IN SEARCH OF MY CASSIE HERITAGE

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BRIEF OVERVIEW OF CASTELLORIZO

GEOGRAPHICAL:

Various spellings of the Island are observed in English books. They include Kastelorizo, Kastellorizo, Kastellorizon, Castelrosso, Castellorizo and Castelorizo. The island was previously known as Megiste or Megisti. The name is the corruption of ‘Chateau-Roux’ (Red Castle). It is the smallest of the Dodecanese Islands, known previously as the Southern Sporades.

Lithograph of Castellorizo During the Time of the Siege by Morosini

Castellorizo is located 110 kilometres (65 miles) east of Rhodes and approximately 2 kilometres (1 mile) from the coast of Turkey. The island is situated at latitude 36 degrees and 8 minutes north, and longitude 29 degrees and 34 minutes east.

The island is triangular shaped and an area of almost 9 square kilometres (approximately 3 square miles). The longest point is just over 5 kilometres and the widest point 2.5 kilometres. The highest point is Vigla at a height of 268 metres at the northern end of the island.

The coastline is precipitous and accessible only on the east side of the island, the site of the one village, Castellorizo. The ground is scorched and barren and consists mainly of hard limestone.

FEATURES:

A beautiful harbour fringed by red roofed houses is the setting of this ancient town. A red castle on the hill built in the early 1300s by Sosicles Nikagoras and occupied by the Knights of St John in 1306 still stands. The Church of St Constantine and St Helene has two Corinthian granite columns from the Temple of Apollo in Patara. These columns were brought over from Turkey when the large white church was built in 1835.

The Church of St George of the Mountains has one of the oldest icons in Christendom and dates from 450-480 AD. The silver bas-relief of St George slaying the dragon represents the brave knight who is said to have once sojourned on Castellorizo. The war blasted ruins of St Nicholas Church and the Church of St John are also found on the island.

The famous Blue Grotto (Fokiali) is 150 metres long, 80 metres wide and the ceiling up to 35 metres high.

Lithograph of the Castle of Aghois Nikolaos - Castel Rosso

POPULATION:

The population of Castellorizo in 1981 was 222. At the turn of the century estimates of 13,000 to 14,000 inhabitants have been documented but realistically was never more than approximately 10,000 persons. Most of the people emigrated to North America or Australia during the early twentieth century and by the commencement of World War One the population had dropped to under 4,000. During World War Two the population was about 1,200 and in 1948 the total was 663.

EARLY HISTORY:

In 300BC the inhabitants of Castellorizo helped the Athenians fight the Persians and since that time has a long and chequered history of invasions and conquests. During the years surrounding the birth of Christ the island was controlled by Rhodes.

The Knights of St John (Medieval Knights of Rhodes) occupied the red stoned crusader castle from 1306 until 1440 when they were driven off by Djemal ed Din (Sultan of Egypt) who destroyed the castle. It was rebuilt 10 years later when the King of Naples removed the Egyptians. A Spaniard, Ferninand de Eventia, rebuilt the castle and also built seven smaller gold castles.

Turkey took the island in 1480 but the inhabitants had fled to Rhodes and Crete. They returned after the withdrawal of Turkey but the Dodecanese Islands later fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1522 and the area remained under Turkish control until 1912, except for brief intervals between.

Map of the Island Castellorizo c1552 - Then Known as Megiste

The island established a settlement on the Turkish mainland at the site of the ancient Greek city of Antiphellus and many Castellorizians lived there.

Italy occupied the island in 1912 during the war with Turkey . The people initially greeted this with joy after so many years under Turkish rule. But the Italians had no intentions of giving the island any freedom and the French captured Castellorizo during World War One.

MODERN HISTORY:

During World War One the whole of the island’s shipping fleet was sold to the British for use in the Dardenelles campaign. In 1923 the island was given to Italy. This accelerated the migration from Castellorizo with many families moving to Australia. Many earlier families had migrated both to United States of America and Australia but post war migration was mostly to this country.

Castellorizo During the Golden Age - 1908 to 1917

In 1941 600 British Commandos captured the island and liberated the Greeks from the Italians. The British stayed for two days. Two Italian warships supported by bombers recaptured the island and it was occupied by 500 Italian troops. Italy capitulated in the war (1943) and British troops returned to the island. Castellorizo was then bombed by the Germans with exceptional severity and was eventually evacuated by the 1,200 islanders to Cyprus, then later to Alexandria.

After the war people commenced to return to the Island but found it almost destroyed. It was burnt out and badly bomb damaged.

In 1947 the British handed the island to the Greek Military Commander and Castellorizo was officially united with Greece in 1948. However many of the pre-war residents had migrated to Rhodes, Australia and Athens when confronted with the ruins of six years war and destruction by both the Axis and Allied Forces. The island never recovered from all the destruction, pilfering, fires and bombing of World War Two. Many former residents and their descendants visit the island today as tourists to admire the remnants of what was a once thriving and prosperous community.

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