Hydra

1. Welcome to Hydra island

Welcome to Hydra island in Greece
Welcome to Hydra island in Greece

The island of Hydra’s fame has spread beyond the borders of Greece, reaching as far as the other side of the world. All visitors to the island talk of the pretty harbor with the traditional houses built spread over the rocky slopes of the surrounding hills. Of the wonderful mansions built in grey stone with a white outline around the windows, the mansions built by the Hydraiot captains with much love, when their merchant fleet ruled the whole of the Mediterranean and brought great wealth to the island. In the days when little Hydra flourished and was indeed the noble lady of the Argosaronic.

This economic prosperity was to be cut off by the Greek Revolution of 1821 against the Turks. The Hydraiots, who loved freedom more than wealth and grandeur, threw themselves into the Struggle with a passion. They transformed their commercial ships into battleships, arming them with cannons, and, along with the Spetsiots and Psarians, successfully fought the Turkish fleet. At the head of the Greek fleet, the idol of the Hydraiots until today even, was their compatriot Andreas Miaoulis.

The war lasted for seven whole years, and the miracle came in the end. Greece had managed to defeat a whole empire and free itself. Little Hydra and its ships had played a decisive role in this struggle.

The price of victory was, however, ultimately very heavy for the Hydraiots. They had used up all their wealth for the Struggle, and most of their ships had been destroyed. It seemed that the game was finally up, and the Hydraiots began to abandon their barren island. Then there was another miracle, and this time without a war, without a fleet and without cannons. In the 1950s, artists and intellectuals from Greece and abroad began to congregate on the island and immortalise its charms with their pens and with their paint brushes. The intellectuals were followed by the tourists, whose number was constantly on the rise. Within a few years, the island had evolved into an intellectual and artistic centre and Hydra again became the noble lady of the Argosaronic.

If you would like to visit the beautiful island of Hydra, you may book your accommodation through our site and get a special discount. If you need any extra information, then please contact us here information@abettergreece.com or +30 69 34 620 501 / +30 22840 24 879

2. Activities on Hydra

Let us help you in discovering Hydra Town as well as the most amazing beaches of the island in order to make your stay an unforgettable experience. If you love the sea join us to this amazing trip experience.

  • Daily excursions to nearby beaches with boat (snacks and beverages during the excursion)
  • We now offer you the chance to experience a donkey ride and also to enjoy the most amazing and panoramic Hydra view from Ayios Konstantinos church.
  • Hop on the Fisherman’s boat and catch your own fish during a daily trip

3. Best beaches on Hydra

Hydra is one of the Saronic Islands in Greece where the visitor will find only a few organized beaches, such as Hydroneta, Vlychos and Bisti, and lots of popular non-organized coasts or tranquil and isolated ones like Palamidas and Ayios Georgios beach.

Hydra offers peace of mind as cars are not allowed on the island so means of transport for visitors wanting to reach the beaches are either going on foot or by using a small boat (kaiki).  As such, the most crowded beaches are those close to town.

In Cycladia’s Hydra beach guide the best beaches in Hydra are presented allocated on a beaches’ map to help you locate them easily and quickly.

Best Beaches in Hydra, Greece

For those who seek popular or organized beaches, they may visit Hydroneta beach, near the port, or go a bit further to find Vlychos and Bisti beaches where the hot coast meets the magical, soothing waters of the Saronic Gulf. For visitors who enjoy hiking there are paths leading to almost every beach on Hydra.

4. Sightseeing on Hydra

The beautiful roads and alleys, paved with slabs and the houses, adorned with flowers, give to the island of Hydra a touch of magic and a romantic mood.

Its worth visiting the Manors of the Island and watch the harbor from down the hill.

Also, to admire the sunset from “Periptero” and “Spilia” and to visit the 6 Monasteries and the 300 churches of Hydra.

Especially, you have to visit : The twin Monasteries of Saint Eupraxia and Prophet Elias, where in 1825 were imprisoned some of the heroes of Greek Revolution, amongst them and Kolokotronis.

The Monastery of Saint Trinity, The Monastery of Saint Matrona, The Monastery of Saint Nikolaos. The Monastery of Virgin Mary of Zoubra, and the Church of dormition, with the Byzantine and Ecclesiastic Museum.

Also, you have to visit the Churches of Hypapante and St. John the abstinent, with the wonderful wall paintings of the 18th century, the Museum of History, which runs daily and has got import and relics, archives and also a library.

A very nice sight is the Bastions with cannons, which protected the city to the left and to the right of the harbor.

Finally, you should visit the Manor of Lazaros Kountoyriotis, which it accommodates a division of the National Historic Museum, the Manor of G. Kountouriotis.

The manor accommodates the Museum of Byzantic Art and History and the Auditorium “Melina Merkouri”, which it displays paintings of famous artists.

