Southeast of Thessalonike lies the peninsula of Chalkidiki. Its three long “fingers” – Cassandra, Sithonia, and Athos – stretch out across the Aegean.
The peninsula has been richly endowed by Nature: along the delicate tracery of the coastline a string of enchanting coves and bays alternate with rocky headlands and beaches of golden sand, while groves of pine and olive come tumbling down the mountains as though to cool themselves in the crystalline seas.
The easternmost of the three “fingers” of the peninsula belongs to the monastic community of Athos, the Holy Mountain. In the shadow of the towering greyish cone of Mt. Athos, which seems to pierce the heavens, the silent monks who have devoted themselves to the worship of the Holy Virgin have found a perfect refuge.
The peninsula of Chalkidiki is part of central Macedonia. The greater part of its territory constitutes the prefecture of Chalkidiki, while its north-western part belongs administratively to the prefecture of Thessaloniki. Its western side is washed by the waters of the Thermaic Gulf, while its eastern and northeastern borders are delimited by the Strymonic Gulf or Gulf of Orphanos. The capital of the prefecture of Chalkidiki is the picturesque town of Polygyros, clinging to the southern slopes of verdant Mt. Hollomon. Polygyros lies at a distance of 69 kilometers from Thessalonike and 587 km from Athens. The prefecture of Chalkidiki occupies an area of about 2,900 square kilometers and its population, according to 1991. the census is approximately 92,000 inhabitants
The deeply carved coastline of Chalkidiki forms three smaller peninsulas resembling the three long fingers of a hand. These are Pallene or Cassandra ( as it was later named ), known as Phlegra in antiquity, or Phlegya (that is, place of fire), perhaps because of its volcanic nature;
Sithonia, and finally, Athos – the Holy Mountain – which constitutes a separate administrative district. Along the coast and on the western side, Chalkidiki is composed of very fertile lowlands. In the central part of the prefecture rises verdant Mt. Hvpsizon, better known as Hollomon, which is the name of its highest peak ( 1,165 m ). Further to the northwest ends Mt. Hortiatis, while Mt. Stratonikon ( 913m ) extends to the northeast. The Itamos range, rising to a height of 811 meters, runs through Sithonia. The larger part of the peninsula of the Holy Mountain is precipitous and not easily accessible, while the imposing “crystallized” bulk of Mount Athos, whose highest peak rises to a height of 2,030 meters, dominates the southern part.
The coasts of the prefecture measure 500 kilometers in length. They form sheltered bays and small harbors – such as Porto Koufo and Glarokavos – a succession of headlands ( Paliouri, Kartalia, Drepano, Arapis ), and beautiful sandy beaches, many of which lie in the embrace of luxuriant pine groves. Off its coasts are scattered small picturesque islands ( Pounta, Diaporos, Kalamonissia, Amouliani, and Drenia ).
In the coastal areas and in the southern parts the climate of Chalkidiki is what is known as “Mediterranean”, with gentle winters and cool summers, while further north, in the mountainous regions, it becomes cooler.
Chalkidiki boasts extensive forests, fertile plains, a rich subsoil, and a natural landscape of exceptional beauty. Among its flora, we find the pine and olive tree, the beech, the lentisk, and the oak, while its main agricultural products are olive oil and olives, wheat, garden produce, fruit, honey, and wine. From its mines are extracted iron pyrite, lead, magnesite, copper, chrome, manganese, and mixed sulfurous metals ( silver and gold ). Another important branch of its economy with good long-term prospects is tourism. The unique natural beauties of the area, the splendid beaches, clean, unpolluted seas, modern tourist installations, and a good road network attract thousands of holiday-makers each summer.
Myths And History
In antiquity, it was believed that Chalkidiki was the site of the Gigantomachy, the battle between the Giants and the gods of Mt. Olympus for the domination of the world. The Giants were sons of Gaia and Uranus and were born at Phlegra, which is in the peninsula of Pallene. They were huge in stature and wild-looking, very hairy and bearded, and had scales on their feet. Among them stood out Porphyrion, their leader Alcyoneus, Enceladus – at whom the goddess Athena threw a huge missile, which became the island of Sicily – Polybotes, who was buried under a piece of land broken off from the island of Cos by Poseidon’s trident, the giant Athos, who hurled the mountain of the same name against the gods, and Pallas. The struggle was a hard one, but finally, the Olympian gods, aided by Heracles, were able to overcome the Giants.
