Mykonos is a Greek island, part of the Cyclades, lying between Tinos, Syros, Paros and Naxos. The island spans an area of 85.5 square kilometres (33.0 sq mi) and rises to an elevation of 341 metres (1,119 feet) at its highest point. There are 10,134 inhabitants (2011 census), most of whom live in the largest town, Mykonos, which lies on the west coast. The town is also known as Chora (i.e. the Town in Greek, following the common practice in Greece when the name of the island itself is the same as the name of the principal town).
Archaeological findings suggest the presence of the Neolithic tribe Kares on the island in 3000 BC, but the first real settlers seem to be the Ionians from Athens in the early 11th century BC. There were many people living on the neighbouring island of Delos, just 2 km (1.2 miles) away, which meant that Mykonos became an important place for supplies and transit. It was, however, during ancient times a rather poor island with limited agricultural resources and only two towns. Its inhabitants were pantheists and worshipped many gods.
Mykonos town (Chora)
Mykonos came under the control of the Romans during the reign of the great Roman Empire and then became part of the Byzantine Empire until the 12th century. In 1204, with the fall of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, Mykonos was occupied by Andrea Ghisi, a relative of the Doge of Venice. The island was ravaged by the Catalans at the end of the 13th century and finally given over to direct Venetian rule in 1390.
In 1537, while the Venetians still reigned, Mykonos was attacked by Hayreddin Barbarossa, the infamous admiral of Suleiman the Magnificent, and an Ottoman fleet established itself on the island. The Ottomans, under the leadership of Kapudan Pasha, imposed a system of self-governance comprising a governor and an appointed council of syndics. When the castle of Tinos fell to the Ottomans in 1718, the last of the Venetians withdrew from the region.
Up until the end of the 18th century, Mykonos prospered as a trading centre, attracting many immigrants from nearby islands, in addition to regular pirate raids. In June 1794 the Battle of Mykonos was fought between British and French ships in the island’s main harbour.
Portrait of Manto Mavrogenous at the Aegean Maritime Museum in Mykonos
The Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire broke out in 1821 and Mykonos played an important role, led by the national heroine, Manto Mavrogenous. Mavrogenous, a well-educated aristocrat guided by the ideas of the Enlightenment, sacrificed her family’s fortune for the Greek cause. Greece became an independent state in 1830. A statue of her sits in the middle of Mando Mavrogenous square in the main town.
As a result of sailing and merchant activity, the island’s economy quickly picked up but declined again during the late 19th century and especially after the opening of the Corinth Canal in 1904 and the First World War at the beginning of the 20th century. Many Mykonians left the island to find work in mainland Greece and many foreign countries, especially the United States.
Tourism soon came to dominate the local economy, owing a lot to the important excavations carried out by the French School of Archaeology, which began work in Delos in 1873.
In the 1930s many famous artists, politicians and wealthy Europeans began spending their vacations on the island and Mykonos quickly became an international hot spot. Temporarily suspended during the Second World War, tourists once again rushed to Mykonos’ luxurious shores in the 1950s and have not stopped since.