Megiste – A History

A Chronological History

Firstly if you were not aware Kastellorizo was not its original name. Its ancient name was Megiste, Megisti or Meyisti and was changed to Castello Rosso by the Italians and to Kastellorizo when Greece resumed occupancy. The chronology was based upon Castellorizo: An Illustrated story of the island and its Conquerors by Nicholas Pappas and published by Halstead Press. The following history was approved by Nicholas for which
we are most grateful.

The population figures quoted in this chronology may surprise many, as the figure of 14,000 is commonly quoted. In fact, the highest resident population ever officially recorded was in 1910 at 9,000, still a sizable population for a small island. However, an 1811 chart of Kastellorizo and the Anatolian coast (then known as Karamania), prepared by Francis Beaufort, labels the mainland opposite the island as the “rovince of Meis” (turkish for Megiste); an indication of the rising importance of Kastellorizians in the hinterland of Antifilo (modern Kas). If one included the Kastellorizian colonies on the mainland inthe population figures then maybe one could arrive at 14,000 but there is no evidence that the population on Kastellorizo itself
was ever over 9,000.

The Islets of Kastellorizo

From an excerpt of Nicolas Pappas’ book “Castellorizo: An Illustrated History of the Island and its Conquerors” “Kastellorizo has 14 independent islets. The two largest, Rho (also known as Ayios Yioryios) and Strongili (Ipsili), were both inhabited sporadically until fairly recently and retain lighthouses to this day.

Rho has a sheltered harbour and the remains of a castle. Strongili is largely inaccessible and precipitous rising to a height of 197 metres. The other islets dependent on Kastellorizo are Psoradhia, Polifadhos, Psomi, Agrielia, Ayios Yioryios tou Nisiou (with its small church), Mavro Pini, Mavro Pinaki, Kalikanatzaraki, Koutsoumbas, Tragonera and Savoura (both near Rho) and Nisi tou Navlaka, off the east coast of the island, before 1933, Kastellorizo had a further nine dependent islets which lie close to the Turkish coast.

In 1933 Italy ceded these nine islets to Turkey thus extending Turkey’s territorial waters. Note: The change in spelling Castellorizo to Kastellorizo was a result of a decision of the Kastellorizian Association of Victoria.

1520 – 1529

1520 – Suleiman II (“the Magnificent”) begins his assault on Rhodes. Kastellorizo abandoned and evacuated to Rhodes for the duration of the seige. The fall of Rhodes, and subsequently Kastellorizo, ends the control of Kastellorizo by the Knights and the Aragonese, and ushers in Turkish dominance in the region.

1530 – 1821

Ottoman domination. It is generally accepted that Kastellorizo surrendered to the Turks on condition that the island be granted commercial privileges. It had not been formally occupied after the fall of Rhodes. Dodecanese islands which had surrendered, such as Kastellorizo, had only one fixed tax called a “maktou’ which was not heavy. The “maktou’, a once-a-year tax, is first imposed on Kastellorizo in 1552. Decrees of Sultans between 1644 and 1770 confirmed the “maktou”. Kastellorizo also enjoyed freedom of trade and freedom of religion.

In 1570 the Venetians, at war with Turkey, briefly occupied the island. From 1653 Turkish citizens were encouraged to live on the island because of the Venetian presence in the area. The Church of St Nicholas and the Church of St Demetrious of the Castle were built beside the Knights’ Castle probably circa 1650. In 1659, he Venetian fleet under Captain-General Gremonville, occupied Kastellorizo, and destroyed the Castle. (The Turks later rebuilt it). The Greek population was allowed to remain, providing an annual tribute was paid to the Venetian public. The Venetian reign was short-lived and about two or three years, and contributed to the ilands de-population.

By the early 18th century it was overrun by marauding pirates. By the mid-18th century the inhabitants had re-established themselves as they resumed sailing and trade. In 1788 Lambros Katsonis, a Greek pirate, took possession of the island from the Turkish 1,150 strong garrison, and destroyed the Castle which the Turks has rebuilt after its destruction by the Venetians. Occupation by Greek pirates is sometimes referred to as a time of ‘freedom’ but it was a time of great duress with other pirates also plundering the island. Turkey re-took the island in 1792, after a brief Russian military occupation.

