Friends of Paxos

Paxos: History of Paxos

Paxos, the smallest of the Ionian Islands, is made up of a cluster of small islands and rocky islets, the largest of which are Paxos and Antipaxos. They are located in north-western Greece 7 nautical miles (13 km) south of Corfu, at a distance of 8 nautical miles (15 km) from the coast of Epirus and 12 miles (22 km) from the mainland port of Parga.

Both Paxos and Antipaxos have a lizard-like, long and narrow shape. The islands cover an area of 29 square kilometers and 3 square kilometers respectively. Paxos is an island of endless olive groves and Antipaxos has many vineyards. The eastern coastlines of the islands are gentle while the west coasts are bold and abrupt, with remarkable natural formations: caves, arches, dome-shaped forms, sheer cliffs...

Tripitos Arch and Antipaxos (photograph by Dimitris Kintzios)

The capital of Paxos is Gaios, a picturesque village built around a port, which is protected by
two small islands, Agios Nikolaos and Panagia. On the northern side of the island is located Lakka and on the east coast the charming village-port of Loggos.
Paxos has a permanent population of approximately 2.500 inhabitants. During summer months the island welcomes more than 200.000 visitors. The inhabitants of Paxos are warm and extremely hospitable people who love tradition but also embrace all developments of contemporary Europe. As a result, the island was proclaimed Cultural Village of Europe for the year 2004, an institution which aims to make known and preserve villages across Europe. As an official Cultural Village of Europe, Paxos has the vocation of organizing a number of cultural musical and artistic events in the summer season.

View of Gaios in the evening (photograph by Dimitris Kintzios)

Paxos an etymology of the island name

The etymology of the word “Paxos” has many interpretations. According to Strabo, the Phoenicians - probably the first colonists of the island - gave it its name from their word for “trapezoid”, in Phoenician “paks”, in reference to the shape of the island as it appears when viewed from the sea. Another version claims that a group of settlers from Paxountos in Sicily, arrived in Paxos fleeing local raids and gave the name of their region to their new home. The Metropolitan of Paramythia, Athinagoras, interpreted the name Paxos as a corruption of the Greek word for the flagstones - “plaka” - which were cut on the island and exported. Moustoxidis believes that the name of the island derives from the adjective “paktos”, the Doric version of the the Greek word “piktos” meaning “dense”. Erik Stefanou claims in his thesaurus of the Greek language that the name comes from the ancient Greek verb “pignio” and more specifically from its future form “pixo”. It is also possible that it comes from the phrase “paksosas thyras” – “closed gates” – as a reference to the enclosed nature of the harbor of Gaios. Our local historian, Giannis Doikas, believes that the Latin word for peace, “Pax”, best suits the peaceful nature of the island of Paxos.

The History of Paxos:

According to mythology, the islands of Paxos were created when the god of the sea, Poseidon, pierced the island of Corfu with his trident, causing its southern tip to break off. Thus were Paxos and Antipaxos created as separate islands where Poseidon could retreat with his mistress, Amphitrite. However, his trident was lost in the sea, and found later by the Paxiot islanders, who made it into their island’s emblem.
Homer was the first to mention Paxos, whose inhabitants were Greek-speaking settlers from Epirus. However, the first colonists were probably Phoenicians, who had already established a colony on neighboring Cephalonia.

432 BC: The largest naval battle to date took place off the coast of Paxos and Antipaxos (referred to as “the islands of Syvota”), between the rebellious Corfiotes (then a colony of Corinth) and the Corinthians. Seventy Corfiote and thirty Corinthian triremes were sunk near the islands.

229 BC: Illyrian pirates - inhabitants of the eastern shores of the Adriatic - and the Corfiote fleet, clashed off the coast of the island, now referred to as “Paxos”. The victorious Illyrians occupied Corfu and the islands of Paxos. This victory precipitated the first direct Roman intervention into the Greek realm. A year later, the Romans defeated the Illyrians, and forced them to concede lands and pay taxes to Rome.

31 BC: Just south of Paxos, the fleets of Caesar Octavius and Mark Anthony in alliance with the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra were defeated at the great sea battle of Actium. It is speculated that towards the end of the battle the fugitives Mark Anthony and Cleopatra had to anchor off Paxos because of unfavorable winds.

The Battle of Actium, 2 September 31BC by Lorenzo Castro 1672

960 AD: The historian Liutprand, Bishop of Cremona went to Paxos to write the third volume of his Histories in a quiet place. During the second half of the 13th century, Corfu was incorporated into the realm of the Angevins of Sicily who annexed Paxos as well.

1386: The island was conquered by the Venetians along with Corfu. Paxos remained a Venetian possession for four centuries.

Venetian Lion on the Old Fort in Corfu. Paxos remained under Venetian domination from 1386 to 1798.

1423: Baron Adam II San Ippolito asked for Venetian permission to build a fortress to protect the island from pirates. Two were built: one on the island of Agios Nikolaos opposite Gaios and the second one at Lakka.

1510: The fortress of Agios Nikolaos is reconstructed based on plans drawn up, according to legend, by Leonardo da Vinci!

