The History of the Sporades Islands


Legend tells us that Skopelos was the island of Staphylos, son of Dionysus and Ariadne of Crete. As the family’s business was in wine, Staphylos planted vines and began producing his father’s great gift to mankind. While some aspects of this story may be a little far-fetched, it is true that in antiquity Skopelos was known for the quality of its wine.

The Cretan aspect of the story above also has its roots in actual history rather than myth, as the Sporades were for several centuries part of the great Minoan empire. After the mysterious
demise of the Minoan civilisation, and following the general flow of history, the archipelago came under the control of the Mycenaeans. During both these periods, the islands flourished,
benefitting from the commercial domination that was at the root of both Minoan and Mycenaean success.

The next time the Sporades appear in history is in 478bc when Skiathos joined Athenian forces in the struggle against Persia. It subsequently became part of the Athenian Alliance and enjoyed a period of independence until the Sporades as a whole succumbed the irresistible forces of Philip II of Macedonia, his son, Alexander the Great, and then, in the 2nd century BC, the Romans. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century ad, the Sporades became unloved, unfrequented backwaters of the Byzantine Empire

Better times were ahead, however, and at the start of the 13th century, the islands were taken by the Maritime Republic of Venice, which incorporated them into their stepping-stone trade route to the Black Sea. The islands’ residents were left largely to their own devices but thrived from the new commercial traffic passing through.

In 1583, after several centuries of relative peace, Ottoman forces attacked, sacked the archipelago, slaughtered its inhabitants and destroyed entire villages. The islands would remain virtually uninhabited for a generation. During the Greek War of Independence, the Sporades were liberated from the Ottomans and with the Treaty of Constantinople of 1832, which recognised Greece as a sovereign nation, the islands were incorporated into the proud new Greek state.

Quiet returned to the archipelago until the advent of the Second World War, when the islands were occupied by Axis forces. Skopelos, Alonissos and Skyros were relatively unaffected, though Skiathos Town was badly bombed by the Germans.

In 1965, an earthquake struck the Sporades causing significant damage, in particular, to old Alonissos Town, which had to be abandoned. A new town, Patitiri, was developed down on the coast.

In 2007 the peace and tranquillity of Skopelos was momentarily interrupted as the cast and crew of Mamma Mia! came to town to shoot some of the movie’s most memorable scenes. The film’s great success brought Skopelos to the world’s attention. 

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