Alonissos, or Ikos as the island was once named, has a history of over 100,000 years. It is the only location in the Aegean where traces and remnants of human civilization were found. Our ancestors show us a worthy historical course of strength and adaptation to unfavourable conditions, which is to be admired. A phenomenon which stigmatized the historical outcome of the island until 1944 was that of piracy.
Generally, the area of the Northern Sporades was ideal for pirate attacks, as well as pirate havens or hideouts. The chain of islands was an important crossroads in the course of Greek Naval history. It was only natural that one of the oldest professions should find fertile ground to expand to a degree that was out of control. The threat and fear of the pirates made the inhabitants desert their homes and towns by the seaside. They relocated on the hilltops surrounding themselves with small fortresses. Kokkinokastro was deserted in this way, a town which played a significant role in the development of trade. The outcome of this desertion was the population of the old village as the main town of the island until 1965.
Even though the threat of piracy was still existent, the islanders managed to build up the island economically in many different areas. During the historical era (9th and 8th century), the systematic cultivation of olives and vineyards started, this continued until modern times. Later, during the Archaic period (7th and 6th century), the islanders excelled with outstanding speed and development. Their wine became an export of great demand. A great fleet of both trade and naval ships is developed. The rich pine tree forests helped in developing the art of ship building during the Classical period, and the handicraft of pottery appears. The amphorae with the word “IKION” engraved on the handles are exported to all corners of the Ancient Greek world. During the height of the Roman Empire the downward economical slump of Alonissos is apparent. All cultural development ceases and the island clearly becomes farming and breeding area. This continues on until the end of the Second World War, where the production and export of wine ceases due to an illness which wipes out the vines. Today, the economy of Alonissos relies mostly on fishing and tourism.
Old Alonissos history
The construction of the fortress dates back to the Bronze Age, about 2800 B.C. The Dolopes, which were the first civilized race to inhabit Alonissos and the deserted islands, applied themselves in the construction of the Cyclopean Wall. The first wall consisted of large blocks of stone. The weight of the stones, but mostly the way in which the masons of that time dug up and slanted the stones with the meager tools available, inspires awe at what was accomplished. With the passing of the years, the fortress is finished and reinforced. During the classical period, miniature fortresses like buildings are built within the walls. These are used as houses for the local leaders. During the same period, because of the large economic success that befalls Alonissos, the fortress is repaired, elongated and refined. This ancient wall of the old village, later in the Classical period, was dismantled by its own inhabitants because of the need of stones to build more houses. The fortress had two functions, one was to protect the inhabitants from the pirates and other enemies, and the other was to play the role of inspector to the agricultural production which was controlled by Kokkinokastro. During the Byzantine years, the fortress is repaired again. The work done was as follows:
• The workers made a smaller perimeter for greater protection from the pirates and left the outside perimeter of the ancient walls untouched.
• Because of the pirate threat, the people cultivated land near the walls of the fortress.
• The building is done practically, with the eastern steep cliffs making up one side.
• The houses of the village are built right to the edge of the cliffs, with small windows which doubled as battle covers.
• The fortress had one main door and a “Para port”, which was a smaller door which opened and closed more easily.
• Outside, the fortress walls were crypts for those who did not reach the safety of the walls in time. The entrance to the crypts could be seen with great difficulty and could be descended by a ladder. There, food and water was stored for emergencies. Legend says that a mother hiding in the crypt was forced to strangle her baby so as its crying would not betray the hideout.
During the occupation of the Venetians (1204-1274), our ancestors lived under the rule of the wealthy Barony of Gizi. They repaired the Byzantine fortress of the village, which protected from the Arabs, Turks, and Latin pirates which frequently attacked our islands. A secret passage was built which was closed on top by a large piece of slate. The passage led out from the fortress to the dense virgin forest of the eastern side and from there the people, hidden between the trees, found shelter in the crypts. The passage and the crypt existed until modern times until an earthquake partially destroyed them. During the years of the Turkish rule all the inhabitants of Alonissos were enclosed within the fortress. Near the fortress door, the Turkish administrator ruled. Each person that wanted to leave the fortress had to pass from the residence of the Turk. Thorough searches were conducted both upon exiting and entering the walls by each native. With the passing of the century, and the end of piracy the fortress was totally destroyed. The last remnants were destroyed during the earthquake of 1965. From 1965, the desertion of the geographical old village begins and the population of new areas such as Patitiri, Votsi and Neo Ikismo begin.
The Village School in Old Alonissos
The school was built near the end of the last century by money donated by Mr. Syngrou. It was an important neo-classical building, probably the grandest on Alonissos. In 1956, the second building was built to accommodate all the students. Unfortunately, this ruined appearance and careful design of the old building.
Churches in Old Alonissos
During the Byzantine period (330-1204) Christianity spread throughout Greece. With the order of 313 on Independent Religion, which was signed with the help of St. Eleni and her son Konstantinos, the once powerful Gods of Olympus were immediately forgotten. Christianity ruled on the island. Forgetting their poverty, the pirates and their everyday problems, the islanders identified with the new religion. From then to the present, the islands have always been Christian. the islanders, living under a feudal system, aimed all their hopes on the new religion and apply themselves on the construction of large monastic centers and churches. First they built churches within the fortress walls and later as time passes, the churches spread throughout the island. The churches of Old Alonissos are:
1. Church of Christ– The largest church of the Old village. it has a strange shape and its architecture is influenced by western prototypes. From the earthquake in 1965, cracks appear in the church but fortunately they are not worrying. The icons date from the middle of the 17th century, around the time the church was built.
2. Agios Athanasios– Also built within the boundaries of the fortress. built the same time as the Church of Christ, it has an icon dated from the 18th century.
3. Agios Giorgios– found in the fortress on a higher level. The icons in this church date from the 18th century. There are also two icons that date between the 17th and 18th century.
4. Agios Dimitrios– Also found in the village but did not survive the devastating earthquake of 1965. Unfortunately, the arches fell and the south wall tilted to such an angle that it could not stay up. Later, the whole church fell. The icons were taken to Agios Athanasios for safe keeping.
5. Agios Nikolaos– The first church was very old and did not survive the passing of time. In 1964, it was demolished by the God-fearing people of Alonnisos so as to erect the modern Agios Nikolaos we see today.
The Town Square (Kopria)
In Oct. 1940, the war with Italy began and in April 1941, the islanders were called to do their patriotic duty. They fought in the front lines during the whole war period. When the Germans invaded, they returned to the island continuing to serve their country in a different manner. They organized themselves with the EAM ( a resistance organization) and organized the safe transportation of our allies (Australians, English, Cypriots) to the Middle East. They organized a whole network with the co-operation of all the Northern Sporades Islands. Later, when the Italians left, they left the command and administration of the area to the Germans. Near the end of the war, the Germans with the help of traitors begin the task of destroying the EAM. On Aug. 15, 1944, they gathered 11 members of the EAM in the town square, they tied them and shot them in front of their fellow villagers, who were also gathered in the square. The execution of the heroes of Alonissos was a show of power by the conquerors.