History of Castellorizo


The island was colonised by Dorian Greeks, who named it "Megiste".[13] Inscriptions found at the foot of the Knight's castle confirm that during the Hellenistic period the island was ruled by Rhodes, and formed part of its Peraia. The Rhodians sent an overseer, or epistates, to monitor events on the island.

Historic map of Kastellorizo by Piri Reis.

During the period of the Byzantine Empire, Kastellorizo was part of the "Province of the Islands", the capital of which was Rhodes.

In 1306 the island was taken over by the Knights Hospitaller, headed by Foulques de Villaret, as part of their expedition to conquer the island of Rhodes, which became the centre of their Crusader State.[2][14] They restored the castle, which was thereafter used as a prison for disobedient knights. Around 1440 the island was occupied by Sultan Djemal-el-din Yusuf of Egypt, who destroyed the castle.[2] Ten years later it was conquered by Alfonso V of Aragon, king of Naples, who in 1461 rebuilt the castle and dispatched a Catalan governor. The Crown of Aragon retained possession of it until 1512, when it was conquered by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I.[2]

On 22 September 1659, during the war over Crete, the island was conquered by Venice and the castle was destroyed again, but the Ottomans were able to regain it again soon after.[2] Between 1828 and 1833 Kastellórizo joined the Greek insurgents, but after the end of the Greek War of Independence it came back into the possession of the Ottoman Empire.[2]

In 1912, during the Libyan war between Italy and the Ottoman Empire, the inhabitants asked Giovanni Battista Ameglio, chief of the Italian occupation forces in Rhodes, for their island to be annexed to Italy. This was refused, and on 14 March 1913 the local population imprisoned the Turkish governor and his Ottoman garrison and proclaimed a provisional government.[8] In August 1913, the Greek government sent from Samos a provisional governor supported by gendarmes. But they, too, were expelled by the inhabitants on 20 October 1915. On 28 December 1915, the French navy led by the cruiser Jeanne d'Arc occupied the island at the behest of a pro-French local party which feared Turkish reprisals. The French quickly blocked another landing attempted on the same day by a Greek contingent of Evzones.[8] Turkish shore batteries responded to the French occupation by shelling the island, in 1917 succeeding in sinking the British seaplane carrier HMS Ben-my-Chree. In the Treaty of Sèvres the island was assigned to Italy and the Italian navy assumed it from the French on 1 March 1921,[8] but the treaty was never ratified. The Treaty of Lausanne confirmed the Italian claim on Kastellorizo, and the island – under the Italian name "Castelrosso" – was then integrated in the possession of the Isole Italiane dell'Egeo.

Panoramic view of Kastellorizo harbour in 1921.

The 1932 Convention between Italy and Turkey, which defined the sea border between the two powers, assigned all the islets of the small archipelago around Kastellorizo except Ro and Strongyli to Turkey. During the 1930s it was a stopover for French and British seaplanes. During the Second World War, on 25 February 1941, in the course of Operation AbstentionBritish Commandos occupied the island, but Italian forces from Rhodes recaptured it some days later. After the British occupation, fearing a German invasion, some of the inhabitants fled to Gaza in Palestine.[15] When Italy capitulated to the Allies (8 September 1943), the island was occupied again by Allied forces, and it remained under their occupation for the rest of the war. In July 1944, a fuel dump caught fire, which spread to an adjacent ammunition dump, thereby destroying half of the homes on the island.

Kastellorizo was assigned to Greece with the Paris Peace Treaties, 1947. In May 1945 it was still under British administration, but on September 15, 1947 effectively came under Greek administration. The island formally joined the Greek State on 7 March 1948 together with the other Dodecanese islands.

The island has become more popular in recent years, among tourists looking for an isolated place in the Dodecanese, thanks also to the 1991 Oscar-winning movie Mediterraneo, by Gabriele Salvatores, which is set on the island. Kastellórizo was the only territory of the European Union where the solar eclipse of March 29, 2006 was visible in its totality.

In 2011, the French ship Dignité-Al Karama, the only member the Freedom Flotilla II that managed to approach Gaza, refueled at Kastellorizo. The ship was warmly received by the inhabitants, some of whom remembered about the shelter the island's inhabitants had found in Gaza, then under British control, during World War II.[15]