It was said of Enceladus that he was buried in Cassandra, but had not been killed. Thus, he sometimes tries to break free from the earth that covers him, causing earthquakes, which is why his name has become, to this day, synonymous with “earthquake”.
According to mythology, Sithonia, the second “finger” of Chalkidiki, owes its name to Sithon, son of Poseidon and of Ossa and king of the Odomantes, who lived in the plains beyond the river Strymon. His only daughter was Pallene, renowned for her beauty, who also gave the peninsula of Cassandra its second name. According to legends of Alexandrian times, Sithon killed the suitors who came to seek the hand of his daughter, until Pallene was secretly able to help one of these, Cleitus. Cleitus thus became her husband and when Sithon died, he succeeded him to the throne.
Chalkidiki has been inhabited since very ancient times. In the caves of Petralona, besides the fossilized skull of primitive man who must have lived in the area at least 260,000 years ago ( transitional stage from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens neanderthalensis ), there have been found bone and stone implements, animal bones, and the oldest traces of fire in the world.
In the Neolithic period, human settlements became permanent. The inhabitants now became farmers and animal breeders and relied less on hunting. They bred sheep and goats, cows and pigs, and grew wheat, rye, and various pulses, and gathered wild fruit. The excavations carried out at Olynthos have identified traces of a village of the Late Neolithic period. The rooms of the houses were square or trapezoidal and their walls had been built with undressed river boulders which had been bonded with mud. Besides Olynthos, traces of settlements from the same period have been found in many places, such as at Kritsana, at Molybopyrgos, at Aghios Mamas, at the site of Kalyves, Polygyros, and around Nikete.
Chalkidiki continued to be inhabited during the subsequent periods, that is in the Iron and Bronze Ages. The region was known to the other Greeks as “Thrace” because the Thracians were among its first inhabitants. After the Trojan War was over, the great Trojan hero Aeneas, son of Anchises and Aphrodite, stopped in Chalkidiki, as did also the Pelleneans, on their way back to their homeland, Pallene, in Achaea. After abandoning the ruined city of Troy. Aeneas and his companions reached the western coasts of Chalkidiki. near Epanome. Here he spent the winter and founded the city of Aeneia. The Pelleneans, with the Trojan women they had taken as captives, stopped in the peninsula of Cassandra.
To escape the ignominy and evils of slavery, the Trojan women set fire to the ships of the Pelleneans, who were thus obliged to settle permanently in the region, to which, according to another version of the story, they gave their name.
During the second colonial period ( 8th-7th-6th centuries BC ), the first colonists from southern Greece reached Chalkidiki. They were citizens of the Euboean cities of Chalkis and of Eritrea, who discovered the distant region at the end of the 8th century, in the course of their search for timber and metals. The rich silver mines, the abundance of wood, the fertile land, and the many ideal sites for the creation of safe harbors constituted a strong attraction. The Chaldeans, who settled in central Chalkidiki and Sithonia, founded the cities of Chalkis, Singos, Arethusa, and Torone and named their region “Chalkidike in Thrace”.
Later the name came to include the entire peninsula. The Eritreans founded Aphytis and Sane ( in Cassandra ) and colonists from Thasos founded Galepsos. When, in the early 7th century, the king of Macedonia drove out the Bottiaeans ( inhabitants of Pella and the coastal area between the Aliakmon and Gallicus rivers ) from the land they had until then inhabited, they settled in the northwestern part of Chalkidiki, between Olynthos and Nea Callikrateia, which took the name of Bottike. Around 600 BC Corinthian colonists founded Potidaea, on a site that controlled the eastern approach to the Thermaic Gulf, while colonists from Andros planted Sane ( on Athos ), Acanthos, Stageiros, and Arnae. In the 5th and the early 4th centuries, the most important city was Olynthos.
Other important cities were Aeneia, Skapsa, Gigonos, and Spartolos in the western area and along the coasts washed by the Thermaic Gulf; Poteidaea, Sane, Mende, Skione, Theambe, Aegae, Neapolis, and Aphytis on the peninsula of Pallene; Mekyberna ( the harbor-town of Olynthos ), and Sermyle on the coasts washed by the Toronaean gulf; Galepsos, Torone, Sarte, Singos, and Piloros in the northern side of the Singos bay on the peninsula of Sithonia; finally, on the peninsula of Athos, which was then known as Acte, we find the cities of Sane on Athos, Dion, Olophyxoa, Akrothinoi or Akrothooi, Cleones and Thyssos, and on the shores of the Strymon bay: Acanthos, Stageiros, Arethousa, inland Apollonia ( Apollonia of Chalkidiki, south-east of Polygyros ), Apollonia ( Apollonia of Mygdonike, south of the Volvi lake ) and Arnae.
