Hydra (Greek: Ύδρα, pronounced [υδρα] in modern
Greek) is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece,
located in the Aegean Sea between the Saronic Gulf
and the Argolic Gulf. It is separated from the
Peloponnese by narrow strip of water. In ancient
times, the island was known as Hydrea (Υδρέα,
derived from the Greek word for "water"), which was
a reference to the springs on the island.
The municipality of Hydra consists of the islands
Hydra (area 52 km2 (20.1 sq mi)), Dokos (pop. 18,
area 13.5 km2 (5.2 sq mi)) and a few uninhabited
islets. The province of Hydra (Greek: Επαρχία Ύδρας)
was one of the provinces of the Piraeus Prefecture.
Its territory corresponded with that of the current
municipality. It was abolished in 2006.
There is one main town, known simply as "Hydra port"
(pop. 1,900 in 2011). It consists of a crescent-shaped
harbour, around which is centered a strand of
restaurants, shops, markets, and galleries that
cater to tourists and locals (Hydriots). Steep stone
streets lead up and outwards from the harbor area.
Most of the local residences, as well as the
hostelries on the island are located on these
streets. Other small villages or hamlets on the
island include Mandraki (pop. 11), Kamini, Vlychos
(19), Palamidas, Episkopi, and Molos.
Transport, tourism and leisure
Hydra depends upon tourism, and Athenians comprise a
sizeable segment of its visitors. High speed
hydrofoils and catamarans from Piraeus, some 37
nautical miles (69 km) away, serve Hydra, as do
daily island ferry boats. (The ferries take about
three hours for the transit; the hydrofoils and
catamarans substantially less.) The island also has
ferries to Aegina, Poros, Spetses, Nafplion and
Rubbish trucks are the only motor vehicles on the
island, as cars or motorcycles are not allowed by
law. Donkeys, bicycles, and water taxis provide
public transportation. The inhabited area, however,
is so compact that most people walk everywhere.
Hydra benefits from numerous bays and natural
harbours, and has a strong maritime culture. The
island remains a popular yachting destination, and
is the home of the Kamini Yacht Club, an
international yacht club based in the port of Kamini.
In 2007, a National Geographic Traveler panel of 522
experts rated Hydra the highest of any Greek Island
(ranked 11th out of 111 islands worldwide) as a
unique destination preserving its "integrity of
Captains' mansionsThe Tsamadou mansion on the left-hand
side of the harbour as one enters is now a Maritime
The Tombazi mansion is now part of the School of
The mansions of Lazarus and George Kountouriotis,
Boudouri, Kriezi, Voulgari, Sahini and Miaouli all
contain collections of 18th Century island furniture.
The descendants of Lazarus Kountouriotis donated his
mansion to the Historic-Ethnologic Institute of
Greece. Today, it operates as extension branch of
the National Museum of History.
Monasteries and the Cathedral
There are numerous churches and six Orthodox
monasteries. Two particularly noteworthy monasteries
are Profitis Ilias, founded in the 10th Century, and
Ayia Efpraxia. Both are on a hill overlooking the
The island's Cathedral is the old Monastery of the
Dormition of the Virgin and sits on the quayside in
the town. The Monastery contains the tomb of Lazarus
Koundouriotis, the richest sea captain on Hydra, who
gave his entire fortune to support the Greek War of
History Pre-history, antiquity, and the Byzantine
No cars are allowed in Hydra, so the only
transport is by donkey, bicycle or foot.There is
evidence of farmers and herders from the second half
of the third millennium BCE, on the small flat areas
that are not visible from the sea. Obsidian from
Milos has also been found. During the Helladic
period, Hydra probably served as a maritime base for
the kingdoms on the Greek peninsula. Fragments of
vases, tools, and the head of an idol have been
found on Mount Chorissa.
The large-scale Dorian invasion of Greece around the
12th Century BCE appears to have resulted in a
depopulation of the island. Hydra was repopulated by
farmers and herders, perhaps sailing from the
mainland port of Ermioni, in the 8th Century BCE.
