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      Ικαρία (5/3/2006 v.1) Ikaria (5/3/2006 v.1)

Author(s) : Petraka Eleni , Banev Guentcho
Translation : Nakas Ioannis (3/22/2007)

For citation: Petraka Eleni, Banev Guentcho, "Ikaria", 2007,
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1. Physical geography

Ikaria lies in the east Aegean, within the complex of the East Sporades, between Samos, which lies 10 nautical miles to the NW, and Mykonos, which lies 26 miles to the E. Ikaria is 56 miles south of Chios and 143 miles from Piraeus harbour. It is one of the bigger islands of the eastern Aegean; its coastline extends in 102 miles (160 kilometres) and the whole island covers 255 square miles (660 square kilometres). It has an elongated shape with a perimeter of 50 miles. It stretches from NE to SE and it is almost entirely covered by the mountain Atheras (ancient Pramnos), with its highest peak being Melissa (1040 meters). This mountain ridge crossing the whole length of the island ends up in steep slopes towards the south, while towards the north it creates the only plain areas at Kambos and Faros. The island has the form of an “overturned ship”, as the 15th-century traveller Buondelmondi properly observed.

Geologically Ikaria is exclusively comprised of crystalloid schist metamorphic rocks (i.e. gneiss with mica schist, marbles and sipolines). It is believed that these rocks are of pre-Devonian age and that the island belongs to the nucleus of the Lydian-Carian crystalline core, connecting, along with Samos, this mass with the Cyclades (or the South Aegean). On the island in general and more specifically in the area of Saint Kyrikos iron ores have been located, which were exploited in earlier times.

Ikaria is noted for its steep geographical relief of mountainous character and many ravines, plateaus and basins, which played a major role in the development of human activities. The coastline presents a small horizontal division with very few gulfs, whereas it offers no great anchorages and natural harbours. The most important open gulfs are the ones at Agriomelissa and Ayios Nikolaos to the south near cape Papas. The climate is considered to be mild. Regularly a lot of rainfall occurs in the winter period, favouring the development of rich vegetation. Ikaria is one of more green and rich in water islands of the Archipelago. In older times there were extended forests. Due to the destructive fires the island is covered mainly by bushes today.

As it lies between Mykonos and Samos, Ikaria has common attributes with the Cyclades, as well with the islands of the East Aegean. It has though some unique characteristics too. Ikaria’s wider area, along with Fournoi islands has been incorporated in Natura 2000 network for the preservation of natural environments, due to its great biophysical diversity.

The island belongs to the periphery of the north-eastern Aegean and to Samos prefecture. Ikaria County is the second smaller in the prefecture. It comprises of Ikaria Island and Fournoi insular complex. Out of the 12 villages of the county 11 are mountainous and only one, Evdilos in northern Ikaria, is semi-mountainous.

2. Name and Mythology

The island is called Nikaria by its inhabitants. In antiquity it was called Makris or Doliche, due to its elongated form. It is also referred as Ichthyosesa, due to the rich fish populations in the Ikarian Sea and, like other islands, Anemoessa, due to the strong winds blowing there. The name Ikaros and Ikaria was given later and it is related to the famous myth of Icarus. Some believe that the name is of Phoenician origin, but, as the geographers of antiquity had already noted, Ikaria’s name is connected to the myth of Icarus and this remains the most plausible theory.

According to the mythological tradition Icarus, ignoring his father’s, Daedalus, advice, after escaping their imprisonment in Crete, flew very high, resulting in melting his wax feathers, falling and drawing in the sea somewhere off Doliche. His father buried his body on the nearest island that was, according to tradition, named Ikaria, to commemorate the daring youngster.

3. History

3.1. Prehistory and Antiquity

Notwithstanding its great size, rich subsoil and natural resources this island, due to the lack of natural harbours and its geographical isolation, never played any important role in history.

Concerning prehistoric times there are very few information about Ikaria. Some Neolithic finds have been located in various sites in Kambos area, dated around 7000 BC and related to Pre-Hellenic populations, commonly referred as Pelasgoi. During excavations at Gladero, in the Ayios Kyrikos area, round foundations of buildings interpreted as part of a Neolithic settlement have been discovered. It is worth also noting the multitude of Neolithic finds, mainly tools, from different sites of the island. The great number of stone axes available to us today is due to the habit Ikarians had during recent years to collect these objects, so-called astropelekia (thunderbolts) because they thought they were made from thunders. They were considered talismans against thunders and kept in domestic shrines.

