Ikaria Greece

Ikaria Island

Ikaria or Nikaria, as the Ikarian people wish to call it, famous since antiquity for its hot springs, is a medium-sized island in the North-East Aegean Sea covering an area of 270 sq.km. with roughly 7,500 inhabitants. Together with the Fournoi islands, they form the Province of Ikaria which belongs to the Regional Unit of Samos (former Prefecture of Samos) of the North Aegean Region.

In ancient times, the island was called Makris and Dolihi due to its elongated shape, Ichthioessa due to the abundance of fish in the area, as well as Anemoessa due to the strong winds of the area. The island’s present name is related to the myth of Ikarus, who fell near its coasts in his first attempt to fly. However, the prevailing historical view is that the name stems from the Phoenician word “Ikor”, which means a place with an abundance of fish.

Ikaria, the island of miraculous waters, with its virgin and wild nature, holds many pleasant surprises for the visitor. The marvelous climate, the beautiful landscapes, the shadowy ravines with their crystal running waters, the attractive coasts and the cool clear sea water of the Ikarian Sea, the unique Ikarian feasts and the “dionysian” Ikarian dance, the distinct architecture and settlements’ structure – “a small house that you can just fit in and a farm that reaches what your eyes can see” – are just some of the features that make it a great place to stay with unparalleled beauties and unique experiences.

But above all, each visitor should be ready to accept generously the warm Ikarian hospitality and the simple Ikarian kindness, in order to get to know the traditions, the customs, and the rich cultural heritage of this place. Ikaria has recently become world famous for the longevity of its inhabitants, due to their particular way of life (http://www.bluezones.com/programs/expeditions/ikaria-greece/6890).


Ikaria’s History

The first inhabitants of Ikaria, and of the other Aegean islands, were Leleges and Pelasgians. The invasion of Kares, warlike people from Caria of Asia Minor, followed. They settled permanently until they were expelled by the Ionians. Ikaria lived through many other invaders and conquerors: pirates, Genoese, Franks and Turks.

It saw days of great prosperity, and its 3 ancient cities: Thermai (in the current locality of the spa town of Ikaria, Therma), Drakanon (in the current locality of Fanari or Faros village, near the airport) and Oinoe (in the current locality of Kampos in the north side of the island, also known as Dolichi from Byzantine times) experienced significant glory. Tavropolio (in the actual cove of Nas) had also a great reputation, as an important sanctuary of the goddess Artemis.

Ikaria also went through times of devastation and fell into decline. The small town of Lagada has served as the “ark of Ikarian survival” in those difficult days, because of its location that gave the impression that the island was deserted. The small village Koumaro, in the same area, also helped in this.

Ikaria went through two periods of Turkish Occupation. Eventually, on the 17th of July 1912, the Ikarians, all alone, revolted against the Turks and threw off the yoke liberating the island. The 17th of July, that is also the feast of Saint Marina, has become a day of national celebration for the island in memory of the successful revolution of the Ikarians. For a few months, until November of the same year, the island remained independent, under the name “Free State of Ikaria”, and with its own army, police force, flag, constitution, stamps and national anthem. On the 5th of November 1912, Ikaria was united with mother Greece.

Of particular interest is the Ikarian dialect, although not studied thoroughly yet. As the great linguist Georgios Hatzidakis pointed out, it is, probably, the only Greek dialect retaining unchanged words and expressions of the ancient Greek language that do not appear in any other modern local dialect in Greece. This, in itself, is a strong indication, according to historians, that the island has been continuously inhabited since prehistoric times without ever being abandoned.


Important books on the history of Ikaria:
“The History of the Island of Ikaria”, from prehistoric times to modern times, by the son-in-law and lover of Ikaria, Lawyer, Historian, Writer and Politician Ioannis P. Melas (1955 – reprint 2001),
“The History of the Island of Ikaria”, from prehistoric times to the unification of the island with Greece (1912), by the Lawyer, Author, Politician and leading figure of the Ikarian Revolution of 1912, Charalambos G. Pamphilis (ed. Ath. C. Pamphilis-Karouzou, 1980),
“Ancient Ikaria”, from prehistoric to medieval times, by the theIkarian origin Professor at the University of America, Antonis I. Papalas (2002).
“Ikarian Blended” is, illustrated study of the archaeology, history, culture, environment, society of Ikaria from the Neolithic to the present day, by the Historian, Archaeologist, former Professor and τemporary Curator of Ikarian Antiquities, Founder of the Folklore-Historical Museum of Ikaria, Themistocles Th. Katsaros (Ikarian Studies Association, 2006).
“IKARIA the Windy” MYTH, HISTORY, ARCHAEOLOGICAL FINDS, Guidebook of the Exhibition of the Archaeological Museum of Agios Kirykos, Ministry of Culture and Sports, General Directorate of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, Ephorate of Antiquities of Samos and Ikaria(2014).

