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Spetses before Christ

Spetses was first inhabited during the Mesolithic period, around 8000 B.C. In this period, the island was connected to the Argolis peninsula by an isthmus. Pieces of flint from this period were found in an earlier water source near Zogeria in the north-west of Spetses. Other archaeological findings were in the area of Saint Marina, where the first Hellenistic settlement was founded in the 3rd millennium BC. Around 2300 BC, at least three natural harbours on Spetses (Marina, Paraskevi and Zogeria) served as a refuge for ships transporting goods to and from the Argolic Gulf during the height of the state of Lerna, located on the east coast of the Pelopponesos south of Argos.

After the collapse of Lerna, Spetses experienced a period of economic malaise. Artefacts in the areas of Marina and Anargyroi still show the existence of settlements in the late Mycenaean period (12th-13th century BC). During the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta (431-404 BC), stone watchtowers were erected near Profitis Ilias and Zogeria.

Spetses was mentioned both by the historian Strabo in the 1st century BC and by the geographer Pausanias in the 2nd century AD, but under the name Pitiousa ('planted with pines'), probably referring to the many pine trees that grew on the island. The Gothic invasion of the Eastern Roman Empire caused a wave of refugees to Spetses, which resulted in the island being re-inhabited after an uninhabited period of hundreds of years. During this period Spetses quickly grew into one of the three largest cities of Argolis (including Argos and Hermione).

Spetses after Christ

After the occupation by the Franks, Spetses was occupied by Venice from 1200 to 1460 and then by the Turks until 1821. In the 17th century AD, the population of Spetses increased due to an influx of Greeks from the Peloponnesian regions of Lakonia, Kynouria, Argolida and Hermioni, but real settlements could not be established due to the many pirate attacks.

The first real settlements were founded only in the 17th century. The Venetians called Spetses "Spezia" (spice) because of the island's location on an important trade route; the name Spezia was later Hellenised to "Spetsai". In the 18th century, many Christian Albanians also fled to Spetses from the attacks of the Turks.

The first fortified settlement was Kastelli, originally medieval, built in the 17th century in the north-west of Spetses, and from there Spetses developed into an important naval force. The 18th century was the beginning of a golden age for Spetses due to its shipbuilding industry and the expansion of its merchant fleet. During the Greek-Turkish War of Independence, this merchant fleet was transformed into a war fleet that would play a decisive role in the victory of the Greeks over the Turks and would keep this (war) role until 1854. This war fleet was also used in the Peloponnesian War in 1769 during the so-called Orlov's Revolt, part of the Turkish-Russian War. To punish the Spetsiotes for their actions, the Turks destroyed Kastelli in 1770. The Spetsiots did not care and helped the revolutionary Lambros Katsionis in 1790 but were again punished by the Turks. The patriotism and courage of the Spetsiotiots was phenomenal and it was not surprising that they were one of the first to join the revolutionaries in the 1821 fight for independence and, in addition to those of Hydra and Psara, made their fleet available in the fight against the Turks.

The Spetsian merchant ships, converted into warships, took part in the siege and liberation of Nauplion, Monemvassia, Mani and Messolongi, but also besieged and conquered Tripoli. The Spetses ships also made an important contribution to the Battle of Samos (1824) and the Battle of Kafireas (1825). Near Crete they fought against the Egyptian fleet, which cooperated with the Turks. Apart from fighting, the ships of Spetses were also used to transport arms, ammunition and supplies to other islands that fought in the war against the Turks. This united cooperation between the Greeks ensured the decisive victory over the Turks in the Argolic Gulf. This battle is still commemorated and re-enacted every year in September in the harbour of Spetses. One of the most heroic persons who took part in the Greek Revolution was Laskarina Bouboulina. She took over the fleet command after the death of her husband and was an active member of the 'Filiki Etairia', a secret revolutionary organisation that basically organised the whole revolution. She fought actively in the battle and lost almost her entire not inconsiderable fortune in financing the uprising. But other Spetsian ship owners and rich merchants also put a lot of money into the revolution. The most famous names were Hatzigiannis Mexis, later the first governor of Spetses (1754-1844), Cosmas Barbatsis, and the captains Tsoupas, Panou, Koutsis and Lambrou. Bouboulina died in May 1825 following a family dispute.

After independence, Spetses retained its status as a prosperous and important island for a short time, but at the beginning of the 20th century its decline began with the rise of the port of Piraeus, which became the hub of Greek merchant shipping. The two world wars did not do Spetses much good and because of the lousy conditions on Spetses, many Spetsiots left the island and went to mainland Greece or abroad.

However, Spetses recovered quite quickly with the rise of tourism at the beginning of the 20th century. The island developed into a popular holiday resort for the bourgeoisie, attracted by the presence of some prominent families. This development was further enhanced by the benefactor Sotiris Anargyros.

The millionaire and philanthropist Sotirios Anargirios, born on Spetses in 1848 and emigrated to the United States in 1868, returned from the United States in 1899 and bought two thirds of Spetses and planted Aleppo pines everywhere (it is estimated that about 100.000 specimens), thus creating the landscape that is still so characteristic of Spetses. In order to promote (yacht) tourism, he had the large hotel Poseidonion built, which attracted many (English) high society, royal visitors and wealthy Athenians. He also built the Anárgiros-Korgialéneios school in the early 20th century, a boys' school for the sons of the rich aristocrats on the island (now a congress centre).

Spetses did not suffer much in the Second World War, but one event left a big scar. A number of resistance fighters were trapped on Spetses and hidden by the Spetsiots in the Bekiri cave. Informants from the Germans told the occupying forces and the residents of Spetses were ordered to assemble. All adult men were then led away and locked up. The remaining Spetsians were asked to tell where the resistance men were hidden. If they did not tell, all the captured men of Spetses would be killed. The courageous people of Spetses decided to help the resistance fighters and to get them off the island, which resulted in the killing of all captured Spetsian men.

After the German occupation, the Greek civil war (1946-1949) passed by Spetses rather silently.

In the period 28 June 1949 - 6 January 1950, the Spetsiot Alexandros Diomidis (1875-1950) was Prime Minister of Greece and formed the first government after the Greek Civil War, succeeding Themistoklis Sophoulis (1860-1949). Alexandros Diomidis was the grandson of Prime Minister Diomidis Kiriakos (1811-1869), also born on Spetses, and Minister of Finance from 1912 to 1915 and in 1922.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many wealthy Athenians moved to Spetses, bought a (second) house or moored their big yachts in the harbour of Spetses. From the 1980s onwards, more and more northern Europeans, especially British, came to Spetses.

In 1990 and 2000, fierce fires slaughtered the pine forests. In 2001, Spetses was again rocked by several fires, but fortunately they did not cause much damage.

At the beginning of the 21st century, package holiday sales declined and Spetses became more of a travel destination for wealthy Greeks. And still today, the main visitors on Spetses are Greeks and individual travellers from all over the world. The prices on Spetses are not bad, and backpackers still ignore Spetses during the popular island hopping.

See also the history page of Greece.



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Last updated April 2024
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