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Halkidiki‘s long history is fascinating, literally the stuff of legends. Although the discovery of a fossilized human skull in Petralona Cave points to a human presence in Halkidiki dating back some 75,000 years – to the Paleolithic Age, remains found in other parts of the peninsula suggest it was populated by humans in prehistoric times.
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of ash and clay in what is considered the earliest indication of human use of fire. Furthermore, Petralona Cave is especially important in that it played host to the earliest known form of culture in Europe. Quite a lot later, Halkidiki inspired the ancient Greeks who mentioned it often in their mythology.
Poet Hesiod, in his marvelous work ‘Theogony‘, tells us that gods and men shared a common origin. The first man, the ‘protanthropos’ sprang out of the earth itself, and one of the sites which claim to the honor of witnessing this is Kassandra in Halkidiki: it was once called Pallene or Phlegres, and there, it is said, Phlegraean Alcyoneus, the earliest of the Giants, sprang from the ground.
Phlegres (which means ‘burning fields’) or Pallene (Kassandra) was also the place where the ferocious Battle of the Giants, took place, between Mother Earth (Gea), and her sons the Giants on one side and the gods of Olympus and chosen mortals, like Hercules and Dionysus, at the other side.
Stageira, a colony founded by the island of Andros, was the birthplace of the great philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle is considered to be one of the greatest minds in human history and a “father” of the sciences and philosophy of western culture.
Aristotle was also the teacher of Alexander the Great, who often mentioned that in his father owed his life, but in his teacher Aristotles, owed the values of his life.
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The Peloponnesian War (431-401), which affected the whole ancient Greek world, was the cause of the destruction of many of those cities. In 392 BC, 32 cities of Halkidiki under the leadership of Olyntus set up the Koinon of Chalkis in Thrace, a confederation which lasted until 357 BC.
In 348 BC Philip occupied Olyntus, which now headed a league of some thirty cities, and Halkidiki became a part of the Macedonian kingdom. All the cities in the area were razed and their populations deported to Macedonia. The new state of affairs led to the creation of three new cities: Cassandra (or Kassandra), on the site of Potidaea, built by Philips’s brother-in-law Cassander; Ouranoupolis, on the ruins of Sane on the Athonite promontory, built by Cassander’s brother Alexargos, and Antigone, built by Antigonus Gonatas in the vicinity of Kalamaria.
Excavations on the area have brought to light statues, coins, pottery and buildings from the settlements that were spread on the area during the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Many of those finds can be seen in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.
Halkidiki‘s history was associated with that of the ancestors of the Romans, as according to a tradition, a group of Trojans settled in Pallene after the fall and destruction of their city before the traveling to the west came in the end to Latium. Some about ten centuries later, in 168 BC, Halkidiki was conquered by the Romans along with the rest of Macedonia. However, the influence of Rome on the Greek population of the area was negligible. In 269 BC Halikidiki was afflicted by an invasion of Goths and their barbarian allies. After the decline of Rome, it formed part of the Byzantine Empire.
Its position within the Byzantine Empire is evidenced by the 150-plus castles, churches, bridges and other structures that have been documented, while Mt Athos possesses a wealth of information on Byzantium.
Turkish period and liberation
During the Turkish occupation, farming and stockbreeding flourished and the locals wielded much power even though they were subjects to a foreign state. Led by Emmanouil Pappas, who placed himself at the head of the men of the Mandemi villages and of the Athonite monks, the people of Halkidiki surged forward in the 1821 revolution against the Turks but the rulers managed to suppress them.