5. Villages and settlements on Hydra

The traveler visiting the Argosaronic for the first time is impatient to glimpse a sight of the celebrated Hydra. Yet, as the boat begins to approach the bare island, not much of a great impression is at first made. But suddenly, just before entering the port, something miraculous happens! All that the visitor has seen and heard up until this point pales into insignificance in front of the reality. A closed bay, with rocky hills all around it and mountains behind, stands before him. The town is built spread out on all sides over the rocks, a town the like of which he has never seen before. Two- and three-storey houses, all built in grey stone, following an austere, frugal design. They look like giant cubes with tiles or a roof for the lid. There is almost no external decoration, the only exception being the white cornice around the door and window frames, which somewhat dissipates the monotony of the grey. Some of the houses stand out because of their size: these are the famed mansions of the captains, decorating the town. All around the quay are countless colourful boats, small and large, which add their own note to this magical picture.

Before entering the port, the boat turns before the east cannon station which, as with the one in the west opposite, protected the entrance to the port during the years of the War of Independence against the Turkish yoke. There, within a raised square, is a bronze statue of the Hydraiot admiral and leader of the Struggle Andreas Miaoulis, who, despite the years which have passed, remains the idol of the Hydraiots. The admiral wears his military naval outfit and holds onto the wheel of a battle ship. The road beneath the square leads to the organized beach of Mantraki.

From here the visitor who wishes to go for a walk along the port of Hydra will encounter, whilst strolling along the length of the waterfront in the direction of the town center, two large, identical buildings, the second of which is home to the port authority. The beautiful, two-storey building a little further down is the Historical Archive and Museum of Hydra. Amongst the Archives are important documents which highlight Hydra’s leading role, especially in the 18th and 19th century, whilst the Museum has exhibits of relics from the Balkan Wars, the First and Second World Wars, a wonderful picture gallery, the arms of Hydraiot Independence fighters, and much more, bringing the whole of the island’s heroic past to life within its walls. The Library holds 5,500 volumes, mainly of old editions.

A few meters past the Historical Archive to the left are some three-storey mansions, including the mansion of Tsamados. A little to the south, at the entrance to the middle of the port area and opposite the breakwater is the dock at which the boats and the speedboats moor. There is a lot of movement at this point, as might be expected, and the tables belonging to the row of cafes here are always full. In the south-east comer of the port the ‘sea taxis,’ as they are called, are always ready to take travelers to the other coasts of the island. These are small speedboats, adapted in such a way so as to be able to travel even when there is a strong meltemi wind. All these boats have a couple of little flags at their sides: the Greek flag and the flag that was used on the island during the War of Independence, with the cross and the slogan “Eleftheria i Thanatos” (freedom or death). This flag does not appear just on the sea taxis, but also on the public buildings. Over 175 years have passed since the Revolution, but it appears that the Hydraiots, just like the Spetsiots, want to keep these memories alive.

From the ‘taxi’ corner, the waterfront turns to the west. This is the most central section, with banks, shops, restaurants and cafes. There are quite a lot of people here, especially at nights, that the lights create a phantasmagoric atmosphere. Some people are taking a stroll, whilst others are sitting at the tables. The Monastiri, as the Metropolitan church of Hydra is called, is located somewhere in the middle of the coastal road. It was built in the mid-17th century as the cathedral church of a monastery. It is a three-aisled domed basilica, the aisles of which are separated by rows of columns. The central aisle is dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin, and the church celebrates its feast day on 15 August. The decoration in its interior is rich. The two marble belfries, one of which also has a clock, are impressive. Amongst the graves in the forecourt of the church is that of Lazaros Kountouriotis, a patron of the War of 1821, whilst an Ecclesiastical Museum has been opened up in a special hall developed the section of the monks’ cells around the monastery. The coastal road becomes quite wide at the point in front of the Metropolitan church, creating a three-cornered square. This is the square of Pavlos Kountouriotis, and a grand marble statue of him stands in its center. From this point on, the waterfront curves northwards. A pier to the right, jutting out like a tongue into the harbor, has all the colored boats gathered around it. A little road going upwards to the left, all stairs, leads to Tobazis’ mansion, now the property of the School of Fine Arts of the Polytechnic University of Athens. Behind its elegant outer door is a veranda with arches, and the view over the sea from here is fantastic. An even better view can be had from the steep hill with the little church of Ayios Athanasios, from where you can marvel at the whole of the town of Hydra and the surrounding area.

In order to continue the tour of the island, the visitor must return to the coastal road and proceed towards the port exit. To the left, a little before the breakwater, yet another mansion, that of Oikonomos, stands tall.

Periptero – Avlaki – Kaminia

Past the breakwater, the road begins to climb uphill, continuing alongside a rocky road. The first cafeteria which we encounter is built upon the rocks above the crystal-clear blue sea. Its tables are laid out in front. A few meters further up and the road leads to what is perhaps the most beautiful spot on Hydra, the Periptero. This is where the west cannon station is located, and below is the famous Spilia, or cave, where all the cosmopolitan youth, and not only, gather for their swim. There are a few pine trees on a wide stretch of the road, at the edge of which is a stone wall which starts at the base of the rocks and comes upwards, creating a parapet. At every five meters along the parapet a heavy cannon is pointed towards the sea. These are the same cannons, in the same positions, which protected the port during the years of the Revolution. Below on the rocks, there is a cave in the sea and a rocky islet a little further beyond. Many people gather on the rocks here to enjoy the warm sun, whilst others swim in the sea, enjoying the crystal-clear waters. The parapet proceeds even further along, and along with it the cannons. Now there is another cafeteria, larger than the first. The tables here are situated in among the cannons, whilst a canopy hangs overhead to protect the customers from the sun. A staircase leads down to the rocks, where people are sunbathing and swimming. The sea water at this point takes on an unbelievable colour. A blue indigo, mixed in the shallower areas with emerald and green.

