Mykonos is an incredibly popular destination, but its history is not widely known, so we’re serving it up with all the spice.
In the beginning…
For all of ancient history, Mykonos lived in the shadow of its wealthier neighboring island, Delos. Despite its puny size, Delos was at the heart of the Ancient Greek world as an epicenter for regional trade, politics and finance in 460 BCE. Mykonos, just two miles distant, was a backwater port; the Jersey City to Delos’ Manhattan.
Nutshell: 300 BC to 1200 AD
After the decline of classical Greek civilization, not much of historical significance happened on the island during the 1500 year period from 300 BC to 1200 AD.
Trouble with the Ottoman
Then, from 1207 onwards, the island was variably controlled by Latin or Venetian interests (depending on how various minor battles played out). In 1537, the Ottoman admiral Barbarossa came to Mykonos. Not to be confused with Hector Barbossa (Jack Sparrow’s nemesis in Pirates of the Caribbean), or Frederick Barbarossa (the Holy Roman Emperor), this Barbarossa was the scourge of the region, enslaving or killing large swaths of the island’s population.
Mykonos as a pirate destination
In the years that followed, piracy on Mykonos became all the rage, as the men of the island made their living plundering on the high seas leaving, their women and children at home. George Wheeler, an English visitor to the island in 1675, recorded that “the greatest part of the town seems to consist of women, who deservedly have a greater reputation for beauty than chastity.” It was the beginning of the island’s reputation for beauty, self-sufficiency and independent women. By 1715, the island was under lasting Ottoman control, but the men and women of Mykonos had sealed their reputation as Mediterranean badasses.
The Greek War for Independence
Then, the Greek War of Independence began in 1821, and the Mykonites and their navy instrumentally provided the nucleus of the Greece’s nascent naval forces. While the men were away fighting on the high seas, the Ottomans occupied the island in force. Under the courageous leadership of a local woman, Mando Mavrogeni, the Myknonites fought back to defeat the invaders. Later, Mavrogeni wrote to a Parisian admirer, “I wish for battle, like you wish for a dance lesson.” Thanks to the efforts of the islanders, Mykonos and all of Greece were free and independent by 1829.
Mykonos as a glitzy Mediterranean destination
Mykonos was recognized as an incomparable Mediterranean destination in the 1950s. Ever since the first tourists arrived, Mykonos has been described as glamorous, fun and glitzy. It’s a place where “St. Tropez meets Ibiza” with a reputation for endless sunshine and endless parties.
Cultural things to do on Mykonos
- Lena’s House: Once the home of a prosperous Mykonite lady, this home is a turn-back-the-clock experience to the 19th century. It’s furnished with period furniture that you might expect to find from a bygone era.
- Aegean Maritime Museum: Once a sea captain’s home, the museum is a great look at the history of seafaring in the Mediterranean. You can also see a portrait of Mando Mavrogenni here.
- Go local. Find a quiet seaside taverna, drink Ouzo and eat fried octopus.
Planning Your Visit