Lush, seductive and shaped like a pregnant guppy, Sámos seems to swim away from Asia Minor, to which the island was joined until Ice Age cataclysms sundered it from Mount Mykáli (Mycale) on the Turkish mainland. The resulting 2.5km strait provides the narrowest maritime distance between Greece and Turkey, except at Kastellórizo. In its variety of mountainous terrain, beaches and vegetation, Sámos has the feel of a much larger island, and despite recent development and wildfires taking their toll, it remains indisputably among the most beautiful in the Aegean.
Sámos was during the Archaic era among the wealthiest islands in the Aegean and, under the patronage of tyrant Polykrates, home to a thriving intellectual community that included Epicurus, Pythagoras, Aristarcus and Aesop. Decline set in when Classical Athens rose, though Sámos’s status improved in Byzantine times when it formed its own imperial administrative district. Late in the fifteenth century, the ruling Genoese abandoned the island to the mercies of pirates and Sámos remained almost uninhabited until 1562, when it was repopulated with Greek Orthodox settlers from various corners of the empire.
The new Samians fought fiercely for independence during the 1820s, but despite notable land and sea victories against the Turks, the Great Powers handed the island back to the Ottomans in 1830, with the consoling proviso that it be semi-autonomous, ruled by an appointed Christian prince. This period, known as the Iyimonía (Hegemony), was marked by a renaissance in fortunes, courtesy of the hemp, leather-tanning and (especially) tobacco trades. However, union with Greece in 1912, an influx of refugees from Asia Minor in 1923 and the ravages of a bitter World War II occupation followed by mass emigration effectively reversed this recovery until tourism took over during the 1980s.