Ikaria’s Settlements and Architecture

Ikaria’s Settlements’ Structure

The distribution of settlements, in Ikaria, does not follow the usual patterns of concentration found in most parts of Greece. This deviation, of the scattered construction and the loose residential fabric, is connected both to the island’s geomorphology and history.

Ikaria has been continuously inhabited since the Neolithic period until today, as historians claim. From very early on, the need for protection and survival led its inhabitants into hiding, in contrast to the defense tactic of gathering and fortification found on most islands. The choice made by the Ikarians, due to the special natural characteristics of the island (no natural harbors for easy and safe mooring of ships, and a strong mountainous environment with places not visible from the sea), led to Ikaria’s particular way of building, that of dispersion, which characterizes its settlements to this day.

The Ikarian perception of the residential environment is reflected in the local folk saying: “a small house just to fit in with a big farm that reaches as far as your eyes can see”, i.e. a small house, just for protection and land as big as the eye can see, for survival. In each estate, centrally, is the residence with its courtyards and outbuildings. Around them are the vegetable garden, the land for the fruit trees, and the fields. Due to the steep slopes, the land is formed into small terraces for cultivation. In this way, the self-sufficiency of each family in food is ensured, in the context of a closed economy.

Ikaria’s House Architecture

Of great interest is the architecture of the Ikarian houses, which has been influenced by three main factors: the available materials, the occupations of the inhabitants and the climate. The dominant parameter, however, with the most basic influence on the morphology of the houses was the need for protection from external dangers (especially pirate raids).

A typical example of the Ikarian house at times of piratocracy, is the “hito” house, a low stone house, with pitched roof (that slopes one way), covered with slate or granite, built in mountainous regions without binding material and lime-cast (“xerolithia'”) that ensured the integration of the house with the rocky environment. Internally, the “hito” house consisted of a long and narrow single space that covered the basic needs of the family (from cooking to sleeping).


The wall overlooking the mountain was 1.5-2.0 m. high while that overlooking the sea was 1-1.5 m. high. Without windows, it had only a small low door on the shorter side (the facade towards the sea), and a small opening in the roof, the “anifantis”, usually also covered, that was used for lighting and airing of the space. The facade was always protected by a tall stone wall, the courtyard wall (“avlotoichos”) that prevented the gleam of the fireplace or the light of the lamp at night from being seen by the pirates.
During the pirate raids, the family removed certain stones from the inner back wall of the house and hid in the adjacent underground hideaway, known as “hostokeli”, after putting the stones of the wall back to their place. In the “hostokeli” food supplies were always stored.

With the passage of time, the single-room anti-pirate house evolved with the addition, next to it, of a second room or of a two-storied building with one room on each floor, known as “katoi” (the lower room) and “anoi” (the upper room) or “pyrgos” (meaning tower in Greek) or “pyrgari”. The “pyrgos” communicates with the “hito” house externally through a stone staircase.

More information and photographic material about the settlement’s structure and traditional architecture of Ikaria can be found in the detailed and documented book “THE TRADITIONAL ARCHITECTURE OF IKARIA AND THE PARTICULAR BUILT ENVIRONMENT OF THE ISLAND” by the Ikarian Civil Engineer, George N. Kokkinos, who took over the organization and direction of the newly established Urban Planning Office of Ikaria for thirteen years. The writer attempts with a penetrating look and deep knowledge, to record the basic types, forms and particularities of the traditional Ikarian residence as well as to describe and interpret the particular structure of the island’s settlements, presenting original material to a significant extent (Ikarian Studies Association, 2005 – reprint 2020).