In the period between 540 and 480 BC the cities of Chalkidiki ( Potidaea, Mende, Acanthos ), together with the cities of the Thracian coast, the island of Thasos, the peoples of the valley of the Strymon and the Pangaeon region, controlled the silver trade with the West.
During the Trojan wars, at the time of the first Persian wars, the fleet of Mardonius, son-in-law of Darius, was destroyed as a result of a terrible storm in the autumn of 492 BC, off the peninsula of Athos.
During the third Persian campaign, to avoid having to sail around the Athos peninsula, the Persian king, Xerxes, had a canal cut near the present-day village of Nea Rhoda. At the same time, he obliged the cities of Chalkidiki to recognize his suzerainty, to help him financially, and to provide him with ships and men.
After the victory of the Greeks at Salamis ( 480 BC ), Olynthos and Potidaea rose in revolt against the Persians and drove them out of their cities.
After Xerxes had returned to Asia, a Persian army under the leadership of general Artabazos besieged and took Olynthos and killed its inhabitants, but a similar expedition against Potidaea was unsuccessful. After the Persian Wars, the cities of Chalkidiki became members of the Athenian Alliance, and during the Peloponnesian wars ( 431-404 BC ), they became involved in the strife between the two warring sides ( the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians ).
In 432 BC, with the encouragement of the king of Macedonia Perdikkas II, the Lacedaemonians incited the Chaldeans and the Bottiaeans to revolt against the Athenians. Many of the cities deserted the League, among them Potidaea, the siege of which by the Athenians was one of the causes of the Peloponnesian war. In the winter of 430 BC, and after a long siege, the well-fortified city of Potidaea surrendered to the Athenians. Its inhabitants were driven out and Athenian citizens were settled in the city, which became an Athenian base. The Athenians, despite their efforts, ‘re unable to stop Olynthos from assuming the leadership of thirty-two cities of Chalkidiki and from setting up the Koinon of the Chaldeans, a political, economic, and military confederacy, operating based on common laws and equal rights. In 424 BC the Spartan general Brasidas came to Chalkidiki and convinced Acanthos, Stageiros, and other cities of the peninsula to defect from the Athenian League and enter into an alliance with Sparta. After the battle at Amphipolis, a fifty-year peace treaty was signed in 421 BC between the Athenians and the Spartans, according to which the cities of Argilos ( in the crook of the Strymon Gulf ), Stageiros, Acanthos, Skolos, Olynthos, and Spartolos were to be autonomous, as long as they paid a tribute to the Athenians.
“The cities of Argilos, Stageiros, Acanthos, Skolos, Olynthos, and Spartolos shall not belong to any alliance, neither that of the Athenians nor that of the Spartans. If, however, the Athenians, convince them, without the use of force, they may make them their allies.”
Furthermore, according to the treaty, the Mekybernaeans, the Saneans, and the Singeans were allowed to inhabit their cities, as were the Olynthians and the Acanthians. Finally, the Athenians were free to decide on the fate of the Skioneans, the Toroneans, and the Sermylians, as well as on that of the inhabitants of any other city under their dominion. In the decade between about 390 to 380 BC, the Koinon of the Chaldeans was very powerful. In 393/392 BC the Chalkideans offered their assistance to the king of Macedonia, Amyntas II, in a dispute with northern neighbors. In return for this help, Amyntas granted them the right to supply themselves with Macedonian timber and resin. In 383/382 BC Amyntas gave the Chalkideans more land.
The cities of the Koinon became exceedingly powerful; they invaded the area around Galatista and Basilica and took Pella, the capital of the Macedonian kingdom. The Spartans hurried to the assistance of Amyntas since they desired to break up the alliance of the cities of Chalkidiki. Besides Amyntas, the inhabitants of the independent cities of Acanthos and Apollonia also requested the intervention of the Lacedaemonians, because the Chaldeans were pressing them to join their own league. After the forcible intervention of the Spartans, the Koinon of the Chaldeans was broken up in 379 BC. For a short period of time, the cities of the Koinon found themselves under Spartan domination, which was soon overthrown.