There are also archaeological proves for the habitation of the island during Geometric times. Near the Katafygi acropolis (Ayios Kyrikos area) tombs dated in this period have been found. According to Strabo, Ikaria’s inhabitants came from Miletus in Ionia and apparently first settled the area of nowadays Kambos, known as Oenoe in antiquity. Indeed, in the site of Nas finds of “orientalizing pottery” (7th century BC) have been located.

During the Persian Wars Ikaria was subdued by the Persians. Then it became one of the first allies of Athens in the First Athenian Alliance. In Athens’ taxation catalogues Oenoe and Thermes are mentioned as paying the alliance tax and having one vote, whereas Drapanon and Tauropolion were allies with no tax contribution. After the Peloponnesian War, in the years 405-394, the island received commissioners and came under the control of Sparta. During the 4th century BC the cities of the island formed a confederacy, the “koinon” (common) of the Ikarian cities, under the name of Ikaria. Around the middle of the 4th century BC lived Eparhides, who was born in Ikaria and, as we learn from indirect information, wrote the history of the island. During Hellenistic times and in the background of the struggles between the successors of Alexander the Great, Ikaria was successively conquered by Ptolemy I, Demetrius Poliorketes, Antioch, the kingdom of Pergamon, until, finally, it was incorporated in the Roman Empire in 133 BC. Sources mention that in the 1st century BC the island was desolated and that Samians used it as their best grazing grounds.

Excavations have added a lot in our knowledge of Ikaria’s history. Ancient Oenoe has been identified with the ruins of the ancient city discovered near Kambos. Many fragments of ancient sculptures and inscriptions are still incorporated into the walls of later edifices. On Ayia Eirini hill relics of a fortification wall have been discovered. In the same area, as well as at Raches, cemeteries of the 5th-4th century BC have been located on the coast. The research of the inscriptions verified the cult of Artemis Tauropolos, a goddess of oriental origin, on the island, especially in Nas. Near Katafygio village there is an important acropolis, whereas the nearby Early Classical cemetery has been excavated too.

3.2. From the Byzantine period to Modern times

During the Byzantine period and later Latin rule, as well as during modern times until almost the 18th century, indirect information and sources about Ikaria are scarce. The island’s history is mainly related to the general history in the area. The fortunes of Ikaria seem to have been common with those of nearby Samos and equally those of Chios.

The ruins still visible near Oenoe document that the central settlement of the era was there, with a continuous habitation throughout the Byzantine period and mentioned by its ancient name Doliche. Apart form the so-called “Palaces” near Kambos, some churches are still preserved from Byzantine times, such as Ayia Eirini, a cross-in-square temple of the 9th-10th century, erected over an early Christian church. Ikaria followed the fate of the rest of the islands in the area administratively as well as historically in general. Most probably it was used as a lair for the Saracen pirates. Sources mention massive resettlements on the coasts of Asia Minor. Earthquakes (4th-8th centuries) and the Arab raids during the 8th-11th century made things even worst. During the 11th century the Byzantine fleet was no longer capable of offering adequate protection. The islands organized the defence against the pirates by their own. Castles like the ones of Meliopos (Palaiokastro), Kafalino (over Mavrato) and the legendary castle of Koskinas in Kosoikia are built in that time. In the same period the decay of the coastal sites begins, whereas mountain settlements develop, like the ones of Arethousa (Byzantine ruins are preserved there).

