Greek civilization has always been inextricably linked to the many islands and archipelagos that dot the Aegean, Ionian, Mediterranean, and Myrtoan Seas. In ancient times, each of these islands had their own unique culture and often their own governments. The political relationships and alliances formed between these island city states often had a substantial impact on the history of Greece. Even in the modern day, each of these islands maintains a strong cultural tradition and offers reminders of the nation’s legendary past. There are currently more than six thousand different islets and islands controlled by the nation of Greece, although only about two hundred and thirty of those have any permanent inhabitants. The Greek Islands are generally subdivided into several different island clusters – the Argo-Saronic Islands, the Sporades, the Dodecanese, the Cyclades, and the North Aegean Islands. Another substantial cluster of islands are concentrated around the largest Greek island, Crete. In terms of economic importance, significance to the tourist industry, population, and historical significance, perhaps the most important are the islands of Crete, Santorini, Corfu, Rhodes, and Mykonos.
Crete, the most heavily populated and physically largest of the Greece’s islands, was the center of the legendary Minoan civilization during early Western history, and continues to maintain a unique character in the modern day. Crete covers a total area of about three thousand, two hundred square feet and includes a population of approximately six hundred and twenty five thousand residents. Crete is a highly mountainous island, with a highest point exceeding eight thousand feet above sea level and a series of three mountain ranges dominating the island landscape. Crete has a generally mild climate throughout the year, although the southern shore is sunnier and warmer during most of the year. Although Crete has a strong tourist industry based on its palm beaches, archeological sites, castles, and luxury hotels, the island’s most important economic sector is agriculture. Santorini, one of the largest islands in the Cyclades, is a land of dramatic cliff-dominated panoramas and home to about thirteen thousand residents. Santorini is part of a small archipelago formed from a violent volcanic explosion, which created a number of unique geological features including white, black, and red sand beaches. Santorini has strong wine and agricultural sectors in addition to a booming tourism sector. Santorini has a unique brand of architecture, and has often been hypothesized as being related to Plato’s lost continent, Atlantis.
Corfu, one of the main Ionian Islands, saw the development of much early Greek culture and was the birthplace of many Greek myths and legends. Corfu’s mountainous landscape is home to unique flora and fauna as well as a dramatic panorama of views and scenic outlooks. Corfu’s historic old town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the island is also home to a series of architectural landmarks and important historic sites. Corfu is also an educational center, featuring a university in addition to a number of museums covering diverse periods and topics. Rhodes, the namesake of the legendary Colossus of Rhodes, is the most heavily populated and largest of the Dodecanese Islands. Rhode’s Old Town of the City of Rhodes is a World Heritage Site and a continent-wide tourist destination. Rhodes’ archeology is fascinating, and its economy depends heavily on the numerous tourists who visit the islands annually. The Cyclades island of Mykonos is another popular tourist destination, with a history dating back more than three millennia. Mykonos is home to a number of beautiful white sand beaches as well as historic landmarks such as the Mykonos windmills, the Paraportiani, and the Aegean Maritime Museum.