To the left of the road there is a small pine tree forest, in the midst of which stands the beautiful mansion of Pavlos Kountouriotis. Behind it is the tall rocky hill of the Myli, with a row of ruined old mills. The last mill, at the peak, is at the same height as the church of Ayios Athanasios on the hill further to the south. The view from up here is sensational, but this footpath is even more steep than that leading up to Ayios Athanasios. From Periptero, the road continues towards the pretty neighborhood of Avlaki, built on a steep slope of this hill and looking over the sea to the Peloponnesian coast opposite from high above. Among the houses here, surrounded by pine and cypress trees, is the mansion of Kountouris, an old building with a slate roof and no tiles. It stands at the edge of this neighborhood, in front of a small cliff with rocks and earth. After Avlaki, the road continues towards the Kaminia (Mikro Kamini and Megalo Kamini), the most charming corner on the whole of Hydra. This is a little harbor with dark brown sands located in among two small, rocky hills. The hills are full of old and new houses, and among them are two taverns on the two edges of the beach. The first tavern is built at a slight rise, and the other has a yellow and red wall in front of the mole, at which the ‘sea taxis’ and other small craft dock. The harbor is surrounded by two little breakwaters. Many little boats are moored in behind the breakwaters and in front of the beach, whilst some have even been dragged up onto the sands. All these features together compose a wonderful picture, which is surely an inspiration for all artists, and especially painters.

Hydra town

After the tour of the port and the walk from Periptero to Kaminia, the visitor can now get to know the inside of the town. The best way to do this is to start at Lignos Street, which is on the right of the Monastiri, turning right a little further down to visit the historic house of Lazaros Kountouriotis. This is now an annex of the National Historical Museum in Athens. Lazaros Kountouriotis was an important historical figure during the Struggle of 1821. His house was built at the end of the 18th century and is a characteristic example of traditional Hydraiot architecture. In its halls today, one can see old island furniture next to console tables and buffets of the same period which the captains brought back with them from abroad, old English and Italian dinner sets, the personal items of Pavlos Kountouriotis, bronze kitchen equipment, baking trays, etc.

On the first floor of this mansion are exhibited, among other things, representative works of modern Greek art (18th-19th centuries) and the traditional costumes of the three main naval islands, Hydra, Spetses and Psara.

Next to the mansion of Pavlos Kountouriotis is the church of the Ypapanti (the All-Holy Virgin), which has a beautiful wood-carved iconostasis. From here, continuing in an eastwards direction among the pretty lanes, we will come to a small square. An old, but excellently-preserved, one-story building behind the square catches our attention. This is the traditional pharmacy of Rafalias which, as a sign on one side says, was founded in 1890! It is a white building, with yellow door and window frames and plaster railings on the parapet of its roof, on top of which two flags fly, the Greek flag and the flag of the European Union. If it is impressive from the outside, then its inside is even more impressive. Nothing has changed inside since the 110 years that have passed since it was founded. The wooden shelves with the porcelain jars, the drawers with the white-enamel labels, on which the contents are written in black, Latin characters, even the pharmacist’s little desk with the old ‘accurate’ scales set at the edge.

Miaoulis Street, the main road of Hydra, is only a short distance from this pharmacy, where it seems as though time has stopped since 1890. This is the road which leads into the town and terminates at Kala Pigadia (Good Wells), one of the oldest and prettiest neighborhoods of Hydra. The name comes from two wells which are located there. Their parapets are whitened and are covered with a conical iron sheet that has been painted grey. Both are on a raised level, as the land rises here, which can be reached by climbing up six stone steps. These wells, which are over 200 years old, supply the residents of the old town with water.

The ascending road above Kala Pigadia leads up the hill of Kiafas, where Hydra’s oldest quarter is built. The beautiful church ofAyios Konstantinos the Hydraiot stands tall almost at the top of the hill, at the point where the Saint was martyred. It celebrates its feast day on 14 November, when there is a festival. There is another church in Kiafas which is considered to be one of the oldest in the whole island. This is Ai-Yiannis, with its wonderful wall paintings.

