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The History of Halki

Modern-day Halki is a picture of peace and tranquillity. An island seemingly frozen in time, with grand Italianate houses lining the harbour, fishing boats gently bobbing in the water, and a seriously laidback vibe.

But the tumbledown ruins across this small Dodecanese island hint at an intriguing past. Here’s everything you need to know about the history of Halki.

The Origins of Halki

Myth and legend abounds across Greece, but our knowledge of this rocky island off Rhodes remains relatively sparse. It’s believed that the island was named after the copper workshops once located here (Halkos being Greek for copper).

According to mythology, the original inhabitants of Halki are said to be the Titans, pre-Olympian gods that were the children of Uranus (Heaven) and Gaia (Earth).  

The first human settlers of Halki were the Pelasgians, a term used by ancient Greek writers to denote a pre-Hellenic population that spoke a ‘barbaric’ language. Few tantalising archaeological remains exist from the prehistoric period, including Neolithic obsidian tools and the original walls of the acropolis. But it’s the Classical period when Halki’s history becomes a little clearer.

Halki in Ancient History

Halki first appears in written texts and inscriptions during the Classical period, mainly in fiscal lists of the Athenian League, suggesting that the island was completely autonomous at this time. The historical writer Thucydides notes that Halki served as an operations base for the Athenian fleet in 411BC during the Peloponnesian War, while Strabo observes that it possessed a harbour and Temple of Apollo.

However the island’s independence was short-lived, eventually falling under the control of the Rhodian state. Finds from Hellenistic tombs suggest the island amassed considerable wealth, while evidence points to pirate raids causing many inhabitants to move inland.

History of Halki from the Middle Ages to the Greek State

Over the course of the Middle Ages, the fortunes of Halki were closely linked to that of Rhodes. Control of the island changed hands several times, passing between the Arabs, the Byzantine Empire, and then to the Venetians and Genoese, who refortified the Hellenistic acropolis and built the fortress on Alimia.

During the 14th century, the Venetians gifted Halki to the Assanti family from Ischia, who oversaw the building of the Castle of the Knights on the remains of the ancient acropolis.

Rhodes fell to the Turks in 1522 along with her islands, beginning the long years of Ottoman rule. Halki took part in the Greek Revolution in 1821, which was eventually successful, only for the Dodecanese to be given back to the Ottomans who remained in control until 1912 when the Italians assumed control until 1945. In 1948, Halki became part of the Greek State along with the other Dodecanese islands.

Sponge Fishing on Halki

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Halki was one of the foremost centres of sponge fishing in the Dodecanese, along with Symi, Kalymnos and Kastellorizo. At the height of its trade, little Halki boasted a population of up to 7,000 people, and the wealth generated from this period funded the construction of the magnificent villas lining the harbour (many of which form part of our Halki accommodation).

In 1904, around 500 divers left Halki for better conditions in Tarpon Springs, Florida, before the introduction of artificial sponges saw the general decline of the industry. Most sponge fishing fleets were dismantled by the 1960s, and Halki was almost completed deserted by the 1980s.

Today, tourism is the main industry with people drawn here for the peace, tranquillity and beauty.

Visit Halki with Nissia Holidays

If this history of Halki has inspired you to book a holiday to explore the crusader castle, wander around the ruins of abandoned Chorio, or admire the beautiful architecture around the harbour, check out our fantastic range of Halki accommodation.

To find out more about the island, see our Ultimate Guide to Halki.

To book your holiday to Halki, contact Nissia Holidays on 01455 289421 or email us: info@nissiaholidays.com.

Jo

Jo worked on Tilos in 2006, as the last Island Manager for Laskarina. She now runs a travel writing business and travel blog, The Wandering Wordsmith, and spends much of her year travelling. But Greece, especially Tilos, will always hold a special place in her heart.

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