The Koinon has formed once again, gaining further power, and Olynthos once again became the leading city in the region. A Philip II of Macedon, in his effort to curb the influence of Athens along the Aegean coasts and to increase his own, sought the Olynthians cooperation. The latter became his allies in 356 BC and he, in return, ceded to them the region of Anthemius ( present-day Galatista ) and Potidaea, which he seized from the Athenians specifically to give to them. In 349/348 BC the alliance between the Chaldeans and the Macedonians began to fall apart, and Philip took up arms against his former allies. It was said that 32 Chalkidean cities were forced to capitulate. The Olynthians sought the assistance of the Athenians. In Athens, in 349 BC, the famous orator Demosthenes delivered his three Olynthian speeches, to convince his compatriots to rush to the aid of the city. The forces sent by Athens did not prove sufficient to halt Philip. In 348 BC Olynthos was taken and almost razed to the ground, and the entire peninsula came under Philip’s control. From that time on Chalkidiki became part of the kingdom of Macedonia.
In the time of the successors of Alexander the Great, the cities of Chalkidiki increased in number. In 316/315 BC, the same year in which was founded the city of Thessaloniki, Alexander’s brother-in-law Cassander founded, on the site of Potidaea, the city of Cassandria, into which were incorporated the cities of the peninsula of Pallene, which thenceforth became known as Cassandra. On the site of the city of Sane, at the neck of the peninsula of Athos, Cassander’s brother Alexarchos built the city of Uranoupolis, while, around 280 BC, Antigonos Gonatas founded Antigonia, north of present-day Nea Kallicrateia.
In 168 BC Chalkidiki, together with the rest of Macedonia, came under Roman domination. In the following years, Cassandria, which controlled the coastal shipping towards the Thermaic Gulf, and Acanthos, which was settled by Roman colonists, both experienced a period of development.
In 50 AD, on his way from Philippi to Thessalonike, the apostle Paul stopped at Apollonia Mygdonike.
In 269 AD the Goths descended as far as the peninsula of Cassandra, plundering and destroying on their way, to be driven away finally by the Roman emperor Claudius. In 540 AD Cassandria suffered the attacks of Hunnish tribes ( perhaps Bulgarians ). The city wall – later rebuilt by the emperor Justinian – was demolished, and many of the monuments were destroyed. We have no information regarding Chalkidiki from the 6th to the 9th centuries. In the 9th century, the peninsula of Athos attracted the interest of anchorites and monks. In 956-963 the first monastery on Athos, the Great Lavra, was founded by Saint Athanasius the Athonite. In the second half of the 10th and 11th century, the monasteries grew in number; the emperors of Byzantium financed their construction and maintenance and the living of the monks and ceded to these monasteries large areas of forest and agricultural land in Chalkidiki.
Thus, the fertile, cultivable areas of the peninsula became dependencies ( metochia ) of the monasteries. The ownership of these lands is confirmed by documents that have been preserved to our day and which provide us with much information on the area from the 9th to the 15th century, exploitation of the metochia provided the monks with the funds needed to cover the huge costs of maintaining the monasteries. The lands of the dependencies, scattered throughout the peninsula, were cultivated by settlers living in the surrounding communities, while the settlements themselves consisted mainly of single-storied or sometimes double-storied habitations, clustering around a fortified tower protecting the metochion. These settlements later developed into villages -Parthenionas, Gomati, Nikete, and others. Besides the lands belonging to the monasteries, large estates were owned by ordinary citizens and by officials, while parcels of land were also allotted by the state to war veterans as a reward for their services. The main products cultivated were pulses and grains, while the vineyards produced good wine. Bees were also kept, giving excellent honey, while two fisheries operated in Sithonia. During this period animal raising was also an important activity, as was the processing of minerals extracted from the bowels of the Chalkidean earth.
In the 11th century ( 1045 ), by a decree of the emperor of Byzantium Constantine IX Monomachus ( 1042-1055 ), the peninsula of Athos, was given the name of “Holy Mountain”. In the autumn of 1308, Catalan mercenaries, who, up to 1304, had offered their services to the Byzantine emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus ( 1282-1328 ), invaded Chalkidiki and encamped in Cassandria. During a period of about two years, they plundered the monasteries of Athos and the surrounding areas.
