios Georgios, Psoradia, Psomi, Agrielia and Tragonera belong to the island complex of Kastelorizo.

Its ancient name: Megisti, owes it either to the fact that it is the largest of the surrounding islands, or euphemistically due to its small size. The Byzantine name Castelorizo ​​comes according to some sources from the words Castello Rosso attributed to the red rocks, where the castle of the Knights was built or the red coat of arms of the 8th Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, who occupied the island in the 14th century. In Kastelorizo ​​there are findings from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, during which the island belonged to the municipalities of Perea and was economically dependent on Rhodes. In the National Archaeological Museum of Athens is kept a golden wreath in the shape of vine leaves with grapes, probably of the 4th BC. century, which was discovered in a sarcophagus in the area of ​​Agios Georgios.

People come and go

In 1306 Kastelorizo ​​was occupied by the Knights of St. John. During the occupation of the Knights it was also used as a place of exile. Then the Red Castle was built which later became the feature of the island. In 1440 the Akriti island was looted by the Egyptian fleet. Many of its inhabitants were taken prisoner and sold in the slave markets of the East. In 1480 the Turks occupy the settlement and the Castle. In 1498 it returned to the occupation of Naples which remained until 1512, when it was occupied by the Spaniards. In 1570 the Venetians came, in 1635 it was occupied by the Turks until 1659 when the Venetians returned.

Lambros Katsonis besieged and demolished the military fortress in 1788 and in 1797 the Turks returned until the occupation of the island by the Russian fleet. And again Turks until the Revolution of 1821, when many Kastelorizos took refuge for safety in the islands of the Cyclades, in Karpathos and Kasos, resulting in a dramatic decline in population.

Kastelorizo ​​revolted immediately with the proclamation of the Revolution, turning its merchant fleet into a war fleet. Despite the participation of the islanders in the struggle, the London Protocol (1830) did not provide for the return of the Dodecanese to Greece, a fact that prolonged the Turkish occupation. On March 1, 1913, the inhabitants of Kastelorizo, with the help of Cretan fighters, overthrew the Ottoman authorities and proclaimed the union of the island with Greece. The movement, however, was not accepted by Venizelos who wanted to avoid a major international incident.

French people on the island

During World War I, on Christmas Day 1915, the French occupied the island and held it until 1921, when it was handed over to the Italians. Since then, the period of migration of the inhabitants to Rhodes, Piraeus, but also to Egypt, America and Australia began. During World War II, Kastelorizo ​​was from an early age the base of Allied military operations. The day after the Italian capitulation in September 1943, the British occupied the island, resulting in a relentless bombardment by the Germans, who almost completely destroyed the settlements, causing the inhabitants to flee once again.

After the liberation, hundreds of British soldiers arrived on the uninhabited island, and as soon as they found out that the houses were unguarded, they looted them! When the old inhabitants asked to return, the most prosperous area of the island was set on fire by the allies in order not to reveal the looting. The fire destroyed 1,400 houses!

"The sailors escaped"!

In 1945, the people of Kastelorizo return to their homeland in three missions. The latter suffered heavy casualties after a fire broke out on the ship "Empire Patrol" on which they were aboard, resulting in the drowning of 33 people and many burns.

Vangelis Hatzigiannakis, a child at the time, recalls: "We returned to Kastelorizo ​​in 1945 with the Empire Patrol and because our father was an officer we had a cabin. We also had sweets with us and we had said to open them when we arrived in Kastelorizo. My mother had a dream with the Crucified and the crown of thorns. A little while later we saw from the portholes people falling into the sea. The fire on the ship was never identified, some said it was a German submarine, others said it was saboteurs who had drilled into the ship. However, I saw pipes that had been cut transversely in several places and so it was impossible for the extinguishing pumps to work. The ship was also loaded with ammunition and the fire caused explosions. The fire lasted 36 hours until the ship sank. We went up to the deck with wet blankets. The ship was carrying 562 refugees and had a crew of 132 Italian sailors, who when the fire broke out burst into boats and left us. "The sea water was boiling from the fire, also a little girl lost her life when she was probably devoured by dogfish; I was one of the eyewitnesses of this tragic incident".

Oh our sweet homeland…

In 1948 the island was finally returned to Greece and was officially named Megisti. Today, the two-storey neoclassical houses with wooden balconies on the waterfront and the majestic domes of the churches attest to the former prosperity of the island. The island has 492 inhabitants (2011 census).

Professor Nikos Lygeros, an expert on the geopolitical situation in the Mediterranean, writes in his personal blog: "Kastellorizo, even if it was beyond Cyprus, would change absolutely nothing. It is important that it exists in Article 14 of the Treaty of Paris of 1947. Because in the first paragraph, which seems to be ignored by the President of Turkey, it is on the list of the Dodecanese islands granted entirely by democratic Italy to Greece. Consequently, when asked whether Kastellorizo ​​is in the Aegean or the Mediterranean, the Greek answer accepted by all the states that signed the Treaty of Paris after the Second World War is that Kastellorizo ​​belongs to the Dodecanese because of Article 14 ".

Oscars and sympathy

In 1991 in Kastelorizo the Italian film "Mediterranean" was shot with director Gabriele Salvatore and among the protagonists and our own Vana Barba. The film was a huge box office success, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1991. The plot takes place during World War II, when a group of Italian soldiers are stranded on an Aegean island, forgotten by the war and coexisting harmoniously with the locals. 

The woman in Kastelorizo was a noblewoman and a lady in her household. The nobility and wealth of the island are reflected in the local costumes, which have Byzantine grandeur. The local costume of the island is the richest and most weighty of all the Dodecanese. A Kastelorizo couplet says: “The waves of the sea blow out on land. "God knows how much I love you."

Who was the Lady of Ro

Ro is located 4 miles west of Kastelorizo ​​and 12 miles from the Turkish coast. Despina Achladioti decided to stay there with her husband in 1924. Kastelorizo ​​and the surrounding islands were full of refugees. Three or four families lived in Rome. The first time that Despina Achladioti raised the flag was in 1927, when one morning she saw a Turkish flag waving at the top of the island. With a white sheet and a blue curtain she sewed the blue and white. He lowered the Turkish one, placing the new flag in its place. In 1940 Costas Achladiotis became seriously ill. It had to be served in Kastelorizo. Despina lit a fire to alert the fishermen for help. They did not catch up. Her husband died on the way to Kastelorizo. Despina returns to Ro with her blind mother, during the Occupation and continued to raise the Greek flag every morning and lower it at sunset until her old age.

Despina Achladioti was awarded by the Academy of Athens in 1975, the Navy, the Greek Parliament, the Municipality of Rhodes, the National Bank. The Ministry of National Defense sent a naval expedition and a delegation of the General Staff to Kastelorizo where, on November 23, 1975, it was awarded the medal for its "national services". The Lady of Ro passed away at the age of 92, in a hospital in Rhodes, on May 13, 1982. She is now resting under the mast where she was raising the flag.

"I love the islands of Kastelorizo ​​and Ro. I was left alone in 1943 in Kastelorizo ​​with my blind mother, when all the inhabitants of the island in the Middle East and Cyprus left. With the Greek flag raised and the love for Greece deeply rooted in me I went through all the hardships… Of course life in Ro is not so pleasant, but you feel more Greece, lost as you are in the sea, a few hundred meters from the Turkish coasts. I want the Greek flag to be placed with me in the Tomb. " had said a few years before it was covered by the Greek flag and the land of Ro.

source: ETHNOS

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