Fortress of Agios Nikolaos - Venetian gate. Photograph by Stephen Goddard

1537: An important sea battle between the Ottoman fleet and the allied fleets of Spain, Venice and the Papal States took place near Paxos, under the leadership of the Genoese admiral Andrea Doria. The Turkish ships were sunk and the sea around Paxos was filled with floating corpses. The infamous Ottoman admiral, Hayreddin Barbarossa, then decided to take revenge on Doria. After plundering and capturing the islanders, Barbarossa laid siege to the city of Corfu. Though he failed to take the city and had to end the siege, he caused immense destruction to the island. Leaving Corfu his fleet also ravaged Paxos, destroying everything from one end of the island to the other. Not a wall was left standing. The devastation was completed the following year, when Paxos became the base of operations for admiral Dragut, Bey of Algiers. The island was by then almost completely deserted.

1571: Once again the Turkish fleet, this time under admiral Lutsali Pasha pillaged the island, slaughtering the remaining inhabitants and laying fire to all habitations. Any inhabitants lucky enough to escape resettled on the neighboring Ionian Islands.

The "Battle of Preveza" (1538) by Ohannes Umed Behzad, painted in 1866.

1797: After 411 years of occupation, the Venetians surrendered the Ionian Islands to the French Republic who had just conquered Venice after Napoleon Bonaparte’s Italian campaign.

1799: Russians and Turks occupied Corfu. The Ionian Islands were declared a Republic under the dominion of the Sultan, and under the protection of Russia.

1807: With the Treaty of Tilsit, the Ionian Islands were granted to the French Napoleonic empire.

François-Xavier Donzelot governor of the Ionian Islands 1808-14

1810: Paxiotes rose against the French authorities as a result of the hardship brought on by the English naval blockade of the French Empire. They raised the English flag on the island. The revolt was severely repressed.

1814: An English contingent led by Major Theodore Kolokotronis landed in the area of Plani near Lakka. The fort of Agios Nikolaos in Gaios surrendered without resistance.

Theodoros Kolokotronis, the future general of the Greek War of Independence, liberated Paxos from the French. Portrait by Dionysios Tsokos.

1817: Great Britain granted a constitution to the Ionian Islands, creating a United state of the Ionian Islands under English protection. Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Maitland, governor of Malta, was appointed Lord High commissioner of the Ionian islands.

Ionian State postage stamp (1859) with profile of Queen Victoria

1821: Although its status as a protectorate strictly forbade it, the inhabitants of Paxos took part in the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire that broke out that year.
23-year old captain Georgios Anemogiannis, captain is the pricipal Paxiote hero of the Greek war of independence. He was captured in Nafpaktos (Lepanto) and executed by the Turks in his attempt to burn down the Ottoman navy.

Bronze statue of Georgios Anemoyiannis, Paxiot hero of the Greek War of Independence by Nikola Pavlopoulos, erected in Gaios in 1966.

1864: With the Treaty of London signed by Greece, Britain, France and Russia the islands are ceded to the Greek Kingdom under King George I. The Paxiote representatives at the Ionian Parliament, Ioannis Velliannitis and Dimitris Makris, voted for unification on 21 May 1864.

The British Governor’s house in Gaios was built in the 1840s.

1912-22: Many Paxiotes take part in the Balkan Wars and later the disastrous campaign in Asia Minor in 1922. The first Anatolian refugees arrive on the island after 1922.

1923: Paxos is occupied along with Corfu for a month by the Italian army in retaliation to the assassination of Italian general Tellini on the Greek-Albanian border.

Italian postage stamp issued during the 1923 occupation of Corfu and Paxos.

1941-44: After the Greek surrender to the Axis powers Paxos and Corfu were occupied by the Italians until 1943 and then by the Germans after Italy switched sides in the war. Italian soldiers were rescued by Paxiotes after the German take-over. Occupation was harsh. Paxiotes survived by shipping olive oil secretly at night to Epirus in exchange for wheat, maize and barley. The Germans evacuated the island in October 1944.

Italian occupation of Paxos postage stamp (1941-43)

1949: First high school estblidhed on the island

1956: The public library of the Social Welfare Foundation of Paxos is founded.

1964: Electricity arrives on the island

1981: The Paxos Sports Club is founded

1984: The Lyceum of Paxos is estabished.

1996: The Radio Station of the Cultural Association of Paxos starts transmitting and the Folk Museum celebrates its official opening.

1998: A new High School and Lyceum are inaugurated in Bogdanatika. The five Paxos municipalities are abolished and the island becomes a unified municipality under its first mayor Nikolaos Nikolouzos.

1999: Paxos becomes member of the Cultural Villages of Europe network.

2002: Second mayor of Paxos, Spyros Bogdanos, is elected (and re-elected until 2014).

2004: Paxos as "Cultural Village of Europe" celebrates by hosting a series of cultural events during the summer and fall of 2004.

2008: The first municipal music school starts functioning.

2009: The new School center in Bogdanatika is officially inaugurated hosting all school children from the age of 4 to the age of 18. The Paxos Spring Festival is awarded first prize for the best peripheral music festival in Greece by the Hellenic Association of Theater and Music Critics.

2010: The 9th Panionion (Ionian island) Conference is held in Paxos for the first time.

2014: Election of the third mayor of Paxos, Spyros Vlahopoulos.

2015: Founding of the society of the Friends of Paxos.

Friends of Paxos meeting with Carlo Gracci, Charles Myara, Martine Berthélémé, Chris Boïcos, Yves Berthélémé, Donatella Bruni and Faye Lychnou, Gaios, summer of 2015.