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Pirates of Greece

Lairs and legends abound in Greece


The coves and small islands of Greece have long sheltered enterprising shipowners who preyed on the unwary. Sometimes, the unwary was the enemy, and the pirates became national heroes. Ship flags that once inspired fear instead inspired hope. Piracy knew no gender barriers - Spetses' Laskarina Bouboulina is a famous, and now revered, pirate turned freedom fighter. And the hopeful still search the island of Skopelos for Adrina's pirate treasure while staying at the hotel of the same name.

Pirates of Paros

Often, the victim of Greek pirates was another Greek island. Paros suffered greatly from pirate attacks. Skiathos built fortresses to deter them, but still endured their depredations. On Corfu, the pirate attacks forced the inhabitants to seek Roman help, and so established the first Greek foothold for the Romans.

Later, pirates abducted a young Pelekas bride on her wedding day. Legend says her mother cursed the pirates, who turned into stones still visible offshore. The bride turned to stone along with them, the result of some unfortunate phrasing on the part of her mother. On the mainland near Thessaloniki, the village of Pefkohori appears to have recovered nicely from being destroyed by pirates in 1805.

Greek Island Pirate Lairs

Some islands became known as pirate lairs. The fortress built by one Genoese pirate Pascatore still stands at Ierapetra on Crete. Saracen pirates earlier made a base out of the interesting small island of Gavdos, where the inhabitants had to cultivate their fields secretly to avoid the enemy.

Monasteries chose their locations carefully, always aware that the convenient ports and bays of small islands would be equally convenient for pirates on the attack. Want to find a monastery? Look up, as at Patmos, where hillsides made defense a little easier for the religious recluses.

The threat of invasion from the sea made its mark on the architecture of the islands. Narrow pathways and twisting, winding streets were a practical deterrent to attack. Today, they assure that most tourists will see every possible shop, sometimes several times before finding the way out of the village center. Even the beautiful choklakia patterns of glistening white and dark grey pebbles had a secret - invaders would slip on the steep mosaics. So do the tourists, including your Guide. Be careful, especially in light rain.

Even gods could suffer from pirate attacks - Dionysus turned the tables on his attackers when he grew vines to cover their ship and then turned himself into a lion to chase the pirates, driving them into the sea where they transformed into dolphins.

If you're traveling, relax. Though anything can happen on the high seas, piracy of any kind is rare in Greece these days. The only genuine Greek "pirates" left may be enjoying an attack on the airwaves at Pirate Radio 90.9 FM, based on the island of Chios.

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