Mykonos, Delos, Rineia, and a group of uninhabited islets comprise a small archipelagos within the Cyclades islands. Mykonos is flat, with its highest point reaching 364 meters. The island covers an area of 75 square kilometers. The main rock is granite while the landscape is impressively devoid of trees, with just sparse coverage at specific areas-Panormos, Kalafatis, Ftelia-of low, thick bushes. Rineia (area 13 square kilometers, highest altitude 149 meters) is also flat and used for grazing as some areas are covered by phrygana; there are also a number of abandoned fields. Tragonisi (area 1.1 square kilometers, highest altitude 149 meters) is rugged and inaccessible with several sheer areas. The islet has mines and some flat stretches. Stapodia (area 0.5 square kilometers, highest altitude 133 meters) is rocky, with a number of cliffs, a few flat areas, and sparse ground cover of phrygana.
Mykonos has a generally dry climate with mild winters. Typical of the island’s weather are the strong northerly winds known as meltemia (singular=meltemi) and which blast over the island during the day in summer. Snow is rare, while there is no rainfall in summer and very little in winter. During the summer months, the sun is bright and very warm, thus visitors are warned to pack proper protection. Mykonos’s barren landscape is actually far richer in fauna than would seem at first glance. The bald hills shelter many small creatures from the visitor’s gaze. The island’s signature fauna are the large, spiky lizards that sit atop rocks or dart among the dry stone fences. The crocodile owes its name to this lizard as when the Ionians arrived in Egypt they compared the crocodiles swimming in the Nile-and known until then as champsai, with the “Mykonos lizard” and finding them similar in appearance gave them the name of crocodile. Indeed, on the island, the lizard-or agama stelio-is known among locals today as a “land crocodile” or krokodilaki (little crocodile) or korkodeilas. According to an article by Achilleas Dimitropoulos for the Goulandris Natural History Museum, there are two habitats that are especially significant for the island’s wildlife-the coastal wetlands at Panormos and Ftelia which are seasonally flooded and turn into small saltwater lagoons. Both are important resting stops on the routes of migratory birds. Within these wetlands there are a number of currents and drainages spots, such as the one formed at Marathi where a dam was built to create a new wetland. The sandbanks at Ano Meria are quite rich in silica. Mykonos’s typically Cycladic terrain and climate-arid and dry-aren’t conducive to traditional farming and only limited supplies of high quality cereals, wines, and vegetables are produced that are used to meet local consumption needs. Grains and vines were cultivated on the island since antiquity as attested by depictions of both on ancient coinage. Stockbreeding, which is limited today, produces the island’s famed kopanisti – a sharp, creamy cheese – and xinotyra (sour cheeses). The island also produces a number of cold cuts, most famously louza and paides, both considered delicacies among gourmets. Mykonos is famous for its amygdalota or almond sweets and its almond cordial or soumada.
As delicious as the island’s sausages, louza is a cured meat made from lean pork with a little fat. It is air cured in winter and sun cured in summer with salt, pepper, and local herbs such as throupi. Once cured, it is preserved in the freezer to retain its moisture. Louza is served as an appetizers in thin slices which are a deep red. A smaller louza made from tenderloin is known as bouboulo. Louza is similar to the Italian lonza and the Cypriot lountza.
A very sharp creamy cheese that goes well with ouzo and other Greek spirits, served on bread, or according to local practice on dampened barley rusks with chopped tomatoes and cucumber. It’s sometimes blended with butter or other white cheeses to soften its flavor and always preserved in the refrigerator. Kopanisti is the result of controlled and repeated fermentation according to traditional cheese making methods. It’s made using sheep’s and goat’s milk which is aged then stored in a clay jar. Similar methods are used to make cheeses on other islands in the Cyclades, although the Mykonos cheese is the sharpest.
In mythology, the Giants felled by Heracles in the Gigantomachy are buried under Mykonos and the other isles in the archipelagos. The island’s name seems to derive from the ancient for either mound of rocks or rocky land. A later myth links the island to the hero Mykonos, son of King Anios of Delos. The island was first settled by the Carians and the Phoenicians, but it’s the Ionians who were dominant around 1000 B.C. Ancient sources refer to two cities on the island, mention it as a place where Daetes and Artaphernes landed, and describe it as a rather poor island. Deities worshipped on Mykonos were mainly Dionysus, Demeter, Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon, and Heracles. The island passed under Roman rule, then under Byzantine dominion. It was during their rule, in the seventh century, when defensive fortifications were built to guard against raids by Arab pirates. After the Fourth Crusade, in 1204, the island was ceded to Andreas and Ieremias Gyzis. In 1292 the island was pillaged by the Catalans and effectively left to Venetian control who, in turn, administered it as part of Tinos. While under Venetian rule, the island is sacked by Barbarossa, an admiral of Suleiman the Magnificent. Passing subsequently under Ottoman rule, it is governed by the chief of the Ottoman fleet, the Capudan Pasha, and virtually self-administered as its Venetian and Turkish administrators did not which to clash. As a rule, the island’s population in modern times fluctuated between 2,000 and 5,000, but swelled in the late 18th century and early 19th century by migrants from Crete as well as Naxos, Folegandros, Sikinos, and Kimolos fleeing epidemics or conflicts on their respective islands. Mykonos was an important resupply station for foreign merchant ships. The island’s inhabitants gradually turned to maritime activities and commerce, having earlier tried their hand at piracy. During the 1821 independence revolt, islanders, led by Manto Mavrogenous-daughter or a powerful aristocratic family who had been raised in Trieste where she had been exposed to the Enlightenment and its ideas-repel an attack by the Turkish fleet and take part in the independence war. With the establishment of the modern Greek state, Mykonos emerged with a urban dynamic and class which cultivated its ties to southern Russia, Italy, France, Alexandria, Asia Minor, Constantinople, and the emerging center on Syros. The prevalence of steam engines near the end of the 19th century and the opening of the Corinth Canal in 1904 weakened Mykonos and many islanders migrated, many abroad-to Russia before the first world war and to the United States afterwards-or to large urban centers within Greece, such as Athens and Piraeus. Excavations begun in 1873 on Delos by the French Archaeological School established the area in the consciousness of the global elite which had the ability and desire to travel to Greece. From the 1930s onwards, celebrities began visiting the island and discovering, alongside the archaeological treasures of Delos, the joys offered by Mykonos. After the second world war, the island’s tourism boomed and today it ranks among the world’s top destinations.
Tradition has been weakened as a result of development, yet a number of customs survive. The island’s folklore element is most evident during religious feasts to which many customs and traditions are linked. On New Year’s Day, locals put “best foot forward” for luck as they visit hopes to wish good fortune, while families cut and share the traditional pitta in which a coin has been baked; the person whose piece has the coin is said to be blessed with good luck for the coming year. Epiphany is observed with flair around the island as on the eve of the holiday priests go door to door to bless each home. This is followed by church services, after which locals meet at the harbor. There, a cross is tossed into the water and male bathers vie to retrieve it. Apokries or carnival is a time of revelry. Masqueraders roam the streets, amusing onlookers with their costumes and antics. This is followed by Kathara Deftera or Clean Monday, the first day of Lent. In the days leading up to Easter, locals spruce up their houses, applying whitewash and baking breads in the shapes of human figures, or Lazarakia. Holy Week is observed with devotion. The Epitaphios is led in candlelit procession on Good Friday, while the observances culminate at midnight on Saturday with the resurrection service. Starting early in the day on Easter Sunday, locals eat and celebrate around the island, congregating in the main square in the afternoon to burn Judas in ffigy. Most religious feasts are observed with a paniyiri, a religious and folk festival.
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