Travel & Archaeology

The Cycladic Islands

Fascinating connections to the wider ancient world.

The Cycladic Islands are archaeologically important for the emergence of Europe’s first civilisation, and as a continuing link between developments in Europe, the Near East and Egypt.

Sea Routes: Integral to early seafaring across the Mediterranean, the Cycladic Islands played a prominent role in the early transmission of ideas, flow of trade and movement of people between east and west. Engaged in this wider network of exchange the islands flourished as staging posts on long established sea-routes, and were also able to exploit their own natural resources, notably obsidian from Melos and marble from Paros and Naxos.

Cycladic Art: On this basis an advanced Bronze Age civilisation arose from about 3000 BC, noted for its distinctive marble figurines. This Cycladic Culture provided roots for the emergence of the complex, palace-based societies of the Minoans and the Mycenaeans of the 2nd millennium BC, which in turn laid cultural foundations carried through into Classical Greece and Rome.

Classical Mythology: The deep ancestry of the Cyclades was remembered through myths and legends, and most of the islands feature in ancient Greek and Roman mythology. The reality behind the myths can be explored through important archaeological remains, particularly in Delos, Santorini and Naxos. These date from Bronze Age, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman times, and they yield fascinating connections to the wider ancient world.

World Heritage: The World Heritage site of Delos, for example, was revered as the birthplace of Apollo, symbolising how the light of human reason came to Greece from the east. And Santorini, whose volcano destroyed Minoan civilisation and plunged the world into a dark age, now preserves the Bronze Age equivalent of Roman Pompeii. Christianity produced some beautiful examples of Byzantine art and architecture, and subsequent Venetian rule, particularly under the ‘Duke of Naxos’, created splendid castles.

For more on the Cycladic Islands read our Recommended Publications