Folegandros, also spelled Pholegandros, is a small Greek island located in the Southern Cyclades,
close to Sikinos, Ios, Anafi and Santorini.
It covers an area of about 32 sq. km (12 sq miles) and it has approximately 760-780 inhabitants.
Although it is only 13km long and 4km wide, Folegandros has many small beaches that can be reached by car, by local bus, by foot or by little fishing boats, daily from the port. It has three small villages, Chora, Ano Meria and Karavostasi , which are connected thouhgt a paved road. The road leading from the Karavostasi port to Chora and Ano Meria is no longer than 10 km.
Chora ends on a cliff, where Hotel Castro is located.
Little is known about the ancient history of Folegandros.The first reference to Folegandroscan be found in the Greek Mythology. According to the myths:
1. the island was initially inhabited by shepherds. Obviously, the shepherds were all men and the island was therefore called “Polyandros” (meaning “with a lot of men” in Greek). This ancient name was used 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.
2. In the Greek Mythology it is also mentioned that the Minoans from Crete, led by Folegandros, one of the sons of king Minos, came to the island. The island was afterwards named after him. As evident in historic sources, in fact, several Cretans who were persecuted in their homeland, found refuge on the island of Folegandros.
3. 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”.
Later it came under Athenian rule. Archaeological finds, mainly inscriptions, show that the island was inhabited by the Dorians towards 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 during this period. According to an inscription found on the island, in 425, Folegandros paid an annual tax of 2.000 attic drachmas 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 much later.
During this period in Folegandros there was the cult of Artemis Selasforos (Diana) and Apollo Prostaterios (“the protector”). Several coins made of copper and dated back to the 3 rd and 2nd centuries b.C. were found on the island, bearing on one side the prince Folegandros and on the other a sacred bull. After the defeat of the Athenians at the battle of Chaeronia in 338 b.C., the island came under Macedonian domination and then under the domination of the successors of Alexander the Great, mostly the Ptolemy’s. Due to the isolated location of the island, the Romans, who succeeded the Macedonians, used it as a place of exile.
Later on, during the Byzantine period, Folegandros had the same destiny with the rest of the Cyclades. Only little information is available for this period.
All we know is that the island was an Exarchate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, until the 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 ruler of Folegandros, as well as of most of the other 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 towards the locals. He accepted and confirmed the religious freedom of the residents, which made him popular and highly respected. Among other, Sanudo also constructed a castle around the village towards the sea, to protect the population from the attacks of pirates, which were quite common at the time. 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. During the 18th century the island flourished thanks to its commercial activity; 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 new Greek State. A quite characteristic feature of the history of the island is that during the 20th century Folegandros served again as a place of political exile, exactly as it had been during the Roman occupation 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. During the last few
decades, things in Folegandros have changed, thanks to the tourism.
Despite the tourist development, Folegandros did not loose its character and originality.