Monasteries of the Profitis Ilias and Ayia Evpraxia

The footpath which leads up to the monasteries of Profitis Ilias and Ayia Evpraxia starts at Kiafas. There is an asphalt-surfaced road for the monastery at Kala Pigadia, but this covers only a section of the route. The rest of it is made along a wide footpath, most of which passes through a thick pine forest The mountain in front of the monasteries is bare, and the walker therefore has a chance to admire the wonderful view. Before him is the thick pine forest and down below is the port of Hydra. The white line of foam left behind by a speedboat can be seen floating on the blue sea, whilst the Peloponnesian coast opposite can be discerned. The pathway, which just before had quite a few bends as it clambered upwards, suddenly becomes a never- ending stone stairway leading up in a straight path to the entrance of the Monastery of the Profitis llias. After a strenuous ascent, the grand entrance to the monastery, with the dome above the door and its gold wall painting, begins to stand out. I do not know why, but this last section of the road brings to mind a painting of a stairway shaped by the Houris of Paradise, a never-ending staircase which leads up into the sky where it becomes lost in its white light The visitors to the Monastery are most welcome. The forecourt around the cathedral church and the monks’ cells is huge. A cell in the north-west corner of the Monastery immediately grabs our attention. This is where Theodoros Kolokotronis, commander-in-chief of the Revolution of 1821, was gaoled for four months in that same year by his own fellow fighters. What injustice, what great destruction division can wreak! The monastery, built at a height of 500 meters, was founded in 1815.

Near the Monastery of Profitis llias is the Convent of Ayia Evpraxia, the female Saint of Good Acts. It was founded in 1821 and today has only one nun. Mountain climbers can ascend to the top of Mt Eros from the Monasteries. At 588 meters, this is the tallest mountain on Hydra and lies further to the south-west.

A quick tour of Hydra island

The tour of the island gives the visitor the opportunity to see not only the popular beaches, but also the other ones, those which are as equally delightful yet, because they are further from the port of Hydra, there might be only one swimmer in their waters.

This tour, which is made by the ‘sea taxis,’ as they are known, can commence in a westerly direction, where there is more of interest. The greatest disadvantage of these speedboats is their speed, which means that you do not really get a chance to properly enjoy the areas that you will pass. Another disadvantage is that they travel at a distance from the coasts that you wish to see. Both these disadvantages can be overcome by asking the driver to draw up close at any beach you wish to see and even to stop at some of these for a while. But, this must be agreed upon before you start.

The speedboat begins, then, from the ροή of Hydra, goes around the breakwater and proceeds towards Avlaki and pretty Kaminia, which we saw above. The new feature of this route will soon appear. It is Vlychos, a coastal settlement, bimon the slope of a pretty mountain. A crowd of freshly-whitened little houses is located on a small, rocky hill, which protrudes into the sea, giving the landscape a special charm. Next to this small hill there is an organised beach with brown sand and deckchairs protected from the sun by large, straw umbrellas.

The next beach after Vlychos is Palamidas, with a large, old building to the left with a few boats, protected behind a dyke built next to the sea.

The little church of Ayios Kyprianos (St Cyprian) just beyond Palamida appears a brilliant white on a deserted beach with rocks and crystal-clear waters. After Ayios Kyprianos comes Molos, a large beach with a wonderful pine forest running along its whole length. Behind the pines is a steep cliff, and in front of the beach to the left is a walled estate with old, freshly-whitened one-storey hous­es and a few summer houses. From Molos, a road which cuts through the densest of the island’s few pine forests, leads to Episkopi. There was a settle­ment in this area in prehistoric times, only a few of the remains of which survive. Today there are a few summer houses.

The speedboat continues the tour of the island, passing next alongside Kaoumithi, with the beau­tiful and verdant slopes which cut suddenly into the sea. Next, we come to the beach of Ayios Georgios at Bisti, near the bay of the same name. This beach has crystal-clear waters and is located in between two hills full of pine trees. The little church of Ayios Georgios dominates on the rocks to the left. There is a small forecourt in front of its entrance, which leads to a stone staircase with five or six steps. Practically all the surfaces are white: the church, the parapet in the forecourt, the dry stone wall opposite. Only the door and window frames, the floor of the forecourt, and the tops of the steps are painted blue. From this little church one can better enjoy a view of this delightful bay. Some boats tied up on the rocks below add their own touch to the charm of the landscape.

After Bitsi and its bay, the direction of our route changes and we begin to travel in an easterly direction. Ayios Nikolaos, a pebbly beach, is relatively close by. There is a large gulf at its cove with rocks to the right and a forest further in. The crystal-clear waters and absolute calm invite us in for a swim. Without a doubt, one can swim at Ayios Nikolaos with the certainty that they will be the only one. The only other presence might be a fishing caique resting on the calm waters.

The same is true at the next beach, Nisiza, with the rocks to the right, the brown mountain and the vegetation further in. It is said that the port of the ancient settlement of Episkopi was here. Continuing our course, the landscape becomes more bare, when, suddenly, the Spilia tis Fokas – the cave of the seal – appears, followed by the pretty little church of Ayios Nikolaos Rigas, just before the cape of the same name. Built on a rise above the brown rocks next to the sea, there are some small unapproachable bays full of rocks to the right and the left. After the pass from the cape of Rigas, the direction has now changed to a northerly one, soon reaching Limnioniza, the most interesting beach on this side of the island. The first sight of the rocks at the entrance and the large sandy beach with its crystal-clear waters is enough to take your breath away. The most beautiful thing, however, is the rocky islet in the centre, with its stunning colours and the sea all around it.

