Psara (Greek: Ψαρά) is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Together with the small uninhabited island of Antipsara it forms the municipality of Psara. It is part of the Chios regional unit, which is part of the North Aegean region. The only town of the island and seat of the municipality is also called Psara.
Psara had 448 inhabitants according to the 2011 census. It has a small port linking to the island of Chios and other parts of Greece.
Flag of Psara during the Greek War of Independence.
The flag of Psara was designed by the Psariots and bears symbols of Filiki Eteria. It is made of white cloth bordered with red with a large red cross and the inscriptions of the name of the island “ΨΑ-ΡΑ” and the words Eleftheria i Thanatos (Liberty or Death) in capital red letters. The cross is standing on an upside down crescent, flanked on one side by a sword, on the other by a serpent killed by a bird. The flag was carried during the War of Independence by Psariot ships
An original flag of Psara, is preserved at the National Historical Museum of Greece
It has been inhabited since the Mycenaean period, its inhabitants relying on the sea to make a living as the island is a treeless and rocky with little shrubbery. Homer first referred to the island as Psyra.
The islanders’ sole source of livelihood has always been fishing, mainly for the locally abundant slipper lobsters, and shipping, with some tourist development in recent years.
Destruction of Psara
Psara joined the Greek War of Independence on April 10, 1821. A noted native naval leader of the time was future Prime Minister of Greece Constantine Kanaris. The island was invaded on June 21, 1824 by the Ottoman navy.
On July 4 the resistance of the Psariots ended with a last stand at the town’s old fort of Palaiokastro (alternative name Mavri Rachi, literally “black ridge”). Hundreds of soldiers and also women and children had taken refuge there when a Turkish force of 2000 stormed the fort. The refugees first threw a white flag with the words “Ἐλευθερία ἤ Θάνατος” (“Eleftheria i Thanatos”, “Freedom or Death”). Then, the moment the Turks entered the fort, the local Antonios Vratsanos lit a fuse to the gunpowder stock, in an explosion that killed the towners along with the their enemies — thus remaining faithful to their flag to their death. A French officer who heard and saw the explosion compared it to a volcanic eruption of Vesuvius.
A part of the population managed to flee the island, but those who didn’t were either sold into slavery or killed. As a result of the invasion, thousands of Greeks have met a tragic fate. The island was deserted and surviving islanders were scattered through what is now Southern Greece. Theophilos Kairis, a priest and scholar, took on many of the orphaned children and developed the famous school the Orphanotropheio of Theophilos Kairis.
The tragic event of the destruction of Psara inspired the poet Andreas Kalvos to write the ode “To Psara” (Greek: “Εἰς Ψαρά”); perhaps more famously, the event also inspired the poet Dionysios Solomos — the author of the Hymn to Liberty — to write in 1825 a poem (or epigram) about it called “The Destruction of Psara” (Greek: “Ἡ καταστροφὴ τῶν Ψαρῶν”):
On the all-black ridge of Psara
Glory walks by herself taking in
the bright young men on the war field
the crown of her hair wound
from the last few grasses left
on the desolate earth.
‘Στῶν Ψαρῶν τὴν ὁλόμαυρη ράχη
Περπατῶντας ἡ Δόξα μονάχη.
Μελετᾷ τὰ λαμπρὰ παλληκάρια,
Καὶ ‘ς τὴν κόμη στεφάνι φορεῖ
Γινομένο ἀπὸ λίγα χορτάρια
Ποῦ εἰχαν μείνῃ ‘ς τὴν ἔρημη γῆ.