Cyclades - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The major form of subsistence, in the past at least, has been agriculture, though fishing, trading, and commercial activities have also been important. Basic Mediterranean crops—olives, grapes, wheat, barley, fruit, and garden vegetables—have been cultivated, some since the Bronze Age. In addition there are specialty crops, which may vary by island. (On the island of Tinos, for example, silkworms used to be grown; Thera has had a history of wine making; Syros is noted for its dairying.) Goats and sheep are also raised on the islands, and sometimes cattle. There are also fishing communities. Agriculture follows a basic yearly round determined by the Mediterranean climate. Plowing for planting is done in the fall, after the first rains have softened the ground, winter crops are planted, and grain is harvested in early to midsummer. Some irrigation is practiced, particularly for garden vegetables, but dry farming is the rule for other crops. Fields are plowed periodically during the growing season with a shallow plow in order to prevent moisture loss from the soil. Not all islanders, nor even all villagers, own land, and even those who do may also work at other occupations or businesses in addition to farming. Several of the islands have marble quarries dating back to the Bronze Age. The marble of Paros and Naxos is particularly well known, and marble working is a craft with a long tradition. In the past, farmers grew more of their own food than they do today, particularly in the more isolated villages.

Trade. Trade with the outside world and migration have a long history in the islands. The inhabitants of the Cyclades have exported both their products and their labor, particularly as seamen, domestic workers, and construction workers. Both permanent and temporary migration have been practiced. Before the Greek defeat in Asia Minor in 1922 ("the Catastrophe"), a common destination of migrants was Istanbul (or "the City," as many Greeks continue to call it). Since then, the primary destination for migrants from the Cyclades has been Athens. Although out-migration seems to have slowed somewhat in recent years, the post-World War II movement to Athens has resulted in severe depopulation and the virtual abandonment of some of the smaller rural villages. Much of the more marginal agricultural land is no longer cultivated. Better agricultural land, however, continues to be worked in many areas, with new plantings of crops such as olives and grapevines, which require only periodic attention and seasonal labor. Greenhouse agriculture continues to be profitable. Recently, out-migration has lessened somewhat. This slowing of migration reflects the generally increasing affluence of the islands, mostly a result of tourism. On some of the islands, towns have actually grown in population, reflecting the increase in both foreign tourism and summer travel by urban Greeks. On these islands, new businesses have been opened, and greater opportunities for employment (for example, working in construction or in hotels and restaurants) are available now locally.

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