There are only a few people here, those who have come by caique or speedboat. There are also some, only a few of course, who have come here from Hydra town by foot, walking for two hours in order to enjoy this beautiful beach. Above Limnioniza, at a distance from it, is the Convent of Ayios Nikolaos.

In order to continue our little journey we must pass the cape of Zourva, the most easterly point of the island. The Monastery of Zourva soon appears, the most isolated of all on the island, at a distance of three and a half hours from Hydra town. Unless you come by boat, in which case you can moor beneath the Monastery and then walk for 45 minutes to reach it.

The tour of the island will end with a visit to Mantraki, also known as Mirmare, which is 20 minutes from the port of Hydra, or 5 minutes if you take one of the regular speedboat connections.

This was the military port of the Hydraiots during the years of the War of Independence. The bay which we find ourselves in is surrounded by bare and rocky mountains, with beautiful sands at its cove. The tourist complex of Mirmare is here. Thanks to its organised beach, it has much to offer visitors for an enjoyable swim and also the chance to indulge in some water sports. Next to the cafe and restaurant is the landing-stage for the boats which come and go from the port of Hydra.

The return journey to Hydra is short, just as the tour of the island with the speedboat was relatively short. Yet, within this brief time, the visitor has had a chance to see the beauties hidden in the island’s beaches. He or she will return from this experience full of satisfaction. A satisfaction which leads to one particular desire: to come again.

6. The history and mythology of Hydra

In ancient times the island was known as Hydrea. This is how the great ancient historians Hecataeus and Herodotus referred to it. Heysichius of Alexandria was the first to call it ‘Hydra’in his Lexicon. The Vene­tians called the island Sidra, and only in 1768 is it again referred to as Hydra, by Lozie in his ‘History of the Venetian Republic’

Hydra was occupied in the Mycenean period. This is apparent from the excavations conducted to the south-west of the town, in the region of Vlychos. Any earlier periods of occupation would have been for a short duration and took place when the island was used as a way station between the Peloponnese and the Cyclades. The Dryopes appear to have been the first race to pass through Hydra and settle here per­manently. They were a mountain people who lived around the mountains of Oitis and Parnassos, and who were later displaced by the Dorians. The Dry­opes were able, more than any other peoples, to face the difficult conditions on the island and partake, as in their original homeland, in animal husbandry.

Around two or so centuries after the arrival of the Dryopes, dated to the 13th century BC, the Dorians descended, marking thus the end of the Mycenean period on Hydra.

In his reference to Hydrea, Herodotus writes that in the 6th century BC fugitives from Samos who had unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the tyrant Polykrates, were sailing around on the Aegean and disembarked at Siphnos, the island that was rich in gold mines. Here, they violently grabbed 100 talents and, with this money, purchased Hydra from the inhabitants of Hermione on the Peloponnese oppo­site, to whom the island then belonged. The Samians later sold Hydra to the Troezens, the inhabitants of the then powerful city to the north, opposite Poros, under whose control it remained until the 4th century BC.

We do not have any information on the island for the classical period, aside from a reference by the historian and geographer Stephanus Byzantius, who mentions that there was a shepherd named Evagis on the island who was also a comic playwright. Only a few details survive for the periods of Macedonian and Roman rule and for the long Byzantine period. This fact has led to the conviction that Hydra was unoccupied during these years, something which is not completely accurate. The truth is that the constant pirate raids forced a large number of the population to abandon the island, whilst the rest distanced themselves from the coasts and dispersed around the hinterland. We are led to this conclusion by the fact that many bronze and gold Byzantine coins have been found at the Bishopric, as well as evidence for occupation during much earlier periods. The Byzantine period on the island ended in 1204 with the coming of Venetian rule. The subse­quent war between the Venetians and the Turks led to the island coming under Turkish rule, although this did not result in any changes to the demographic problem. The obscurity and apparent desertion of Hydra was ended in around 1470 by the Arvanites Orthodox Christians who passed over to the island from the Peloponnese to escape Turkish persecution. These Arvanites were the descendants of those whom the Despots of Mystra, Kantakouzenos and Palaiologos had invited to settle in their region, in order to increase the falling population of the Pelo­ponnese. The new settlers on Hydra merged with the old, and together they began anew to build the first houses of the town on the hill of Kiafas, and to throw themselves into the struggle for survival. The dry and barren land of the island forced them to turn to the sea. The beginning was made with the building of small ships, for them to proceed a little later – in the mid-18th century – to building larger ones. Shortly before the end of the 18th century, they Hydraiots had 150 large merchant ships in their possession. It was clear that with such a fleet, Hydra could achieve much in the fields of commerce and shipping, as indeed happened. The island was of course helped in this direction by other events and coincidences

As for relations with ruling Turkey, Hydra enjoyed quite a few privileges. The island was governed by local Hydraiot notables and a Turkish representative, who was appointed by the Hydraiots themselves. Two wars took place during the period of Turkish rule which were exceptionally favourable to the Hydraiots. The first was the war between Russia and Turkey (1768-1774), which ended with Turkey’s defeat and the signing of the Treaty of Kutchuk Kay-narca, by which the Bosphorus strait was opened, meaning that Hydraiot ships could now sail through to the Black Sea and supply the Mediterranean with wheat. The second war was that against Napoleon during which the British blockaded the Mediter­ranean. The courageous Hydraiots, however, were brave enough to break through the blockade and thus control all shipping through the Mediterranean. This was when Ibrahim Pasha, the Ottoman Commander-in-Chief, described Hydra as a ‘Little England.’

