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History of Folegandros island, Greece

The history of Folegandros goes back to the remote past. Usually the island follows the common history of the complex of the Cyclades.

The first reference to Folegandros comes from Greek Mythology. According to one of the myths, the island was inhabited for the first time by shepherds coming from western Continental Greece, who came here, looking for grassland for their flocks. Obviously, the shepherds were all men and thus the island was called “Polyandros” (meaning in Greek “with a lot of men”). This ancient name was maintained for a long time and the marines used to call the island “Polykandro”. Anyway, historically, the first settlers of the island seem to have been the Carians who came there from Asia Minor.

Greek Mythology also informs us that Minoans from Crete, led by Folegandros, one of the sons of king Minos came to the island. It is after him that the island was given its name. As it is evidenced by historic sources, in fact, several Cretans who were persecuted in their homeland, found refuge on the island of Folegandros.

Another suggestion for the name of the island states that Folegandros owes its name to the Phoenicians. These famous merchants of the early 1 st millennium b.C. seem to have used the island as a base and roadstead when they traveled in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. Having observed the rocky and stony geography of the island, they called it «phelekgundari», which in their language meant “stony land”. Later on, due to this characteristic, the ancient writer Aratos called Folegandros “land of iron”.
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Archaeological finds, mainly inscriptions, show that the island was settled by Dorians at the end of the 2 nd millennium b.C. In the 5 th century b.C. Folegandros, despite the Doric origin of its population, was put under the domination of the Athenians, the dominants of the entire Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean in this period of time. According to an inscription found on the island, in 425, Folegandros paid an annual tax of 2.000 attic drachms to the Athenians, while at the same time the nearby island of Sikinos had to pay only 1.000. This was probably due to the fact that Folegandros did not become a member of the First Athenian Alliance in 478; it was incorporated to it much later.

During this period of time at Folegandros there was the cult of Artemis Selasforos (Diana) and Apollo Prostaterios (“the protector”). Several coins made of copper and dated in the 3 rd and 2 nd centuries b.C. were found on the island, bearing on one face the prince Folegandros and on the other a sacred bull. After the defeat of the Athenians at Chaeronia in 338 b.C., the island passed to Macedonian domination and then to the domination of the successors of Alexander the Great, mostly the Ptolemy’s. Due to the isolation of the island, the Romans, who succeeded the Macedonians, used the island as a place of exile.

Later on, during the Byzantine period, Folegandros had the destiny of the rest of Cyclades. Only little information is available for this period of time. All we know is that the island was an Exarchate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, until mid 17 th century, when it became part of the Archdiocese of Sifnos. In 1204, after the Francs conquered Constantinople, it was dominated by the Venetians. The Venetian Marco Sanudo became the dominant of the island, as well as of most of the islands of the central Aegean, and founded the Duchy of Naxos, or Duchy of the Archipelago, as it was then called.

Sanudo was a good governor, tolerant enough to the locals. He accepted and confirmed the religious freedom of the residents, which made him popular and highly respected. Among other, Sanudo constructed a castle around the village, on the part of the sea, to protect the population from the attacks of pirates, quite common in these times. In 1269, the Byzantine admiral Licarius took possession of some of the Cycladic islands; Folegandros was one of them. The Byzantines kept the islands until 1307, when they were conquered by the Spanish, under the leadership of Giannoulis Dacoronia.

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In 1464 the family of Gozadini became dominants of Folegandros and kept the island until 1617, when the Ottomans took possession of it, after several attacks during the last centuries of the Venetian domination. During this period, the island was led under tribute to Kapoudan Pasha (the admiral of the Ottoman navy) and paid an annual sum of 1.500 piastres. As the island, pretty isolated, was always a safe shelter for the pirates, Tzanoum Hotza, the Kapoudan Pasha in 1715 attacked the island anew, sacked it and sold the population into slavery. Only few of the population survived, who later on returned to their homes. It is in this period that the few population of Folegandros invited several families from the nearby islands, from Crete, from the Peloponnese and from other parts of Greece, to come and settle to the island, so that the population increase.

During the 18 th century the island flourished thanks to commercial activities; in this period consuls of European states were appointed to the island. After 1770 Folegandros was conquered by the Russians for four years, until the end of the war between Russians and Ottomans in 1774, when the Ottomans regained it. The Ottomans dominated the island until the end of the Greek Revolution of 1821, when the island was liberated and incorporated to the young Greek State. A quite characteristic feature of the history of the island is that during the 20 th century Folegandros served again as a place to send the political exiles, exactly as it had happened during the Roman domination some two thousand years ago.

