1. Location and name

Agathonisi is one of the Dodecanese group islands, located 8 miles away from the Asia Minor coasts. Its shape resembles a donkey; this is why the island was previously called Gaidouronisi (donkey island) or Gaidaros (donkey). In ancient times, it was called Hyetoussa. Thucydides called it Tragaea, while Strabo called the island and the surrounding skerries Tragaeae islands. It was given its contemporary name 50 years ago. All of its residents actually signed the text for renaming the island.

2. Historical retrospection

Tragaea was the home of peripatetic philosopher Theogitus, a student of Aristotle, who also taught in Athens. Thanks to its location the island witnessed several naval battles, like the naval battle of Lade between the Persians and the Ionian rebels in 494 BC. According to Plutarch, Julius Caesar was captured by the island’s pirates and transferred on the nearby Farmakonisi islet in 74 BC, while sailing from Italy to the coasts of Asia Minor. Agathonisi probably became a place for exiles in Byzantine times.

In 1088, the Patmos monastery was granted Agathonisi with emperor Alexios Komnenos’s chrysobull for monk Christodoulos Latrinos, founder of the monastery. Up to the 14th century, the island was a pirate lair. In 1522, it came under Ottoman rule. On April 29th, 1912, the Italians took it over along with the rest of the Dodecanese and kept it until September 8th, 1943, when it came under German control. On March 7th, 1948, it was integrated into Greece along with the rest of the Dodecanese. Up to 1954, it still belonged to Patmos, but then it became an independent community.

3. The vaults

On Agathonisi there are the unique “vaults”, 11th century Byzantine buildings with air ducts on their roofs, which were used as storerooms, probably for food. Behind the Ai-Nicolas chapel, there is the “votsos”, a large precipice communicating with both ends of the island with underground lodges.

4. Agathonisi today

Megalo Chorio is the island’s largest and oldest settlement. It was build out of sight from sea in order to be protected from pirates. The other two settlements, Agios Georgios and Mikro Chorio have 15 residents each. Agathonisi has been included in the Natura 2000 protected areas as a rare birds’ sanctuary.

Its residents occupy themselves mostly with fishing and stock farming. Fresh fish, the delicious fava soup (fliskoukoudi) and the local wine are the island’s specialties. At Easter, the lamb is not skewered as in other places, but is stuffed with rice and roast in the oven. In the summertime, there is a daily ship service to Leros, Patmos and Samos, while there is also a heliport.

5. A local legend

It is said that some years ago, a ship headed for Samos sank, and a woman drowned with her child. The residents are said to have buried them in the deserted limekiln at the Katholiko bay, without performing a proper ceremonial service. Ever since, it is rumoured that a female figure appears at night mourning, while the limekiln is said to have an unusual glow on some dark moonless nights.