By the close of the 18th century Kastellorizo was gain firmly under Turkish rule. About that time Kastellorizo established a sister settlement which became known as Antifilo (now Kas) on the Turkish coast near the ancient Hellenistic town of Antiphellus. The settlement provided fresh vegetables, and wood, some of which was later processed and converted to charcoal. It is possible that there was another total evacuation circa 1805 when it was learned that the pirates from Syria were on their way back to the island.


Kastellorizo begins to prosper with its maritime trading activities between Turkey, Middle Eastern ports and the Black Sea, principally in wood from Vathy, and also in sponges from off the coast of Libya, and the ferrying of pilgrims to and from the Holy Land. It is recorded at this time that Kastellorizo was home to 30 vessels of total capacity of 3600 tons and 450 seamen, which is surprising following the devastation of the late 18th century. The population steadily increases. The “maktou’ is still in force.


The Greek War of Independence. It appears that women and children were evacuated to other islands at the outbreak of war. Kastellorizo enjoyed independence until, under the London Protocol in 1830, it is bartered back to Turkey in exchange for Euboea (Evia) which was vital to the new regime in order to safeguard Greek security. Kastellorizo then enters another period of affluence under a tolerant Ottoman rule. In 1833 Turky enacted legislation for the special protection of Kastellorizo – ‘no officers, General or Admiral to molest this island”.


The “maktou” is substantially reduced, the island is awarded self-government. Trade flourishes, particularly in charcoal (to such places as Alexandria and Beirut), and in sponges, fruit, wine and oil. From 1840 to 1860 it was decidedly affluent.


Ahmed Pacha, Governor of the Aegean, imposed direct local rule on Kastellorizo. The Kastellorizian (Greek) Mayor Papalazaros was imprisoned. Adminstrationswings back to Turkish central control. Shipping in the region is forbidden to fly the Greek flag. Between 1850 and 1900 population increased from 3500 to 8500. New schools, churches and other civic buildings were financed by local benefactors.

The Santrapeia school Astiki Scholi” funded by Loukas Santrape (1852-1911), opened in late 1903, on the site of an earlier school, with 308 students. Santrape also funded the erection in 1906 of the Church of St George (known as ‘tou Louka”) on the foundations of the earlier Church of St George. It was never completed. Other benefactors were Nicholaos Stamatiou who financed the construction of a nursery and the school of St George, and Theodosios Penglis, who financed the erection of the “arthenagogeion” or girls’ school.


Italy declares war on Turkey, affecting the Kastellorizian merchant fleet which flew the Turkish flag. Italy occupies Rhodes, Kasos, Karpathos, Symi,Chlaki, Tilos, Nisyros, Kos, Astypalea, Kalymnos, Leros and Patmos. These islands welcomes the Italians as liberators from the Turks. Kastellorizo was ‘disappointed’ not to be liberated by the Italians as under the Young Turk movement, which assumed power in 1908, heavy direct taxation was imposed, Turkish was decreed as the official language, compulsory militay conscription was installed, and trading and religious liberties previously enjoyed were removed. The Turks were enraged when the Kastellorizian merchant ships flew the flag of the State of the Aegean alongside the Turkish flag and responded by closing all Turkish ports to the ships. Massive emigration commenced as the islanders looked for work elsewhere. The population dropped from 9,000 in 1910 to 4,020 in 1912.


Revolution on Kastellorizo, without official support from Greece. The island is in disarray with the merchant fleet stranded in the harbour, due to the uncertain political climate, resulting in severe food shortages. Self-government failed to bring any stability, fraught as it was with constant bickering and change. The outbreak of War in 1914 further complicated the situation.


French occupation. Finally in 1915 the Greeks send a ship, the Eli, to quell the strife, but two French ships arrive shortly before it in December, formally occupy the island and then hand over their prisoners to the Eli which takes them to Athens. The brief and tumultuous freedom from Turkey is replaced by the French occupation which lasted until 1921. The island’s ships resumed trade flying the French flag and the population began to rise again. The French opened a free hospital and clinic, cleared many of the roads and lanes, renovated the “aheres”, the large public cisterns, increasing the island’s only source of water from 2,000 to 7,000 cubic metres, and set up a garbage service for the first timein the island’s history. There were no serious social disturbances during French occupation.

