1. Geography - Environment

Kea (Keos/Ceos), commonly referred to as Tzia, is the northernmost island of the Western Cyclades and the nearest to the coasts of Attica (15 nautical miles from Lavrio and 40 from Piraeus). The ground, which consists of greenish slate and a tiny proportion of marble, is semi-mountainous; its highest peak is Prophitis Ilias (568 m). The coastline is divided by many small, successive coves and oblong promontories. The only exception is the bay of Agios Nikolaos, on the northwest coast, which is quite deep and naturally protected from the sea currents and the winds, consequently being the most suitable anchorage on the island from the Prehistoric period until today.

Kea has few fertile valleys and plateaux, where agriculture and livestock farming are practised, while the exploitation of the endemic perennial oak forests had always supported the rural economy. It is worth mentioning that forests of the Aegean Oak, which are very rare nowadays, are still preserved on Kea. In addition, the subsoil comprises layers of iron, lead and the mineral miltos, an iron oxide used since antiquity in shipbuilding and pharmaceutics.

2. History

According to mythology, the nymphs were the first inhabitants of the island; they lived near the sources that gave the name Hydroussa (many-watered) to the island. Then a lion chased them away and as a result the island suffered from drought until the arrival of Apollo’s son, Aristeos, sent as a reply to the desperate requests of the people. Apollo came from Thessaly and sacrificed to honour Zeus Ikmeus, god of rain, and Sirius. The result was the rectification of a balanced climate on the island.

The name Keos derives from the first eponymous settler of the island, Keos, the leader of Lokroi, a people from Nafpaktos. The bay of Agios Nikolaos had always been the focal point of the early habitation on the island. During the Neolithic Period, one of the earliest installations of the Cyclades was situated on Kefala cape. In the Bronze Age the organised and fortified settlement of Agia Eirini constituted a naval and cultural meeting-point between mainland Greece and the Aegean, receiving influences from the Cycladic culture (3rd millennium BC) and the Minoan world (2nd millennium BC).

In historical times the island was settled by Ionians. In the Archaic period (7th-6th century BC) the Tetrapolis (league of the four cities) of Kea was founded. The Tetrapolis was formed by Ioulis, Koressia, Poieessa and Karthaia. The limits of each city were defined by geomorphology and are testified by inscriptions. The city-states of Kea played an important role in the cultural and economic development of the island, as well as the flourishing of the Archaic shrines of Koressia and Agia Eirini. The lyric poets Simonides and Bacchylides, the sophist Prodicus, the doctor Erasistratos and the philosopher Ariston are some of the eminent personalities of antiquity who were born on Kea and lived there, as well as on other Aegean places.

During the Persian Wars Kea participated with ships in the naval battles of Artemision and Salamis. In addition, the proximity to Athens transformed the island into a commercial centre and contributed to its economic blossoming due to the exploitation of iron and miltos mines, which resulted also in becoming a member of the Athenian League. In the Peloponnesian War Kea fought with the Athenians, while Keans took part in the Sicilian expedition. In 377/376 BC the cities of Kea allied themselves to the second Athenian League and in 338 BC they fought against the Macedonians at the battle of Chaeronea. In the Hellenistic period the island consisted part of the Commonwealth of the Islands. Alexander's successors disputed over its control, a fact that led to the end of the autonomy of the four cities. During the Roman period Antonios assigned Kea to Athens until 212 BC, when the island came under Roman rule according to a decree by Caracalla.

It is known that during the Byzantine Era Kea belonged to the Theme of Aegean, while the piratical raids forced the residents to protect themselves at fortified places in the interior of the island. In 1207 the island submitted to the Franks and was included in the Duchy of Naxos under Marco Sanudo up to 1537, when after falling to the hands of the Ottomans, Albanian-speaking populations (Arvanites) settled on the island. Probably it is then that the name Tzia prevailed. However, the island's official Ottoman name was Murtat.

Kea suffered from big destructions in 1668 during the Ottoman-Venetian war as a consequence to having supported the Venetians. There is testimony from the same period for the existence of a communal body on the island with the official title "Community of the Island Tzia".

Kea flourished in the 18th century. It is the time of commercial development; the island became the transit centre of the region and maintained commercial relations with consulates of all European Powers. The population reached 3.000-5.000 residents, while the island enjoyed a relative administrative autonomy. In the Russian-Ottoman war (1787 -1792), Lambros Katsonis, the envoy officer of Russia appointed the harbour of Tzia as the base for the operations of the Russian fleet. In 1789 his fleet was besieged there by the Ottomans and he managed to escape via a narrow strip of earth (Katsonis Channel). In the 19th century Kea participated in many battles during the Greek War of Independence of 1821 (Acropolis of Athens, Tripoli, Peta).

