History & Culture of Halkidiki
Many of its distinctive features were known in ancient time and many tried to find explanations for them. Greek mythology often refers to Halkidiki. The earthquake giant, called Enceladus, is buried in Kassandra. Athos has been reformed by the rock that Enceladus threw against the Gods. Sithonia was named after Sithon, the son of the god of the sea, Poseidon, and Mount Athos owes its name to the giant Athos, who threw an enormous rock at Zeus but missed him. “Myths”, someone will say. However, they suggest the effort that was made to interpret the peculiarities of this place, way back from the ancient times. In any event, scientific research has shown that the geomorphology of the paleontologic Halkidiki was rather different from the one that it is today. The flora and fauna was definitely different. The fossil relics of elephantoid and other species, which have been found in Nikiti and have been traced in Vrasta, in Triglia and elsewhere, are witnesses from another era that probably mankind never met. Furthermore, the findings in the Petralona Cave proved that the human presence begins more than 700,000 years ago, while the skull of the ancient man is about 200,000 years old. Establishments of an organized society in Halkidiki are dated in 4000 BC and its oldest habitants were the Thracians and Pelasgians.
In the 8th century BC, a great number of habitants arrived at the region, mainly originated from Halkida (thus Halkidiki) and Eretria. In the 5th century BC, the most important cities were Aineia, Gigonos, Lipaxos, Potidaia, Sani, Mendi, Skioni, Aigai, Neapolis, Afitis, Olynthus, Sermili, Galipsos, Toroni, Sarti, Siggos, Piloros, Dion, Kleonai, Olofixos, Akathos, Stagira, Apollonia, Arnaia and Anthemous. Many of these represent the succession of the prehistoric settlements, which existed in the same geographical position. By the end of the 5th century BC, the most important 32 cities create, under the kingdom of Olynthus, the “public of Halkidians”, which will be dissolved in 379 BC by the Spartans. In 348 BC, Philip integrates the region into the Macedonian Kingdom. In the Hellenistic years, three great cities are being established: Kassandreia (315), Ouranoupolis (315) and Antigoneia (in the middle of Kalamaria in 280 BC). In 168 BC, the Romans took control of the Macedonian Kingdom, and its decline began as all the cities came mainly under the control of the Roman merchants.
Christianism was introduced to Halkidiki in 50 AD (when Apostle Paul went from Philippous to Thessaloniki through Apollonia). During the Christian centuries, Halkidiki underwent many disastrous intrusions, such as from the Goths (269), the Huns (6th century) and the Catalans (1307). During the 9th century, the monastic state of Mount Athos was organized. In 855, Basil I the Macedonian decreed with a golden bull “the rest silent and calm live the monks” till the end of the century. During the 10th century, a crowd of monastery founders gathered in Karyes. In 963, the Monastery of M. Lavra is built and later on all the other 19 Monasteries. Since then, the Saint State represented a unique world. It was a place of mystery, hard exercise and mental orientation, which managed to preserve all the valuable treasure, to cultivate the Greek Christian education and to help the national conscience in the difficult moments that the nation was facing. After the 10th century, the biggest part of the cultivated land came to the property of Mount Athos Monks. (“Metohia”). From these settlements, many villages were established and developed along the old ones. After the 12th century, within the framework of the administrative reformation, the region was divided in the so-called “kapetanikia”: Kalamaria, Ermileia, Ierissos, Kassandreia and Loggos. In the middle of the 14th century, a large part of Halkidiki was under the control of the Serbian state, while Kassandra, before its enslavement to the Turks, was under the Venetian domination.
In 1430, Halkidiki was enslaved to the Turks and became part of the county of Thessaloniki. It was divided in three financial prefectures: Kassandra, which was limited to the natural boundaries of the Peninsula, Hasikohoria, which included “all the cultivated land and all the mountains that extended to the Toronaio and the Thermaic Gulf” and finally the Mandemohoria. Mount Athos was, of course, an independent region. Despite the special privileges of every prefecture, during that time the habitants of Halkidiki suffered a great deal, as all the Greeks did, because of the oppressive Turkish domination. However, they did not lose either their faith or their national conscience. By the end of the 18th century, all the prefectures began to develop (increase of the wheat production, silk growing, cattle breeding). Because of this prosperity, the seaside villages faced many pirate raids. In 1775, in Mandemohoria, the Gate entrusted the exploitation of the silver mines to the 12 big villages of the region – to the “Public of Mademians” – and thus a new expanded silver mine association was created with its own communal administration. In May 1821, under the leadership of Emmanouil Papa, it rose unsuccessfully against the Turks and was completely destroyed. However, it would strengthen again, and in 1854 it will be shaken by a new revolution under Tsiamis Karatasos. The revolutionary climate came to Halkidiki in 1878, but the Turks had already taken their measures and the movement was put off. In the beginning of our century, Halkidiki took part in the Macedonian Battle. Many habitants of Halkidiki not only participated as Macedonian fighters, but they also created smaller corps to fight against the guerillas. The desired freedom would come eventually in October, 1912. Finally, in 1922, after the establishment of thousands of refugees from the Asia Minor, a new phase began in the history of Halkidiki. Next to the local villages, 27 new villages were established and their contribution to the economical and cultural evolution of Halkidiki was of great importance.