A Legend of the Maritimes, Hydra, Greece

Hydra has its own measure of fame and is a favourite with tourists. It is one of the most picturesque of the Greek islands because of the amphitheatrical view of its town which, upon first seeing it as you enter the tiny port, a small exclamation of wonder escapes you.

A scenic view of Hydra

A scenic view of Hydra

Its tall, stone houses, the famous mansions of Hydriot captains, with their grey austerity, go steeply upwards, as do the tall, stone walls that enclose the rock gardens from which tufts of sundry plants and bougainvillea can be seen escaping and are the only notes of green and fuchsia in an otherwise bare environment. The narrow, helical lanes that only donkeys can manoeuvre for transport of any kind, cannot be seen from a distance or from the harbor. You have to guess that they’re there, and that adds a certain element of charm, but only after you have exercised the muscles of your legs.

 I suppose that Hydra suffered much from the pirate raids in the past, but the time finally arrived when the island evolved into a great nautical power, especially towards the end of the 18th century. Due to the good relations it had with the Admiral Pasha of the Ottoman fleet, which depended a great deal on Hydriot expertise, the Sultan guaranteed them autonomy and a semblance of peace and quiet, even while they were constantly at battle with the pirates that delved the seas of the Eastern Mediterranean, managing to keep the general area to the tip of the Southern Peloponnese under control. As much as they could, of course.

The harbour of Hydra

The harbour of Hydra

 They did manage to amass a great deal of money, reaching a peak in their riches by exploiting the Anglo-French conflict during the Napoleonic wars, when they managed to break through the embargo imposed by the English on the ports of French territories by importing grain. That is when they became the masters of the sea routes of the Mediterranean, the first nautical power in Greece and, in their homes, the Hydriot ladies tastefully combined French couture with local dress, and the harbour seethed with commerce just as it seethes today with tourists.

Painters from all over the world have made a favorite dwelling of Hydra, actually making it one of the most frequently depicted islands in Greece.

Nothing remotely resembling a glitzy who’s who parade here: life flows on in a simple and authentic way, inspired by the naturalness of the environment. There is really no other way: between the incomparable azure of the Greek sea and the somber grey-stone mansions, below a sky of immaculate blue, beauty in its most pure and unadorned form is something few can resist.

An excerpt from the book: GREECE, The Dance of the Seas

Traffic in the port of Hydra

Traffic in the port of Hydra

Barbara Athanassiadis