Identification. The Cyclades are a group of Aegean Islands whose name derives from the fact that they form a circle ( kíklos ) around the ancient sacred island of Delos.
Location. The Cyclades lie in the Aegean Sea to the south and west of the Greek mainland. They are the peaks of a range of submerged mountains, separated by deep channels from the islands to the south and east. Precipitation in the Cyclades falls mainly in the winter, beginning in November and tapering off by the end of March. Little or no rain falls in the summer. During the period 1971-1980, the island of Naxos had an average of 41 centimeters of rain, the largest amount falling during January, February, and March. As a whole, the Cyclades are rather dry; only the meteorologic station at Athens reported less rainfall during this period. Winters nonetheless tend to be chilly and damp, with an occasional snowfall. Temperatures in the summer are moderated by the proximity of the sea. The average temperature Reported at Naxos during July and August for 1971-1980 was 25° C, with highs of about 32° C. Temperatures may fall as low as 6° C in the winter. The average annual temperature was 18° C. The mild summer temperatures make the islands attractive to city dwellers fleeing the heat. However, the Summer also brings the fierce summer wind, the meltémi, which can make sea travel unpleasant during this time.
Demography. There are some forty-four islands in all, some tiny and uninhabited, others with numerous villages and flourishing main towns. The island with the largest Population is Syros, with 19,668 inhabitants (1981 census). The largest island in terms of landmass is Naxos, which has an area of 428 square kilometers. The Cyclades as a whole have an area of 2,527 square kilometers, which is about 1.9 percent of the land area of Greece. The total population of the islands is 88,458, less than 1 percent of the population of Greece. The number of inhabitants per square kilometer is 34.4. Thirty-seven percent of the inhabitants live in urban (population more than 10,000) or semiurban (population 2,000-10,000) areas, the rest in rural areas (communities of under 2,000). In general, the populations of the coastal settlements of the islands have increased, while those of the interior Communities have declined.
linguistic Affiliation. Although the history of the Cyclades has been one of constantly mixing populations of Migrants, conquerors, and refugees, the present-day population is basically ethnic Greek. There is a certain sense of island cultural distinctiveness, however, because throughout their history the Cyclades have been both connected and isolated by the sea, serving in their connectedness as way stations along trade routes and routes of conquest, open to a multitude of cultural influences, and in their isolation as places of political exile. The present-day inhabitants of the Cyclades speak modern Greek, with a variety of local dialects among and within the islands. Albanian has been reported only for the island of Andros. Some of the islands are visited by large groups of Gypsies ( Tsigánes ), but they are not permanent residents.