In the middle of the 14th century, most of Chalkidiki became part of the Serbian state of Stefan Dušan ( 1331-1355 ). At the end of the 14th-century Chalkidike – except for Cassandra and the western regions – came under Turkish domination. In 1423 the Turks were succeeded for a short while by the Venetians, who, despite their efforts to hold the lands, had won by strengthening the fortification of Cassandra, lost the region to the Turks again in 1430. In the late 15th and 16th century, after Thessalonikie had been taken and the whole of Macedonia had fallen into Turkish hands, the isolated, mountainous peninsula became a refuge for many fugitive Christians. Many of them worked in the mines of Madem Lakkou ( madem meaning “metal” and lakkou “mine” ), near Stratonike, and in the Byzantine Siderokausia ( where silver was processed and stored ), which were reopened in the 15th century. In 1705. a group of villages, as tenants of the state, took over the exploitation of the mines, from which silver and lead were extracted. These twelve villages constituted a kind of cooperative, the koinon of the Mademians, known as the Made-mochoria.
As evidenced by a fireman of 1733. the Mademochorites enjoyed special privileges. Administratively, they came directly under the jurisdiction of Constantinople and were exempt from payment of most of the taxes. They were obliged to pay about 280 kg of silver per year to the mint, for the maintenance of the keeper of the mine and his soldiers, and to sell the silver they extracted to the Turkish state at a predetermined price.
The capital of the confederation, according to the traveler F. Hunt, was the present-day town of Stageira ( also known as Mahalas or Siderokausia ), where a Muslim population also settled, while, according to the French consul M. Cousinery, the capital was at Liarigovi ( as Arnaea was then called ). The “madem-aga”, the official in charge of the mine, and the one responsible for checking the amounts of mineral extracted, had his seat in the capital. Until the middle of the 17th century, the Siderokausia flourished. There was a mint, a Muslim seminary, a monastery, two mosques, public baths, inns, and a market. In the early 19th century, the villages constituting the Mademochoria, besides Liarigovi ( Arnaea ) and Mahalas ( Stageira ), were Galatista, Vavdos, Ravna, Stanos, Neochori, Barbara, Vassilika, Chorouda, Revenikia ( Megali Panaghia ), and Ierissos. During this time, the prosperity of the inhabitants of the Mademochoria no longer came from the mines, which had by now almost run out of minerals, but from agriculture and home industries. At Liarigovi carpet-making flourished, while many inhabitants of the villages were merchants and craftsmen.
After the unsuccessful uprising of 1821, the Mademochoria came under the authority of the Pasha and the cadi ( judge ) of Thessalonike, who appointed the madem-aga, who now came to wield the power of life and death over the inhabitants.
In the early 18th century, southwest of the Mademochoria, more than fifteen villages, whose inhabitants were involved in agriculture, became organized into a confederation. They belonged to the “hashi” of the sultana, which was why they came to be known as Hassikochoria or Hassia, with Polygyros as their center. The inhabitants were granted certain privileges; they paid their taxes directly to the imperial treasury in Constantinople and it was their own notables, the “vekilides”, who dealt with local affairs.
Another confederacy of villages was created in the 17th century in the peninsula of Cassandra. The inhabitants of these villages only paid head money, and the “kotzabash”, that is the president of the confederacy council, had Christian troops at his command to deal with robbers and pirates.
The first calls for freedom were heard in Chalkidiki in May 1821, initially at Polygyros, at Karyes and Cassandra. On the 1st of June, the revolution reached Ierissos and the Mademochoria. Soon, however – on the 30th of October – the uprising was violently put down by the “vali” of Thessalonike, Mehmet Emin. A new, but again unsuccessful attempt to shake off the Turkish yoke took place in 1854, when the Macedonian Tsamis Karatassos and his men, made a landing on Sithonia.
The inhabitants of Chalkidiki also took part in the Macedonian Struggle ( 1904-1908 ), and many of them joined the forces of Pavlos Melas and other freedom fighters.
Chalkidiki was finally liberated from the Turks in 1912 and became part of the Greek province of Macedonia. In 1922. the population of the peninsula increased when uprooted refugees, forced to flee from the homes in Eastern Thrace and Asia Minor that had been theirs for generations, found refuge in Chalkidiki. They were given the major part of the lands which had until then belonged to the monasteries. It was during this period that many ( about 30 ) of the newer villages and small towns we see today – Olympias, Nea Potidaea, Neos Marmaras, Nea Phocaea, Nea Kallicrateia, Nea Moudania, Pyrgadikia were established. From 1941 until 1944 Chalkidiki, along with the rest of Greece, was under German occupation.