Mykonos is Aegean’s most popular holiday destination. Glamorous nightlife, elite lifestyle and celebrities are the islands modern-day trademarks. However, Mykonos is an island with thousands of years of fascinating history.
According to the Greek myth, Mykonos was named after its first ruler “Mykons”, a descendant of Greek god Apollo. It is also said to have been the location of the mythological Gigantomachy; the great battle of Zeus against the Giants for the godly reign.
The island was first inhabited by a Neolithic tribe known as “Kares”, dating back to 3000 B.C. Ionians – one of the four great ancient Greek tribes- later came to the island form Athens in the 11th century BC and overthrew the previous inhabitants.
Mykonos in ancient times was an important supply and transit hub due to its location of only 2 kilometres away from the heart of the Athenian Alliance, Delos. At the time however Mykonos was a rather unprosperous island as it did not bear a rich agricultural land. Mykonians were said by Herodotus to be pantheists, meaning they worshipped all gods like Apollo, Demetra, Hera and even Hercules.
The expansion of the Romans on Greek territory found the island part of the Roman and later the Byzantine Empire. When attacked by Arabs in the 7th century, Mykonos was protected by the empire and remained intact for centuries to come. The Byzantium reign remained until the 12th Century in Mykonos.
A time of turbulence began on the island in the centuries that followed 1204, when Constantinople “fell”. Mykonos was then ruled by Venetians, while Catalans ransacked the island for a few years, before handing it back in 1393. During this time the first of the famous “Mykonos windmills” were built for milling wheat.
In the 16th century, Mykonos was attacked by Ottomans of Suleiman and came to their control in 1537.
A fair balance between Ottomans and Venetians was established on the island. Mykonians were exceptional sailors and trade brought wealth and fortune to the island during that time. Mykonos even became a mediary station for Russian – Ottoman trade. In general, during the Turkish occupation or Mykonos transformed into a naval island and provided the Ottoman fleet with a galley and flights.
When the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire broke out in 1821 Mykonos, played a pivotal role. The island breaded extremely capable navy men who took action during that time.
Among the heroes, an aristocrat female figure stood out, Mado Mavrogenous. She was a scholar with a vision and will for freedom who financed with her own fortune the Revolution.
After the Hellenic State was established Mykonians managed to bring about even more fortune and prosperity to the land than before. Trade and solid relations with the East revitalized the island, which was wrecked during the previous era. From Smyrna to Crete and to Marseilles, Mykonian merchants thrived for decades.
The new page turn, however, when the opening of the Corinth Canal led to a withering of the local economy. Mykonians had to find work in the mainland, while hundreds found themselves in the US or Australia.
The 1922 events in Smyrna, brought new people with their different traditions and culture to the island. A new mosaic of identities was built helping Mykonians thrive in sectors that the new inhabitants were previously dominant in and especially the textile industry.
In the early 1930s Mykonos started to magnetize well-known individuals of the arts who spent their summers mesmerized by the Cycladic Siren that is Mykonos. The virgin beauty of the island along with the intricate group that were the Mykonians inspired artists for decades to come.
The 60s and 70s found the island the tourist hub that it is today. A the time Mykonos became the most popular destination for not only the Greek, but also the international jet set. Greek tycoon, Aristotle Onassis, opened the gates to an all-star “parade” in Mykonians summers, with celebrities from all around the globe coming to Mykonos in his yachts. The discretion of the locals and the absence of paparazzi rapidly made Mykonos the shelter of the stars. Barbara Streisand, Valentino, Jackie O’ and Princess Soragia would be found in Mykonos every summer during the late 60s – early ’70s.
Celebrities built their Mykonos Villas to enjoy their luxury holidays in privacy, movies were filmed on the island and extravagant accommodations options for the unprecedented number of people flooding Mykonian paved pathways were made.
The welcoming crowd of locals also created an ambience that let peace lovers and hippies flourish on its land. With Mykonos beaches filled with bonfires, colours and artists, the island became an icon for the ideal holiday of the 70s.
The first nudists found their heaven on earth in Paraga beach and later “Paradise” beach while the locals protected and “sheltered” them from the law.
The gay crowd also found a home in Mykonos. The island’s environment was welcoming to the fullest and its gay scene blossomed through the decades. During the 70’s Piero’s Bar brought drag shows to the island’s nightlife. Gay bars, parties and even beaches gave Mykonos the title “Gay Saint- Tropez”.
Stepping into the 21st century Mykonos is a synonym of an elite vacation. Stars of the silver and small screen, artists and tycoons of the world come to the island to experience Greece’s luxury scenery at its finest.
The historic clubs, a night scene enviable to other destinations and villas of a Vogue centrefold spread, Mykonian holidays are making a history of their own, in golden font. Mykonos is as Nikos Kazantzakis said, “a pearl white sea-shell thrown in the Aegean open-sea”, a heaven on earth.