The history of Elafonisos dates back to the Neolithic period (6000-3500 BC) during which a brilliant and rare prehistoric civilization flourished, traces of which can be seen in Pavlopetri, the world' s oldest submerged town. From then on, the historical route of Elafonisos and of the surrounding area is associated with the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) and the occupation by the Athenians, Thucydides, the Romans, Byzantium, Castles and Vigles, Piracy, Don Quixote, The Venetian Battleships, the Portolans, the naval bases during the Greek Struggle for Independence, with Kapodistrias, the naval battle of Navarino and the Liberation of Greece.
Elafonisos, Kythera, Antikythera, Vatika and Laconia in general appear about 30 million years ago from the depths of the sea as part of the Aegean Sea. 400,000 years ago, the sea began to penetrate from the Strait of Elafonisos and the Strait of Kythera, thus forming the first islands of Smigopelagos (Kythira, Antikythira) at the time of the Middle Pleistocene.
The area of Elafonisos is inhabited for the first time during the Neolithic period, between 6000-3500 BC. Early Helladic findings were found in Pavlopetri, today's settlement of Elafonisos, Kato Nisi, and in other areas of the island (Kapsianianika, Spyrianika, Foudianika, Kournospila, Vigla etc). Pavlopetri combines all phases and shades of Greek Culture (Bronze Age, Middle Helladic Culture, Minoan Civilization, Mycenaean Civilization, Cycladic Civilization, etc.). According to oceanologist N.C. Flemming, Pavlopetri was lost along with the famous state of Atlantis. Apart from Pavlopetri another submerged city seems to exist, south of the Cape Elena, in which obsidian was found.
The first inhabitants of the present island were the Leleges and later the Achaeans and the Dorians. Its strong interconnections with the Early Cycladic and Minoan civilizations do not exclude the partial establishment of Cyclades and Cretans.
The Strait of Elafonisos, known in our area as the "Tsirigo's Bogazi" (the channel of Kythera), is the strongest historical link between Kythera, Elafonisos and Cave Malea. It is one of the most important routes overseas between East and West in the Mediterranean and the only commercial sea route connecting Eastern and Western Greece for 9,000 years.
Here are some historical facts:
- The sea area of Elafonisos was visited by the Phoenicians for the exploitation of tyrian purple. It is characteristic that in Kythera there is an ancient site called Phoenikes and in Elafonisos (Pavlopetri) traces of tyrian purple (aka Royal purple or Imperial purple) were found in the ruins of the prehistoric city.
- A Sanctuary of Athena was built at Elafonisos around the 10th century BC (probably at Vigla).
- A Sanctuary of Apollo was also built, as Thucydides mentions, perhaps before the 6th or 5th century BC, probably in the area of Lefki, near Simos.
- During the Peloponnesian War, several maritime operations were carried out and the Athenians under Nikias occupied Boeae, Kythera in 424 BC and Elafonisos in 413 BC with Demosthenes and Harikles.
Until the 4th century, a road network connected the settlements and sanctuaries of the island with the rest of the Laconian land. Thucydides (VII, 26, 2.3), referring to Elafonisos, describes it as a village on an Isthmus located on the Laconian land just across from Kythera.
In 375 AD a terrible earthquake hit the Peloponnese, created enormous tidal waves and turned the peninsula into an island (Elafonissi). The conversion was gradual. As early as 1677 AD, one could pass from the mainland to the island on foot.
Piracy and desolation
Until 1893, the Strait of Elafonisos, where the famous twin beaches of Simos and Sarakiniko are located, was the only short sea route between eastern and western Greece. This is the route that the Arabs followed (674-678 AD) when they made their first expedition to Constantinople. In one of the raids, in the middle of the 9th century, the Saracens conquered Elafonisos and slaughtered all the inhabitants that could not flee. Since then Elafonisos remained deserted and uninhabited for about a thousand years... In that millennium the island was consecutively brought under the sovereignty of the Saracens, Franks, Venetians, Ottomans, French and English.
Definite Union of Elafonisos with Greece
From 1800 Elafonisos belonged to the Ionian islands, as a "component" of Kythera. In 1815 the Ionian State came under English protection. In 1828, at the conference of London, it was decided that “the Peloponnese, the nearest islands and the Cyclades, with the guarantee of the forces, remain free until the fate of Greece is definitively decided”. Although the island belonged to the Ionian State, Ioannis Kapodistrias, then Governor of Greece, taking advantage of the definition of “the nearby islands of the Peloponnese”, either prompted Greeks to settle on the island, or favored the stay of those who had settled there during the struggle. In 1829 Kapodistrias made a population census in Elafonisos, where it was stated that there were 17 families, while the total population was 29 people.
In this way Kapodistrias made the de facto annexation of Elafonisos to Greece. An Anglo-Hellenic conflict followed and culminated in 1849-1850. Finally, on 6 July 1850, Foreign Minister Andreas Londos, signed a treaty with England, according to which, Elafonisos finally joined Greece.
Note: Elafonisos celebrated the anniversary of its union with Greece for the first time on July 6, 2003, after 153 years.
Resettlement of Elafonisos
On March 1, 1837, the government issued a decree dealing exclusively with Elafonisos and determined the way of its settlement. Elafonisos was resettled in the middle of the 19th century. The first settlers on the island were the family of Theodorobeis Grigorakis who came from Mani. Gradually people from Mani, Kythera, Vatika and Crete also came and settled in Elafonisos.
Mentis, Sp. Konstantinos, under publication, Cultural Economy and Sociology of Cultural Tourism, University and Culture Publications of Smigopelagos
Mentis, K., 1994, S. Peloponnesus and its “smigopelaga” islands. - Il Peloponneso meridionale e le sue isole “smigopelaga”, Elafonisos: Library of Elafonisos/Bibliotheca di Elafonisos