The Island's History
The island, which has been inhabited since antiquity, flourished from the 10th to the 5th century BC. Pelasgi, Kares, Durians and Phoenicians all resided on the island at different times. Throughout antiquity, the island was divided into 30 municipalities and formed an alliance with Rhodes from an early stage. (Peloponnesian war 412 BC)
In ancient times, the island supported up to 7000 people, and grew two corps of wheat every year, in small stone-enclosed fields. Halki was also a producer of copper, which is supposed to account for its name- from the Greek “halkos” for “copper”.
Later centuries saw occupation by successive imperial powers, notably the Arabs in the 7th century AC, and later the Venetians in 1204. In the 14th century the Knights of Rhodes granted Halki to the Assanti Family as a fief. The family built their Castle above the ruins of an ancient fortressed acropolis. Further downhill, at Trahia, ruins possibly from a prehistoric settlement as well as classical and Hellenistic walls have been discovered.
In the Medieval and later times the threat of pirates forced the inhabitants to live far from the sea, up in the mountains at Horio. By the early 19th Century, when the pirate problem had receded most people had moved down to build their houses in the lovely amphitheatre of Emborio which we know today, leaving the old houses of Horio to fall into ruin.
From the mid-19th century onwards, although under Turkish domination, Halki reached the golden age of prosperity. Along with Symi, Kalymnos and Kastellorizo the islands developed their trade, sponge fishing and considerably increased the population’s intellectual and financial status. Unfortunately, in the final years of Turkish rule and during Italian domination the privileged rights once given to the island were removed, trade and sponge fishing took a hit and the “bleeding” of the population started with successive waves of emigration, the greatest in 1911-2 to Tarpon Springs Florida, where sponge fishing could be continued. The Italians had assumed control of the Dodecanese in 1911 and later on Mussolini in particular had grandiose plans. Halki owes its Post office and Police station to the Italian building programme. The imposition of Italian schooling produced than many bilingual Greeks. Halki’s integration with the rest of Greece took place in 1948.
Further losses, mainly of young people, in the 1950’s meant that the community was dying – from the 3000 people in the 19th century to a couple of hundreds at most. So the beautiful houses of Emborio felt into ruin as well.
However no Greek ever forget his roots. The residents of Tarpon Springs Florida endowed Halki with money for its clock tower at first and more lately for building the road to St John Monastery.
The island currently has 250 permanent residents which occupy themselves recently also with tourism, a field which developed when the appropriate infrastructure was created and the island was declared the worldwide centre of piece and friendship.