The Statue of Aristotelis Onassis in Nidri
If you take a stroll on the picturesque seafront of Nidri, together with the coloured boats moored by the harbor, you can come across a tall statue. It represents a man walking and holding his jacket on his right shoulder. The man looks in the direction of one of the islets located in front of Nidri: the island of Skorpios. At the base of the statue you can read both in greek and english the name: Aristotelis Onassis. And also the inspirational quote “Men have to construct their own destiny”.
But who was Aristotelis Onassis and why there is a statue of him in Nidri?
To answer these questions we need to go a bit back in time. To talk about one of the most powerful greek business man of all times. And to explain the effect of its presence in this area.
Let’s start our journey!!!!
The Greek Shipping Tycoon Aristotelis Onassis
Aristotelis Onassis was born in 1906 in Smyrna, Turkey, by greek emigrants. In 1922, in the wake of the Greek-Turkish war, all the Onassis family had to leave Turkey and return to Greece. Aristotelis, at the time only 17 years old, decided to move to Buenos Aires, Argentina. In a few years he litterally made a fortune, passing from being a telephone operator to an important business man, owner of a tobacco import-export company and lately founder of his first shipping company.
Onassis gradually, established himself as an independent business man and ship owner in the field of oil tankers. He moved to New York and then to Monaco. In a few years he succeeded in becoming one of the richest and powerful businessman of Greece and the entire world.
His fleet of freighters and tankers eventually exceeded seventy vessels. In 1957 he founded the Olympic Airways. His assets included numerous properties and investments in many countries. In Monaco he owned the Monte Carlo Casino, the Yatch Club, the Hotel de Paris and a third of the country’s acreage. In New York he was the owner of the Olympic Tower. Onassis also had apartments in Paris and London. Furthermore he made consistent investments in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, USA and the Middle East. The 99,06 meters long Christina O, one of the greatest private luxury yatch in the world also belonged to him.
Aristotelis Onassis married twice. The first time in 1946, with Athina Livanou, a wealthy woman, from whom he had two children, Alexander and Christina. Officially Onassis remained married to Athina until 1960. During and after his first marriage, however, he had a long and passionate relationship with the greek opera singer Maria Callas. In 1968 to the surprise of Maria Callas and all the world he married for the second time. With Jaqueline Kennedy, widow of the US President John Kennedy.
Aristotelis Onassis and Skorpios
Aristotelis Onassis bought the tiny island of Skorpios in 1962 for 3,5 millions drahmas, the equivalent of about 11.000 euros. According to some locals he heard that the island was on sale while he was cruising on the Christina O in this area. At this time he was already very rich and famous but getting older. He wanted to go back to his Greek roots and to give a sense of identity to his children, Alexander and Christina. When he saw the beautiful Skorpios, he immediately fell in love with it. He set about creating a private paradise, a magic place for holidays. And so he did!
His first concern was to make the island self-sufficient. For this reason he built water pipes which transferred water from Rachi (Nidri) to Skorpios.
He employed about 350 locals to work on the island, hiring a ferryboat and other small boats, to bring materials across from Lefkada. Eight kms of road were constructed, with a separate lane specially for horses. In the 0,3 square km island, Onassis also built various villas, a couple of tavernas and a farm. Moreover a harbor to welcome yachts, sand beaches and a heliport. The old olive press was renewed. Gardens were planted with various fruit trees, many of them exotic and unknown on Lefkada. Banana trees, palm trees, Kakuei trees, a very select vineyard, new orange trees which produce the sweet, large and seedless Merlin oranges.
The island of Skorpios, already a stunning natural jewel, became a wonderful private paradise on earth. Aristotelis Onassis used to come here with Maria Callas and his sons first and then with also with his second wife, Jackie Kennedy. With the latter he got married on Skorpios. Many vip people, important politicians and businessman and international actors were often invited on Skorpios making the island one of the most famous jetset destination of the 60’s and early 70’s.
