The name ‘Skiá-' (shadow) ‘-athos' (Mount Athos) is believed to refer to the fact that, at the time of the summer solstice, the shadow cast from the pinnacle of Mount Athos, 130 km (80 miles) to the northeast, by the rising sun is said to touch the island of Skiathos. The deserted Byzantine settlement of Kastro, on a pinnacle of rock overlooking the sea at the northernmost point of the island, is a magnificent and dramatic site, which alone justifies a journey to the island. Inland of Kastro is the ruined Hellenistic tower at Gourniá. There is the Monastery of the Evangelistria, which is of interest both for its fine catholicon and for its historical associations; the painted church of the Panaghia Kounistra, in the south of the island; as well as many other chapels and peaceful hermitages in the hills of the interior. In addition to the celebrated beaches of the island are the less visited ones which are often of greater beauty: Aghia Eleni in the west and – more difficult of access – the bays of Kechriá and Ligariés, to the north.
Settlers allegedly from Caria, followed later by Thessalians, were the first stable inhabitants of the island. In the 7th century BC colonists from Chalcis in Euboea arrived and later founded a coastal settlement on the Kephala peninsula in the northeast corner of the island, known as ‘Palaiskiathos'. In Classical times a second city succeeded it, with a new site on the low hill in the south west of modern Skiathos town, which controlled the bay and its double-port. Sections of the 4th century enceinte of walls are all that remain of this city. Skiathos played its part during the Second Persian War providing solid Greek support at a geographically strategic point on the enemy's route south, and relaying vital information signals. In the waters off the island, three Greek guardships of the fleet at Artemision were surprised by a squadron of Xerxes's fleet (providing Herodotus with one of his most realistic details – the capture of the wounded captain, Pytheas of Aegina, who was spared for his valour and later rescued at Salamis. Hist. VII, 181). At the same time, three ships of the Persian advance-guard ran aground on a reef, which Herodotus calls ‘the Ant', between Skiathos and the mainland of Magnesia, which the Persians subsequently marked with a stone beacon. Skiathos joined the Delian League after the war (paying a tribute of 1,000 drachmas) and became in effect a subject ally of Athens. After the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, the island passed under Macedonian rule, and was later devastated by Philip V of Macedon in 220 BC. Freed by Rome in 197 BC, it was gifted to Athens in acknowledgement of her help, by Mark Anthony after the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC.
In Byzantine times, Skiathos belonged to the theme of Macedonia. In 1204, after the 4th Crusade, the island came under the possession of the Ghisi family together with the other Sporades islands. In 1276 they were driven out by the Byzantine fleet. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the inhabitants sought the protection of the Venetian Republic, which governed the island until it was captured for the Turks by Khaireddin Barbarossa in 1538. Skiathos subsequently was all but deserted: habitation hesitantly returned to Kastro in the 17th century, but then later transferred to the site of the ancient town only in the relative security of the 19th century. The island became part of the newly formed Greek State in 1830. Skiathos was the home of the novelists Alexander Papadiamantis and Alexander Moraitidis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During the Second World War, Skiathos was a crucial place of refuge for retreating Allied troops (New Zealanders in majority) who had been cut off by the German advance through Greece. Many sought safety at Kastro, while waiting for boats to take them to Turkey. Later the town of Skiathos suffered a torching by retreating German troops: hence the prevailing modernity of its architecture. Between the church of Aghia Triada and the cemetery is the hill of the ancient acropolis, of which there are only scattered remains – no more than a few single marble pieces scattered in the area of pine trees just above the cemetery and on the edge of the car-park below. To the west a once fortified escarpment drops to the sea.
The pine-clad rocky promontory of Bourtzi, which juts out into the bay in front of Skiathos Chora, today divides the port into two: to the north is the featureless modern port where the ferries dock, and to the west is the more attractive old port, which is used for fishing boats and other small craft. In antiquity the promontory would have been an island; it still was at the time that the Ghisi brothers, established their dominion over the island in the early 13th century by building a fortress here. The rise is now crowned by a neoclassical building – slightly out of proportion to its site – which was formerly a Gymnasion or High School, and today is used as a ‘Cultural Centre'. On the grassy slope above the causeway there are a few ancient stones, a couple of which, unusually, still possess their bronze clamps in situ. Bourtzi is sometimes referred to in older writings as the “Castle of Aghios Giorgios”: the church to St. George, which once occupied this site, is now gone, but these pieces of antiquity may have been amongst the stones brought from the ancient town and incorporated in the church's structure when it was built. Beside the causeway are monuments to Papadiamantis and Moraitidis, the island's most famous men of letters.Wikidata ID: Q7534982
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)