The first human presence on the island of Spetses dates back to the Mesolithic Age (around 8000 B.C.), as revealed by the ancient objects discovered in the area of Zogeria beach.
At the time, Spetses were connected to the Argolis coast through an isthmus, currently known as Costa. Archeological finds of the 3rd millennium B.C. Other archaeological finds were located in the area of Agia Marina, which contained the first Hellenistic settlement to be found on the island and dates to the 3rd millennium BC.
At least three natural harbours of Spetses (Agia Marina, Agia Paraskevi and Zogeria) served as a refuge for ships carrying goods to and from the Argolis Gulf during the peak of the State of Lerna (about 2300 BC). Artefacts in the areas of Agia Marina and Agioi Anargyroi show the existing settlements belonging the late Mycenaean period; the 12th to 13th century BC. At the time of the Peloponnesian War, stone observatories were built at the sites of Prophet Elias and Zogeria.
• HELLENISTIC PERIOD
Mention of the island of Spetses was made both by Strabo in the 1st century BC and Pausanias in the 2nd century AD, referring to the island as “Pityoussa”.
• BYZANTINE PERIOD
During Roman occupation and later during byzantine empire years, empire caused a wave of refugees to flee to Spetses, resulting in the re-settlement of the island.
During the period of “Frankocracy” (rule of the Frankish and Latin States after the Fourth Crusade, 1200 – 1460), Spetses were under the occupation of Venetians, that were succeeded by Turks. Many Arvanites took refuge in Spetses in order to escape Turkish persecution. These refugees created the old village of Spetses, in the area of Kastelli, which is fortified by a wall that reinforces the natural protection provided by the terrain.
Over the years the island developed a significant naval power, like other islands of the Aegean Sea, and most importantly the island of Hydra.
Spetiots in cooperation with the Russians in the Russian-Turkish war in 1768–1774 turned the powerful merchant fleet of Spetses to a significant power against the Turks during the so-called Orlofika. In response to these events the Turks destroyed the only village on the island in 1770.
For some years after the destruction of the island it remained deserted, but was re-occupied in 1774 by new settlers from the opposite coast of Peloponnese after the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca that allowed the Russian free movement of ships in the Mediterranean and the recreation of the powerful commercial fleet by using the Russian flag to establish trade routes with neighbouring countries.
Merchant seafaring was the only source of livelihood for many rocky, non-arable Greek islands, and the brisk Mediterranean and Black Sea trade of the 18th and 19th centuries allowed them to prosper – especially and spectacularly so during the trade embargoes of the Napoleonic Wars, which found Greek merchantmen and crews willing and able work with, or against, both belligerent sides at tremendous profit.
Further, in order to protect their activities from pirate attacks, the shipmen of Spetses started setting cannons, which were largely used during the Greek Independence War. Thanks to the wealth coming from shiping activities, Spetses gained their independence, like other islands, among which Hydra.
- GREEK INDEPENDENCE WAR OF 1821
From 1821, the island played an important role in the Greek War of Independence and was the home of celebrated war heroine Bouboulina. Spetses was the first of the Greek islands that raised the flag of Revolution the morning of 3 April 1821. A revolutionary act by Laskarina Bouboulina, on 13 March 1821, had preceded this event.
During the Revolution (1821-1832), Spetses played a key role in the Greek Independence War. Spetses, Hydra and Psara were the first islands to proceed with revolutionary acts and had a significant participation in the naval war.
Spetses fleet, consisting of merchant ships, played a key role in the struggle, both by participating in raids against the Turkish coast and the exclusion of fortresses in the Peloponnese. Particularly important is the involvement of the Spetsiot fleet in sieges of the fortresses of Nafplion and Monemvasia and naval battles of Samos (1824) and Kafireas (1825).
Laskarina Bouboulina, Andreas Miaoulis, Chatzigiannis Mexis and Kosmas Barbatsis, were the captains that marked the revolutionary acts with a significant contribution to the success of the Revolution.