Aristotelis Onassis and Lefkada
While on Skorpios Aristotelis Onassis also enjoyed a more simple life. According to some Nidri’s residents, he was often visiting the village for a glass of Ouzo or a game of backgammon in the kafeneion. He would appear barefoot, or wearing a pair of sayonara (flip flops) and a white shirt. Apparently, to move from Skorpios to Nidri, he would frequently hitch a lift with local fishermen.
Onassis certainly helped many local families. He employed many locals to work on Skorpios and on his ships, giving priority to poor and large families. All his employees reported that they were very well cared for. They also said that he spent much of his time with them, probably enjoying the company of his native Greeks as much as his international friends. Reportedly, on his luxury yacht Christina O, although he had a French chef, Onassis would often go down to the kitchens and ask for a Greek egg and lemon, or a bean soup!
Indeed the presence of Onassis in this area was beneficial to Lefkada Island. He provided employment first of all. He made donations to Nidri’s inhabithants including the funds for the building of a local school. Being an important and powerful businessman he also attracted a lot of interest from the international press. He therefore was an attraction that bought celebrity and fame not only to Skorpios but to the entire area, including Nidri and the entire island.
Lefkada at the time was slowly starting to transform itself from a rural island into a tourist destination. Onassis, its entourage and the men who worked for him both in Lefkada and abroad contributed to this development.
We can now understand why Nidri’s resident placed a statue of Aristelis Onassis on the seafront of their little town. It represents their gratitude towards this smart and generous man. And also the recognition of his importance in the growth of their island.
The new owner
In 1972 Alexander Onassis, son of Aristotelis, died in an air-crash. This devastated Aristotelis who never recovered and fell in depression. He died in Paris in 1975 and was buried in Skorpios, next to the grave of his son.
Skorpios passed to his daughter Christina, who unfortunately also died pretty young in 1988. Consequentely the island became property of Aristotelis Onassis grandaughter: Athina. In 2013 Athina Onassis sold many of her inherited assets to Ekaterina Rybolovleva, daughter of the Russian magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev. Although according to the last will of Aristotelis Onassis the island should remain in the hands of the Onassis family or under the Greek state property, the deal between Athina Onassis and Ekaterina included a long term lease of Skorpios and its smaller islet, Sparti. This means that in fact nowdays Skorpios is a property of the Ribolovev family.
A couple of years ago Dmitry Rybolovlev received permission from the Greek State for a multi-million-euro investment project on Skorpios. The aim of this project is to create the first luxury accommodation complex in Greece, located on a private island.
The project includes the construction of 12 luxury villas and other facilities such as spas, restaurants, a marina, together with a golf and basketball fields. Works started at the end of 2018 summer.
Excursions to Skorpios
While on holiday in Lefkada there are many good reasons to pay a visit to Nidri. One of the most popular resort of the island, many people choose this village and its surroundings for the abundance of accomodation possibilities that they offer.
Nidri, together with Lefkada Town is the most important harbour of the island. From here you can take a ferry boat to Meganisi, Ithaka and Kefalonia. Nidri is also the main starting point of many of the boat excursions that you can choose to do if you are in Lefkada. All of them pass along the island of Skorpios. Most offer a guided tour of it. However, being a private island there are only a couple of spots where the boats can anchor to let their passenger go for swim. Neverthless the guided tour of Skorpios it is an unforgettable experience!
During the tour you can infact admire a unique and beautiful natural environment. Trees, gardens, small coves and private beaches, included the favourite of the soprano singer Maria Callas or the one where Jackie Kennedy used to go for a swimming. You can also admire the villas where the Onassis use to stay when on holiday on the island. And the buldings reserved for their staff or their vip guests. You can listen to interesting stories about the Onassis family and the new Russian owner of Skorpios. An excellent opportunity for curious travellers to enjoy an exciting sightseeing!
If you wish to learn more about boat excursions which include a guided tour of the fabulous island of Skorpios get in touch with us!