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Occupations and products through the centuries
Since pre-historic times, Milos has been considered a wealthy island, mainly due to its rich subsoil and the hard-working nature of its inhabitants.
Recent excavations in the court of the Minoan Palace in Crete, have brought to light a pre-ceramic age dwelling, believed to date back to 7,000 B.C. Within the building was found copious Miloan obsidian, proving the existence of commerce. By 3,000 B.C., the obsidian trade had spread to Cyprus and Egypt.
The Miloans did not only export obsidian but also the craft for fashioning it into implements. At the same time, using the high quality clay found in the sub-soil, they became expert in the art of pottery, making «Miloan Amphorae», which were considered to be among the finest produced during the 6th and 7th centuries B.C.
As the years passed and the developing civilisation created new needs, new minerals were discovered and exported, bringing wealth to the inhabitants. Sophisticated buildings, such as the theatre and stadium and outstanding statues like Aphrodite and Poseidon, were created. However, from time to time, the population was enslaved by enemy powers and was obliged to pay a tribute equal to or even greater than that paid by its larger neighbours. They also had to pay taxes equal to those paid by Naxos and Andros, to the exchequer in Athens.
Much was written about material exported during the rule of the Roman Empire. Pumice used for the polishing of mosaics, fine quality kaolin much in demand by artists of the period, sulphur and alum used in medicine, were all sent to Rome.
The Miloans were not only accomplished mineral traders, but they also negotiated with the pirates of the Aegean (15th - 17th century A.C.), buying their booty at low prices, supplying their ships and allowing the crews to rest and ....enjoy themselves.
At this time, the island was under Turkish rule and in addition to ore and mill-stones, wheat, wine, melons and salt were exported. Also, a new profession began to emerge -that of piloting. The famous pilots of Castro, known since 1580 A.D., were excellent seamen, educated, linguistic and extremely well acquainted with all areas of the Mediterranean. For all these reasons, they were renowned and much sought after throughout Western Europe. Ships bound for the Eastern Mediterranean, would stop to take aboard a Miloan pilot and set him ashore on the return journey. The volume of foreign trade became so extensive, that several nations, namely Holland, France and Venice, decided to serve their own interests by establishing consulates on Milos.
After the revolution in 1821, economy and occupations of the island began to change. It is worth mentioning a small shipyard which built 21 ships during 1856. Many men also turned to sea-faring. The gypsum, millstone and salt industries came under government control and in fact, in 1840 the Milos salt pans were registered among 6 similar projects operating throughout Greece.
Since the end of the 19th century, as a result of modern science and technology, the extraction and exploitation of other minerals has become possible. There are rich deposits of bentonite, kaolin, perlite and pozzalana and lesser quantities of sulphur, baryte and gypsum - all of which result from the volcanic nature of the rocks. They have been formed by the circulation of geothermic fluids through the subsoil. These minerals are important both at home and abroad with significant exports every year.
Perlite is a glass-like substance with the remarkable property of expanding to 20 times its initial volume when heated to 900Æ-1100Æ C. It is therefore an excellent insulator and is also used extensively to improve the soil in horticulture and especially in green houses. Bentonite together with baryte, are used in drilling for oil and bentonite as a mould in iron foundries and for a multitude of other uses including - as a constituent of pet food. Kaolin is a primary ingredient in paper, porcelain, paint and refined rubber, while pozzalana is used in the cement industry.
Parallel to all these activities, farming and fishing should not be forgotten ... major industries since the beginning of the food marketing era ... and even from the period of Turkish rule.
The fruit and vegetables are particularly tasty because they are cultivated on dry soil without artificial fertilisers and in summer there is sufficient produce to supply the neighbouring islands, Siphnos and Kimolos. The main horticultural products are: tomatoes, melons, water-melons, olives, oranges, mandarins and grapes. Cultivation of garlic, wheat and barley is slowly dying out, while recently there has been increasing interest in intensive techniques such as the use of greenhouses.
Animal breeding is not of major importance although, there are a number of herds of goats and sheep providing meat and dairy products of excellent quality. Some of the local cheeses made according to traditional recipes are: curd cheese: Mizithra and Xynomizithra, and full fat cheeses: Manoura and Skotyri.
The fishing fleet is large enough to supply the island with fresh fish and lobsters during the winter. In summer, however, the fleet cannot meet the requirements of the greatly increased population, who come as visitors, to enjoy the wonders of the island.
Last of all, we come to another important occupation - the tourist industry, which is the most recent. During the last few years, a number of people have slowly become involved with tourism although not through necessity - since so many other industries have long been in existence.
The sun, the clear sea, the colours ... the colours of Milos ... are in plenty ... and the efforts of the Miloans to help visitors enjoy their stay ... are boundless.