Archaeological findings indicate that Spetses has been inhabited since the Early Bronze Age (also called first Hellenic Era, about 2500 BC).
During the 15th century, the island’s population increased with people coming from the coast of the Peloponnese but could not form settlements because of the frequent pirate attacks. The first settlements took place only around the 17th century. The very first medieval settlement was Kastelli, built on the north-west side of the island and surrounded by thick walls. Once the island was settled, it began to develop a great marine power and tradition which is still the trademark of Spetses.
The 18th century was the beginning of the golden era for Spetses which saw its shipbuilding activity rise and its fleet becoming very powerful. The impressive merchant fleet of Spetses was converted into warships that played a crucial role during the Greek Revolution against the Turkish yoke. Spetses played an important role during the revolution of the Peloponnese, in 1769, by taking part in the revolt, known as the Orlov’s revolt, with numerous fully equipped warships. To punish the inhabitants of the island for helping the revolutionary revolt of the Peloponnese, the Turks organised a punitive expedition and completely destroyed the fortified town of Kastelli.
That didn’t stop the Spetsiots to help the revolutionary Lambros Katsionis in 1790 and to suffer again from Ottoman punishment. The patriotism and courage of the Spetsiots was unbeatable and immortal, therefore they were the first to respond to the revolutionary call in 1821. Spetses, as one of the three important naval islands (along with Hydra and Psara), dedicated its powerful fleet and its soul to the fight against the Ottoman. The Spetsiot ships participated to the liberation of Nafplio, of Monemvassia, of Mani and Messolongi as well as in the siege and conquest of Tripolitsa, and went in Crete to fight the Egyptian fleet, which was allied with the Turks.
These powerful ships were also used to transport weapons, munitions and supplies to other islands that joined the Revolution. Those ships were the main cause of the success during the decisive battle against the Ottoman fleet in the Argolic Gulf. This historical event is still commemorated today in Spetses, where a reconstitution of the battle is organised in the main harbour of the town every 8th of September. One of the most famous heroes of the Greek Revolution was the Spetsiote female captain Lascarina Bouboulina who took the command of her husband’s fleet when he died, and became an active member of the “Filiki Etairia”, an underground revolutionary organisation organising the revolt. She fought in many important battles and spent most of her fortune to finance the war. Other Spetsiote ship owners and wealthy merchant participated and helped financing the Revolution.
The most famous of them are Hatzigiannis-Mexis, Cosmas Barbatsis, captain Tsoupas, captain Panou, captain Koutsis and captain Lambrou. Spetses maintained its prosperity and power for several years after the Greek Revolution but started to decline at the beginning of the 20th century, when Piraeus which its place in merchant development, activity and trading. The two World Wars brought great poverty and misery on the island and forced a part of the population to move abroad. The island of Spetses recovered from its decline by quickly developing again thanks to the growth of tourism which started in the early 1900s. This is the moment when the island gained the role of a popular resort for the middle classes, attracted by the education and wealth of the prominent families. The classy and cosmopolitan image of the island was increased by Sotiris Anargyros, a repatriated Spetsiote who became very rich in America, and who used part of his money to build a road and a reservoir, the first luxurious hotel of the island (Posidonio Hotel), a prestigious private boarding school, the Anargyrios and Korgialeneios School, and financed the reforestation and conservation programme of the thick pine forest of Spetses. Today, tourism is one of the main resources of the island. It is nevertheless leaving the local traditions and habits intact, since they are strongly and proudly maintained by the inhabitants.