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About Hydra island, Greece

Hydra is a small island in the Saronic and Argolic Bay, of extent of 64 square kilometers and a coastline of some 50 kilometers. The island counts some 3000 permanent residents. The island is considered as the jewel of the area and attracts many visitors, both Greeks and from abroad, thanks to its cosmopolitan atmosphere, the glorious past and the wonderful landscape. One of the most characteristic features of Hydra that distinguish the island from other Greek island is that no vehicles are allowed on the island and transport is possible only on foot, by sea or on donkeys’ and mules’ back.

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History of the island

All the data we have from archaeological surveys, that is to say the surface finds, the pottery and the potsherds, as well as numerous traces of settlements at the site of Episkope, lead to the conclusion that the island was inhabited for the first time as early as in the Late Neolithic period, during the first half of the 3rd millennium b. C.

According to Herodotus who calls the island Hydraia, the island was populated by Dryopes, a stiff-necked people who was occupied mainly in stockbreeding, agriculture and fishing and had arrived to the island from the mountainous places of Parnassos and Oete in mainland Greece. After the so-called descent of the Dorians in Greece, this people is disappearing and no traces of them are maintained on the island ever since. Throughout antiquity Hydra never played a significant role in history and had been occupied by various conquerors. This fact is well confirmed by the few references to the island in the ancient written sources. The most important reference to Hydra of Classic times is found in the work of Stephanos Byzantios who states that a comedy author, Evages, lived on the island.

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This lack of evidence for all this period had been initially considered as a proof that the island was uninhabited during the Roman and Byzantine periods. Excavations at Episkope, however, have shown that Hydra in these periods was populated by few people, mainly stock-breeders who were retired in the inland and on the mountains because of the quite frequent and destructive raids of pirates.

It is then, in mid-15th century, that many families of Albanian warriors, persecuted by the Ottomans during their war with the Venetians (1463-1479), take shelter to this hardly accessible and mountainous island. The newcomers had the same religious rite with the old residents and intermarriage soon took place. As the island was pretty barren feed all this people, the residents turned to the sea and soon became the famous sea warriors of the following times. The establishment of the actual town of Hydra upon the safe hill of Kiafa is also dated in this period. The wars and revolts in mainland Greece throughout these years force a lot of people to leave their homelands and settle to the safe island of Hydra. New settlers from various places as Epirus, Smyrna, Kythnos, Kranidi and Epidauros keep arriving to Hydra until the Revolution of 1821. This movement results in a dramatic increase of population, development of commerce and rise to affluence and power for many families of the island. Numbers are quite characteristic: in the dawn of the Greek Revolution of 1821 the island counts some 27.000 people, mainly seamen, who own more than 150 war ships, armed with 2.500 canons and with a crew of 6.000 stiff-necked and courageous battle-hardened seamen.
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This ready-to fight fleet was the result of several occasions and lucky coincidences. It is thought that the catalyst for this rapid development had been the arrival to the island of Georgios Demas Voulgaris and his nomination as Governor of the island (“Mitas Kotzambasi). Voulgaris, the “Bey” as his compatriots called him, had also been nominated as “Nazir”, that is to say supervisor of the islands of Poros and Spetses. Taking advantage of the favor of Kapoudan Pasha, the admiral of the Ottoman fleet and thanks to a wise government, Voulgaris achieved to bring peace to the island and appease the concerns of the Ottomans. With the excuse that it was crucial to suppress piracy in the Aegean, a major problem for these times, he had allowed the ships of Hydra to bring arms and encouraged arrangements that led to a semi-autonomous organization of the local society, which soon gathered affluent richness and a battle worthy, well experienced fleet; this latter was probably the most important contribution to the success of the War of Independence of Greece. Several fearless and courageous sea warriors of the period come from Hydra, as Miaoulis, Economou, Sahtouris, Tombazis, Voulagis, Kriezis, Kountouriotis, Pipinos and others.

