Greece’s Secret Prison Island Could Soon Be a Diver’s Paradise

View of Yaros island
View of Yaros island | © Olaf Tausch/WikiCommons
Ethel Dilouambaka

Located in the Aegean Sea, the island of Yaros (or Gyaros) is a former prison/concentration camp used during the 1950s and the military dictatorship. Now left abandoned and in a derelict state, the island could reopen as a diver’s paradise and a protected habitat for the Mediterranean monk seals.

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During Roman times, the small island of Yaros, near Andros and Tinos, used to be a place of exile, and has been described by several Roman authors as a place of extreme desolation. From 1948 until 1974, roughly 22,000 people were exiled or imprisoned here, but recently many experts have come to believe that the island was actually a concentration camp, earning it the moniker “the Dachau of the Mediterranean.”

But it was during the military dictatorship, also known as the Regime of the Colonels (1967–1974), that the island gained attention in the outside world as the Greek authorities of that period repeatedly denied its existence. At that time, the red-brick building, which could house 10,000 people, was in a severely derelict state and prisoners were forced to live in tents all year round.

Among the prisoners were Greek poet Yiannis Ritsos, and Ioannis Charalambopoulos, who was later appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in the socialist government of Andreas Papandreou in 1981. After the end of the dictatorship, the Greek Navy used the island as a target range until the year 2000. Declared a historical monument the following year, the island is currently unoccupied and left in a desolate state. A project to conduct some maintenance work has been put forward, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

But many hope to find a better fate for Yaros. In fact, as the island is home to the largest colony of monk seals in the Mediterranean, the island has a strong ecological importance. Since the island has been left alone for several years, nature has remained untouched and many animal and bird species have found refuge on its shores. Furthermore, blessed with stunning diving landscapes, the island would be an excellent soft tourism destination for nature lovers, scuba diving fans, and history aficionados. But nothing is certain as the island is still filled with unexploded missiles left from the many military operations throughout its history. While some have already been defused, there is still more work to be done before the island could welcome its first visitors.

Who knows, maybe in a few years this black spot in Greek history will become a sustainable, natural reserve where the public can learn about history and relax in a serene environment.

Yaros also known as the Devil’s island
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