The naval battle of Armata:
1822: On 8 September 1822 the Turkish fleet, coming from Monemvasia, endeavoured to supply the town of Nafplion, which was at the time besieged by Greek forces since the spring of 1821. Sailing between Trikeri and Spetsopoula, the Turkish force confronted the combined fleets of the three nautical islands, Spetses, Hydra and Psara.
The admiral of the Greek fleet, Andreas Miaoulis, gave orders to withdraw to the Gulf of Argolis, in order to outmanoeuvre the more numerous and powerful Turkish fleet.
According to the historian Andreas Chaztianargyros, more than 140 ships participated in the battle. Spetsiot Kosmas Barbatsis managed to get in the centre of the Turkish fleet and attack the Turkish ships. This heroic act resulted in the retreat of the Turkish fleet.
Each year, the second weekend of September is dedicated to celebratory events aimed at commemorating the events of the battle of Sept. 8, 1822, in combination with the feast of the chapel of Panagiá Armáta (the Madonna-in-arms), near the lighthouse. The events culminate with a fictionalized re-enactment of the battle, including the torching of the Turkish flagship in the harbour, an incident not mentioned in historical depictions of the battle.
In the aftermath of the Greek Revolution of 1821, the island of Spetses started to deline and the population decreased significantly. The industrial revolution lead to the marginalization of shipping, while Piraeus had become the major port of the country. Many Spetsiots decided to quit the island and seek for a better future abroad. Decline was only tackled by the touristic development of the island.
The island has a quite dense urbanization, like most of the islands. Mansions and smaller houses are one next to the other, evidencing the social cohesion of the island's town.
Beautiful marble squares can be found around the neighbourhoods of the town, giving a breath to the residents. All great mansions (Anargyros, Koutsis, Lazarou-Orlof, Mexis, Botasis, Bouboulis) were built before the Revolution and are located in the upper part of the town, away from the sea. Around each mansion, there was at the time, the houses of their sailing partners: sailors, captains, carpenters and clerks.
After the establishment of the Greek State, the nobles of Spetses decided to move close to the sea. New mansions were then built on the beach of Agios Nikolaos.
The architecture of the island is a mix of various architectural movements of 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th century, evidencing the island's cultural and economic growth at the time. Houses are different; depending on the landlord's social status. Three dffferent architectural designs can be found in Spetses: a U shape for the most wealthy families, an L shape for middle class and a I scheme for least wealthy families.
Most of the houses have two or three floors and an arched ground floor supporting the balcony of the first floor. Most of them have a courtyard and cisterns, which are filled with rainwater concentrated on the roof and on large surfaces that are used in order to collect the rain water.
Some houses have their yards decorated with mosaics from pebbles in local motifs. Many of them also have their roofs decorated with statutes. Houses at the seafront have a particular space dedicated to ship equipment.
Celebration of Armata:
Every year, early in September, the island of Spetses commemorates the famous naval battle of Spetses. Thousands of visitors come to the island to attend the Armata Festival.
The Festival lasts one week and includes various events; theatre plays, exhibitions, music concerts. The Festival's klimax is the revival of the battle in the port of Spetses.
During the revival, lights are off and the visitors can see the Turkish ship on fire. The destruction of the flagship is followed by impressive fireworks.
Danse - Music and local clothes:
Spetsiots' love for music and danse has a long tradition. Original Spetsiot songs are sang during traditional festivities along with songs that Spetsiot shipmen adapted and transposed to the Spetiot traditional music. Spetsiot "syrtos" and "chasapikos" danses are among the favourite traditional danses of Spetsiots.
The typical Spetsiot costume is also found with slight differences in all Agean islands as well as at the opposite coast of Ermionis. The male costume is the typical dress composed of a wide "vraka" and a shirt with a sleevless waistcoat. The female costume is composed of the white silk shirt and the long dress with a belt.
Spetses are gifted by nature. The natural landscape is rich in variety, combining magical beaches with the pine-clad hills. Strolling around Spetses, visitors will find pines and also aromatic herbs, thyme, savory and wild flowers. Hiking paths that start from the beach and go all the way up to the hills give visitors the chance to discover the nature of the island.
From the chapel of Prophet Elias, built on the highest part of the island, the visitor can enjoy the panoramic view of the island of Spetses.