Kythira (Modern Greek: Κύθηρα, alternative spellings Kithira, Kythera, Cythera), also known as Cerigo (Τσιρίγο, alternative spelling Tsirigo) is an island of Greece, historically part of the Ionian Islands. It lies opposite the eastern tip of the Peloponnesus peninsula. It has an area of 284 square kilometers. The rugged terrain is a result of prevailing winds from the surrounding seas which have shaped its shores into steep rocky cliffs with deep bays. For many centuries, while naval travel was the only means for transportation, the island possessed a strategic location. Since the ancient times, until the mid 19th century, Kythira had been a crossroads of merchants, sailors, and conquerors. As such, it has had a long and varied history and has been influenced by a plethora of civilisations and cultures. This is reflected in its architecture (a blend of traditional, Aegean and Venetian elements), as well as the traditions and customs, influenced by centuries of coexistence of the Greek, Venetian and British civilisations as well as its numerous visitors.
At the start of the second millennium B.C. it was a Minoan colony and in 424 BC it came under the sway of Athens. In Ancient Greek Mythology, Kythira was considered to be the island of celestial Aphrodite, the Goddess of love, (cf. Cyprus, the island of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Sex). Over the centuries it knew a succession of rulers from the Romans to the Byzantines, Venetians and Turks, and it was frequently looted by Barbary pirates. Kytherians still talk about the destruction and looting by Barbarossa, it has become an intrinsic part of the Kytherian folklore, yet one can easily accept the stories of locals by noticing the number of monasteries embedded in the rocky hillsides to avoid destruction by the pirates.
In 1864, the island was reunited with the Greek state.
In the capital, Chora (or Kythira), inside the castle, one can find the Historical Archive of Kythira, the second largest in the Ionian islands, after the one found in Corfu.
Like many of the smaller Aegean islands, Kythira is depopulated. Its present population hovers around 3,354 people (2001 census), but the modern Greek diaspora has produced around 60,000 Kytherian descendants in Australia alone.
Kythira is administratively exceptional in that:
- It geographically, culturally and historically belongs (is closer to) to the Ionian islands.
- It is administered and belongs to the prefecture of Piraeus, in Attica.
- There are close ties and some service provision by the nearby mainland prefecture of Laconia.
The capital - Chora - is located on the southern part of the island having no ports connected to the southern Peloponnese or Vatika. Kythera's port for Viatika is in Agia Pelagia Kythira.
Most of the over 60 village names end with "-anika" and a few end with -athika, -iana and -ades.
A November 5, 2004 earthquake shook the areas of the island. It measured around 5.6/5.8 on the Richter scale.
Until the mid-1990s the island was served by the small port of Agia Pelagia (now only serving smaller ferry boats from Neapolis - Vatika). Around that time the new port of Diakofti was built along with a modern wider road, aiming to support larger cargo and passenger vessels. The port of Diakofti currently serves scheduled routes to/from Gythion, Antikythira, Piraeus, Crete & Neapolis - Vatika.
Additionally, the island has an airport, loosely located between the village of Friligiannika and Diakofti, about 8km from the capital. The airport was revamped and extended at the turn of the 21st century, largely by private funds provided by the local population. The island is served by Olympic Airlines flights.
- Agia Pelagia, Port
- Agios Ilias
- Antikythira on Antikythira island, independent commune
- Charchaliana, on Antikythira
- Diakofti, Port
- Galaniana, on Antikythira
- Kythira Chora Capital
- Livadi it is becoming the business center of the island
- Tourist and Culture Guide of Kythera Island Tourist Information in three languages
- http://www.mykythera.gr Tourist Information in three languages
- http://www.kythera-family.net online cultural archive to which the general public can contribute from their private collection of Kytherian heritage documents
- http://www.kythira.info Tourist Information in three languages
- A Kythira website: images, data, villages, family names; a cultural archive
- The Kythera Island Project: an archaeological, ecological, and historic research project of the island and its peoples.
- photo-essay on the archaeology of Kythira