These excellent captains would unload their goods in the west and return loaded with luxurious furniture, porcelains and paintings from Italy and France and, of course, with lots of money, so that Hydra became the wealthiest region of Greece. The large mansions in grey stone were built under the supervision of Italian craftsmen and were furnished according to western prototypes. Naturally, this wealth also led to social progress and many functions and balls were organised in special halls, at which foreign orchestras performed.

The captains and the people of Hydra may have loved all this luxury and wealth. Yet, there was some­thing which for them had even more significance: their love of freedom. The hour for the uprising against the Turks had arrived. The Peloponnesian opposite had already risen, and now they were invit­ing the Hydraiots, who had power, to help them. The notables at first hesitated, but the people were not to be restrained. They revoked the Turkish representa­tive and appointed Antonios Oikonomos to be their own governor. The notables agreed to this and Hydra finally took its part in the Revolution of 1821. Yet, the island was not alone. Alongside it were another two islands which contributed their fleets to the Struggle: neighbouring Spetses and distant Psara. The leader of the collective fleet was the Hydraiot Admiral Andreas Miaoulis. Next to him were brave fighters, such as Voulgaris, Tobazis, Sachtouris, Tsamados, etc. Their achievements became known throughout the whole of Europe.

The merchant ships, which were armed and con­verted into battle ships, brought fear to the Turks. Their fireships – small ships loaded with explosives, which slid around in the dark and even dared to enter the Turkish ports and blow up the battle ships – became legendary.The Struggle lasted for a whole seven years, and in the end the Greeks won and Greece was liberated. Hydra and the other two islands were among the major contributors to this victory. Yet, the Hydraiots had given their all: their ships, money and barren land could no longer support them. In the mid-19th century they were forced to turn to sponge diving, which unfortunately declined after a few years, along with the island. Most of the sailors gradually began to abandon the island, and it took a great painter, Hadjikyriakos Gikas, to appear on the island in the 1950s, and for many films with internationally-renowned stars to be made here, for the island to begin to live again and finally to become an international tourist centre. Perhaps one of the greatest presences on the island during that heyday was the great Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, who wrote some of his finest tunes here.

HYDRA ISLAND: yesterday and today

Architecture: Life was difficult for those first settlers on the island. They were Arvanites, Orthodox Christians of Albanian descent, who came to the Peloponnese in the 15th century to escape persecution from the Turks. They were aware of what they would have to face on this dry and barren land, but they chose to try their luck, just as long as they could live free. They have been called unsubdued, frugal, hardened, and stubborn. All these characterizations are correct. The same holds true for the Greeks who came after them from various parts of Greece. They were also being persecuted by the Turks and had to coexist with these first settlers in order to face the difficulties together. And that is what happened. In the beginning, they threw themselves into animal husbandry and agriculture. Yet, they quickly realized that, isolated as they were, their only opportunity was the sea.

Their first houses were nothing more than wooden huts and their first ships simple wooden hulls. Slowly, slowly, they began to use stone, whilst some, who had come from the slave galleys of Egypt taught them the craft of shipbuilding using wood, and they began to build real ships. The first stone houses appeared at Kiafa, the rocky hill to the south of the port, with its steep slopes, its surrounding streams providing safety. With these, they created a defensive settlement, with tall walls, narrow lanes and covered walkways. This kind of architecture was a combination of the styles found on the Aegean islands and on the mainland. Unfortunately, the whole of the settlement was destroyed, and only three of its churches remain today. The Hydraiots rebuilt their settlement though, preserving many of the elements of the old, whilst also gradually expanding their town towards the port, and a little later, towards today’s Kaminia and Vlycho.

The materials they used were stone and wood, which they acquired primarily from the neighboring islet of Dokos. In order to build with stone, they used a mortar made from clay, known as ‘kokkina,’ to which they later added straw and limestone. For the mansions, this mortar was called ‘koursani’ and was enriched with sand, ground tiles, and an earth known as ‘pitreliana.’ Wood was used to ‘bind’ the ordinary houses, whilst in the mansions they used iron. Wood was, however, necessary in both types of houses for the construction of the roof, the ‘liakos,’ as they called it. For this, they used the trunks of mainly cypress trees, laying them out side-byside a little apart one from the other. Over the trunks they added a layer of thin branches of planks, seaweed, ‘kokkina,’ a layer of earth around 30 cm. thick, and a layer of earth mixed with clay and limestone. On top of all this they placed the tiles. The final layer was of mortar, so as to ensure dryness. The ‘liakos’ was later covered with ceramic tiles, and few houses today still have their original structure.

