Halkidiki features in many Greek myths: Kassandra was said to be where the Giant Enceladus was buried; Athos was formed by the rock thrown towards Mt. Olympus by the Giant of the same name, while Sithonia took its name from Sithon, son of Poseidon.
The true history of Halkidiki begins in the Paleolithic era. The fossilized remains of mammoths and other extinct species found at Nikiti, Vrasta and Triglia are witnesses to a very distant past, long before the region saw human habitation. The finds at the Petralona cave indicate that men were present here more than 700,000 years ago, while a skull has been found dating back 200,000 years.
The first traces of organized human communities in Halkidiki date from around 4,000 BC; it appears that the first inhabitants of the region were Thracians and Pelasgians. In the 8th century BC a large number of new settlers arrived here from Halkida (hence the name Halkidiki) and from Eretria. By the 5th century a number of significant city states had evolved, including Aineia, Gigonos, Lipaxos, Potidaia, Sani, Mendi, Skioni, Aiyai, Neapolis, Afytis, Olynthos, Sermyli, Galipsos, Toroni, Sarti, Pyloros, Dion, Kleonai, Olofyxos, Akanthos, Stagira, Apollonia, Arnaia and Anthemous. Many of them evolved on the site of the prehistoric settlement which had preceded them. At the end of the 5th century BC, the 32 most important cities founded, under the leadership of Olynthos, a ‘federation of Chalcideans’, which was dissolved in 379 BC by the Spartans. In 348 BC Philip of Macedon incorporated the region into his kingdom. The Hellenistic period saw the founding of three major cities here: Kassandreia (315), Ouranoupolis (315) and Antigoneia (280, established in the middle of what is now Kalamaria). In 168 BC the region fell under Roman rule and a long period of decline set in as the cities came under the control of Roman merchants.
In 1430 the region’s people were enslaved by the Turks, and Halkidiki became a part of the sandzak or administrative district of Thessaloniki. It was divided into three areas for tax-collecting purposes: Kassandra, the area lying within the first foot, the Hasikohoria, defined as ‘all cultivable land and the livestock on it as far as the Bay of Toroni and the Thermaic Gulf’, and finally the Mademohoria, or mining villages, which we mentioned above. Mt. Athos, of course, was a separate area. By the late 18th century all parts of Halkidiki were enjoying new prosperity (increase in grain production, silkworm breeding, livestock raising) and as a result of this affluence the coastal villages found themselves the victims of pirate raids.
In May 1821, under the leadership of Emmanuel Pappas, Halkidiki joined in the general uprising against Ottoman rule known as the War of Independence. Turkish reprisals for the insurrection were terrible and the region was devastated. Over the decades the resistance movement gathered strength again and in 1854 there was another uprising under Tsiamis Karatasos.
In the early years of the 20th century Halkidiki played its part in the great Macedonian Struggle, the long battle to liberate Macedonia.
Many men from Halkidiki not only joined the various groups of Macedonian freedom fighters but actually set up their own companies to fight the Bulgarians. The long-awaited liberation finally came in October 1912, and in 1922, with the arrival of thousands of refugees from Asia Minor, a new chapter dawned in the history of Halkidiki. Twenty-seven new villages sprang into existence to house the new arrivals, and their contribution to the economic and cultural evolution of the region cannot be exaggerated.