After the conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204 the island became a part of the domains of the Latin empire of Constantinople until 1255, when the Byzantine Empire of Nice re-established its authority in the area under Ioannes Vatatzes. After the Byzantines recaptured Constantinople in 1261 Ikaria remained under the same regime until the early 14th century: in 1304, along with Samos and Chios it came into the hands of the Genoese house of Zachaias. During a short period in 1329-1346 the island came again under Byzantine rule but the Genoese re-established their dominion again after that. Under the pressure of the pirates Genoa limited her activities in the area and was confined mainly in Chios, granting control of Ikaria to the family of Arangio, who ruled the island as counts from 1346 until 1481. With the exception of the Spanish traveller Ruy de Clavijo who, in 1403, reported that the island was governed by a woman from the house of the Arangio, we have almost no information on this period. In 1481 the Genoese abandoned the island under the pressure of the Ottoman advance and Ikaria came under the control of the Knights Hospitallers of Rhodes until 1522, when Rhodes and all of the formers’ domains were subdued by the Ottoman admiral Barbarossa. For the next four centuries, until 1912, Ikaria was under the political control of the Ottoman Empire, with a short gap of two years (1694-5) when, along with Chios, was conquered by the Venetians.

During the long period (150 years in total) the Genoese and the Hospitallers ruled Ikaria, they left no visible testimonies of their presence. Neither at Kambos, nor Kosnikas is there any finds connected to the Frankish rule.

In the early 16th century a long period of “obscurity” is estimated to have begun for the Ikarians. The population withdrew to the mountains dwelling in the hidden, anti-piratical settlements. The little information of the western travellers notes the absence of organized settlements and the poverty of the inhabitants. It is speculated that the Ikarians had managed to organize and maintain a peculiar system of self-government with elected representatives. The indigenous population remained nominally free until 1567, when they declared their obedience to the Ottoman sultan Selim II, who settled the annual tax in the sum of 525 scudi (15.700 piasters) and ceded autonomy and self-government to the inhabitants.

Few documents survive from the 18th century, out of which it is very difficult for someone to get an idea of the situation on the island. In the eve of the Revolution of 1821 in Ikaria a nucleus of the Filiki Etaireia (Society of Friends) was founded. Since 1835 it became a part of the special province of Tetranesos along with Patmos, Leros and Kalymnos.

On 17th July 1912 a rebellion broke out. The representatives of the Ottoman administration left the island and the “Free Ikarian State” was established with Evdilos as its capital. On 4th November the Greek fleet arrived on the island. The island’s unification with Greece was confirmed by the Lausanne Treaty in 1923.

During World War II the island was successively conquered by the Italians and the Germans, while an important partisan movement was organized also. It was a period of great poverty and many people died of starvation. During the Civil War it was used as a place of exile for the democrats and member of the left. Approximately 13.000 people were exiled on the “Red Island” or the “Red Rock”. This regime was abolished only in 1950 by the government of N. Plasteras. Reconstruction works began in the 1960s.

In the 20th century there was a great flow of immigrants from Ikaria to America and Attica. Many of them distinguished themselves in their new homes and contributed a lot to the development of their island.

4. Traditional architecture

Concerning the dwelling environment and popular architecture Ikaria is indeed peculiar and even unique in the whole Aegean. Settlements on the island are scattered, non-densely built and disproportionately extended in analogy to their population. Usually in the islands and on the mountains regions settlements are densely built and their cultivated lands are generally outside their limits. Things in Ikaria are totally different. Houses, or “spitokathismata” (house-seats) as they are usually called, are built inside their cultivated lands, so villages become a complex of farms. Furthermore, there is no urban centre on the island, no “chora”, as its most usual insular form.

This peculiarity is due to the fact that the defence of the island was based not on the gathering of houses and their fortification but on their camouflage and hiding, the two rules of the construction of houses and the development of the settlements.

By studying the evolution of the typology of the Ikarian house we actually study the inhabitants’ course in history especially after the Byzantine period and until the early 20th century.

4.2. House types

Concerning the form of the houses and the development of the settlements three big categories representing the period of “obscurity”, the 19th and the first half of the 20th century respectively can be distinguished.

The first and totally original type of house is the kamares (vaults), built inside rocks or louroi (huge granite rocks). Because of the geomorphology of the island they were developed on the west part of Ikaria with the settlements at Ellinika (Mavri), at Karkinari area, Vrakades and others being the most characteristic ones. Almost the whole village consists of such kamares. The locals call these dwellings theoktista or katoikitiria. Kamares and louroi can be seen at Magganites and Pezi. Some kamares still preserve the name of gerodokamara, originating from the tradition of the harsh years of “obscurity” for the old people (geroi) to withdraw in these places in order to leave precious living space for the younger.

