The beginning of the history of Folegandros, as in most of the Cyclades cluster islands, stretches back into antiquity. Evidence of a prehistoric settlement has been discovered in the northern part of the island, while Solon, Aratus and Strabo have mentioned its name.
Beyond the myths and beliefs, the historic evidences converge to the conclusion that the first inhabitants of the island were the Carians, people originating from the East. The Phoenicians and then the Leleges followed. Later the Minoans from Crete reached the island with their leader, Folegandros, son of Minoas, after whom the island was named. Several coins that were found on the island, dated from the 3rd and 2nd century BC, bear on the one side Folegandros, thus proving his presence on the island.
According to other sources, the name of the island comes form the phoenician word «phelekgundari» that means “rocky land”. There is also a more common name of the island that prevailed during the Frankish rule, which is Polyandros or Polykandros. This one is based on an older myth according to which the first inhabitants of the island were shepherds from Western Greece, and in fact they were so many that the island was filled with men. Another well-known name of the island throughout the centuries was Sidira, most probably coming from the rocky subsoil of the island.
Also, from inscriptions found on the island, it is proven that after the Cretans, the Dorians, in contrast with other cycladic islands that had been colonized by the Ionians, had inhabited the island. This fact resulted in their delayed integration in the Athenian League in 425 BC with adverse conditions of treatment compared to other islands. At that time the goddess Artemis the Lightbearer and Apollo Prostatirios [Protector] were worshiped on the island. Several researchers argue that this is evidenced by the several archaeological findings discovered in Chrysospilia and which most possibly correspond to the same time period.
In the following years and after the victory and predominance of the Macedonians in Cheronia in 338 BC, the island passes under their rule, like so many other islands of the Cyclades. During the Roman years it becomes a place of exile, but there are no further information about it. Also, during the Byzantine years, we assume that the island had lapsed into obscurity since there is too little information or reports about it.
In 1207, it appears again in the forefront as a member of the Ducat of Naxos under the rule of Marco Sanudo (relative of Doge Enrico Dandolo) who managed to conquer and establish the Ducat of Aegean with Naxos as a capital, which constituted of a total of 18 islands, taking advantage of the respective decree that had been published at the time and was giving the right to nobles and fortune hunters to acquire property rights upon them.
In 1279 AC it came under the Byzantine domain under the command of the Italian fortune hunter and later admiral Licarius and constituted a Byzantine province until 1307, when the Spanish Giannouli Da Coruña, a knight of the order of knights of Saint John, conquered the island.
The period of governance under the house of Da Coruña (1307-1464 BC) was defined by the attacks and raids of the Venetians of Naxos that desired to reoccupy the island but also by the attacks of the Turkish pirates that overrun the area.
According to surviving evidence, the island was destroyed many times by pirates and corsairs and there were no survivors. At that time there was a decree stipulating that whoever could not live in their land, should go to the island of Folegandros and find ready houses, work at the fields and in general inhabit the island over again, something that actually happened. So, people from Karystos, Crete and even Pella of Macedonia came to live on the island.
In 1617, the island goes under the total domination of the Turks with the help of the French. There is even a relative story that took place in 1715 when the island was under the rule of the Turks, when Xhanum Hohxa was general admiral of the ottoman fleet. At that period, the consular of France, Giorgakis Stais, was serving as sovereign and administrator. The two knew each other and were enemies since a previous battle when Stais had captured Hohxa and had showed no mercy.
In the years that went by, the notables of the island, seeing that Stais was establishing himself and his popularity was growing fast, tried to overthrow him, as he was a threat for them and their interests. So, they composed a letter with a series of accusations against him and passed it on to the few and illiterate inhabitants of Folegandros to sign it, not knowing what was the content. When the letter reached Hxanum Hohxa, he immediately went to the island to arrest his old enemy. This thing infuriated the people of Folegandros that realized the confidence tricked and they rose. They gathered every piece of gold that they owned and they offered it as ransom to Hohxa, who accepted it. However, not only he did not release Stais but he also arrested all inhabitants of the island, nearly 900 people. He took them all to Chios where others were slaughtered and others were poisoned. Only 17 people managed to escape the massacre and were transferred to Constantinople with the assistance of the French ambassador. In 1718 they managed to return to the island and join 15 more people that had escaped from the Turks three years before. The Turkish rule was overridden by the appearance of the Russians in the Aegean Sea in 1770-1774. Finally the island was united with the rest of liberated Greece in 1828.
In the later years, during Metaxas’ dictatorship, Folegandros became over again a place of exile and pain for the political opponents of the government.
According to testimonies from this dark era, in 1935-1936, the first exiles arrived at the island and they were also the first foreigners that the island ever had met. These political “refuges” were intellectual people, such as University professors, musicians, actors, as well as common people, like plumbers, farmers, even doctors, people that integrated in the society despite the objections of the gendarmerie. They created a self-sufficient society and they built a school, they created an orchestra, a theater, two tailor’s shops and even two plumbers’ shops. The farmers rented some fields in Livadi and they soon had a rich harvest. They bought two donkeys to carry water from Kato Pigadia and they minted their own lead coins that bore the inscription ΟΣΠΕΦ meaning the Teams of Political Exiles Cohabitation of Folegandros. Slowly, the locals accepted them and started working with them, attending their concerts and theatrical plays.
The local inhabitants of Folegandros were greatly influenced and they assimilated many new ideas from the exiles, which helped them to form a self-sufficient living standard that lasts till today.