The History of Mykonos: From Ancient Ruins to Tourist Boom

Ancient Origins of Mykonos and Mythological Connections

Mykonos, a Greek island known for its vibrant nightlife, picturesque windmills, and stunning beaches, boasts a rich history that dates back to antiquity. According to Hesychios of Alexandria1, a lexicographer from the 5th century AD, the island’s name derives from “Mykon,” meaning “heap,” and “themonia,” meaning “heap of stones.” This name likely refers to the impressive granite boulders that characterize the island’s landscape, which, according to Greek mythology, were the remains of giants slain by Hercules during the Gigantomachy (War of the Giants).

Archaeological evidence reveals that Mykonos has been inhabited since the Late Neolithic period (5th & 4th millennium BC), with significant findings indicating the presence of a thriving civilization. This is supported by the discovery of a Neolithic settlement at Ftelia2, one of the oldest settlements in the Cyclades islands. Excavations at Ftelia revealed the remains of buildings, pottery, stone tools, evidence of metalworking, and stone figurines from this early culture.

neolithic settlement in mykonos

The island was later colonized by Ionians, who displaced the previous inhabitants.

The Rise and Fall of Empires

Mykonos’ strategic location in the Aegean Sea played a crucial role in its development. Due to its proximity to the sacred island of Delos, a major religious and cultural center in ancient Greece, Mykonos flourished as a vital port for supplies and transit. The two islands enjoyed close cultural and religious ties, with frequent travel between them.

Throughout history, Mykonos has been ruled by various empires and powers. During the Roman and Byzantine periods, it was part of the Roman Empire and then the Byzantine Empire, respectively. In the 7th century, the Byzantines successfully defended the island against Arab attacks and maintained control until the 13th century. In 1207, Mykonos fell under the control of the Ghizzi dynasty, an Italian noble family, and was later handed over to the Venetians in 1390.

In 1537, the island faced a formidable attack by Hayreddin Barbarossa3, a renowned admiral of the Ottoman Empire under Suleiman the Magnificent. The Ottomans eventually seized control of Mykonos, establishing a system of self-governance with a governor and an appointed council of syndics.

The Greek War of Independence and Economic Revival

Mykonians actively participated in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottomans in 1821, with notable figures like Mando Mavrogenous4, a celebrated national heroine, leading the charge. The island became part of the newly independent Greek State in 1830.

manto mavrogenous

Following independence, Mykonos experienced an economic revival, driven by its sailors and merchants who established trade relations with regions like South Russia, Moldavia, and Wallachia. However, the opening of the Corinth Canal in 1904 and the outbreak of World War I led to a decline in the island’s economy, forcing many locals to seek employment elsewhere.

The Advent of Tourism and the Cosmopolitan Transformation of Mykonos

mykonos port at sunset

The seeds of Mykonos’ transformation into a cosmopolitan paradise were sown as early as 1926, when cruising ships carrying wealthy travelers from around the world began stopping at the nearby sacred island of Delos. While their initial interest lay in the antiquities of Delos, many were captivated by the charm of Mykonos: its pristine beaches, sparkling white architecture, and the warm hospitality of the locals. This marked the beginning of Mykonos’ journey as a sought-after summer retreat.

The island’s appeal continued to grow in the 1930s, attracting renowned artists, politicians, and affluent Europeans who sought a unique and glamorous destination. This laid the groundwork for Mykonos’ emergence as a hotspot for the international jet set.

While World War II temporarily halted the island’s momentum, the postwar years saw a resurgence in tourism. The island’s earlier popularity, combined with renewed interest in its historical and archaeological sites, fueled a tourism boom that ultimately transformed Mykonos into the cosmopolitan paradise it is today, celebrated for its vibrant nightlife, the unique blend of tradition and modernity, and irresistible charm.

Mykonos Tourism Statistics

Key statistics and trends regarding tourism in Mykonos for 2023:

  1. Decline in international arrivals:
    • In April 2023, international arrivals to Mykonos were down by 29% compared to pre-Covid 2019 levels, while overall arrivals to Greece were up by 14.6%.
    • For the January-November 2023 period, Mykonos airport recorded a 5.2% decline in arrivals to 546,000 compared to the same period in 2022.
  2. Reduced airline capacity:
    • According to airline scheduling plans for March-October 2023, the number of seats to Mykonos is expected to drop by 9.2% compared to 2022, which had also seen a decline.
    • Active airline seat bookings to Mykonos made since the start of 2023 have plummeted by 26.1% compared to 2022.
  3. Overall passenger traffic:
    • In July 2023, Mykonos airport handled a total of 394,000 passengers, marking a 0.8% drop compared to July 2022 and 2019.
    • For January-July 2023, Mykonos recorded 865,000 passengers, a 2.7% decrease from 2022, with international traffic down by 7.2%.
  4. Turnover and spending:
    • Turnover for businesses in Mykonos was down by 15-20% in April-May 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.
    • Some visitors reported that Mykonos has become overpriced and no longer offers value for money, leading them to choose alternative destinations.
  5. Comparison with other Greek destinations:
    • While Mykonos and Santorini experienced declines, other airports like Rhodes (+31.2%), Thessaloniki (+26.8%), and Athens (+17.4%) saw significant increases in international arrivals in April 2023.
    • For Greece as a whole, the number of airplane seats planned for March-October 2023 has risen by 10.2% compared to 2022.