Herodotus reports that towards the 6th Century BCE,
the island belonged to Ermioni, which sold it to
Samos. Samos, in turn, ceded it to Troizina.
For much of the past, Hydra has stayed on the
margins of history. The population was very small in
ancient times, and except for the brief mentions in
Herodotus and Pausanias, has left little or no
record in the history of those times.
It is clear that Hydra was populated during the
Byzantine Era, as vases and coins have been
discovered in the area of Episkopi. However, it
appears that the island again lost its population
during the Latin Empire of Constantinople as the
inhabitants fled the pirate depredations. On other
islands, inhabitants moved inland, something that
was essentially impossible on Hydra.
Between 1204-1566 it belonged to Venice. From 1566
to 1821 (nominally 1829), it was part of the Ottoman
In the sixteenth century, the island began to be
settled by refugees, due to the warfare between the
Ottomans and Venetians. The Arvanites' presence
was evident until the mid-20th century, when
according to T. Jochalas the majority of the
island's population was composed of Arvanites.
The island is known in Arvanitika as Nίδρα.
The period of commercial and naval strengthFurther
information: Ottoman Greece
of the port.
Panoramic view.Hydra was relatively unimportant
during much of the period of Ottoman rule. Its naval
and commercial development began in the 17th Century,
and its first school for mariners was established in
1645. Apparently, the first truly Hydriot vessel
was launched in 1657. However, the conflict between
the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire
limited the island's maritime development until
after 1718 and the Treaty of Passarowitz. From the
17th Century on, Hydra began to take on a greater
importance due to its trading strength.
During the first half of the 18th Century, Hydra
built the same kind of vessels as were built in the
other Aegean Islands. These were the sachtouri of 15
to 20 tons, and the latinadiko of 40 to 50 tons. The
Hydriots contented themselves with trading in the
Aegean, going as far as Constantinople. The great
change occurred in 1757 after they launched a vessel
of 250 tons. The larger boats enabled Hydra to
become an important commercial port. By 1771, one
could count up to 50 vessels from throughout Greece
in the roads. Ten years later the island had fitted
out 100 vessels.
However, the Ottoman Empire and its policies
constrained Hydra's economic success. Heavy tariffs
and taxes limited the speed of development. The
Ottoman administration limited free trade; the
Ottomans permitted only Ottoman vessels to navigate
the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, and hence have
access to the Black Sea, its ports, and the trade in
grain from their hinterlands. The Treaty of Küçük
Kaynarca changed all this. Russia gained from the
Ottoman Empire the right to protect the Empire's
Orthodox Christians. The religious protection had a
commercial corollary: the Hydriots began to sail
under the Russian flag. The Treaty also provided for
free passage between the Aegean and the Black Sea.
Hydra entered its commercial era. Hydriot vessels
carried goods between Southern Russia in the east to
the Italian ports of Ancona and Livorno in the west.
From 1785 on, the Hydriote shippers began to engage
in commerce, not just transport. Each vessel became
its own small commercial enterprise and quickly
trade with the Levant began to depend on Hydra's
vessels, though not without competition from those
of Spetses and Psara.
However, the plague of 1792 killed a large part of
the population, and many people moved away. As a
result the town was almost completely abandoned for
a while. Still, by the end of the 18th century Hydra
had again become quite prosperous as its vessels
trading as far as France, Spain and even the
Americas. Napoleon presented the island with the
huge silver chandelier in the cathedral as a gesture
of gratitude for the Hydriots' role in running the
British blockade and so bringing food to France and
The Greek War of Independence and the declineFurther
information: Greek War of Independence
Statue of Andreas Miaoulis, admiral during the Greek
War of Independence.
Antonis Oikonomou starts the revolution in Hydra by
Peter von Hess.
Flag of Hydra during the Greek War of Independence.