1916 – 1917

Inevitably the island suffered from its occupation by the French, and in January 1917 German – Turkish artillery assaulted the French and British ships in the harbour, sinking several, and continued its bombardment. Many islanders emigrated to Egypt and to Crete. In 1917 the French, with the help of the islanders, build a road to install anti-aircraft guns.


Continued bombardment of Kastellorizo until April, but the French guns returned fire and until the end of World War I, bombardment of the island is minimal. 1920 The Treaty of Sevres (a complicated Treaty) is drawn up. French prepare to leave voluntarily, awarding the island the Croix de Guerre for heroic service during WWI (the women and children are particularly mentioned). The island should have enjoyed a period of “autonomy” for at least fifteen years but, before the Treaty was ratified, the Italians grasp the opportunity to formally occupy the island in March 1921.The outbreak of the Greco-Turkish War in 1921 complicates the issue and the Treaty is never ratified. The transfer from France’s de facto control to Itlaian control is later ratified by the Second Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. During the Italian occupation the French used the harbour as a refuelling place for their seaplanes destined for the Near and Far East.

1921 – 1943

Italian occupation. Harsh restrictions imposed on shipping and trade, and sponge fishing banned. Inhabitants are legally Italian protected citizens, exempt from conscription, but liable to taxation and without political rights. Education was under the control of the Itlaian education system and any reference to Greece in the classroom was prohibited. Attempts to force severence of the Greek Orthodox Chruch’s dependency on Constantinople lead to riots throughout the Dodecanese. In Kastellorizo local church festivals and pilgrimages were banned, and Orthodox rites for weddings and funerals rqeuired express permission. The economy floundered. (These harsher measures did not come into effect until 1936. Initially Italian rule was fairly benign).

The earthquake of 1926 caused large scale destruction. There were however a number of benefits. All the islands were mapped systematically, maintenance of ancient and medieval monuments commenced and under public works programs, hospitals were built in Rhodes, Kos, Kallymos and Leros to serve all islands. However, Kastellorizo itself did not benefit greatly from the Italian occupation and public works programs but improved shipping connections with Italy and between the islands allowed interaction with other islands. Postal and telephone communications were improved.

In 1933 high customs duty was imposed on flour, sugar, coffee, petrol and oil and the island took a stand against the local authorities, putting forward several demands including the resignation of the Mayor. These protests, the “Mouzahres”, were mainly led by the women and continued for some time. In the end nothing much was gained. The Mouzahres are better described as a social protest rather than resistance to Italian rule. Many factors contributed to the increasing emigration of the inhabitants, including loss of trading opportunities, loss of privileges, the outbreak of WWII in 1939 and Italy’s entry into the War in 1940.

Population fell from 2,742 in 1922 to 1,386 in 1940. In February 1941 British commandos attack and occupy Kastellorizo, but only very briefly. There is much damage. Assistance given to the British commandos by the locals is punished and 29 male citizens are charged and eventually convicted and transported to Brindisi.

1943 – 1947

British Military Rule. Italy surrenders to the Allies on 8th September 1943 and the British begin arriving on the 10th September, anxious to occupy the several Italian-held islands before the Germans take hold. Many of the islands fall to Germany. Kastellorizo suffers sustained bombing throughout October and November 1943, but remains the only Allied-occupied island in this crucial period and is thus fundamental to the Allied cause.400 British troops are stationed on the island by the end of September, supplemented by a further 900 in October. Heavy bombing n October causes substantial damage. Towards the end of October approximately 1,000 civilians are evacuated at short notice and shipped to Cyprus, via Antifilo, and later transported to UN camps in Nuseirat in Gaza where they remained until 1945 together with 14,000 other Greek refugees from Samos and other Dodecanese islands.

The total British garrison numbered 1,500 troops.This evacuation proved disastrous for the Kastellorizians, because with short notice of their evacuation and incorrect information that they would be returning shortly, most left their personal valuables and belongings in their homes. Many of the dwellings on the island were destroyed in the severe bombings which continued until 19th November 1943 and, more disastrously, in the fire of 6th July 1944. 1944 The Fire.Throughout 1944 the island was an important base for the British in the region and vast stores of fuel were held on the island. The summer of 1944 was unusually hot and dry.

It is not clear where the fire started, but it is purported to have broken out in a petrol store later spreading to the ammunition dump. Houses along the waterfront went up in flames as the fire quickly spread. Other accounts say the fire started first in the houses. Allegations of looting prior to the fire and looting after the fire and suspicions of British involvement abounded. Compensation was offered.