The data suggests that Mykonos faced a challenging tourism season in 2023, with declining international arrivals, reduced airline capacity, and lower passenger traffic compared to both 2022 and pre-pandemic 2019 levels. This contrasts with the overall positive performance of Greek tourism in 2023, as many other destinations recorded significant growth.

Factors cited for Mykonos’ decline include exorbitant prices, overtourism, inadequate infrastructure, and competition from cheaper destinations offering better value for money. The island’s reputation also suffered due to incidents of crime and negative publicity from influencers.

Despite these challenges, Mykonos remains a popular and iconic destination, and there is optimism that the island will bounce back through self-correction measures and investments in tourism infrastructure. However, the 2023 season highlighted the need for Mykonos to address its issues and adapt to changing traveler preferences to maintain its position as a leading Greek tourism hotspot.

mykonos beach and yachts

Mykonos Today: A Blend of Tradition and Modernity

The remarkable growth and success of Mykonos as a tourist destination can be attributed to its unique blend of tradition and modernity. The warmth, hospitality, and authenticity of its locals have played a crucial role in creating a welcoming and vibrant atmosphere for visitors. Mykonians have shown an unwavering dedication to preserving their traditions and cultural heritage, even as the island embraces a cosmopolitan atmosphere.

This harmonious coexistence is evident in various aspects of the island’s life. Traditional Cycladic architecture, characterized by whitewashed houses with blue accents, narrow cobbled streets, and charming churches, has been meticulously preserved and integrated into the modern landscape. Visitors can wander through picturesque villages like Chora (Mykonos Town) and Ano Mera, where traditional bakeries, tavernas, and shops offer a taste of authentic Mykonian life.

Cultural events and festivals, deeply rooted in local customs and traditions, are celebrated with enthusiasm throughout the year. Religious processions, folk music and dance performances, and local culinary delights are just a few examples of how Mykonians proudly showcase their heritage.

At the same time, Mykonos has embraced modernity and become a cosmopolitan hub for international travelers. Luxury hotels, high-end boutiques, and world-renowned restaurants cater to the discerning tastes of the jet set. The island’s vibrant nightlife, with its famous beach clubs and bars, attracts partygoers from around the globe.

This unique blend of tradition and modernity is what sets Mykonos apart from other destinations. Visitors can experience the best of both worlds: immersing themselves in the island’s rich history and cultural heritage while enjoying the amenities and excitement of a modern cosmopolitan lifestyle.

The Mykonian Spirit: Hospitality and Authenticity

Mykonos continues to captivate visitors from all over the world with its blend of history, culture, natural beauty, and vibrant nightlife. The island’s enduring allure lies in its ability to offer a diverse range of experiences, from exploring ancient ruins and indulging in local cuisine to dancing the night away at world-renowned clubs and relaxing on pristine beaches.


  1. Hesychius of Alexandria, a 5th or 6th-century Greek lexicographer, compiled an extensive lexicon of Greek words, which is one of the most important sources for the study of ancient Greek language and dialects.  ↩︎
  2. The Ftelia settlement is attributed to the Saliagos culture of the Final Neolithic period in the Cyclades. ↩︎
  3. In 1537, Barbarossa led a huge Ottoman force that captured several Aegean islands belonging to the Republic of Venice, including Syros, Aegina, Ios, Paros, Tinos, Karpathos, Kasos, Kythira, and Naxos. In the same year, Barbarossa raided the island of Mykonos, which was still under Venetian control at the time. Barbarossa’s attack on Mykonos in 1537 was part of his campaign against Venetian possessions in the region after being called back by the Ottoman Sultan to take command of the navy. ↩︎
  4. Mando Mavrogenous was a Greek heroine who played a significant role in the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s. She was born in 1796 in Trieste (then part of the Habsburg Monarchy) to a wealthy Greek merchant family originally from Mykonos. When the Greek Revolution broke out in 1821, Mavrogenous rushed to Mykonos from Tinos where she was residing after her father’s death in 1818. In Mykonos, she rallied the local population and led them in the revolutionary cause, outfitting and supplying four armed ships at her own expense. Mavrogenous commanded the defense of Mykonos against an attack by Algerian pirates in October 1822, successfully repelling their attempted landing. She spent her entire personal fortune to support the Greek revolutionary forces and participated in military campaigns in areas like Karystos, Pelion, and Phthiotis in 1823. There is a square named after her (Mando Mavrogenous Square) in the town of Mykonos, honoring her as a local heroine from the island. ↩︎
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