halkidiki's long history is fascinating, literally the stuff of legends. Although the discovery of a fossilised human skull in Petralona Cave points to a human presence in Chalkidiki dating back some 75,000 years - to the Palaeolithic Age, remains found in other parts of the peninsula suggest it was populated by humans in prehistoric times.
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of ash and clay in what is considered the earliest indication of human use of fire. Furthermore, Petralona Cave is especially important in that it played host to the earliest known form of culture in Europe.
Quite a lot later, Chalkidiki inspired the ancient Greeks who mentioned it often in their mythology.
Poet Hesiod, in his marvellous work 'Theogony', tell us that gods and men shared a common origin. The first man, the 'protanthropos' sprang out of the earth itself, and one of the sites which claim to the honour of witnessing this is Kassandra in Chalkidiki: it was once called Pallene or Phlegres, and there, it is said, Phlegraean Alcyoneus, the earliest of the Giants, sprang from the ground.
Phlegres (which means 'burning fields') or Pallene (Kassandra) was also the place where the ferocious Battle of the Giants, took place, between 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.
According to the myth, the goddess Athena threw the Kassandra promontory at the Giant Enceladus.
Mount Athos, the third promontory of Chalkidiki, was formed when the Giant Athos tossed an enormous boulder at the gods.
The lots of similar stories about the Battle of Giants fascinated later poets and artists, and as a result the conflict is one of the most common scenes depicted on ancient pottery and sculpture.
Chalkidiki produced impressive artwork in the Neolithic period and Bronze Age, while mainly Greeks from the south began to colonise it in the 8th century BC, recognising its commercial value and strategic location.
Its dense forests provided the wood for the construction of homes and ships, while its soil was mined for metal ore, lead and silver.
So many colonies like Apythos, Neapolis, Torone, Potidaea, Olynthus, Stageira where set up in the area. By the 6th century these colonies controlled the trade in the area of Macedonia , and a great part of the silver trade in the Mediterranean.
Stageira, a colony founded by the island of Andros, was the birthplace of the great philosopher Aristotle. Aristotles is considered to be one of the greatest minds in human history and a "father" of the sciences and philosophy of the western culture.
Aristotles was also the teacher of Alexander the Great, who often mentioned that in his father owed his life, but in his teacher Aristotles, owed the values of his life.
The Peloponnesian War (431-401), which effected the whole ancient Greek world, was the cause of destruction of many of those cities. In 392 BC, 32 cities of Chalkidiki under the leadership of Olyntus set up the Koinon of Chalkis in Thrace, a confederation which lasted until 357 BC.
In 348 BC Philip occupied Olyntus, which now headed a league of some thirty cities, and Chalkidiki became a 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: Cassandra (or Kassandra), on the site of Potidaea, built by Philips's brother-in-law Cassander; Ouranoupolis, on the ruins of Sane on the Athonite promontory, built by Cassander's brother Alexargos, and Antigoneia, built by Antigonus Gonatas in the vicinity of Kalamaria.
Excavations on the area have brought to light statues, coins, pottery and buildings from the settlements that where spread on the area during the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Many of those finds can be seen in the Archaeological museum of Thessaloniki.
Chalkidiki's history was associated with that of the ancestors of the Romans, as according to a tradition, a group of Trojans settled in Pallene after the fall and destruction of their city, before the travelling to the west came in the end to Latium. Some about ten centuries later, in 168 BC, Chalkidiki was conquered by the Romans along with the rest of Macedonia. However the influence of Rome on the Greek population of the area was negligible. In 269 BC Chalikidiki was afflicted by an invasion of Goths and their barbarian allies. After the decline of Rome, it formed part of the Byzantine Empire.
It's position within the Byzantine Empire is evidenced by the 150-plus castles, churches, bridges and other structures that have been documented, while Mt Athos possesses a wealth of information on Byzantium.
During the Turkish occupation, farming and stockbreeding flourished and the locals wielded much power despite the fact that they where subjects to a foreign state. Led by Emmanouil Pappas, whose placed himself at the head of the men of the Mandemi villages and of the Athonite monks, the people of Chalkidiki surged forward in the 1821 revolution against the Turks but the rulers managed to suppress them.
Finally, in 1912, Greek rebels succeeded in ousting their oppressors and Chalkidiki was reunited with the rest of Greece.
A crucial page in the area's history was turned in 1922, when refugees from Asia Minor, Eastern Thrace and Bulgaria poured in, as the result of the Asia Minor catastrophe. They injected Chalkidiki with new economic and political strength while introducing their unique culture, music and foods. They toiled hard, working the land or sea, and their efforts were rewarded. Having withstood raids by foreign powers over the centuries, the people of Chalkidiki exhibit a great sense of pride and, partly due to the area's relative isolation, have managed to hold onto numerous age-old traditions.
Photos and text taken from "Chalkidiki & Mount Athos
- today and yesterday"