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Kastelorizo, current official name in Greek is Μεγίστη/Megisti; (Turkish: Meis, Italian: Castelrosso), is a small Greek island situated in the Eastern Mediterranean. It lies about 2 kilometres from the Anatolian coastal town of Kas, more or less half-way between Rhodes and Antalya.
Meis is six kilometres long, three kilometres wide and 9.2 km².
The island has three capes: Agios Stefano (north), Nifti (east) and Pounenti (south-west). Between Agios Stefano and Pounenti, there is a wide bay, the island’s main harbour, where you can find the only town on the island. The soil is composed of limestone and produces only small amounts of grapes, olives and beans. There is no source of drinking water on the island.
Kas (pronounced ‘Kash’) is a small fishing, diving, yachting and tourist town, and a district of Antalya Province of Turkey, 168km west of the city of Antalya. As a tourist, it is relatively unspoiled. The town of Kas is on a hill running down to the sea. The district has a typical Mediterranean climate of hot, dry summers and warm, wet winters, which allows the growth of oranges, lemons and bananas. The lowland areas are also planted with cut flowers and a variety of fruits and vegetables, many are grown all year round under glass. The hillsides produce honey, and almonds while at high altitudes there are extensive pine forests. The weather is drier at high altitudes. Although agriculture is still important, tourism is the main source of income in the district, which has many hotels and guest houses. About 2 km (1 mi) offshore from Kas is the Greek island of Kastelorizo (in Turkish) served by a Turkish ferry. The tourist industry is centred on the pleasant town of Kas, but many other coastal towns and villages in the district have plenty of accommodation for visitors including Kalkan and Gelemis. The district can be reached from both Antalya and Dalaman airports. Kas itself is a quiet pleasant town with its blue sea and narrow streets scented with jasmine flowers. There are plenty of little guest houses, quiet cafes serving home cooking, or small bars to relax after a day’s scuba diving. Kas has an annual arts festival, jazz concerts in the Hellenistic theatre and the Kiln Under the Sea arts collective have held underwater ceramics exhibitions here.
Kas is one of the leading spots for diving in Turkey. There is a diving school, many places with equipment for hire and at the port local divers offer courses. If you decide to try diving in Kas you can expect to see a beautiful array of fish and other sea creatures like octopus and possibly dolphins, and also the wrecks of some ancient ships. On Fridays, Greek visitors from nearby islands such as Kastelorizo visit the markets of Kas.
PLACES OF INTEREST
The town of Kas has a Hellenistic theatre and many other places of historical interest; and it has spots of natural beauty, including excellent beaches, and a number of interesting caves, some of them underwater.
The mountains behind the coast offer places for trekking, climbing and canyoning.
The ruins of the antique cities of Komba (in the village of Gombe), Nisa, Kandiya, Phellos, Istlada, Apollonia, Isinda and Kyaenai.
Meis (Kastelorizo) was colonised by Dorian Greeks, who named it Megiste. Inscriptions found at the foot of the Knight’s castle confirm that during the Hellenistic period the island was ruled by Rhodes, and formed part of it’s Peraia. During the period of the Byzantine Empire, Kastelorizo was part of the ‘Eparchy of the Islands’, the capital of which was Rhodes. In 1306 the island was taken over by the Knights of St. John Hospitaller of Jerusalem, headed by Folques de Villaret. They were on their way from Cyprus to Rhodes, which was conquered three years later, becoming the centre of their Crusader State. They restored the castle, which was thereafter used as a prison for disobedient knights. In 1440 the island was occupied by Sultan Djemal-el-din of Egypt, who destroyed the castle. Ten years later it was conquered by Alfonso V of Aragon, king of Naples, who in 1461 rebuilt the castle and dispatched a governor. Naples regained possession of it until 1512 when it was conquered by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I.
On September 22, 1659, during the war over Crete, the island was conquered by Venice and the castle was destroyed again, but the Ottomans were able to regain it again soon after. Between 1828 and 1833 Kastelórizo joined the Greek insurgents, but after the end of the Greek War of Independence, it came back in possession of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1912, during the Libyan War between Italy and the Ottoman Empire, the inhabitants asked General Ameglio, chief of the Italian occupation forces in Rhodes, for their island to be annexed to Italy. This was refused, and on 14 March 1913, the local population imprisoned the Turkish governor and his Ottoman garrison and proclaimed a provisional government. In August of the same year, the Greek government sent from Samos a provisional governor supported by gendarmes. But they, too, were expelled by the inhabitants on 20 October 1915. On 28 December 1915, the French navy led by the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc occupied on the island at the behest of a pro-French local party which feared Turkish reprisals. The French quickly blocked another landing attempted on the same day by a Greek contingent of Evzones. Turkish shore batteries responded to the French occupation by shelling the island, in 1917 succeeding in sinking the British seaplane carrier HMS-Ben-my-Chreef HMS Ben-my-Chree. Due to the treaty of Sevres, the island was ultimately assigned to Italy: the Italian navy assumed it from the French on 1 March 1921. Kastelórizo – under the Italian name Castelrosso, was then integrated with the possession of the Isole Italiane dell’ Egeo.
The 1932 Convention between Italy and Turkey, which defined the sea border between the two powers, assigned all the islets of the small archipelago around Kastelorizo except Rho and Stronglii to Turkey. During the 1930s it was a stopover for French and British seaplanes. During the Second World War, on 25 February 1941, in the course of Operation Abstention, British Commandos occupied the island, but Italian forces from Rhodes recaptured it some days later. After the British occupation, fearing a German invasion, some of the inhabitants fled to Gaza in Palestine. When Italy capitulated to the Allies (8 September 1943), the island was occupied again by Allied forces, and it remained under their occupation for the rest of the war. In July 1944, a fuel dump caught fire and spread to an adjacent ammunition dump, thereby destroying half of the homes on the island.
Kastelorizo was assigned to Greece with the Paris Peace Treaties, 1947. In May 1945 it was still under British administration, but on September 15, 1947, effectively came under Greek administration. The island formally joined the Greek State on 7 March 1948 together with the other Dodecanese islands. The island has become more popular in recent years, among tourists looking for an isolated place in the Dodecanese, thank also to the 1991 Oscar-winning movie Mediterraneo, by Gabriele Salvatores, which is set on the island.
In 2011, the French ship Dignite-Al Karama, the only member the Freedom Flotilla II that managed to approach Gaza refuelled at Kastelorizo. The ship was warmly received by the inhabitants, some of whom remembered about the shelter the island’s inhabitants had found in Gaza during World War II. The population and the economy reached its apogee at the end of the nineteenth century with an estimated 10,000 people residing there. At that time, Kastelorizo was still the only safe harbour along the route between Makri (today’s Fethiye) and Beirut. Its sailing ships traded products from Anatolia (coal, timber, valonia, pine bark) against Egyptian goods (rice, sugar, coffee, tissues and yarns), and carried Anatolian cereals to Rhodes and Cyprus. On the island, there was also a flourishing production of charcoal (much sought after in Alexandra, where it was used for narghile. Fishing industry—mainly sponges—was important too.
At the dawn of the twentieth century the decay of the island’s economy set in, accelerated by the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the deportation of the Anatolian Greeks in 1923. In the late 1920s, the population of the island had dropped to 3,000, while about 8,000 inhabitants lived abroad, predominantly in Australia, Egypt, Greece and the U.S.At that time the town had 730 inhabited houses, while 675 were already empty, and many ruined.