History of Karpathos

Kárpathos (Κάρπαθος), the Venetian Scarpanto, is one of the largest Dodecanese islands. Its highest mountain is Mt. Kalilimni at 1,188 m (3,900 ft). The island, with an area of 324.800 km2, is divided by this mountain in to two almost separate parts the South with most of the fertile land and inhabitants and the much wilder and isolated North. It is in the North and especially in the village of Olympos that, because of the isolation and now for, I suspect, tourist reasons, some of the folkloric customs and costumes are preserved.

The Angry West Shore of Karpathos


Because Karpathos is isolated, it has very few anchorages, and the surrounding Karpathian Sea is notorious for its bad weather, Karpathos is very seldom visited by yachts. However, precisely for these reasons, Karpathos is one of the least spoiled islands in the Aegean and worthy of exploration.


In ancient times the island was named Porfiris, after the red dye extracted from a sea cell on the island. This dye was exported and up to the Byzantine times was used to color the garments of kings and emperors. Another ancient name for the island was Tetrapolis originating from its four cities: Vrykous, Possidion, Arkesia, and Nissyros. By the time of Homer it was called by its present name: Karpathos. It is believed that the name originates from Arpaktos or "robbery" because Karpathos was always an island of pirates. A few Mycenian artifacts have been excavated near of Pigadia.


By the middle ages pirates dominated the island and the city of Arkassa was a major slave market. In 1206 the island fell under the Frankish crusaders, to be followed by the Venetians. During the Ottoman times the Turks stayed away from this lawless island. It is said that many sunken pirate treasure lie in the bays of Vrontis and Arkassa.


In the early part of the 20th century, Karpathos, like the rest of the Dodecanese was under Italian occupation. During the World War II about 6,000 Italian troops were based on the island. After the war, Karpathos became part of Greece.


Because of the isolation of the island and poor conditions many of its inhabitants migrated to the US, and later to Australia. A sizable number of these immigrants have now returned and have brought back a sizable wealth. Karpathos today has one of of the highest university graduate population rate in Europe.


Karpathos also, has a very strong musical tradition. Like Crete the 15-syllable improvised mantinades (couplets) are very popular especially in the more isolated norther villages.