The name “Paxoí” derives from the ancient Phoenician word “Paks” which means trapeze. The name probably came from the fact that Paxoí has a roughly flat shape (no high mountains or sudden peaks) and therefore reminds of the geometrical shape of trapeze.
In all the ancient maps and books, the name “Paxoí” was used for both islands, Paxoí and Antípaxoi.
According to mythology, Paxoí was once a part of Kérkyra (Corfu). However, the god Poseidon separated the two islands with his trident, because he wanted the nereid (nymph) Amfitríti to live away from everybody, in a beautiful land.
The first inhabitants of the island were the Phoenicians, but it is not known to date when their colonization began. It is estimated to be between the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BC, as that was the time the Phoenician civilization peaked in the eastern Mediterranean.
The island of Paxoí is mentioned in several historic books, because of two famous sea battles that took place in the waters surrounding the island. The first sea battle was the conflict between Corinth and Kérkyra in 432 BC, just one year before the Peloponnesian War began (in actuality, that sea battle was the spark to start the Peloponnesian War – see more in the section of Corfu’s history).
The second sea battle took place in 229 BC, between the Kerkyrians and the Illyrians, the latter led by Queen Téfta. The Illyrians were excellent pirates, exercising their skills for centuries, and as a result their naval tactics were superior. They won the Kerkyrians at sea, sank their flagship and scattered their allies. That sea battle served also as a spark to the Romans, who for the first time interfered with the affairs of the Hellenes, defeated the Illyrians, reduced them to a small state and then started conquering the Hellenic states.
Paxoí went under the Roman rule first, just like the rest of the Ionian islands. In the Byzantine years, the island was part of the Cephalonian military prefecture. At that time, several conquering parties were attempting – and briefly succeeding – to occupy Paxoí which, at large, followed the historic course of Corfu.
In 1386 AD, Paxoí and the rest of the Ionian islands fell to the might of the Venetians, who treated the people well and built 2 castles on the island in order to defend from hostiles, one on top of the island of Ágios Nikólaos (the islet in front of Gáios, the capital of Paxoí) and the other in Lákka. These castles defended the people of Paxoí well, up until the Turkish admiral Barbarossa came, in 1537.
During the Turkish rule, the people of Paxoí led a wretched life, as the Turks did what they did to all the islands they occupied: slaughter the men, sell the women and children to the slave markets and the young ones took for upbringing Genítsaroi (an Ottoman tactic in which they stole small children and turn them into muslim soldiers devoted to the sultan, in special camps).
After the Turkish plundering and desolation, only few inhabitants remained on the island. Unfortunately, in 1571, the Ottomans led by admiral Loutsalí Pasha, plundered the island again and slaughtered everybody. After that, Paxoí remained uninhabited up until 1759, when Kerkyrians with Ioánni Voúlgari as their leader came to populate the island again. Some years later, in 1797, the island was occupied by the French.
For the years 1800 – 1807, Paxoí passed to the Russians and actually had 7 years of democracy! (the first Hellenic territory to have a democracy before the Hellenic Wars of Independence).
The French occupy the island once more, only to lose it to the English a few years later (1814). A few years later again, just before the beginning of the Wars of Independence, England offers the Paxoí island to Ali Pasha of Ipirus.
Paxoí united with Hellas together with the rest of the Ionian islands, in 1864.
Gáios: It’s the capital of the island and a natural harbour, as the small island of Ágios Nikólaos is situated very close to the land, creating a natural channel of 40 – 120m width. On the islet of Ágios Nikólaos lie the ruins of one of the 2 castles of Paxoí, built by the Venetians. Gáios is a wonderful city, built amphithetrically around the sea channel
Ypapantí cave: A cave on the western coasts of the island, with its mouth to the sea (accessible only by boat). It is said that the heroic Hellenic submarine Papanikolís used to hide here, during the 2nd World War.