Skiathos, despite being a small island, has a rich and eventful history. Skiathos has always been the name of the Island. Skia is Greek for ‘great shadow’ referring to the shadows of the vast pine forests that have dominated the landscape. In its early history it was mainly inhabited be the Cretans.
Its first major historical event came during the Persian Wars where it acted as a Athenian Port. It became a member of the Athenian Delian League in 478BC. The league was effectively a coalition of the Greek States and others with the sole goal of planning for the defence of future invasions of the vast Persian armies. Skiathos officially became an independent state in 404 BC. However, this was short lived as it was conquered in 341 BC by Philip of Macedon (Alexander the Great’s father). After the death of Alexander, The Macedonian empire fell and fractured. Skiathos suffered badly under the many rulers that followed. The next five hundred years saw Skiathos regain independence, live under Roman rule, fall to the Empire of Pontus, then Athenian rule. It wasn’t until 221AD when the island regained some stability under Roman Rule.
The Medieval period was not much kinder to the small island of Skiathos. Christianity came to the island around 300 AD, but the first church was slow to come, not being built until the 6th Century. The next five hundred years saw the island dominated by pirates. Little is known of this time.
The next significant event comes in 1204, when the island was liberated by Crusaders and given to Venice. In 1207 the Gyzi Brothers built The Bourtzi, a small Venetian styled fortress, in a bid to stop the pirate raids. However, this failed. The Bourtzi can still be found in Skiathos Town today. With the continued raids on the island, The port town of Skiathos was abandoned and the populace move to the North of the Island. Kastro would remain the capital of Skiathos until the 1830’s.
In 1538, the island fell to the Turkish and remained under Turkish rule until the war of independence in 1821.
Following the Greek Revolution, years of peace inspired poets, artists and writers, most notably Alexandros Papadiamatis. His home has been converted to a museum of his life and the main street in Skiathos town takes his name.
The peace also saw the capital city move from Kastro back to the port of Skiathos Town. It has remained here since but Kastro is still a very popular tourist destination.
The peace was not to last though. Greece was occupied by the Nazi’s during WW2. During this time Skiathos Town was damaged by the German bombers. September 14th is still remembered by the Katsonia Festival which is the day in 1943 that the Nazi’s sank the Greek Submarine, Katsonis (Y-1), was sank of the coast of Skiathos. If you want to learn more about the festival I highly recommend reading this article on The Skiathian Blogspot.
In the early 70’s Skiathos built its airport. As the island was so small, smaller than it is today, earth was reclaimed for the sea and the island of Skiathos was joined to the island of Lazareta. Lazareta, an island smaller than Skiathos was a former leper colony.
In 2007 the Hollywood Musical Mamma Mia! was filmed mainly on Skopelos, but a few scenes were filmed on Skiathos. In fact many of the residents of Skiathos and Skopelos appeared in the film as extras. The film greatly increased the popularity of Skiathos amongst British tourist and the islanders play up to the connection with Mamma Mia! featuring it in the open air cinema and also arranging boat trips to see the sights of the film.