Hydra differs from the other islands in the Saronic Gulf on
account of its rocky, barren terrain and its characteristic
architecture which is perfectly attuned to the austere natural
environment. These endow it with a special charm that together
with its cosmopolitan ambience, high standard of accommodation,
luxury shops, art galleries, restaurants, night life and
opportunities for sea sports have enhanced it as one of the most
popular tourist destinations in Greece. Excavations have
revealed the existence of a Mycenaean settlement to the west of
the present town. The island flourished during the Byzantine Age
the finds from the area of Episkopi – at that time its capital –
on the west coast attest. During the Ottoman period the
Hydriotes had secured a system of local self-government and many
privileges, and so managed to create a powerful mercantile
fleet. With the declaration of the War of Independence in 1821
the captains put their vessels in the service of the Struggle
and fought valiantly.
Hydra, the island’s capital and port, a unique combination of
architecture and landscape, makes a lasting impression. The
stone-built captains’ mansions, two- and three-storeys high with
tiled roofs, are built amphitheatrically on the two bare hills
overlooking the harbour. In most of these residences, restored
and renovated inside and out, the authentic interiors and
antique furniture are preserved. Among the most important
mansions are the Tombazis – which houses the annexe of the
School of Fine Arts – the Kountouriotis, the Voudouris, the
Miaoulis, the Voulgaris, the Kriezis – now the Home for the
Elderly – and the Tsamados – the Merchant Marine School.
Places of interest include the old harbour with the battlements
and cannon, the Koimesis tis Theotokou Monastery, built to the
plans of Venetian and Genoese architects in the 17th century,
and the churches of Hypapanti and Aghios loannis tou Nistevti
with notable wall-paintings. At the summit of the hill, with a
panoramic view over the town and the harbour, are the twin
monasteries of Aghia Eupraxia and Profitis Ilias.
The Historical Archive-Museum houses a wealth of material on the
island’s history as well as a significant library. To the NE of
the town is Mandraki, and on a hilltop a short distance from
there is the Aghia Triada Monastery. At the NE edge of the
island is the Zourvas Monastery, dedicated to the Dormition of
the Virgin, and to the S is the Monastery of Aghia Matrona.
The coasts of Hydra are rocky and sheer. There is an organized
beach at Mandraki, which can be reached by sea-taxi or on foot
from the town. Other beaches ideal for swimming, at Kaminia,
Vlycho, Molo, Bisti, Limnioniza and Aghios Nikolaos, can all be
reached by sea-taxi. Between Hydra and the coast of the
Peloponnese lies the islet of Dokos.
Easter is celebrated on Hydra with special customs. At Kaminia
on Good Friday the Epitaphios procession continues down to the
water’s edge, while on Easter Sunday an effigy of Judas is
June the “Miaoulia” is celebrated. The highspot is a
re-enactment of the Hydriote Admiral Miaoulis setting fire to
the flagship of the Ottoman fleet.
Among the island’s advantages is the prohibition of motor
vehicles. Several excursions can be made by donkey. Hydra is
renowned for its delicious almond cakes.