When I wrote about the wonderful community of the Estia Agios Nikolaos, (click here if you missed it) the post became too long for me to include anything about the town of Galaxidi. In fact, this picturesque little town, with its fine natural port nestled in the gulf of Korinth, has a very interesting history.
Before Greece had acquired good roads, seaways were essential to trade, and, by 1775, the Galaxidi port, under the tolerant eye of Ali Pasha, the Ottoman ruler of Ioannina, was fourth in strength in Greece, with 60 large ship of a total tonnage of 10.000 and crews numbering 1.100 souls. The fleet operated on a system whereby each member of the crew owned part of the ship or its cargo – this fostered a spirit of active entrepreneurship, but also cultivated economy, frugality and common sense. The crews’ daily diet was dry bread, olives, salt fish and a little wine, and they were known for their endurance in adversity.
The captains of Galaxidi contributed greatly to the War of Independence of 1821 and, after liberation from the Ottoman Empire, the fleet was quickly rebuilt.
After 1840, there was a rapid rise in prosperity, with the shipowners of Galaxidi founding their own insurance companies, and shipyards which built around twenty vessels a year. In the 1870s, more than 350 sailing ships crisscrossed the Mediterranean, travelled to the Black Sea and as far away as the Atlantic.
Sadly, by the end of the 19th century there came a steady decline , since the shipowners of Galaxidi insisted in staying true to their sailing vessels, and refused to covert to steam. They lost their competitive edge, and the town began to dwindle, while some families moved to Pireus. The coup de grace came with the German occupation.
Why did the traditional captains of Galaxidi fail to become modern cosmopolitan shipowners, like so many other Greeks did? It’s difficult to say. Maybe it was their insistence to cling to tradition, maybe it was their sense of independence which stopped them from forging the alliances needed to secure the necessary funds for converting the fleet. Be that as it may, their houses still stand as a reminder of their past glory. Neoclassical in style, they boast wonderful painted ceilings decorated by Italian artists the captains invited back with them, along with pieces of furniture and decorative objects bought on their voyages.