War and conquest define Karpathos' history. Karpathians fought with Sparta in the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC and lost their independence to Rhodes in 400 BC. In 42 BC the island fell to Rome. In the following centuries, Karpathos was ruled in turn by the Arabs, the Genovese pirate Moresco, the Venetians, and the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman rule ended when the Italians conquered the island during World War I. Karpathos even found itself ruled by the Germans for a couple of years before the end of World War II. The Italians named the island "Scarpanto."
Despite such a scattered past, the last half-century has been pivotal in charactering the island. A war-ravaged economy sent many a Karpathian to the U.S. eastern seaboard cities. Karpathos today has a significant Greek-American constituency who have returned to their beloved island and invested heavily. As a result, Pigadia and other towns successfully infuse modern elements into a traditional setting. In the mountains north, a world unto itself, residents preserve tradition almost religiously.
(Source: "Let's Go Greece", St. Martin's Press, 1999)
Karpathos has changed significantly since 1980, when only a few hotels were on the island. At that time, the capital, Pigadia, was a shadow of what it is today. In Pigadia, do not expect to find much in terms of how Karpathos used to be. Almost everything you'll see there is new. Pigadia is a modern town, with internet cafes, restaurants, and hotels practically everywhere. Other villages have not been affected to the same degree as the changes in Pigadia, but you'll always see indications that tourism is very important to the island's economy.
The 1980s ushered in the construction of many new hotels and other buildings, and the 1990s brought in many foreigners (non-Karpathians) to the island. Pigadia is now a very much a melting pot, with people of many national origins calling Karpathos their new home (and many of them appear to have done so illegally). Although these people help the local economy, their arrival has not helped with the preservation of Karpathian traditions and customs. However, most of the blame for Karpathos' shortcomings goes to many younger Karpathians, who have decided that an easy lifestyle is worth more than honoring their ancestors by keeping their spirit alive (though this is happening all over the world).
As much as things have changed, Karpathians as a whole have done an incredible job of retaining and celebrating their heritage, when compared to practically any other place in Greece. Karpathians, both in Karpathos and abroad, must be commended for the effort they have made to preserve their centuries-old traditions. In many of Karpathos' villages, particularly those in the north, it is very easy to imagine a time when technology did not exist, and people lived simpler (but tougher) lives. Many still do!
A suggestion to those interested in visiting Karpathos: Do not make hotel reservations. Come, and you will find the hotel of your choice. There's no reason to be cooped up in an undesirable (and potentially expensive) hotel for any length of time. There are quite a few places which will suit your needs. In addition, local residents (many of whom speak English) will help you and guide you, free of charge, to find the place of your choice. If walking around Pigadia searching for accommodations while also carrying around your luggage sounds troublesome to you, try leaving your luggage at a local restaurant (after eating there, of course) until you find something reasonable. I think that most restaurants would be amenable to helping you in this way, provided they are not very busy dealing with many customers.
DISCLAIMER: While you will find many positive comments about Karpathos on this website, you will also find some negative comments. These are meant in no way to insult anyone in particular, but merely to point out what we feel are the positive and negative aspects of the island. In our opinion, most of the negative aspects of Karpathos relate directly to the changes it has underwent during the last quarter century. What makes Karpathos truly unique are its people and culture. If Karpathos becomes another "Mykonos", as many people wish, then it will be just another tourist trap. Unspoiled beaches will be replaced by cantinas and umbrellas with a little sand in between. The unspoiled mountains will be riddled with summer villas. Each village will have its own McDonald's. It will be truly depressing if all these things happen to Karpathos. It's bad enough that, to some extent, some of them already have (let's hope, at least, that the "McDonald's" part doesn't).
"Progress" cannot be measured in all the amenities Karpathos has to offer, but how well Karpathos can maintain its unique historical identity with all the pressure it faces from technology and tourism. Please do not come to Karpathos expecting it to have everything you're accustomed to. Accept the island for what it is: a world in itself. That said, the opinions stated on this website are ours. If you do not agree with them and think Karpathos is either the best place in the world or the worst place in the world, that is your opinion. We think it is somewhere in between.