The chyto is a kind of a one-room house of small dimensions. It was the most common type of dwelling until the early 19th century, remaining in use in a smaller scale and with minor variations until the 20th century. It is one of the so-called anti-piratical houses and it formed the nucleus of the defence. As times went by it evolved, acquiring various additions. Anti-piratical houses had a wall built, something like a bench, in front of their entrance leading to the chostokeli (semi-subterranean space mainly in eastern Ikaria) or kryfokelia (away from the house and under the yard walls, mainly in the western parts). The houses at Raches, Feido, Kamba, Koumaro south of Pezi are characteristic of this type.

As time went by and dangers became rare these hideouts were used as auxiliary rooms.

In the beginning of the 19th century there was no longer any danger from piracy. This change is marked by the appearance of new types of complex dwellings and the parallel condensation of the settlements and new space organization. Ikaria’s society started presenting the first openings. A new kind of dwelling appeared – the two-room, two-storey house with the name pyrgos or pyrgami, with a second floor used as a guesthouse. According to the tradition around the late 18th century Ikaria was settled by people from Mani and, since pyrgoi, as well as the new settlements have common attributes to similar houses in Mani, it is believed that the new inhabitants introduced this architecture.

Successively the pyrgos was combined with the chyto, creating various types of mixed two-storey or more complex dwellings. The upper floors (doma), however, were to house the guests, whereas the ikarian family continued to live in the house’s nucleus, the chyto altogether.

Until 1830 the Ikarians avoided living in coastal settlements following their traditional way of life on the mountainous sites. The change only came around the middle of the 19th century because of the expansion of trade and of the local seamanship. The new settlements regularly appear on the old commerce “skales” (anchorages) and the fishermen “syrtakia”. The old capital of Marathos was replaced by the new one, Ayios Kyrikos, which, in 1841, had just 20 houses.

During the end of the 19th century the inhabitants’ life standard is remarkably advanced. In some areas (Ayios Kyrikos, Evdilo, Christo Rachon etc.) new houses appear, houses of a complex, multi-room plan and shape, mainly with a second floor, capable of housing visitors and offering every comfort essential to assure the social status of their inhabitants. Architectural models from other Aegean islands and Asia Minor are imported (balconies, friezes, cornices etc.). The four-sided roof is also diffused.

The study of architecture once again reveals the image we have for the particularities of the Ikarians, people who chose isolation and preserved special ethics, customs and a lingual idiom much different to the other people of the Archipelago.

5. Folk culture, religious feasts, dances and events

Around the middle of the 19th century Epameinondas Stamatiadis (Ikarika, Samos 1893) reports: “The Ikarians are great friends of the feasts, gathering everywhere there might be a feast of some Saint or any church celebrating, for the first because of their piety, for the second to financially help the celebrating church”.

Today religious fests only take place during spring and summer months with the fest of “t’ai Si’erou” (14th May) at Pezi being the first and the fest of “Ayia Sofia” at Monokabi (17 September) the last. Amongst the so-called “big” and “small” fests that would take place during these months, it is worth mentioning the ones of Ayios Kyrikos, Christos at Raches, Ayia Marina at Arethousa, Panaghia at Lagada on 15th August (also in 7 more sites on the island). At the mountain villages “small” fests are organized at their protector saints fest, such as at Marathos, Plagia etc. These religious fests as popular events had a wider social dimension, since apart from their entertainment side, had always a common good aim too, contributing to the financial support of the community and the church.

6. The peculiar way of life of the Ikarians

Even today the visitor of Ikaria understands that the inhabitants of the island unfold their “everyday” activities during the night, with the shops opening around midnight and closing around dawn. People who have studied Ikaria relate these habits with the people’s way of life during the long years of “obscurity”. Christos Rachon is one of the most striking examples of a village living in such a way.

7. The dialect of Ikaria

The dialect of Ikaria presents important peculiarities, which had attracted the interest of the great Greek linguist G. Chatzidakes (1848-1941). Chatzidakes visited the island in the summer of 1891 and two years later published his study in a German scientific magazine. Meanwhile his work was translated in Greek and published under the title “On the Dialect of Ikaria”.

