Things changed for Galaxidi beginning in 1818. After the Napoleonic Wars ended a reduction of shipping activities throughout the Mediterranean left the ships of Galaxidi lingering in port. Then, in the spring of 1821, the Greek war of independence from Ottoman rule broke out. Since their idle ships were already armed with guns to protect themselves from the pirates, who had been ravaging them for years all along the Mediterranean, the people of Galaxidi enthusiastically took part.
However, in September of 1821, a large Turkish fleet arrived off the coast of Galaxidi and started firing their cannons on the town. Despite a gallant defence by the townspeople Turkish troops landed and destroyed the town. Because all the ships were caught in port due to the shipping crisis many were burned and about 35 captured vessels were taken back to Constantinople. Fortunately, most of the citizens of the town were saved by escaping into the nearby mountains. After the Turkish fleet departed the townspeople returned to rebuild their town. New, smaller ships were constructed and used to supply provisions and arms to the revolutionary fighters in other parts of Greece.
After being attacked, burned and destroyed two more times Galaxidi was abandoned for four years until Greece declared it's independence in 1829.
Following Greek Independence the people of Galaxidi faced 10 years of extreme difficulty working hard to rebuild their town and their lives. People also desperately needed to earn a living so shipyards began constructing new ships, initially at the port, then, gradually, in other coastal areas around the town. While most of the Galaxidi locals were experienced seamen - and only a few were chief ship designers - there were very few working hands such as carpenters and sailmakers. Skilled technicians came from far away places to work in the shipyards. In 1830 the population of Galaxidi was 3,000 with a fleet of 120 ships, mostly of a small size. By 1870 the population had grown to 4,000 plus 550 technicians working in the shipyards, and a fleet of 350 ships of a much larger size.
The peak of the maritime era in Galaxidi was from 1860 to 1890. The majority of Galaxidi ships were square-rigged, two-masted brigs - loved by the local mariners for their speed and maneuverability - that carried 200 to 400 tons of cargo. A few, larger ships were also built that were able to carry up to 1050 tons of cargo.
In 1860 the shipowners of Galaxidi created the first mutual insurance company based on those existing in England. Before that time their ships were being insured by foreign companies. The creation of six more insurance companies followed and several of them lasted until 1916.
The lower part of the masts of all the ships built in Galaxidi were painted white so they could be recognised at sea (see photo). The sailing vessels from Galaxidi carried all sorts of cargo, mainly from the Black Sea and Mediterranean to and from many ports of Europe and Africa, as well as North and South America. While they often carried cargo for other merchants, the shipowners, who were also masters and captains of their own ships, frequently acted as merchants, buying the cargo to be transported and thereby earning higher profits.
It was a prosperous time for Galaxidi. The large, beautiful houses you see today were built during this period and furnished with the most fashionable furniture brought back from all parts of Europe. Homes of the wealthy shipowners were decorated with fine paintings of their ships made by famous artists in Venice, Marseilles, Naples, Livorno, and Malta. Many of these paintings can be seen today in the town's Maritime Museum.
The shipowners, captains and merchants of Galaxidi even founded a private "members only" club similar to those seen in England. There they could entertain themselves and their guests while discussing business dealings. It was a time of joy and celebration in Galaxidi and many customs were developed then. Often, when a lavish wedding would take place it would continue for an entire week with events for the whole town to enjoy. The launching of a new ship was always a popular attraction. The shipowner's wife would name the ship, then throw a pomegranate to break against the stern in order to wish it a journey of favourable winds. Then, the owner's friends would toss him into the sea for good luck.
The merchant ships would sail away, usually in early March, right after another popular custom: the "Culuma" - a festive event more commonly known today as "The Flour Wars" - held on "Clean Monday", to mark the beginning of the 7th week before Orthodox Easter Sunday. The ships would return in late November and spend the winter at home for repairs and preparations for the following year's voyage. The wives of the seamen would be left behind to look after the family and household for the long nine-month absence of their husbands - some who were frequently lost at sea never to return. On September 20, 2008 a statue, designed by Greek sculptor Costas Ananidas, to honor the seafaring wives of Galaxidi (see photo) was erected at the entrance to the port at the edge of the forest (see HERE for more information on "The Wife of the Seafarer")
The end of the 19th century and the establishment of steam-powered sailing vessels brought an end to Galaxidi's maritime success. The reasons are varied and open to speculation but the facts are that Galaxidi did not make a successful transition from sail to steam. It was not alone, of course, as shipping islands like Hydra and Spetses suffered similar fates.
It should be noted that between 1883 and 1900 some Galaxidi shipowners did buy around 40 steamships but it wasn't enough to make a dynamic entrance into this new, modern era of maritime transportation.
There are a number of possible reasons for this poor adjustment to the new technology:
- TRADITION: The great Era of Sail had created a long mental attachment to sail which owners were unable to let go of.
- ROMANCE: The romantic termperament of the mariners, held over many centuries and established through a tradition of fighting the risks of the sea by personal effort and without mechanical help, was, in a way, diminishing of their personal courage.
- ECONOMICS: At that time there was a stagnant shipping market requiring large capital investment from shipowners whose creditors, with the first delay of payment of loans, would proceed to arrest the ship and auction if off.
- DISUNITY: Strong individualism and a lack of partnership spirit prevented owners from working together in order to adapt to this new shipping environment.
Located just a short drive from Ancient Delphi, Galaxidi has become a popular tourist destination for both Greeks and foreign travellers. More than a dozen hotels and pensions offer comfortable accommodation to fit most budgets, several fine tavernas and restaurants provide diners with a variety of tasty Greek traditional seafood and meat dishes. After a refreshing swim at any of the nearby beaches visitors can relax at one of the cafés around the port road to enjoy the scenic view of distant Mt. Parnassus, as well as the coming and goings of the local fishing boats and the many sailing boats and luxury yachts that arrive daily from around the world.
Special thanks to George Kourentis for his help in preparing this "History of Galaxidi".