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Just like many other parts of Greece, the island of Skiathos has a history of outside rule. And as many other islands throughout the Aegean, there is the familiar refrain of settlement, development of the town, invasion, defeat, new settlement... All those events have lead to the building of defensive settlements. The Kastro, built on an impregnable hilltop, is only one example.
Skiathos was colonized by Thracians in prehistoric time , then by Cretans in the 16th century B.C. ,who introduced the vine and olives to Skiathos, which today is (apart from the tourism) the main industry of the island. In the 7th century B.C. , the Chalkidians settled here and the island became a strategically important place in the Persian Wars in the 5th century B.C. and played a great role by being a watch-out post and giving signals to the other Greeks about the moves of the enemy. The Chalkidians also developed the first town of Skiathos on the east side of the port and used the island as a naval basis for their fleet. During this time, the island actually had two major towns, the other one was a small city next to Xanemon beach toward the north.
In 481 B.C. the Persian king Xerxes's fleet was preparing to attack the outnumbered Greek fleet laying in the northern Euoboea. He stationed his ships along the coast opposite of Skiathos. Overnight a terrible storm blew, 400 ships were lost and King Xerxes was forced to make stop at what today is known as Xerxes beach, to repair what was left of his fleet. On a reef between Skiathos an the mainland, you can see the remains of a stone column. This was thought to be the world's first lighthouse, built by Xerxes, so he could move his ships by night and avoid being seen.
When the Persians finally withdrew from Greece, Skiathos enlisted in the Athenian Naval federation in 476 B.C.
In 378 B.C. the Second Athenian Alliance was created and Skiathos once again became an ally of Athens. Later on, the island was passed into the hands of the Macedonians, but always remained on friendly terms with Athens.
Until the Romans regained control over Skiathos again in 146 B.C. , it was invaded by Mithridates, Attalos, the Rhodians, and Philipp III and, due to all the change and uncertainty, became a heaven for pirates.
42 B.C. the island was returned to Athens as a gift from the Romans and became self-governing under Septimus Severus. At that time, the island, known for its outstanding wine, was wealthy enough to have its own currency and enjoyed relative freedom.
330 A.D. Skiathos fell under Byzantine control. The next two hundred years of this period were fraught with pirate attacks, forcing the whole population of the island to seek security in the Kastro. When the Sporades suffered great poverty in 1207 , Skiathos was seized by the Franks and given to the oppressive house of the venetian Gyzis, who then built the Bourtzi to defeat the island against pirates. This was of only short success and under Phillip Gyzi the island degenerated into the headquarters of a band of pirates. In 1276 however, the Byzantine fleet managed to chase them away and and until 1453 when Constantinople fell in the hands of the Turks, the island stayed under Byzantine rule. But nevertheless, Pirate raids were still plaguing Skiathos and the surrounding islands so the people of Skiathos tried to protect themselves and built a fortress on an impregnable hilltop, overlooking the sea, while not being seen from the sea at the same time: the Kastro, which became the island's capitol until 1862 .
In 1538 the island was invaded by Turks under the infamous admiral Barbarossa. After defending themselves for a week, the people of Skiathos could no longer resist and the Turks stormed the Kastro, killing men, women and children. Under the strict Turkish rule and with many refugees from the mainland, Skiathos was totally impoverished.
During the General Uprising of 1821 , Skiathos participated and the Monastery of Evangelistria played an important role in providing safety and support for many famous warriors of that time. Many meetings of the pre-revolutionary generals were held here and it is supposed to be the place, where the first flag of Greece was designed and blessed in 1807 . After the liberation of Greece in 1829 , the people left Kastro and started to built Skiathos Town in its present site and in 1862 Kastro was totally abandoned and everybody had moved to the town by the port.
In WWII , Skiathos became a staging post for allied troops, which followed the same route Xerxes used over a thousand years earlier and were cut off by the Germans. They were shipped to the island and hidden in the Kastro to wait for boats to Turkey. In the war, the island was burned down so today most of Skiathos Town is new though very few of the original buildings still remain.
The last bigger change for the island was the invasion of the tourists. Starting in the 1960s , more and more people came to visit Skiathos. Hotels, Villas and an airport followed. The first charter flight was not until 1983 though. Many of the early tourists fell in love with the island and stayed, adding their names to a long list of settlers through the centuries. Until then, the island's economy was based only on agriculture. Today, Skiathos is the most cosmopolitan island in the Sporades and has some of the best beaches not only of Greece but of the Mediterranean.
Despite all the change in who ruled the island, Skiathos is one of the few Greek island that has (as far as we know) always kept its name. It's not known, where the name comes from, but there are two theories. One is, that the name Skiathos comes from the Greek word 'Skia” which stands for 'shadow' and refers either to the many trees on the island or the fact, that it lies in the shadow of the mountains of Pelion. According to the other theory, the name was given to the island by its very first inhabitants and is pre-Greek.