The earliest houses consisted of just one orthogonal room, and the auxiliary areas were detached, just as happens in farmhouses today. This house design evolved by adding other rooms on one or more floors. These rooms were adjoining and had the same arrangement. The larger houses were built in the shape of an L or had wings on both sides. The exterior was simple. There was one external stone staircase, and usually a wooden staircase inside. The interior of the house was divided into the ‘andres’ (men’s) or ‘good salon,’ the bedrooms, kitchen, oven, storeroom and bathroom. There was a yard with tall walls, quite a bit of vegetation, and the essential cistern for water storage. In some cases, there is a shop on the ground floor or a lounge and kitchen. For the facade, the white of the limestone initially predominated. Later, they began to use ochra or even stronger colors. The same happened with the door and window frames, which were at first painted in a light grey or green, and later in far more vibrant colors.

As for the mansions, these kept many of the features of the ordinary houses. That which made them stand apart, however, was the size and luxury of the interior. Indeed, most of these mansions had been built by Italian artisans who had been invited over for this purpose. Another characteristic is the white outline around the windows, which breaks up the monotone grey of the building.

Inside, the mansions are roomy with tall ceilings. In addition to the standard rooms, there was often a room in which to smoke a narghile (a water-pipe), and a smaller room with an icon stand. The luxurious furniture, brought over from west and east, is impressive.

All this wealth, which had accumulated on the island by the early 19th century, was the product of a collective effort on the part of the Hydraiot captains and their men. With their courage and strengths they succeeded in making their merchant fleet rule the Mediterranean waves, even breaking through the blockade imposed by the British. A story which is told of an unexpected meeting between the then young Andreas Miaoulis, future admiral of the Greek fleet, with the British admiral Nelson is revealing. Miaoulis had been arrested for infringing the British blockade, an act punishable by death. The British admiral, full of curiosity, asked to see this brave young man. When Nelson saw Miaoulis standing bravely before him, he asked him “What would you do if you were in my position?” To which Miaoulis, undaunted, answered, “I would hang you.” At which Nelson did not simply allow him to live, but he freed him.

Customs & traditions – Traditional dress:

The Hydraiots may have lived through tumultuous times. A tough struggle for survival when they first settled on the island, later struggles on the sea and at war. Yet, this did not prevent them from expressing their religious faith at every opportunity and from preserving their local customs. The 150 churches and monasteries on Hydra, an island with a relatively small population, demonstrate the islanders’ religious faith. As for the local customs, many of these are fading or have disappeared altogether. There are, however, some which are maintained until our days. The most important of these is the wedding. In the old days, the Hydraiot wedding included features which we do not encounter on any other islands. We will not go into details about the ‘making of the bed,’ which continues to take place throughout the whole of Greece. This is when guests and relatives offer their gifts to the cou­ple-to-be by placing them on the bridal bed. We should, however, mention the ‘washing of the bride’s hair,’ which is done on the Saturday, the day before the wedding, by two married women who themselves have successful marriages. These same women must ‘brush the bride’s hair’ on the Sunday morning before the wedding. Also characteristic is the gesture by the father of the bride towards his daughter at the door of the house, when he gives her a pouch containing gold coins or jewellery before the whole family leaves for the church. The bride would wear the traditional formal wedding dress, on which stood out the ‘kontogouni’ (a short pelisse) made of silk velvet with gold embroidery which they called the ‘ yianniotiko’ and the ‘tseperi’ an embroidered headscarf which was also made of silk. The tsemperi meant that the women could not wear a necklace, but they wore instead a gold pin, the ‘lalana,’ over their breast. The bride and the groom would meet in the church. If the groom was a notable, then once the service was completed, he would remove the tsemperi from the bride, and replace it with a fez with a golden tassel and kiss her. The wedding banquet was held at lunch-time, whilst the celebration for friends took place in the evening, with much song and dance to the accompaniment of local instruments which then, as now, were the violin and the lute.

The New Year’s customs on Hydra are of especial interest. The doors of the house remain open from the morning, as the head of the household awaits the first visitor who will pass over the threshold uninvited. He will then hang a gift around the visitor’s neck with a lace and they will have lunch together. If the head of the household just happens to be a notable, then the lucky visitor will surely receive the gift of a gold florin.

The custom which most surprises, however, is that of the Epitaphios, the Good Friday funeral procession of Christ, at Kamini. At this village, the Epitaphios proceeds into the sea, in an invocation to Christ to keep the waters calm and so help the sailors. The common custom of the burning of the effigy of Judas takes place on the night of the Resurrection.

Events: The following festivals take place on Hydra: on 20 August at the Monastery of the Profitis llias, on 25 July at the Monastery of Ayia Evpraxia, on 25 March at the Monastery by the port, and on 14 November at Ayios Konstantinos the Hydraiot at Kiafa.

