By George E. Georgas
English translation from Greek by Aggelos Pilidis
Kythira, the eye of Crete. During the 10th century the island was uninhabited due to the raids of the Arabs of the Emirate of Crete, that were using it as their base. When the Emirate of Crete was destroyed by the army of the Roman Emperor Nikephoros Phokas, the island remained uninhabited until Saint Theodore arrived and stayed alone in the abandoned monastery of Saints Sergios and Bakchos, until he rested in peace. A few years later, hunters from Sparta and Monemvasia found the holy relic of the Saint by miracle, and then the island started being inhabited by people from those places, that settled in its northern part and gradually spread towards the south. The island was under the jurisdiction of the Commander of Sparta, that built Saint Theodore’s monastery. Later the island came into the jurisdiction of the Eudemogianides family of Monemvasia, whose provinces were more autonomous compared to other provinces of the Empire.
If one travels the area, they will find the ruins of the large fortress-town of Kythira, named Palaiochora and was the island’s main city until its razing by captain Barbarossa.
That is curious, since there are many villages and settlements located far away from Palaiochora. The inhabitants would have to travel many miles before they would reach the castle’s protection. That would lead us to conclude that they were unprotected, but they weren’t. Each village and settlement, no matter how small, had at its center or very close by a church. Like for example the settlement Georgadika, located close to Logothetianika in Northern Kythira, built by Spartans (from the Georgas family) that came during the first wave of settlers after the miraculous appearance of the relic of Saint Theodore to the hunters. The Australian Paliochora-Kythera Archaeological Survey has counted 88 churches-lookouts, 38 of which were built before 1537.
The churches were built in places that couldn’t be seen from the sea, and were fortified with towers and battlements. Each church, aside from a place of worship, was also a lookout for possible raids, while they were used as shelters in times of war. These churches are dedicated to military and healing saints.
The people of Kythira believed their saints would protect them from the raids and the churches are spread throughout the island so they can communicate with each other. This way, if a landing took place, the nearby villages quickly found out and took the necessary actions to prevent the worst. That original fortified network was later successfully used by the Venetians for centuries. Even in the great raid of Barbarossa, many of the people of Kythira were saved by that system.
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