After the foundation of the Modern Greek state Kea developed powerful institutions of local administration and was transformed into a prosperous agrarian, stock-raising and commercial community. In the 20th century, migration to Athens and abroad decreased dramatically the population in the island, which began gradually to decline. Since 1941 it was occupied by the Axis powers. It was liberated in 1944. Nowadays Kea is an ideal holiday destination, close to Athens, with rich cultural activity.

3. Archaeological sites and monuments

The most important archaeological sites on the island are the Prehistoric settlements of Agia Eirini and Kefala, which are preserved in a very good condition and offer a complete picture of the importance of the island in the Prehistoric Period. The only organised archaeological site of a classical city, which belonged to the ancient Tetrapolis of Kea, is Karthaia in the southeastern part of the island. Karthaia has yielded evidence of the social, religious and cultural life of the inhabitants. Access is feasible from the central road via a by-pass of a dirt-road and a path starting at the village Stavroudaki. The three other ancient cities lie under the modern settlements of Kea or Chora (Ioulida), Livadi (Koressia) and Poisses.

At Chora the fortified ancient acropolis of Ioulis and part of the walls remain intact, as well as part of the Venetian castle of the 13th century AD. The Archaic colossal lion, hewn in the rock, is known as the Lion of Kea or Ioulis. It is a representative work of a local sculpture workshop and is considered to be the symbol of the island. There are remains of the defensive walls of Koressia , the acropolis and a temple, probably dedicated to the Sminthios Apollo. At the foot of the hill an Archaic marble statue, known as the Kouros of Kea, was discovered, a marvellous work of art from a local workshop (in the National Archaeological Museum). At Poisses traces of the walls of the archaic city Poieessa are discerned, while in the southern coast there are remains of harbour installations.

Scattered around the countryside of the island ruins of towers are to be found, as well as small rural installations of the late Classical and Hellenistic period at Pigadaki, Chouchli and Loutriani. The most important tower is at Agia Marina, which is one of the tallest monuments in the Mediterranean. The ancient path connecting Karthaia and Poieessa is still preserved, as well as remains of Early Christian basilicas (at Karthaia, Ioulida and Karyes). Important monuments dated in the Middle Byzantine period are the main church of the monastery of Agia Anna, which lies East of Chora, the temple of Agioi Apostoloi (Holy Apostles) at Elies Katomerias and the temple of Agios Panteleimon at Nero Ellinikon. A great number of the finds from the excavations and the archaeological sites of Kea are displayed in the current exhibition of the Archaeological Museum at Ioulida.

The Town Hall at Chora, an impressive Neoclassical building with unique decoration, is the work of architect Ernst Ziller, as well as the Neoclassical building that housed the elementary school. Finally, a characteristic specimen of industrial architecture of the 1930’s is the abandoned factory of enamelware (Emaillé). The factory functioned in the years 1927-1957 in the region of Korissia.

In the bottom of the sea in Kea lies "Britannic", one of the biggest shipwrecks in the world. The boat was a large ocean liner, which was converted into a hospital boat for the needs of World War I. In 1916 it was struck probably by a mine and was sunk off the harbour of Kea.

4. The Neolithic settlement of Kefala

On Kefala cape, in the northwestern coast of Kea, an open settlement has been located, dated in the Final Neolithic or Chalcolithic Period (end of the 4th millennium, around 3300 BC). The small community (45-80 individuals) lived in rectangular stone-built houses. They were occupied with agriculture, livestock farming, basketry, fishery and marine trade (Melian obsidian), as well as metallurgy, testified by the remains of copper crucibles. The cemetery of the settlement contains stone-built, rectangular or circular, individual or group graves; it is considered to be the first organised cemetery of the Aegean. The finds and the burial offerings of Kefala date it in the cultural phase Attica-Aegina of the Final Neolithic, which has not been located anywhere else in the Cyclades. This unique feature testifies the importance of Kea in the Prehistoric Aegean. Kefala along with Zas Cave on Naxos (Late and Final Neolithic) and Saliangos off Antiparos island (the Late Neolithic phase) provide invaluable information on the emergence and evolution of the transitional period between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age in the Aegean.

(Konstantinos Tsonos)
(Transl. Georgia Kalogeropoulou - Panagiotis Karioris)

5. Agia Eirini

The peninsula of Agia Eirini was named after the little church located on its centre. Geographically, it is situated in Agios Nikolaos natural bay, in the NW part of the island, well protected from the north winds of the Aegean. It is in that peninsula that one of the most important settlements of the Aegean, founded during the Final Neolithic period (3300/3200 BC) and inhabited until the end of the Late Bronze Age (1200/1100 BC), came to light. In certain parts of the settlement there is evidence of habitation until the Hellenistic period (3rd-2nd century BC). The University of Cincinnati and professor J. L. Caskey conducted systematic excavations in the area of the site between 1960 and 1981.

