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Cyclades Islands - History

Cyclades Islands History

The Cyclades have been inhabited since at least 7000 BC, and there's evidence that Milos' obsidian (volcanic glass used to create sharp blades) was being collected as early as 7500 BC. The Cycladic seafaring civilisation appeared in around 3000 BC. During the Early Cycladic period (3000-2000 BC) there were settlements on Keros, Syros, Milos, Naxos, Sifnos and Amorgos. It was during this period that the famous Cycladic marble figurines were sculpted.

Many of the islands were occupied by the Minoans in the Middle Cycladic period (2000-1500 BC); a Minoan town has been excavated at Akrotiri on Santorini. The Cyclades were taken by the Mycenaeans at the beginning of the Late Cycladic period (1500-1100 BC), and the Dorians followed in the 8th century BC.

Most of the Cyclades joined the Delian League in 478 BC, and by the middle of the 5th century the islands were members of a fully fledged Athenian empire. In the Hellenistic era (323-146 BC) the islands fell under the control of Egypt's Ptolemies and, later, the Macedonians. In 146 BC the islands became a Roman province and trade links were established with many parts of the Mediterranean, bringing prosperity to the Cyclades.

After the division of the Roman Empire into western and eastern entities in 395 AD, the Cyclades were ruled from Constantinople. Following the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, the Franks gave the Cyclades to Venice, which in turn parcelled the islands out to opportunistic aristocrats. The most powerful of these nabobs was Marco Sanudo (self-styled Duke of Naxos), who acquired Naxos, Paros, Ios, Santorini, Anafi, Sifnos, Milos, Amorgos and Folegandros.

The islands came under Turkish rule in 1537 and became neglected backwaters, prone to pirate raids. The labyrinthine, hilltop character of their towns dates from this period, as the mazes of narrow lanes were designed to confuse invaders. The impact of piracy led to massive depopulation; in 1563, only five out of 16 islands were still inhabited. In 1771 the Cyclades were annexed by the Russians during the Russian-Turkish War, but were reclaimed by the Ottomans a few years later. The Cyclades' participation in the Greek War of Independence was minimal, but they became havens for people fleeing islands where insurrections against the Turks had led to massacres.

During WWII the islands were occupied by the Italians. Since then, the fortunes of the Cycladic islands have been hugely revived by the tourism boom that began in the 1970s. Until that time, many islanders lived in abject poverty and many more gave up the battle altogether and headed for the mainland in search of work.

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