The Mediterranean Sea is one of the largest water bodies on the Earth and has served as a strategic sea route since ancient times. The history of the Mediterranean is crucial to gaining knowledge about the development of settlements, societies, and cultures in the Asian, European, and African countries bordering the sea. The Mediterranean Sea is dotted with several islands, large and small, which host a great diversity of population. Here is a list of the most populated islands of the Mediterranean Sea.
Located in the central Mediterranean Sea, Sicily is the largest and most populous island in the water body. An autonomous region of Italy, Sicily is separated from the Italian Peninsula to the north by the Strait of Messina. The first evidence of human settlements in Sicily dates back to 12,000 BC. From about 750 BC, the island was settled by the Greeks and the Phoenicians. Several empires ruled Sicily at various points of time and even today, the island is inhabited by people of different cultures and ethnic origins like the Italians, Byzantines, Romans, Spaniards, Normans, Greeks, and others. Sicily has a present population of about 5,010,000 including a large number of immigrants (nearly 175,000). The major immigrant groups include Romanians, Tunisians, Albanians, Sri Lankans, and Moroccans. Roman Catholicism is the religion of the majority in Sicily. Italian serves as the island’s major religion.
Sardinia is the second most populous island in the Mediterranean Sea. The island lies to the south of the Corsica island in the Western Mediterranean. Sardinia, an autonomous region of Italy, hosts a population of 1,656,000. The population density of the island is 69 persons per square km. In the past, unlike the general trend observed in the case of most of the world’s islands, the major settlements in Sardinia were not along the coast but in the interiors and sub-coastal areas. Several historical, geographical, and economic factors like repeated raids of the coastal areas by foreign troops, swampy nature of the coastal region, and more economic potential inland favored this trend in Sardinia. However, since the development of tourism on the island, the major urban centers of the modern day are all located along the coast and the interiors are sparsely populated.
Cyprus, the third most populous Mediterranean island is located in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The earliest known traces of human life in Cyprus dates back to the 10th millennium BC. The island still retains some of the ancient settlements and water wells in a well-preserved state. Cyprus was annexed by several major powers like the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, and Assyrians over the years due to its strategic location in the Mediterranean region. Today, Cyprus has a multiethnic and multicultural population with Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots being the biggest ethnic groups living in the country. The total population of the island is 1,088,503.
The largest and most populated island in the Balearic Islands archipelago, Majorca, is an extremely popular vacation spot. The archipelago is an autonomous region of Spain with the capital of the region, Palma, being located in the Majorca island. The island hosts a population of 846,000. The Phoenicians were the first major power to occupy Majorca around the 8th century BC. Like most other islands in the Mediterranean, Majorca also fell prey to the ambitious goals of the major world powers like the Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphates, Spanish colonists, and others. Ultimately, it emerged as a part of the autonomous Spanish territory of the Balearic Islands. Currently, Majorca has experienced a boom in tourism that has triggered rapid urban development in the island and attracted immigrant workers to the island from parts of the world outside the European Union.
Crete is the fifth most populous Mediterranean Sea island and the most populous of the Greek islands. Crete has a population of about 624,000. For centuries, Crete has served as one of the most significant cultural hubs of Greece. Crete is famous for being the center of the earliest European civilization, the Minoan civilization. Later on, Crete was annexed and ruled over by major superpowers like the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, and the Republic of Venice. Finally, the island became a part of Greece. During the Second World War, Crete was occupied by the forces of Nazi Germany.