The Koufonisia have been inhabited at least since the Bronze Age according to archaeological evidence.
In Greece the Bronze Age begins with the Cycladic civilisation in the South Aegean islands around 3200BC
In the Archaeological Museum of Naxos are exhibited several finds of the early Cycladic period excavated on Koufonisia, such as a pan-shaped vessel bearing a carving of a nine-point star.
The origin of the name Koufonissia is not certain. Readings create speculation, which may lead to similar associations.
Greek inscriptions mention Pano Koufonisi as Fakousa, a name probably derived from its shape, which was usual in Ancient Greece, while Kato Koufonissi was called Pino, perhaps due to its resemblance to a fan mussel (pinna), or alternatively, due to their abundance in the waters surrounding the islands.
Another theory suggests that the name Koufonisia means Koufa Nisia (hollow islands) and derives from the large number of sea caves found on the island due to the preponderance of sedimentary rock in their makeup.
Yet another speculates that sailors called the islands “kofos limin” meaning safe harbour, and their name derives from that.
On the lighter side, in modern Greek slang “koufo” means “unbelievable”, and that is one interpretation everybody is happy with.
Archaeologists speculate that in the distant past, Pano and Kato Koufonisi, Keros and Glaronisi, which form a circle, were a single island, or at least the sea area between them was much smaller. Research in the area Kavos Daskalio on Keros and in Loutra on the southwest side of Pano Koufonisi has revealed that there are buildings extending into the sea.
Excavation on the Kavos Daskalio site on Keros brought to light a centre of religious worship. It has been proposed that it may be the first such centre in the world.
Other finds indicate the existence of social organisation on the Koufonisia during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The finds on Pano Koufonisi indicate the existence of a Roman settlement.
Early Christian relics can be seen in St George and St Nicholas churches.
During the Byzantine period Naxos and Mikres Cyclades were part of a Byzantine military province (thema).
On Pano Koufonisi there were four Byzantine churches, which have been ruined. They were located in the village where the church of St Nicholas now stands, on the site of the church of Profitis Ilias, at Pori and at Parianos.
There are traces of a Byzantine church on Kato Koufonisi as well, near the site of the present day chapel of the Virgin.
The pirates that flourished in the Aegean during the Middle Ages found a secure harbour and hideaway in these islands, due to the way they are grouped.
The islands came successively under Venetian and Turkish occupation and were liberated in the 1821 Revolution.
In 1830 they were included in the newly-formed Greek state.
During World War II Greece was under military occupation by the forces of the Axis. At first, the islands were under Italian command whose headquarters were on Amorgos. The Italian Army had commandeered the islands’ farm produce for their needs. The islanders were only allowed to procure enough meat and vegetables to enable them to hold the traditional feast on the day of St George, patron saint of the Koufonisia.
In 1943, the Italians withdraw from the Axis alliance and the islands come under the cruel command of Nazi Germany.
After the end of World War II, many islanders, being destitute, had to move to the cities to seek employment, while others went to sea. Of some 1000 inhabitants only a few remained on the island.
At the end of the 1960s the few remaining inhabitants of Keros and Kato Koufonisi leave their homes and join those on Pano Koufonisi.
If you are invited to the home of some local inhabitant and asked to sit down, eat and drink, it is a legacy of those difficult times.
Communication with the neighbouring islands and the rest of Greece was difficult. Transport was by fishing boat using oars or sails while there was only one ship calling once every eight days. Very often the inhabitants were cut off, without supplies of food or medicines, and deprived of medical treatment, as there was only one doctor for all four islands of the Mikres Cyclades.
The telephone came to Pano Koufonisi in 1964.
Electricity did not arrive until 1984. That is when the port was built.
Nowadays the population of Koufonisi has increased but it is still smaller than 500 people.
There is a frequent, regular boat service.
There is a resident doctor and a chemist’s shop for medical supplies.
All modern conveniences are provided.
Above all, Koufonissia have many Friends…