History of Halkidiki
Halkidiki had been inhabited approximately 250,000 years ago, as the discovery of a fossilized human skull in Petralona Cave reveals. However, remains found in other parts of the peninsula suggest it was populated by humans even in prehistoric times. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of ash and clay in what is considered the earliest indication of human use of fire.
Halkidiki took its name from the city Halkis, located in Evia that colonized it in the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Kassandra is named after the Macedonian King Kassandros, brother-in-law of Alexander the Great, Sithonia after Sithon, the son of Possidon, the ancient Greek god of the sea, while Athos after a giant called Athos.
According to the mythology, Halkidiki was the birthplace of the Giants and it became a battlefield, when they tried to expel the Gods from Mount Olympus. The epic battle took place in Kassandra, with Mother Earth (Gea) and her sons - the Giants - on one side and the Gods of Olympus and chosen mortals, like Hercules and Dionysus, at the other side. It is said that the goddess Athena threw the Kassandra promontory at the Giant Egelados and Mount Athos, the third promontory of Halkidiki, was formed when the Giant Athos tossed an enormous boulder at the gods. It is considered that Egelados, even if buried under the Kassandra peninsula, did not die at that time and this is how earthquakes occur.
There have been organised settlements in Halkidiki since 4000 BC. Its oldest inhabitants were Thracians and Pelasgians. Impressive artwork was produced in the Neolithic period and Bronze Age, when mainly Greeks from the southern cities of Halkis and Eretria began to colonize it in the 8th century BC, recognizing its commercial value and strategic location. Its dense forests provided the wood for the construction of houses and ships, while there was added attraction by its mineral wealth, from which prosperous mining industry gradually developed.
By the end of the Trojan War, Pelineis from Peloponnese anchored in Skioni to get water and food supplies before returning home. Then the Trojan women, who were travelling with them, burned their ships and forced them to stay in Skioni. At the same time, Enias, the hero of Troy, while he was travelling to Rome, he wintered in the northwest of Halkidiki and built the town Enia, close to Agelohori.
The Peloponnesian War (431-401), which affected the whole ancient Greek world, was the cause of destruction of many of these cities. In 392 BC, 32 cities of Halkidiki were united, under the leadership of Olynthos, and set up the "Halkidian League".
Stagira, a colony founded by the island of Andros, was the birthplace of the great philosopher Aristotle, Alexander the Great's teacher. Aristotle is considered to be one of the greatest minds in human history and the "father" of the sciences and philosophy of the western culture.
In 348 BC, King Philippos the II occupied Olynthos and Halkidiki became part of the Macedonian kingdom. All the cities in the area were razed and their populations deported to Macedonia. The new state of affairs led to the creation of three new cities: Kassandra, on the site of Potidea, built by Philippos' brother-in-law Kassandros; Ouranoupolis, on the ruins of Sani on the Athonite promontory, built by Kassander's brother Alexargos, and Antigonia, built by Antigonus Gonatas in the vicinity of Kalamaria.
In 168 BC, Halkidiki was conquered by the Romans, along with the rest of Macedonia, and declined. The area was at relative peace until the invasion of Goths and Barbarians in 269 AD. During the following years the Roman Empire was converted into a Hellenistic Christian Byzantine Empire. Its position within the Byzantine Empire is evidenced by the 150-plus castles, churches, bridges and other structures that have been documented. After the 9th century, the largest part of the peninsula became the possession of the monasteries of Athos.
In 1430 Halkidiki was dominated by the Turks and soon it became one of the most important centres of the Ottoman Empire, while Mount Athos enjoyed special privileges at the time, being completely autonomous. In May 1821, the population revolted against the Turks, led by Emmanouil Pappas who placed himself at the head of the men of the Mandemi villages and of the Athonite monks. However, the rulers managed to suppress them and, as a consequence, many villages were completely obliterated. Finally, in 1912, during the Macedonian war, Greek rebels succeeded in ousting their oppressors and Halkidiki was re-united with the rest of Greece. It is estimated that between 1821 and 1912 more than 16,000 people from the area either fled, were killed, or sold into slavery.
During 1923 there was an exchange of population. Refugees from Asia Minor, Eastern Thrace and Bulgaria poured in, as the result of the Treaty of Laussane. They injected Halkidiki with new economic and political strength while introducing their unique culture, music and foods. Finally, in 1960 Halkidiki faced a rapid tourist growth, not only due to its nature and countryside but also due to the number of monuments, its people and its traditional customs and culture.