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Archaeologists have located as many as a dozen sites dating from the Early Helladic II period (2800 to 2300 bc) mostly on headlands and promontories around the coast of the island, showing that Hydra was substantially settled in prehistory. The main, proto-urban centre in this period was on the plateau of Episkopi. In Late Mycenaean times the island was an outpost protecting and supplying the maritime trade-routes to the centres of the Gulf of Argos, with a fortified citadel above Vlychos and a supply station near Cape Bisti. There are few references to Hydra in early historic times, apart from a mention in Herodotus (III, 58.) which states that the island was purchased in around 526 bc from the people of the mainland city of Hermione by a detachment of exiled Samians, opposed to the rule of Polycrates. Insufficient water may have been the reason for the island’s lack of settlement in later antiquity. In view of this it is curious that the names ‘Hydra’ and ‘Hydrea’ in Antiquity, clearly cognate with the ancient Greek word for water, ‘υδωρ’, should have been given to an island with exceptionally little water. Evidence of prehistoric works to store and manage water at a site near Cape Bisti (see below) suggest that water was probably once more abundant than now. But even the presence of minimal fresh water on the island may have had a greater significance than usual on Hydra in antiquity, because the island served as a point of replenishment for boats on the sea routes in this area. This may be how it earned the name it now possesses.
During the 16th and 17th centuries refugees from Turk ish rule in mainland Greece, of mainly Christian Albanian descent, settled on the island. On Hydra, they became practically self-governing, paying no taxes but supplying sailors to the Turkish fleet. In the late 18th century their merchant fleet grew rapidly and prospered on the trade of corn from the Black Sea, which Hydriot ships supplied to French markets by skillfully breaking the British block ade imposed during the Napoleonic Wars. By the time of the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, Hydra had a population of over 30,000 people, and one of the largest merchant fleets in the Aegean. Just as in Chios, the council of elders that governed the affairs of the is land at first vacillated at the outbreak of the revolutionary war, wary of imperilling their considerable prosperity and concessions from the Ottoman authorities in exchange for an uncertain future. But with the leadership of Lazaros Koundouriotis, however, who converted his fleet of trading vessels into men-of-war at his own expense, Hydra be came the largest force in the Greek revolutionary navy and a fundamental contributor in the struggle for independence. Among the many Hydriot naval commanders of the war were Iakovos Tombazis, Anastasios Tsamados, Dimitrios Voulgaris and Andreas Miaoulis, the commander-in chief. The war resulted in independence for Greece; but it caused the depletion of Hydra’s wealth, resources and manpower. A further economic blow came with the arrival of steamship transport which rendered obsolete what remained of the Hydriot sailing fleet. The commercial activity of the Aegean moved to other islands, Syros and Andros, and Hydra never recovered, suffering an unrelenting emigration of its population through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The fine urban, architectural heritage of the years of prosperity was little by little abandoned. Only recently has tourism and new settlement, attracted by the island’s tranquillity, begun to redress the balance, leading to the restoration of many of the buildings.
Hydra Island is part of the Argosaronic Island group
History of Hydra