The Miaoulia festival takes place on the nearest weekend to 21 June each year in honour of the Hydraiot Admiral and hero of the Revolution of 1821 Andreas Miaoulis. It lasts for three days, and includes boat races, swimming competitions, dance, etc. On the last day there is a reconstruction of the firing of the Turkish flagship with Bengal lights, and food and drink are on offer.

Local cuisine

As we are talking about the food, let’s say a couple of words about the local cuisine of Hydra island. The almonds that grow on Hydra are widely celebrated, as are the pears served with a colored bow and cloves. The sugar – baklava is another popular dessert of a thin layered pastry with walnuts and syrup. As for the food, we note that the pasta and the mizithra (a soft cheese) dish, and the boubari (which is stomach filled with rice, mince and spices, baked in the oven.

Arts and letters

The Hydra of yesterday was the island of the captains, the heroes and the politicians. This little island has given Greece five prime ministers and around fifty government ministers. Today it is the island of the people of the arts and letters. Yet, the roots of these people are located in yesterday, when great figures such as the historian Georgios Kriazis, Andreas Mioulis, the historian, folklorist and member of the Athens Academy A. Lignos, the historian and folklorist A. Manikis, the professors of ophthalmology Spilios Haramis and I. Haramis, and many others lived. And yet today, the list of Hydraiot intellectuals and artists who, along with their distinguished colleagues, lived and live on the island is still long. Among them, and including those who are still resident on Hydra for at least some of the year, we find great painters, writers, academics and Nobel prize winners: Hadjikyriakos Gikas, Vyzantios, George Seferis, Odysseus Elytis, Petsalis, Pikionis, Henry Miller, Patrick Leigh Fermor and, last but not least Leonard Cohen.

7. Rent a car on Hydra

Cars are not permitted on Hydra island! You can explore the island by foot, by bicycle or by travelling on the back of a horse or donkey!

8. Useful information about Hydra island

Hydra’s fame has spread beyond the borders of Greece, reaching as far as the other side of the world. All visitors to the island talk of the pretty harbor with the traditional houses built spread over the rocky slopes of the surrounding hills. Of the wonderful mansions built in grey stone with a white outline around the windows, the mansions built by the Hydraiot captains with much love, when their merchant fleet ruled the whole of the Mediterranean and brought great wealth to the island. In the days when little Hydra flourished and was indeed the noble lady of the Argosaronic.

This economic prosperity was to be cut off by the Greek Revolution of 1821 against the Turks. The Hydraiots, who loved freedom more than wealth and grandeur, threw themselves into the Struggle with a passion. They transformed their commercial ships into battleships, arming them with cannons, and, along with the Spetsiots and Psarians, successfully fought the Turkish fleet. At the head of the Greek fleet, the idol of the Hydraiots until today even, was their compatriot Andreas Miaoulis.

The war lasted for seven whole years, and the miracle came in the end. Greece had managed to defeat a whole empire and free itself. Little Hydra and its ships had played a decisive role in this struggle.

The price of victory was, however, ultimately very heavy for the Hydraiots. They had used up all their wealth for the Struggle, and most of their ships had been destroyed. It seemed that the game was finally up, and the Hydraiots began to abandon their barren island. Then there was another miracle, and this time without a war, without a fleet and without cannons. In the 1950s, artists and intellectuals from Greece and abroad began to congregate on the island and immortalise its charms with their pens and with their paint brushes. The intellectuals were followed by the tourists, whose number was constantly on the rise. Within a few years, the island had evolved into an intellectual and artistic centre and Hydra again became the noble lady of the Argosaronic.

If you would like to visit the beautiful island of Hydra, you may book your accommodation through our site and get a special discount. If you need any extra information, then please contact us here information@abettergreece.com or +30 69 34 620 501 / +30 22840 24 879

Geography of Hydra…..

Hydra is located between the Saronic and the Argolic Gulfs, at a distance of four to five miles from the Peloponnesian coast. It is long and narrow, with a length of around 20 kilometres and a broadest width of 4 km. It has a surface area of 50 kilometres and a coastline of 55 km.

The island has less than 3000 permanent residents; in contrast with the summer months, when this figure increases greatly. There are daily connections with Piraeus, which is 37 nautical miles away.

Morphology

In contrast with many of the Argosaronic islands, Hydra is for the most part bare and rocky with pine trees only in its south-west section. The highest mountain. Eros (590 meters) in the centre of the island, to the south of Hydra town. There are a few small bays in its northern coasts, such as Mantraki, the port of Hydra, and Ayios Georgios at Bisti. There are two larger bays in the southern coast, Ayios Nikolaos and Limnionizas. As for the valleys, the main one is that at Episkopi in the southern pan of the island.

The islet of Dokos

This islet, lying in between Hydra and the Peloponnesian coast, was for the Hydraiots the main source of beautiful grey stone with which they built most of their houses and mansions. There was a quarry in operation here many years ago in order to mine the stone. The islet, which is bare and rocky on its southern side, has a surface area of 12 square kilometers.