Although KASTELLÓRIZO’s official name of Meyísti means “Biggest”, it’s actually among the very smallest Dodecanese islands; it’s just the biggest of a local archipelago of islets. It’s also extremely remote, located more than 100km east of Rhodes and barely more than a nautical mile off mainland Asia. At night its lights are outnumbered by those of the Turkish town of Kaş opposite, with which Kastellórizo has excellent relations.
The island’s population has dwindled from around ten thousand a century ago to perhaps three hundred now. Having been an Ottoman possession since 1552, it was occupied by the French from 1915 until 1921, and then by the Italians. When Italy capitulated to the Allies in 1943, 1500 Commonwealth commandos occupied Kastellórizo. Most departed that November, after the Germans captured the other Dodecanese, which left the island vulnerable to looters, both Greek and British. By the time a fuel fire in 1944 triggered the explosion of an adjacent arsenal, demolishing half the houses on Kastellórizo, most islanders had already left. Those who remain are supported by remittances from more than 30,000 emigrants, as well as subsidies from the Greek government to prevent the island reverting to Turkey.
Yet Kastellórizo has a future of sorts, thanks partly to repatriating “Kassies” returning each summer to renovate their crumbling ancestral houses as second homes. Visitors tend either to love Kastellórizo and stay a week, or crave escape after a day; detractors dismiss it as a human zoo maintained by the Greek government to placate nationalists, while devotees celebrate an atmospheric, little-commercialized outpost of Hellenism.