After the end of the Revolution and the declaration of Greece as an independent state, Hydra starts to gradually decline, despite the development of fishing and of sponges’ commerce. This process is continued during the first half of the 20th century and results to the decrease of population and economic decline. A slight revival of the island appears only after the World War II, when several artists, both Greeks and foreigners choose the island for permanent or temporary residence. Thus, well known Greek authors and painters as Seferis, Gkikas, Engonopoulos, Tetsis, along with numerous foreigners, as the eminent American author Arthur Miller became residents of the island. Thanks to them the island attracted several cinema producers and many films, as the “Boy on a Dolphin” with Sophia Loren and “Phaedra” with Melina Mercouri, were filmed here, which advertised a lot the beauties and the scenic landscape of the island. This fame resulted in a bursting development of tourism on the island, which today offers high level facilities to the numerous tourists not only from Greece and Europe, but also from other countries of the world.
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Cultural Events and Activities

The hospitable island of Hydra offers to the numerous visitors a wide range of cultural events, feasts and other activities, all year round.

Possibly the most well known event is the “Miaoulia”, taking place annually by the end of June, in honor of the admiral Andreas Miaoulis. The events last for three days and are part of the Nautical Week. Several cultural activities as folk dances, torch races, boat races and other athletic activities take place during the Miaoulia; the events end up with a grandiose representation of the setting on fire of the Ottoman flagship by the Greek fire ships.

In July the Municipality in cooperation with the Greek Ministry of Culture organize the International Festival of Marionettes, a festival open both to artists and to the public. There are also organized several exhibitions of visual arts, as well as concerts and theatrical plays and other similar activities.

Hydra organizes one of the most famous Carnivals in Greece; the event attracts many people and every one, masqueraded or not, follows the King of Carnival passing from the narrow streets of the old town to end up to the port, where amusement lasts until the next morning in an atmosphere of joy and fun.
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The most scenic event of this historic island is certainly the process of the Epitaph, taking place at Kaminia in the evening of Good Friday. After the Epitaph has been processed all over the town, it ends up to the port and the people who carry it get it in the sea, so that both the people and the sea are blessed by the Holy Epitaph.

Equally scenic and in an atmosphere of devoutness is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ at midnight of Holy Saturday. The festive activities continue on the Easter Sunday with the preparation of the traditional Easter meal, the lamb on the spit. The feast reaches its end in the afternoon of the same day, when it takes place the happening of the “Burning of Judah”, accompanied by wonderful firework.

Apart from these feasts, the locals also organize religious local feasts (“panighyri”), in honor of various Saints and of Virgin Mary. The feast of the local saint, and patron saint of the island, is celebrated on the 14th of November at the church at Kiafa. Another local religious feast takes place on the 24th of June, in honor of the 8 saints of the island, whereas on the 15th of August there is the religious feast in honor of the Assumption of Virgin Mary.

Thanks to its special character and atmosphere, Hydra is a favorite place for the organization of various conferences and symposia. One of the most interesting conferences recently organized on Hydra was the International Conference for the importance of the donkey in the economy and culture of the Mediterranean.
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Shopping – Local Products

The visitor of Hydra may find a wide range of local tastes at the numerous snack bars and the scenic traditional taverns of the island. However, the delicacy you should not miss to taste and bring along home is the famous sweets of the island, most of all the “amygdalota” (almond toffees), available in almost all the pastry shops of the town.

Those preferring quick and light meals a lot of snack bars, fast food and souvlaki bars are available.

In the market of the island you will find several souvenirs, as hand woven textiles, traditional costumes, ceramic vessels, embroidery and jewels. The department stores of the island also offer high quality cloths and accessories of famous fashion houses.

And, after you have spent a relaxing day swimming or strolling about the town, the night will “wake” you up. The town offers a lot of alternatives for hot amusement it clubs, music bars with all kinds of music, dance and fun.
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