Kythera has been at the crossroads of civilizations for millennia, bridging the East and the West. The geographical location of the island decisively determined its historical course. Kythera was loved by conquerors, inspired poets, musicians and painters, and today they seek to leave their mark in the modern era. Kytherian culture is a unique alloy, a complex of influences, which at the same time has a local, authentic and unadulterated character that is reflected in the way of life of the inhabitants, in agricultural products, gastronomy, worship habits, songs, poetry, dance, storytelling, traditional environmental management and more.
An important element of the cultural and artisanship heritage of Kythera are the numerous watermills and windmills of the island. In the past, mills were an integral part of social and economic life, supplying the local community with flour, a basic material for making rusks, pasta, bread, etc.
Although Kythera is best known for its watermills, which were more numerous, it also had a scattered network of windmills along all lengths and breadths of the island. These are cylindrical tower mills, 4.6 to 5.4 meters high with characteristic arched entrances, crowned with alabaster. About 70 watermills have been recorded in different locations of Kythera. Each mill was a self-sufficient production unit with the mill facilities, the house, the oven, the stable, the storage and the orchard in a single designed space. The watermills operated exclusively on the power of water.
The traditional architecture of Kythera is based on experience and practice of many centuries, being a continuous source of knowledge, both in terms of the use of local materials and in terms of harmonization with the local environment. The traditional buildings of Kythera have common elements with those found in areas of Crete, the Peloponnese, the Ionian Islands, the Aegean islands, etc. However, the long period of Venetian rule was the historical and social context in which the unique architectural identity of the island was formed. Visually, one can easily understand the difference between the south and the north of the island from the roofs of the houses. In the north, the houses are tiled (influence from the Peloponnese) while in the south they have flat roofs (influence from Crete). On the coast of the island, the few traditional buildings that can be found are the long narrow stone arches, probably a style borrowed by the locals from the Saracens who used to loot the shores in the past. The mansions of Kythera have generally simple lines, do not have a large volume, and usually have a defensive character on one side and a mild, hospitable character on the other. On the island, the limestone, without any layer on top of it, emphasizes all the openings of the buildings, doors and windows.
The countless churches of Kythera, scattered in every corner of the island, adorn the island landscape, and as the Kytherians say “sunny spread stones of all times, with traces of culture left on them”. Monasteries, pilgrimages, cave churches and chapels testify to the rich and long religious tradition of Kythera. The most important church is that of Agios Theodoros near Potamos village, which honors the patron saint of the island, while the icon of Panagia Myrtidiotissa is the most valuable relic of the island and is the ubiquitous patron saint of Kythera. The people of Kythera still follow the local cult traditions such as ‘Decapentism’ and ‘Gyra tis Panagias, the procession of the image of Myrtidiotissa to all the villages of Kythira on foot.
The castles of Kythera are erected imposingly, protecting the island for centuries from any threat. The sea roads in the south of the island are supervised by the castle of Chora, also known as the “Eye of Crete”. The most characteristic image of the castle is the “Fortezza” (the Fortress), perched on the cliff, with the high fortification walls. However, the castle has a second fortification, at a lower altitide, which protected the Mesa Vourgos neighborhood, with its mansions and its 14 Byzantine churches. The Venetian castle took its current form in 1503. To the west, the castle of Kato Chora, near Mylopotamos village is located in a magnificent position between hills and slopes, offering a beautiful sunset to its visitors. Its monumental gate, which is still adorned by the winged Lion of the Venetian Republic of St. Mark, reveals an entire fortified settlement and nine churches. To the east, the “Castello” of Avlemonas village is a special octagonal coastal fortress, which inside has 14 arches into its perimeter wall. It was built in 1725 during the Venetian occupation and in the past a tower was erected in the center of the building. Finally, in the bowels of Kythera, Agios Dimitrios, the medieval capital of the island, known today as Paliochora, dominates a hill sandwiched between sharp cliffs. It was built in the 13th century by the strong Monemvasian family of the Evdaimonogiannis and was destroyed in 1537, when it was besieged and looted by the commander of the Ottoman fleet, Hayreddin Barbarossa. This catastrophe marked the history of Kythera and gave life to myriads of local legends.
The authentic folk color of the island comes to life in the local festivals and celebrations. Music gives moments of joy to neighborhoods and cafes, while songs praise the love for the island, everyday life, humans and love. The meeting point of the whole island is the traditional open air market in the islands largest village, Potamos, which takes place every Sunday, all year round, for hundreds of years.