Cannon at Hydra.In the 19th Century, Hydra was home
to some 125 boats and 10,000 sailors. The mansions
of the sea captains that ring the harbor are a
testament to the prosperity that shipping brought to
the island which, at the date of the Revolution, had
16,000 inhabitants. During the Greek Revolution, the
fleets of Hydra and the other two naval islands of
Psara and Spetses were able to wrest control of the
Eastern Aegean Sea from the Ottoman Empire.
When the Greek War of Independence broke out,
Hydra's contribution of some 150 ships, plus
supplies, to fight against the Turks played a
critical role. The Greek admiral Andreas Miaoulis,
himself a settler on Hydra, used Hydriot fire ships
to inflict heavy losses on the Ottoman fleet.
With the end of the revolution and the creation of
the Greek state, the island gradually lost its
maritime position in the Eastern Mediterranean,
igniting an economic crisis which led to a period of
hardship and unemployment. The main reason was that
with the creation of the Greek state, its fleet lost
the privileges which the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca
and the use of the Russian flag gave it. Another
reason was that the traditional families who owned
the majority of the fleet failed to foresee the
benefits in participating in the steam ship
revolution that significantly cut shipping
operational costs through reduced crew and
independence of the winds, putting them at a
disadvantage vis-á-vis the new shipping companies of
Piraeus, Patras and Syros. A third reason was that
the new conditions made illegal activities such as
piracy impossible. Once again many of the
inhabitants abandoned Hydra, leaving behind their
large mansions and beautiful residences, which fell
into ruin. The mainstay of the island's economy
became fishing for sponge. This brought prosperity
again, at least until 1932 when Egypt forbade
fishing along its coast. By the Second World War the
Hydriotes were again leaving the island; many of
them went abroad.
Second World WarBetween 1941 and 1943, during the
Axis occupation of Greece during World War II, there
was famine on Hydra. It is estimated that some eight
percent of the population died of starvation.
Topography and ecology
Street of the island.The dominant geographic
features of Hydra are its rocky hillsides, which are
bare, pine forested valleys with the occasional
farmhouse. The island was subject to a modern
geologic study by Renz in 1955. Some of the later
Permian limestone strata are rich in well-preserved
There are many types of wild flowers including rare
'spentzes' or cyclamen and poppies. As well as pine
trees there are cypress and olive trees. Birds
species include partridges, quails, and many
migratory birds which are subject to local hunting.
Mammals include rabbits, feral cats and goats. There
are also said to be some reptiles and amphibians.
Although the island's name is derived from ancient
springs known to the Ancient Greeks, it is now
almost dry. Hydra previously had wells, and three
new wells have been found. Today, the island imports
its water by boat from the Greek mainland, but a new
desalinization plant is now finished but not in
operation. Many local people store winter rainfall
in cisterns beneath their houses, to be used later
as drinking water.
A savage fire during the intense heat of 2007
destroyed much of the pine forest to the east of
Hydra port. However, the fire left untouched some
forest above Kamini and at the west end of Hydra.
The forest around Molos, Bisti, and Agios Nikolaous
were also unaffected.
The island has almost no night-time light pollution.
This is a boon to astronomy.
Municipality of HydraThe Municipality of Hydra
includes the following Islands:
Name Area Population
Dokos Island 13.5 18
Agios Georgios (Hydra) 4.3 0
Hydra Island 52 1960
Trikeri (Hydra) and more Islands 2.2 4
The Total area of the Municipality is 72 km2 (28 sq
mi), and population is 1980 (2011), most in Hydra (city).
Cultural lifeThe Hydrama Theater and Arts Center
hosts performances, drama and dance workshops for
the local community and courses in ancient Greek
theater for international participants.
The island hosts an annual conference on Rebetiko, a
type of Greek urban folk music, that is held in mid-October.
In June 2009 the important art collector Dakis
Joannou opened a Hydra branch of private art museum,
the Deste Foundation. It intends to show the work of
already established young artists.
Since 1960 Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen
owns a house on the island.