Paxos is one of the most picturesque islands of the Ionian peninsula. Distinguished for its outstanding nature, it has been voted as one of the most beautiful places in the world.. It is a heaven for relaxing holidays and also a paradise for marine activities. As far as diving is concerned, Paxos is one of the best areas in Greece and Europe.
A legend says that Paxos was created when Poseidon struck Corfu with his trident, causing the southernmost tip to break off and float away to become a separate island. Ever since, this small island became his ‘love nest’, where he could hide from his jealous wife and conduct his affair with the nymph Amphytrite, in peace and seclusion. True or not (!), the trident of Poseidon remains the symbol of Paxos.
The Ionian islands have a long history of occupation by foreign powers, largely on account of their strategic position between what is now Italy and the Balkans, and because of the countless excellent harbors. The history of Paxos has always been closely linked to that of Corfu. From the 3rd to the 5th century B.C., Athens and the Peloponnese were engaged in a long drawn out dispute, culminating in the Peloponnesian War, that lasted for most of the 5th century B.C.. The Ionian Islands were drawn into the war, allying with Athens. The defences of the islands were greatly weakened by these wars and by a number of Spartan attacks, leaving them highly vulnerable. In 230 B.C. the Romans were invited to take control of Corfu, and eventually Paxos and, later on, all of the Ionian Islands came under the Roman rule.
The period of Roman rule was a time of relevant peace, broken only by some squabbles amongst the Romans themselves, in which some of the islanders participated.
Irretrievably weakened after the death of the Emperor Constantine, the Roman Empire became divided, and its rule eventually came to an end with the Gothic invasion.
The Goths were to rule over Corfu, Paxos and most of the Ionian islands for almost 600 years – a time when the region suffered enormously from the attacks of pirates who proliferated in Ionian waters. When they attacked, not only did they loot material goods, but they also took prisoners and sold their hostages as slaves.
The Ionian islands were invaded by the Normans in the last half of the 11th century. Enraged by the Norman expansion in the region, the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire sent a fleet, allied with the Venetians, to deal with them and reclaim the islands. First attempts to displace the Normans from Corfu were unsuccessful, but they finally left the island in 1147.
When the Byzantine Empire fell to the Crusaders in 1204, the Venetians made their claim on Corfu and Paxos.
The Venetian influence was profound and, as can still be seen today, long-lasting in everything, from the culture of the region to health, education systems and agriculture.
It was the Venetians who brought the tomato to the island and instigated a huge programme of olive planting.
Walking around Paxos today, it is impossible to miss the signs of that long period of the Venetian government – houses, churches, oil presses – many of these date back to these times.
The next of the Great Powers to turn their attention to the Ionian Islands was the Ottoman Empire. There was no denying the importance of the area as an important shipping route and a base from which to make attacks on Italy and Europe in general. Under cover of a peace treaty with Venice, the Ottoman Turks laid their plans for invasion.
In 1537, the Turkish fleet landed at Igoumenitsa, on the mainland of Greece.
The pirate Admiral Barbarossa commenced a determined but ultimately unsuccessful siege of Corfu and Paxos.
Now it was the turn of Napoleon Bonaparte and by the latter part of the 18th century. Having defeated the Venetians in numerous battles, he set his sights on the Ionian Islands.
Napoleon captured the islands of Corfu and Paxos in 1789.
The Paxiots were, by this time, too happy to bid farewell to the Venetians, but the French occupation of the area lasted only a year before a Russo-Turkish fleet took control of the islands, leaving the Russians in control and declaring the islands of Corfu and Paxos part of the Eptanisos State/ Septinsular Republic – the State of the Seven Islands.
In the meantime, the French were at war with the British and determined to take back control of the Ionian islands.
They did so successfully in 1803, but since France was at war with Britain, this brought the British into the area.
By 1811 they had taken control of the Ionian islands of Zakynthos, Cephalonia, Ithaca and Lefkas.
Corfu, however, had extremely good fortifications so, although the British did blockade Corfu and neighbouring Paxos for several years, they never actually attacked.
Napoleon abdicated in 1812 and, following a meeting of the great powers of the day – Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria – the responsibility for the administration of the Ionian Islands passed to Britain.
The islands underwent a rapid period of change and the Brits instigated programmes of building, road building and improvements in drainage and water supply.
A succession of British Lord High Commissioners governed the islands until 1864, when the Ionian Islands were officially united with the new Kingdom of Greece.
Corfu and Paxos officially declared a position of neutrality in the First World War.
Greece was occupied by both Italian soldiers and the Nazis during the Second World War, with Corfu and Paxos being under Italian administrative control between 1941 and 1943. In 1944 liberation came with the arrival of the Allied Forces.
Concerning the rest of Greece, the recovery from the hardship and catastrophe of the war was a long process. Many islanders found it necessary to seek employment abroad, in the UK and Germany in particular, in order to support their families.
Tourism has been ‘discovered’ within Corfu and Paxos in the 1970s, through a small number of discerning Brits who had been in love with the islands. Since the 1980s, tourism has taken over from olive oil production as the mainstay of the island’s economy.