World War II ends leaving the Dodecanese under British military control, but the citizenship of the inhabitants remains Italian. Kastellorizo is in ruins and the British remain to help the evacuees. The first 50 evacuees return from the Turkish mainland in early July 1945, followed by 151 from Nuseirat on 13th July and some who had remained at Strongili. By the end of July the total population is 192.

Repairs and rebuilding began with supplies and rations provided by the British. At the end of August 1945, 70 Kastellorizians remained in Cyprus, the majority in Paphos and at least 640 in Nuseirat in Palestine. In September, 494 refugees boarded the 3334 ton British vessel SS Empire Patrol. It caught fire and sank soon after leaving Port Said on 29th September, 1945 leading to the tragic death of 32 Kastellorizian refugees.

The wrangle over the future of Kastellorizio is extraordinary. First the British stated their intention that the Dodecanese islands should return to Greece with the exception of Kastellorizo which should revert to Turkey. There was no clear rationale why this should be so, except that it might appease the Turks for the loss of the Dodecanese. However, Greece had never claimed Kastellorizo. Foreign Ministers from several countries agreed to cede the island to Turkey, but the Soviet union asked for additional time to consider, and the island’s future remained unresolved until the Council of Foreign ministers met in April and May 1946 to hear presentations, primarily from Australia (Herbert “Doc” Evatt) was very active on this issue.

The US and Britain, stressed that to sever Kastellorizo from the Dodecanese would be artificial as its population was totally Greek. The Greek Government also made representations to the Council that it needed Kastellorizo. Finally, when the Peace Treaty with Italy was signed, the entire Dodecanese, including Kastellorizo, was ceded to Greece on 15th February 1947.


Kastellorizo finally under Greek rule. On 3rd January 1948 legislation granted all Dodecanesians Greek Citizenship or, at least the right to opt for any other nationality of their choosing. The union of the Dodecanese islands to Greece brings freedom at last from foreign domination. It is ironic that the long-awaited union with Greece came when the main Kastellorizian population had already emigrated to other countries. The fortunes of War had left the island devastated and stagnant.

Throughout its recorded history Kastellorizians often left the island in hard times or when under threat, only to return again. Times had changed and there was no reason to return to a bombed-out island where there was little opportunity to earn a living. Kastellorizo was still strategically important but Greek initiatives on the island were minimal and the few remaining inhabitants felt despondent. Kastellorizo was in the doldrums. Population in 1946 was 655 and continued to fall.

1970 – 2005

The late 1970’s signalled the beginning of a “renaissance” for Kastellorizo as tourism expanded, and by the mid 1980’s frequent ferries from Rhodes, and an airstrip, brought in summer tourist trade and expatriates mainly from Australia, who began claiming their homes and rebuilding and renovating. This flurry of expatriate activity continues up to the present as Kastellorizians and their decendents in Australia, and a few other countries, claim or buy land and build there, or renovate.

A very proud moment for Kastellorizians, locals and the many Australian visitors, occurred in 2004 when the eyes of the world were on Greece’s most eastern point – Kastellorizo – as the Olympic flame was borne through the island.

1970 – 2005

Many went to Australia which included Perth and Darwin. This migration was as early as 1880, some being the first Greek communities to emigrate to Australia. Others settled in Sydney and Townsville. Some journeyed to New York and others settled in Brazil. When Kastellorizo was proclaimed part of Greece in 1948 there were only 600 people on the island and this number dwindled to around 400. From mostly shop-keepers the second-generation was succeeded by an over-representation of high achievers for such a small population. Theirs is an extensive list of such people and some of the well=known names are:

• Nicholoas Pappas – Solicitor, Chairman of the Rabbitohs and author of Castellorizo and it’s Conquerors.
• John Mangos – TV personality
• Nick Moraitis – Fruit & Veg giant, Melbourne Cup Winner
• Nick Bolkus – former Labour Party Senator
• Ken Michael – Governor of Western Australia
• Chris Sidoti – Former Human Rights Commissioner
• Alex Perry – Fashion Designer
• Marilynne Paspaley – Successful actress and part of the Paspaley empire
• George Spartels – Actor
• Thaao Penghlis – Actor

and many more