1. Setting and environment

Irakleia (aka Arakleia, Rakleia, Irakleitsa) is the westernmost and southernmost island of the group of the Small Eastern Cyclades. The group extends in the area between Naxos, Amorgos and Ios, also including Schoinousa, Koufonisia, Donousa and Keros. Irakleia is located south of Naxos, 19 miles from Amorgos and 6 miles from the east coast of Ios, with an area of 18 km2. For the greatest part, its ground is mountainous with mount Papas (419 m) being its highest top. Its shores are quite short and steep, forming many leeward creeks protected from sea currents and the stong north winds of the summer (meltemia). It has magnificent quiet beaches. The island’s flora is corresponding to that of the other islands of the group and includes mainly one kind of shrub, as well as low arboraceous vegetation. There are some relatively fertile and cultivable plateaus too.

2. History and archaeology

Historical and archaeological data about Irakleia are inefficient; however they can help us imagine the island’s course throughout the centuries. During the Protocycladic Period (3rd millennium BC), there were two settlements on the island, based on agriculture, stock farming and fishing: at Kambos Agiou Athanasiou and Agios Mamas. The settlement’s cemetery with its cist graves has been uncovered at Agios Mamas. At the Agios Georgios cape, a blade of obsidian from Milos was unearthed, proving the island’s participation in the Protocycladic trade characterized by the development of naval trade routes and navigation. The fortified site Kastro, at Livadi, dates from historical times, particularly the Hellenistic Period (4th-2nd century BC). The fort has impressive tall rectangular towers. Many traces from several successive historical periods (Hellenistic and Roman Times) have been found in its interior, as in other locations on the island. Regarding Modern Times, and specifically the period of Ottoman Rule, there are data indicating that the island’s inaccessible creeks worked as ideal lairs for Christian pirates, whose activities defined the residents’ life. Nothing further is known about the island’s early modern history. After the 1821 Greek War of Independence, Irakleia was integrated into the Greek state, as were the rest of the Cyclades. In 1941, Irakleia initially came under Italian administration, since the Axis Powers had taken over Greece. After Italy capitulated in 1943, the island came under German rule until it was finally liberated in 1944.

3. Settlements and archaeological sites

The few current residents of Irakleia live in two organized settlements: Agios Georgios (to the northeast), where the port is located, and Irakleia (aka Panagia or Pano Mera) at the centre of the island. These settlements are approximately half an hour from one another on foot, and are linked with the only main road network on Irakleia. The rest of its locations, the mesmerizing beaches in little creeks (Mourto, Kavos Tourkopigado, Merichas, Karvounolakos, Alimnia, Vourkaria, Voreini Spilia), the caves of Agios Ioannis and Irakleia (Cyclop’s cave) and the Protocycladic sites are accessible from an asphalted secondary road network. The Castle’s fortress, which is the most important and best-preserved archaeological site of the island, is very close to Agios Georgios and can be accessed from the main road network. Its view to Mourtos cove is worthwhile.
Worth mentiong is also the deserted settlement of Agios Athanasios with its characteristic Cycladic architecture.

4. Everyday life - Irakleia today

The residents’ main occupations are stock farming and fishing, whereas the low bushy vegetation favors the development of apiculture. Within the last few years, tourism has been added to the above, since docking and infrastructures have improved. Irakleia is connected with Piraeus, Naxos, the rest of the Small Eastern Cyclades, Astypalaia and the Dodecanese. Visiting the island has become much easier, particularly in summer.

Irakleia differs from neighbouring islands, since there is almost no vehicular traffic. Visitors can therefore calmly enjoy the traditional architectural landscape with the spacious white-colored houses, the narrow slab-paved streets and the churches, which are the centre of social life. One can go around on foot and get to the beaches or the caves, climb on mount Papas and view the neighbouring islands and the sea, and finally enjoy nature without the interference of modern intense tourist development.

Irakleia has the appropriate infrastructure for fulfilling the basic needs of travellers that choose the island for alternative vacation. Merichas’s cove, on the southern coasts, is also worthwhile. It has impressive steep vertical rocks (150 m) and the view from there is exceptional. It is also appropriate for fishing. The feasts of Virgin Mary (August 15) and St George (April 23) are important events for the inhabitants and centres of attraction for the guests.

5. The cave of Agios Ioannis

We must also mention the relatively unknown Cave of Agios Ioannis (St John), which is an hour away on foot from the capital and is accessible from the secondary road network. It is an important geological monument, one of the largest caves in Greece, with elaborate stalactites and successive spacious rooms. Ancient devotional artifacts have been found inside the cave. On August 28, on the eve of the Decapitation of St John the Baptist, there is a grand annual evensong and a small feast in the first large room. Thus the long devotional tradition at this site is maintained today.