According to Chatzidakes’ division of Modern Greek dialects, the dialect of Ikaria belong to the southern group, i.e. dialect who maintain the apathy in the unaccented vocals of o (= o and ō), e (= i, e, u, ei, oi, ui) and ou. It is closely related to the dialects of the Dodecanese, especially with the ones from Leros, Rhodes, Kalymnos etc. and presents archaic characteristics similar to them. Its most important attributes are: a) it preserves the final –n (as in Rodhes, Cyprus etc.): chorafin, kokkalon etc. b) It preserves the accent of double consonants from ancient and new words: gramma, skamma, tremm. c) Furthermore and in an analogy to ancient verbs like stronnymi, all verbs in –no are pronounced with a double –n: afinno, hanno, pinno etc. d) Double consonants come out of the assimilation of a nasal with its following consonant not only inside the word but also in its liaison (like in Cyprus etc.): aththos, xaththos, maththaino, offalos, nyffi etc., to psilov vouno, eth thelo (den thelo), tith theias sou. e) Pronounce of z as a double consonant: mazzi, vyzzin. f) Mail male names end in –es and female in –e (like in W. Crete): thymares, koumares (instead of thymari= thyme and koumaro= berry) etc., elai, mile (instead of elia= olive and melia= apple).

Especially archaic characteristic are the following: a) Females of the second inclination and neutrals of the third inclination in –os are preserved: kaminos, neonymfos, mian episimon imeran, to Fidos. b) The plural accusative in –as instead of –es is used: eho pollas douleias etc. c) Ancient verbs are preserved, such as: keitai, keitoudai. d) The third singular person end in –ousin (katalaainnousin). e) Forms of passive past tense are preserved: evrethin, echythin. f) Archaic syntax in a simple case, with no preposition.

Some of the special attributes originating from the evolution of the idiom are: a) Increase of the syllables ee- instead of e- is found in verbs beginning with a consonant and/or composite ones: eetrehen, eespase, eeparastainen. b) Various vocals such as v, g, d, m, th are expelled between vowels (flees, erondas, aerfos, aesai instead of fleves, gerodas, aderfos, kathesai). c) Similar vocals often alternate: hastrin instead of gastrin. Peculiarities in the words’ accent: páppous, according to the ancient way instead of pappoús.

All this multiplicity of various characteristics presenting similarities with other dialects led G. Chatzidakes to assume that in Ikaria a mixture of various populations has taken place and that there are proves for colonization waves from Crete, Kefallenia etc. during the ages.

8. Thermal springs

Ikaria’s thermal springs are located mainly on the island’s SE part and SE coast. The springs at Thermes coast were known since antiquity. They belong to the category of radioactive springs. The unique therapeutic qualities of their water made the island famous. During the 1920s an extended exploitation of the thermal springs begun and until the 1940s many hotels were built and business connected to the operation of baths flourished. During World War II and the Civil War the springs stopped being operated. In recent years efforts to revitalize therapeutic tourism were made and the qualities of the curative springs were acknowledged scientifically.

9. Fauna and flora

Many of the species of fauna and flora common in the islands of the area are located on Ikaria. Concerning flora, especially in the island’s south, where great lime rocks can be found, some of the more endemic (unique in the world) species and subspecies can be seen, such as: the Paeonia mascula cariensis and the unique species Iberis runemarkii, that grows in a few places in Pragia. Other important flora sites can be found at Fanari or along river Chalraris, which floats all year long towards the north. Reptile fauna is of Asia Minor origin in general. Along with the samiamidi Mediterranean Gecko lizard (Hemidactylus turcicus) the ophisops snake-eyed lizard (Lacertidae Lacertinae) snake and the Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio) etc. can be seen, whereas the so-called “lizard of Ikaria” (Lacerta oerizeni) is found only here. The most common snakes are the ephios (Coluber juguralis) and the sapites (Malpolon monsessulanus); none of the island’s snakes is poisonous. On the coasts many bird species nest, amongst which some of rear ones like the wild seagull, the sea raven, or the birds of prey Bonelli’s eagle (Hieraatus fasciatus), the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the golden falcon (Falco biarmicus) etc. There are also three protected species of bat: the Rhinolofus mehelyi, the Myotis blythi and Myotis myotis. Endangered species such as the Mediterranean seal, the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) and the striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) find shelter there.




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