The island of Kythera is approximately 16 miles long and 10 miles wide. Tall mountains and hills dominate its landscape, and it’s coastline had been defenseless for centuries. Because of its location in the waterway at the southern tip of Greece–the Kytherian Straits–ships from Turkey and other Eastern countries had to pass Kythera’s shores on their way to the west (the Mediterranean Sea, Italy, Portugal, etc.). Several countries took their turns conquering the island and its people over many centuries.
The Italians conquered the island in the 13th century and maintained a strong Italian culture for centuries. They built many fortresses on Kythera to guard against invaders. But the conquerors became the conquered as the nearby Greek mainland’s influence overshadowed the Italian language and culture. Until 1832, the island was called by its Italian name, Tzirigo. The Greek mainland belonged to the Turks until 1832, but Kythera belonged to Italy and then England. Once the mainland became independent in 1832, the island went under Greek sovereignty.
Prior to WWII, thousands of Kytherians emigrated to Australia and America. The first two decades of the 20th century found Kytherian immigrants primarily in Sydney, Australia or the San Francisco Bay Area. Those that emigrated were spared the ravages of WWII when the German Army conquered and occupied their island in 1941. The Germans troops confiscated all food crops, and the islanders knew great hunger during the war years. Many of the elderly, especially, died of starvation and exposure. Once the Germans were defeated and out of Greece, Kytherians from America and Australia sent much-needed clothing, food and money to their relatives on the island.
In the past century, Kythera’s population diminished significantly as islanders emigrated. During the winter months, its population is just under 3,500. However, during the months between May and October, thousands of Kytherians from all over the world return for lengthy stays. Tourism sustains the island’s economy along with growing reconstruction of family homes or new vacation homes.