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As the full length of Hydra stretches before you when you round the easternmost finger of the northern Peloponnese, your first reaction might not, in fact, be a joyful one. Gray, mountainous, and barren, Idra (to use its alternative spelling) has the gaunt look of a saintly figure in a Byzantine icon. But as the island's curved harbor—one of the most picturesque in all of Greece—comes into view, delight will no doubt take over. Because of the nearly round harbor, the town is visible only from a perpendicular angle, a quirk in the island's geography that often saved the island from attack, since passing ships completely missed the port. Although there are traces of an ancient settlement, the island was sparsely inhabited until the Ottoman period. Hydra took part in the Greek War of Independence, begun in 1821, and by the early 19th century the island had developed an impressive merchant fleet, creating a surge in wealth and exposing traders to foreign cultures. Their trade routes stretched from the mainland to Asia Minor and even America.
In the middle of the 20th century the island became a haven for artists and writers like Arthur Miller, Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, and the Norwegian novelist Axel Jensen. In the early 1960s, an Italian starlet named Sophia Loren emerged from Hydra's harbor waters in the Hollywood flick Boy on a Dolphin. The site of an annex of Athens's Fine Arts School, today Hydra remains a favorite haunt of new and established artists. In summer there are continual art exhibits in many venues around the island. The arrival of world-famous contemporary art collector Dakis Ioannou (who set up an exhibition space at the island's former slaughterhouse in 2009) means that Hydra is now a magnet for today's chic art crowd.
Hydra at a Glance
Elsewhere in Attica, the Saronic Gulf Islands, and Delphi
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