1. Location and Appellation of Makronisos

Makronisos, or ‘Helen’s Island’, lies off the SE coast of Attica, stretching out parallel at a distance of 5 km approximately. It is an arid and barren island with an area of 18 km2, taking its name from its characteristic elongated shape. Its second name, ‘Helen’s Island’, is derived from a myth according to which Paris hid Helen of Troy in a cave on the island's northern part.

2. Makronisos in Antiquity

Makronisos was already inhabited during the Early Cycladic Period. A settlement dating to about 2500 BC has been discovered in the area of Lionari (Provatsia). Prehistoric graves and other ancient remains (pottery shards, obsidian tools) have been identified in various places of the island, while traces of buildings and graves of the Classical Period survive in the Agios Georgios area. Finally, the island is scattered with tunnels for mining metals dating from the Antiquity, but also from the Modern period.

3. Makronisos as a place of exile

During the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), a prisoner camp was established on the island. Following the expulsion of Greek-Orthodox population from Asia Minor (1922), refugees were settled here for a period of six months, before being forwarded to other regions.

The so-called ‘purgatory’ of Makronisos was during the Greek Greek Civil War (1946-1949) a place of moral liquidation and terrorization of dissidents, on an unprecedented scale in Greek history. The concentration camp of political exiles was established on Makronisos in August 1947, initially as a military unit for the confinement of soldiers who had been involved in the Resistance against the Nazis as members of a left-wing resistance organization. The first prisoners arrived on the island in September of the same year; these were 1,100 reserve and regular officers who had fought on the side of the ELAS (National People's Liberation Army), the military arm of the left-wing EAM (National Liberation Front). By 1948, 15,000 privates had been added to these, men brought to Makronisos under the suspicion of harbouring leftist views. In 1948 the political exiles camp was inaugurated, and 12,000 persons, men and women, were transferred there from other islands (Agios Efstratios, Ikaria, Limnos). Finally, early in 1949 began the dispatch of simple civilians to the island, people arrested as a precautionary measure in the context of mopping-up operations. It is reckoned that between 1947 and 1950, 27,000 privates, 1,100 officers and some 30,000 civilians spent time on Makronisos.

The Military Prison of Athens, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Special Battalions, the camp of political exiles (the so-called ‘Camp of Disciplined Living’), the Model School for Educating Minors and the Women’s Camp, all functioned on the island. These units were under the command of the Makronisos Rehabilitation Organization, which belonged to the General Army Staff.

The rehabilitation of the prisoners aimed at their political and moral liquidation and was supposedly completed with the signing of a repentance declaration by the rehabilitated person. Apart from the harsh conditions of living in a tent, the malnutrition and the lack of water, the detainees were subjected to psychological pressure in classes of “national soul-examination” and faced the physical violence of torture. Hundreds are thought to have perished by the hardships and tortures or were murdered during the events of February 29th and the 1st of March 1948.
Following the end of the Civil War, the political prisoners camp was abolished, but the pioneer battalions were maintained until 1955. The Military Prison of Makronisos -this was the new appellation of the Makronisos detention camp since 1955- was officially abolished in 1957 and by 1961 the island was deserted. The Greek State subsequently decided to tear down and transport off the island any usable building material.

4. Makronisos today

On May 16th 1989, with the 1985/252 decision of Melina Merkouri, the then Minister for Culture, the whole island was declared a place of historical value and the buildings and camps on the island were characterised as scheduled monuments. The restoration and conservation efforts, however, are not yet completed.