Helena (Islands) 33 Makronisi - Ελένη

Ἑλένη - Helena, island, the modern Makronisi, Attica Greece

Modern description McGilchrist's Greek Islands

Makrónisos, lying parallel to the southeastern Attic coast at a distance of 4–5km, in the channel between Lavrion and Kea, is aptly named ‘Makros Nisos', ‘long island': it is low, rocky and tree-less, extending 12.5km in length against only 1,000–1,500m in width. It was called Helena in Antiquity because of the tradition that Paris and Helen stopped on the island on their journey from Sparta to Troy. The island has no good harbours and must always have had little fresh water; notwithstanding, settlers came in small numbers in the mid 3rd millennium BC, leaving evidence of their dwellings and burials on the northwest coast, at the locality referred to as Leontari. In historic times the island's use is linked closely with the Attic coast because it possessed argentiferous metal ores, albeit in much smaller quantities than at Lavrion and Thorikos on the mainland opposite. In the mid 19th century, quantities of scoriae from ancient metal-working were observed on Makrónisos, until they were removed later for re-smelting with more refined modern technology.
In 1946 at the outbreak of civil war in Greece, Makrónisos became the principal prison camp for the detention of ‘enemies of the State', which covered left-wing sympathisers or activists, and a variety of hapless ethnic or religious minorities. Many of the political prisoners had been resistance fighters against German occupation in the Second World War; they now found themselves the first victims of the Cold War—abused prisoners of their fellow countryman. The camp was closed in 1953, but reopened during the period of the Military Junta from 1967–74. The ruins of the camp, and of the church of Aghios Antonios which was built by the prisoners for the first commandant, Antonios Vasilopoulos, are now preserved monuments.


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