The island of Halki is situated 35 nautical miles west of the city of Rhodes and just 5 miles from the promontory of Monolithos, Rhodes. With an area of 37.0 square kms and 34 kms of coastline, it is one of the smallest islands of the Dodecanese group. It has an irregular rectangular shape with a length of 10 kms from west to east and a width of approximately 3 kms from north to south. The landscape is mountainous with the most important peaks being those of Prophet Elias (518m), Kapouli (512) and Kapnikari (500m). With the exceptions of the main port of Imporio and the beach of Pontamos, the other beaches found of the island are small and rocky.
The historical references to Halki are rare. The island has gone through the centuries of history in the shadow of Rhodes and its history can only be deduced in the main only with reference to the history of Rhodes and to the general area of the south eastern Aegean.
Halki has been inhabited from the prehistoric period. During historical times, Halki is from time to time a subject of Kamiros and is later referred to as being part of the Athenian alliance in the tax catalogues of the Dilian alliance. Which means that Halki was administratively independent during this time. Later it seems that it came once again under the control of Kamiros and it follows the fortunes of Rhodes in the following centuries. In the 14th century the Knights of Rhodes granted Halki to the Assanti family of Ischia as a fief. The Assanti family built their fort upon the ruins of the ancient acropolis. Amongst the coat of arms saved today is the coats of arms of the Grand Magister D¢ Aubusson (1476-1503), who rebuilt the fort after the catastrophic invasion of the Venetians.
The inhabitants would flee to the fort for refuge during such invasions. In the 19th century and under Turkish domination, Halki together with Symi, Kalymnos and Kastellorizo enjoyed their golden age of prosperity, developing trade and sponge fishing. Schools are established and the literary level of the inhabitants rises considerably. In the final years of Turkish rule and during Italian domination the privileged rights once given to the islands are removed. This has the effect of damaging trading and the sponge industry and the 'bleeding' of the population, which immigrates to other lands, begins. In 1912 Halki, as did all the Dodecanese islands, came under Italian military dominance and in 1923 was politically subject to Italy as well.
During the Second World War Halkite heroes, as was Lieutenant Alexandros Diakos and Captain Diogenes Fanourakis, brought glory to the island.
There is only one settlement on the island named Halki or Imporios, which is both the port and capital. It was established during the 19th century when the steam ships of the sea police wiped out piracy completely in the area and allowed the establishment of coastalsettlements.
The village of Chorio, west of Halki, once the only settlement on Halki, is built around the hill upon which the fort is built and has olden style stone houses. The village of Chorio was abandoned gradually and today is deserted. The town of Halki, built during prosperous times, is architecturally aristocratic, with traditional two and three story houses positioned amphitheatrically around the harbour. Of special interest are the neoclassical Council building, the stone clock tower and the church of St. Nicholas (built in 1861) with its characteristic bell tower and finely worked wooden iconostasis.
Behind the town tower the bare and precipitous mountains of the island. Although these mountains are not particularly tall, the highest peak of Maistro located a little east of the centre of the island is only 593 metres high, they seem extremely tall due to their gloomy and grand haughty appearance.
Theophrastos refers to the extremely fertile valleys of Halki as being able to be cultivated twice a year, thanks to the excellent temperate climate. Famous were the large delicious figs and the honey of Halki as well as the numerous flocks of partridge, which even today bring many hunters to the island every year. Today, in common with all the Dodecanese islands, tourism is tending to become the only activity. A sizeable hotel and tourist infrastructure has been developed lately on the island. Halki was declared in 1983 an island of worldwide friendship of young people by the Ministry of the New Generation. The works completed then by the government body, helped considerably in the development of the tourist industry of Halki.
The feast of St. John of Alakra celebrated on the 29th of August at the well known monastery and pilgrimage site on the western edge of the island, gathers Halkites from all over the world. At a small distance are the monasteries of the Holy Trinity and the Holy Cross. All the festivals of Halki are celebrated in the traditional way and are extremely colourful.
Of special interest to linguists and historians of folklore is the unique linguistic idiom of the people of Halki, as well as the periodical customs and festivals, the monuments of folkloric literature (proverbs, songs, two-versed sayings etc.) and the rural, nautical and shepherding customs etc.
Halki is literally abounding in "monasteries"-chapels and cisterns of common use. The need for God and water in such a land can only be subject to the logic of sharing. Rainwater has been collected from very ancient times in wells and cisterns because there are no natural springs on the island. Older Halkites speak of cypress and pine trees and other vegetation coverage but today vegetation is sparse and the once plentiful fruit bearing trees of the valleys are few. The only vegetation found today is the small bushes, sage, thyme, rhododendron etc.
Ofto (paschal lamb stuffed with rice and kidneys baked in a traditional wood fire oven), salted small-fry, lentil-rice (lentils frits with onions and rice), koulia (hand made mocaroni cut in the shape of pebbles), Halkitiko macaroni (hand made and cut finely and cooked after a few hours and served with fried onion) etc.
Kserotigana, kneaded loukoumades amongst others.
Click on a photo to enlarge
Halki is connected by sea to the port of Piraeus (information: 2104226000) and Rhodes (information: 2241022220, 2241045220). A cement-paved road joins the only settlement of the island with the old Chorio, the beach of Pontamou and the chapels and monastery of St. John of Alakra.
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