Until 1970 the island, along with several other parts of Greece, suffered a considerable reduction of its population, due to the migration of the residents. The last few decades, things in Folegandros have changed, thanks to the development of tourism. Despite the tourist development and the development of infra-structure, the population has not undergone rapid social changes, nor has the environment lost its character and originality.

Today the official symbol of the Community of Folegandros is the homonymous mythic Cretan prince.


Folegandros as a place of exile: From the Roman Period until the dictatorship of 1967

Several islands had been chosen as places of exile as early as in the Roman period. Usually, there were chosen the barren small islands of the Aegean, in which both the conditions of living and the access and communication were extremely difficult. Folegandros was one of these islands and during the 20 th century until 1970, it was often used as a place of exile or, to be more precise as a place of banishment of the political opponents of all governments. Since 1919 numerous leftwing militants were banished and sent to Folegandros. In 1936 the number of the exiles on the island had reached the 200 people; one of them was the well known Greek author Dimitris Chatzis. In some cases not only leftwing militants, but also other democratic citizens were banished to Folegandros; an example of this case was Demetrios Lambrakis, the publisher of the newspaper “Eleftheron Vima”, who was exiled there in 1926 by the dictatorial government of Pangalos because he had helped the eminent Greek general N. Plastiras to escape from Greece.

In the beginning, the banishment as a measure of punishment was not based on special laws. Since 1924 however, it was based on the law that aimed to come down on brigandage and robbery of animals, very common in this period of time, as this law allowed the banishment of persons “suspicious for actions contrary to public order and safety”.

Some characteristic facts related to Folegandros as place of banishment of political prisoners are:

In 1919, after a crisis which resulted in split of the General Federation of Greek Workers (trade unions), the government of Eleftherios Venizelos commanded that five members of the Federation (who were also militants of the Communist Party of Greece) were arrested and banished to Folegandros. This fact caused a general strike, the first with political demands in Greece, and forced the government to release four out of the five. Only Abraham Benaroya, “the Jew agitator” as the government called him, remained on Folegandros until 1920.

Later on, in 1928, according to a special bill published again by the government of Eleftherios Venizelos, every citizen considered as “dangerous” for public order was arrested and banished for some period of time, usually not precise. In several cases the place of exile was Folegandros.
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During the period of the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas (1936-1940) one of the exiles of Folegandros was Michalis Raptis, known in Europe as “Pablo”.

As it is stated in the Archives of the Community of Folegandros, recently published, these exiles were the first strangers that the locals had ever seen. Most of the locals speak with respect about those exiles that, despite the difficulties they faced, were always willing to help them in their difficult every day life, they gave them medical care and so on. Also, several of these stories notice the sarcastic humor of the exiles who named their donkeys after the names of the policemen who persecuted them in their home towns, or after the politicians responsible for their banishment.

There are several stories about the exiles during the German domination of Greece that started in April 1941. Some of the exiles, of Cretan origin escaped to their home island in order to fight against the Germans attacking Crete. However, the Greek authorities arrested them and kept them in prison for a few days until they decided to release them and thus allow them to take part to the heroic resistance of Cretan people against the invaders.

According to another story, when the Germans arrived on the island they asked for an interpreter in order to give their commands. As many of the exiles were well educated, one of them who spoke German undertook this task. Of course, in what concerned the exiles themselves, the interpreter persuaded the German leader that the exiles were not dangerous for the Germans and thus the German officer commanded the Greek Police responsible to guard the exiles, to release them.

Due to this fact, soon after, some of the ex-exiles of Folegandros founded the association of “Ethniki Alleleghye” (“National Solidarity”) a resistance organization.

The verses of a song improvised by the exiles during the Greek civil war in late 40s’ stated: “Ikaria, Folegandros, Ghioura, Ae-Stratis…”, citing some of the islands of the losing line, who had been used as places of banishment.

The island was used as a place of exile as late as during the dictatorship of 1967, when only a few people were sent to Folegandros. In 1970, even these people were transferred to Gyaros, an island without permanent residents, inaccessible and much more difficult for living.
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