Were it not for the fame of the unexpectedly rich finds that were made at the underwater site of a shipwreck which occurred in the 1st century BC off the northeast coast of Antikythera and gave the world the life-size bronze figure known as the Antikythera Ephebe, as well as a remarkable clock-like machine, the earliest surviving astronomical computer in history, this island would be even more unknown and unvisited than it presently is. With around 40 permanent inhabitants, (currently) no hotel, no taxi, no bus, no taverna, nor even a dedicated kafeneion, the island is not an obvious holiday destination. But it makes an unforgettable – and not difficult – visit for anyone interested in peace and quiet, undisturbed archaeological remains, or ornithology. Antikythera is a little over 8 km in length and just under 3 km in width; in the centre of its west coast, Mt. Plagara rises to a peak of 378m. Fresh water is not plentiful, and the fertility of the land is limited. Its inhabitants, who call the island “Lïi” (Lioi – a corruption of ‘Aigilioi') are of Cretan origin, with Cretan manners and Cretan names.
Antikythera was a vital stepping stone on the route from Bronze Age Crete to Kythera and the mainland beyond, but little evidence of Minoan settlement has come to light so far. The island appears seldom in ancient sources, though Plutarch in his Parallel Lives (Cleomenes, 31.1) states that Cleomenes III, king of Sparta, after his defeat by Antigonus III of Macedonia at the Battle of Sellasia in 222 BC stopped on Aegilia on his way into exile in Egypt. At that time the island's Hellenistic city must have had a population of perhaps as many as 750-1,000 inhabitants. The island was probably under the authority of Phalarsana on the west coast of Crete. For much of its history, however, Antikythera appears to have been a base for pirates: Rhodian warships were engaged against them at the end of the 3rd century BC and may have razed the city in that campaign. Later, Roman forces under Pompey in the 1st century BC finally succeeded in eradicating piracy. It was at, or just before, the time of these Roman campaigns that the ship with a cargo of stone and bronze sculptures, amphorae and other objects, foundered and sunk off the northeast coast of the island. Known as the ‘Antikythera Shipwreck', its discovery in 1900 and its celebrated finds mark the beginnings of the fruitful science of submarine archaeology.
The island's principal village, Potamos, is clustered in the valley and on the hillside behind the port; its name (meaning “river”) derives from the presence of the only constant source of flowing water on the island.
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)