1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cythera

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CYTHERA (mod. Cerigo, but still officially known as Cythera), one of the Ionian islands, situated not less than 150 m. from Zante, but only about 8 m. from Cape Malea on the southern coast of Greece. Its length from N. to S. is nearly 20 m., and its greatest breadth about 12; its area is 114 sq. m. The surface is rocky and broken, but streams abound, and there are various parts of considerable fertility. Two caves, of imposing dimensions, and adorned with stalactites of great beauty, are the most notable among its natural peculiarities; one is situated at the seaward end of the glen of the Mylopotamus, and the other, named Santa Sophia, about two hours’ ride from Capsali (Kapsali). Less of the ground is cultivated and more of it is in pasture land than in any other of the seven islands. Some wine and corn are produced, and the quality of the olive oil is good. The honey is still highly prized, as it was in remote antiquity; and a considerable quantity of cheese is manufactured from the milk of the goat. Salt, flax, cotton and currants are also mentioned among the produce. The people are industrious, and many of them seek employment as labourers in the Morea and Asia Minor. Owing to emigration, the population appears to be steadily diminishing, and is now only about 6000, or less than half what it was in 1857. Unfortunately the island has hardly a regular harbour on any part of the coast; from its situation at the meeting, as it were, of seas, the currents in the neighbourhood are strong, and storms are very frequent. The best anchorage is at San Nicolo, at the middle of the eastern side of the island. The principal village is Capsali, a place of about 1500 inhabitants, at the southern extremity, with a bishop, and several convents and churches; the lesser hamlets are Modari, Potamo and San Nicolo.

There are comparatively few traces of antiquity, and the identification of the ancient cities has been disputed. The capital, which bore the same name as the island, was at Paleo-Kastro, about 3 m. from the present port of Avlemona. In the church of St Kosmas are preserved some of the archaic Doric columns of the famous temple of Aphrodite of Cythera, whose worship had been introduced from Syria, and ultimately spread over Greece. According to the accepted story, it was here that the goddess first landed when she emerged from the sea. At a very early date Cythera was the seat of a Phoenician settlement, established in connexion with the purple fishery of the neighbouring coast; it is said that it was therefore called Porphyris (cf. Pliny iv. 18, 19). For a time dependent on Argos, it became afterwards an important possession of the Spartans, who annually despatched a governor named the Cytherodices. In the Peloponnesian war, Nicias occupied the island, but in 421 it was recovered by Sparta. Its modern history has been very much the same as that of the other Ionian islands; but it was subject to Venice for a much shorter period—from 1717 to 1797.

See the works referred to under Cephalonia, and also Weil, in Mittheil. d. deutsch. Inst. zu Athen (1880), pp. 224–243.