The Greek mythology says that Kythira was the birthplace of goddess Aphrodite, which is why there was a sanctuary to her honor on the island. The history of Kythira started in the Minoan times (3000-1200 BC) and in fact, the Minoans were using Kythira as a stop-over point for their travels to the West. For that reason, they created the settlement of ancient Skandia.
In ancient times, Kythira was mainly under the control of Sparta but it was also frequently occupied by the Athenians, for it was located in a highly strategic spot in the Mediterranean Sea. With the decline of Sparta and Athens, the island lost its importance but continued to be inhabited, according to archaeological findings dating from the Hellenistic and Roman period.
During the Byzantine period, Kythira was the seat of a Bishop. In the 7th century AD, the Byzantine emperor Constantinos donated the island to the Pope who, in his turn, gave it to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Around the 10th-11th century, Kythira was considered an important power and became a part of Monemvasia. Around that time, many Byzantine churches and monasteries were built. In 1204, the Franks occupied Constantinople, as well as many islands. Markos Venieris occupied Kythira in 1207 and became the Marquis of Kythira. It is during the Venetian domination that the island was renamed Tsirigo and divided into three provinces: Milopotamos, Agios Dimitrios (today called Paleochora) and Kapsali. Venetians observed the island’s strategic position and as a result, they settled there and started to build many fortifications around it. One of them is the strong castle above Chora that survives to this day.
The enforced feudal system and the frequent piratical raids made the local people unhappy and provoked a big decrease in population. In 1537, the capital of Agios Dimitrios was destroyed by the Algerian pirates of Haiderin Barbarossa. The Venetians governed Kythira until 1797, with one small break during which the island was occupied by the Russians, in alliance with the Turks, an occupation that influenced both language and architecture. In 1780, the island’s inhabitants rose against the Venetian oppression. On the 28th of June 1797, Kythira went under French occupation, like the rest of the Ionian Islands, who established a democratic regime, giving hope for justice and freedom to the population. But a year later they were attacked again by Russians, supported by the Turks, who chased the French away from the island.
On the 21st of May 1800, with the Treaty of Constantinople was founded the semi-independent Ionian State (which also included Kythira) under the supervision of the Sultan. However, the gentry still kept its privileges. The bourgeoisie and the peasants rebelled and attacked the small fortress of Kastro, occupying it on the 22 of July 1800. This period is called the Period of Anarchy. With the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, Kythira went into French domination until 1809, when it came under English domination. In the 5th of November 1815, the Treaty of Paris established the Ionian State, validating the English occupation.
The inhabitants of Kythira took part in the Greek Revolution against the Turkish Occupation. Georgios Mormoris and Kosmas Panaretos were two of the best-known fighters from Kythira. On the 21st of May 1864, the Ionian Islands were united with the rest of Greece. The wave of emigration intensified at the beginning of the 20th century when people were massively leaving for America and Australia.
During the first World War, Kythira took part in the political movement created by Venizelos, formed an autonomous administration and strengthened the Allied Forces. The occupation of the Second World War by the Italians and the Germans increased the emigration, which became even stronger after the war. Today, 60000 individuals leaving in Australia are of Kythirian origin and several thousand Kythirians established in Athens and the city of Piraeus, where they constitute active members of the modern society.