It has been noted that the houses of the settlement underwent constant reconstructions and alterations, mainly due to the damages sustained by natural phenomena. The architectural remains of earlier periods were used by the inhabitants of the subsequent periods, thus creating a dense urban tissue where dating with any surety is very difficult.

The architectural remains of the Early Bronze Age (3200/3000-2000 BC) are very few, yet a large number of clay and stone vessels, as well as Cycladic marble figurines, have survived from that period.

During the Middle Bronze Age (2000/1900-1600 BC) the settlement expands and a fortification system with rectangular towers and a central gate is being constructed on the peninsula. That is when the first phase of the sanctuary begins, a building of sacred character, unique in the Cyclades; at the same time, trade develops and a network of relations and exchanges between the Cycladic islands and Crete is being established.

During the Late Bronze Age (1600-1200/1100 BC) the settlement is planned with a grid of cobbled streets, a water supply and a sewage system. Its inhabitants are engaged in agriculture, stockbreeding, fishing, hunting, pottery, weaving, metalwork, metallurgy and stone dressing. It is also worth mentioning the unique, so far, set of fifty clay female figurines, which came to light in the area of the sanctuary. The figurines, interpreted as deities, priestesses or worshippers, are displayed in a prominent position at the museum of the island’s capital, Ioulida.

(Frangoula Georma)
(Transl. Eirini Papadaki)

6. The ancient city of Karthaia

Karthaia, in the east coast of Kea, was the most famous of the four autonomous ancient cities on the island, as the festivities dedicated to Pythios Apollo were celebrated here. The city was most prosperous in the Later Archaic and Classical Period. However, finds dated into the Mycenaean period testify the habitation of the settlement since the Late Bronze Age.

Karthaia provides rich archaeological evidence, due to the extensive excavation activities that had begun as early as in the 19th century. During the years 1810-1813, the Danish archaeologist P.O. Bröndsted transported to various European capitals a considerable number of the finds that had been discovered during his researches in Karthaia. Moreover, he published the results of his research in 1826 in a chronicle of his travels. Officers of the Russian navy had proceeded accordingly, sending to their homeland statues and architectural fragments. An important figure of the 19th century in Kean archaeology was Konstantinos Manthos, who visited all the antiquities of Kea and he recorded with scientific precision many important finds and inscriptions, constituting a private collection in the National Archaeological Museum. In the 20th century, the French P. Graindor excavated the temple of Athena (1920-1921), while N. Zafeiropoulos in 1965 revealed the ancient theatre. Since 1987 Karthaia is an important case study, as it has become the centre of excavational researches and studies of conservation under the direction of the archaeologist Lina Mendoni, aiming at revealing the contribution of Karthaia in the culture of the Cyclades.

The archaeological site of Karthaia, isolated in a typically Cycladic landscape, occupies the southern part of the hill of Aspri Vigla. Two small torrents created natural limits for the elevated plateau where the city was built; the latter was also protected by imposing fortification walls. The near coves in the beach functioned as protected harbours, while traces of harbour installations have been located in the sea.

The acropolis is surrounded by a defensive wall built of polygonal stone blocks. Its width varies from 1.20m to 1.50m and its preserved height is 12m. It is built of stone blocks of slate and local marble, while the intermediary gaps are filled with smaller stones. The wall follows the natural configuration of the rocky ground, forming dentitions and rampants. It had at least six entrances. In addition, an organised pattern of circular towers reinforced the defensive protection of the site. The fortification is dated in the second half of the 5th century BC and is still visible in its entire length.

The most important monuments have been located at the southern part of the acropolis: the foundations of the propylon, the temple of Athena and the temple of Pythios Apollo. The Doric temple, which was very probably dedicated to Athena, is dated around 500 BC. It is a peripteral temple with 6 columns in the narrow and 12 in the long sides, measuring 23.20m by 11.98m in total. The three-stepped crepidoma is constructed from azure local slate, while white marble has been used on the walls. Fragments of the sculptural decoration are mainly preserved from the pediments and the central acroterium. Taking into consideration the preserved parts of the sculptures, which represent mainly feminine figures, and the inscriptions ΘΗΣΕΥΣ (Theseus) and ΑΝΤΙΟΠΗ (Antiope), incised on the corner acroteria, we can conclude that the main theme of the south acroterium must have been the Amazonomachy or a scene from it.

