Film info

Creator / Collector

Kastellorizo or Megisti is a Greek island and municipality of the Dodecanese, is the easternmost Greek island and is situated in the Levantine Sea.

In our fist shot, we see a stone path which leads to the fortress of the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (or Knights Hospitaller or Order of Saint John), a 14th century building at the top of a small hill above the port, on a reddish rock (Castle Rosso), from which it probably the island took its name.

Afterwards, a resident narrates events and actions of the Germans, the Italians, the British, the French and the Greeks during the Second World War, in which he was an eyewitness.

A huge stone staircase leads to a hill from where we can see on the west side, in the area of ​​Paleokastro, the ruins of the walls and the churches of the Castle’s Virgin Mary, Saint Stefanos and Santa Marina. We continue the tour between the cobbled paths in the elements of the sparse flora of the island as well as the remnants of old walls.

We see panoramic shots of the high deserted mountains, the rocky islets that surround the island, the traditional mansions, many of which are in ruins, others that have been renovated, the port with various boats and the Cathedral of Saints Constantine and Helen.


Film Information

Bonar, Andrew Graham

HD (1440x1080)



Duration (seconds)

Super 8mm

Creator's description

This used to be a street. Now nature has almost reclaimed it. And the whole of this area was densely covered with houses –many of them the homes of prosperous merchants. What went wrong? The decline began in the middle of the 19th century, but the final catastrophe happened during the Second World War. A surviving eye-witness tells the story:

[Abbreviated translation from Greek of the testimony of the eye-witness.]

“In 1941 the British arrived, captured the Italians and put them in a building under guard. When we asked whether the other Dodecanese islands had been liberated we were told that they had been, so we broke into the Italian stores and took food and whatever else we thought useful. But after a few days on the island the British left by submarine and sailing boat and the Italians came back. When they saw that we had plundered their stores they arrested 32 people and sent them as prisoners to Italy, and imposed an all-night curfew on the rest. This was the situation until 1943, when the British returned, together with some Greek and French forces. The sailors from one French ship disembarked, tore down the Italian flag and destroyed it. The Italians were furious but were powerless to do anything since the British had already disarmed them. A few days later the Italians were taken to Palestine. Then German planes came and bombed Kastelorizo and the people took fright and wanted to leave. The British transported us to Turkey and Cyprus and eventually to Palestine. While there we learned that a catastrophe had occurred: a fire had broken out and all our homes had been destroyed… …”

So that’s it: the defenceless Kastelorizans became the victims of a war in which they had no interest but over which they had no control. But the events of 1941 to 1945 were only the final blow –the decline had started long before. In fact it began with the opening of the Suez canal in 1869. Prior to that the Kastelorizans had grown rich as the great entrepot merchants of the Eastern Mediterranean, and they owned a huge fleet of sailing ships. But the opening of the Canal cut out much of their trade. At the same time steamships were beginning to replace sailing ships, and the Kastelorizans did not have the resources to convert to steam. So began the gradual exodus of the inhabitants. In the meantime the island was under Turkish rule until the First World War, when it was briefly occupied by the French. It was then ceded to the Italians, who had already occupied the other Dodecanese islands in 1912. For a time between the wars it was used by Italian, French and British seaplanes flying between Europe and the Middle East and there were even special tourist flights from Paris to the island. Then the Second World War broke out. In 1941 British commandos captured the island from the Italians but then abandoned it, and the Italians returned and took reprisals. The British came back in 1943 when Italy capitulated, but following two German air raids the inhabitants were evacuated. In their absence, in 1944, a fire suddenly broke out which, owing to a strong wind and the explosion of fuel and ammunition dumps destroyed virtually the whole town. Did the fire start by accident, or was it started deliberately by the British, as many of the islanders believe, to conceal the fact that they had looted the houses? There is perhaps nobody left alive who could answer this question, so it is likely to remain forever an unsolved mystery.

Standing among the ruins this fine church gives a hint of the opulence that once existed among the community.

Kastelorizo (author’s note)

In 1990 or thereabouts I visited Kastelorizo, the most remote of the Greek islands. The permanent population of the island then was only about 180, and most of the houses were burnt down. What had happened here ? I was curious to find out. It did not take long to establish the basic fact that during World War Two, on a windy day, a fire broke out and soon engulfed the houses, which were practically uninhabited at the time because the British had decided to move the population to Cyprus, and later on to Palestine, for their own safety and to enable the British troops to protect the island against possible invasion by Italian troops.

But the islanders were only allowed to take with them a few basic necessities, and this made them suspicious of British intentions. To this day many believe that the British plundered the richer houses and then deliberately set them on fire to cover their traces. Maybe they are right - it is impossible to know for certain. A few islanders remember that some of the British troops wore turbans, which means that they were members of the Indian Sikh forces serving in the British army. Could they have started the fire ? Yes, they could, but would they have done such a deed ? Their commanding officer staunchly defended the Sikhs after the event, stating that his soldiers were highly disciplined and knew very well that they would be severely punished if they were caught stealing from the houses.

Another theory states that after the islanders were obliged to leave their houses and go to Cyprus bands of robbers invaded Kastelorizo from neighbouring islands or from the Turkish mainland and broke into the houses at will. They then set fire to them.

Finally there is my own pet theory. According to this the fire was started by someone, but accidentally, not intentionally. The culprit was one of the Sikhs, who was cooking his lunch. Having lived in India for three years I have often seen how Indians cook their food: on the ground, or on the floor ! This particular Sikh decided to cook inside the house because of the strong wind. But he realized too late that the furniture and furnishings were highly inflammable, and there were no fire extinguishers available...
Bonar, Andrew Graham