The temple of Apollo, in the easternmost part of the city, was elevated above the sea level. The stelai found in situ were inscribed with decrees of the people of Karthaia and dedicated to the temple of Apollo Pythios. Thus, the identification of the temple is indubitable. Its construction begun in 530 BC, which means that it is contemporary with the temple of Athena. They both adopt the same architectural style. It is a Doric temple made of marble measuring 31.15m by 16.05m. Written sources mention that the temple was decorated with scenes inspired by the Trojan War. The cult statue of the god was placed in a niche hewn in the rock in the west side of the temple. Many of the sculptures of Karthaia are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum at Ioulida. Their style resembles the contemporary style of Athenian workshops but on the same time it emphasises the local artistic production of the Archaic period.

The existence of other important temples has also been testified in Karthaia. The temples were dedicated to the cult of Hermes, Demeter, Artemis and Asclepius. The prosperity of the city is evident from the urban expansion over the neighbouring hills, where scattered remains of foundations of private and public buildings are visible. The theatre has been revealed at the south slope of the hill, as well as the aquaduct and the water supply system. The extensive cemetery of the settlement is located in the valley of Kalamitsi, east of the acropolis. The ruins mentioned above are dated mainly in the Archaic period, when the city was founded, but there are remains that suggest occupation of the site until the Early Byzantine Period.

The mint of Karthaia produced silver and bronze coins. On the obverse Apollo, Zeus, Dionysus, Aristeus or an amphora with a dolphin are mainly portrayed. On the reverse grapes or constellations with the inscription ΚΑΡΘΑ (Kartha) are depicted.

The access to the archaeological site is possible only by walking on an ancient paved pathway. The unspoiled route in the valley of Vathypotamos compensates the visitor, as it combines an idyllic walk in the beautiful hinterland, which coincides with the ancient road network, and the revelation of the ruins of a prosperous ancient settlement, which controlled the sea routes of the east coast of Kea.

(Konstantinos Tsonos)

7. The Archaeological Museum of Kea

The Archaeological Museum of Kea is located in Ioulida, the capital of the island. It is one of the most important museums in the Cyclades with unique finds, particularly of the Prehistoric period. The museum was established in the 1970’s. The first collections included antiquities from the island and the discoveries of older excavations. In 2000, after repairs on the building, the exhibition of the collections was reconsidered and organised in accordance with modern museological perceptions. At the same time, all the necessary conditions were created for the display of more finds to the public.

The museum houses the collection of the Historical period (7th century BC - 2nd century AD) in the first floor. Works of sculpture, pottery, coins and inscriptions of ancient Kea illustrate the history of the island. The sculptural decoration of the temple of Athena at Karthaia is of particular importance. In the second floor the impressive finds from the Neolithic settlement Kefala and the Bronze Age settlement of Agia Eirini testify the central role of Kea in Prehistoric Aegean. The exhibition has been organised in units presenting daily life, religion and burial customs. The exceptional big pottery female statues from the sanctuary in the settlement of Agia Eirini are not only unique, but also presented for the first time to the public.

(Georgia Kalogeropoulou)

8. Traditional architecture

The modern picture of Ioulida combines the narrow stoned-paved serpentine streets and the cubic roof-tiled houses with the Castle, a reminder of the island's history. In the countryside one can admire the traditional rural houses of Kea, the “kathikies”. They are called “kathentres” when additional facilities are constructed in order to provide space for the rural productive activities.

The most preferable material for building is the local slate stone. It is abundantly used in the construction of the houses, the terraces which retain the soil (called “ochtes” or “pezoules”), the paved streets or paths (called “stenes”), some of which belong to the ancient road network, as well as in many modern farm houses, continuing a tradition well known since the Prehistoric times (as seen on the settlement of Agia Eirini). The watermills at Mylopotamos, working until the World War II, are also characteristic architectural specimens. Few more windmills remain south of Ioulida, where the biggest group of windmills in the Cyclades originally stood.

9. Traditional occupations and local festivities

The traditional occupations of the inhabitants of Kea are related to agriculture (olive-trees, vines), livestock-farming, apiculture and acorns, which have diachronically constituted a basic export product, due to its use in tannage. The most known traditional craftsmen are the builders, the basketry weavers, the tanners and the makers of musical instruments, such as the “tsabouna”, a type of bagpipes that play a vivid role in traditional music. The most important local festivities take place on the 15th of August at the church of Panagia Kastriani (Virgin Mary of the Castle) and on the 10th of February, on Saint Charalambos' nameday.

(Konstantinos Tsonos)
(Transl. Georgia Kalogeropoulou - Panagiotis Karioris)