I don’t expect this long article to become too popular. It’s just that several modern-day Ikarians show a lot of interest in knowing as much as they can about the more recent history of the island and they are usually very disappointed. Compared with other islands of the Aegean Sea, there is so little to say about Ikaria! No glorious battles, no illustrious rulers, no forts and fleets, no trading towns, no towers, cathedrals and famous monasteries; only mossy stonewalls and old thrifty houses scattered in the ravines, the valleys and the forests in the hills.
Neverthelss, there were some short descriptions of the life in the island during the Obscurity («Αφάνεια») as we like to call in Ikaria the first hard centuries of the Ottoman occupation. These were written by the very few European travelers who touched at our rough, inhospitable shores, often by chance or accident. In Pr A.J. Papalas’ book «Ancient Icaria» I found a reference to one of these documents, which, although brief and trivial, capticated my imagination. It is by Charles Perry, a wealthy medical doctor from England who travelled in the Levant from 1739 to 1742. After visiting Egypt, Perry sailed from Alexandria to Athens. On his way across the Aegean he visited and described the islands of Cos and Patmos. But after that island, as he was heading for Mykonos, his ship was caught in a storm and was forced to drop anchor in Ikaria.
I liked Perry’s account. Reading his one and a half page about his accidental visit to Ikaria, I felt the genuine puzzlement of a man of the Century of Lights for the unwelcoming, extremely mountainous environment of the island and his also genuine astonishment (and contempt) for the attitude and the way of life of its inhabitants. But, most of all, I liked his account for a more personal reason: through the eyes of the good old British doctor, I saw some places of western Ikaria which I know very well, such as Karkinagri, Agios Isidoros and Langada, looking as uncanny and wild, as if we were talking about a remote, unfriendly rock in the middle of the South Pacific!
«We spent three days in Patmos, not disagreeably; and the fourth in the morning we set sail for Myconos; but the wind, which was otherwise pretty favorable, grew slack, next to a calm; so that it was with much-ado, with what wind we had, and the help of our oars, that we reached the west end of Nicaria in two days. We much lamented our hard fate, that we should thus long want a wind at such a favourable (for it) crisis of the year, it being near the Autumnal Equinox.
However, that night, about an hour after sunset, even whilst we were reproaching the malice of our stars, a fine gale sprang up. We failed not to embrace it immediately, and we went driving on, Jehu-like, with our sails full of wind and our hearts full of joy: But alas! How frail and transitory are human hopes and happiness, especially upon the sea? Within an hour after, the wind turned against us, and blew a storm; so that we were forced to change our course, and to seek shelter under a rock at the west end of Nicaria, which we did not attain, however, without much difficulty and danger.»
«Here we lay wind-bound four nights, and above three days; during which irksome interval we amused ourselves in the best manner we could with fishing: But after we had spent two days without other recreation than fishing, that sport grew dull and tedious; and whilst we were looking out for some sport and divertissement, kind Providence (of its grace and favour) sent us the glad tidings that about a mile off, on the side of a high rocky mountain, there was a spring of excellent water, which was resorted to by great number of partridges. Upon this intelligence, (which we got the third day of our detention there) we immediately got ready arms and ammunition of all sorts, as well for the belly as the barrel -such as bread, butter, cheese, salt, pepper, wine, glasses, etc. We marched on directly, (flushed with the hopes of new game) with uncommon ardour, or rather avidity; and we were well recompensed our pains; for we passed that day very agreeably.
The mountain (though in general very steep) admits a sort of level in that place; and the spring of water issues out of a rock, in a very convenient and delightful spot, where nature or chance has formed a sort of grot, large enough to receive and accommodate a dozen or 15 persons. This natural grot (if we may so call it) is covered over, and secured against the weather, by a large flat stone of about 24 feet in diameter: This rests upon and is supported by other stones on all sides, except to the eastward; where, being open, it presents to view a sort of alcove. Here we passed the whole day (which but for that retreat would have been tedious) very agreeably -reclining upon the bed of our grot, with the water trilling along close by us, whilst our partisans upon the hunt for partridges, wild goats, and the like, of which they brought us in good store.»
«There are some few inhabitants on this island, but those almost naked and savage, seldom seeing or conversing with any of the human species, except those of their own isle. The second day after we put in there, we sent out some of the mariners a shooting for us, who pursuing their game to the north side of the mountain, met with some of the natives. These were so affrighted at sight of strangers, that they fled from them with precipitation; but our people calling after them, and telling them they had brought them bread and corn, they at last prevailed on them to stop, and come to a party with them. These poor wretches, being at length persuaded of our good intentions, came to see us aboard our vessel, and afterwards brought us good store of grapes and meat. We were really at a loss to guess where they found those things; for the whole island, so far as we could see of it, is the most miserable, barren rock that ever was seen.
The 4th day, towards noon, the wind changing in our favour, we set sail for Myconos, which is 40 miles distant from the westernmost point of Nicaria. This (as it is to be supposed) is a run of about 7 hours, with a good brisk gale…»
Pages 484-486 from Charles Perry’s book, «A View of the Levant», which I have arbitrarily named «Wind bound in Nicaria», can be found in Google books
Modern books about the history of Ikaria:
Comments on this article are very welcome!
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
(cropped from source)
You know, the last thing Ikaria is known for is church life and monasticism. The people are very religious in a natural, casual way, indifferent of formalities, nevertheless always showing a sincere and full respect of higher forces which control our destinies. Whether one believes in the salvation of the soul or not, religion provides consolation because, salvation taken apart, it does speak about the soul while economics do not. And believing in the soul, the existence of a soul, whether this soul is immortal or not, is something very important in the life of the island. Religion also provides occasions for celebration and community gatherings. It also offers an explanation for natural things as well as for «luck» : God’s will. And natural things and lucky or unlucky circumstances are also important elements in the consistence of Ikarian life. To cut this short, we have churches – a lot of big and small churches. They are, so to speak, our guardians, houses of God, houses of the spirit (soul) of the community: «be good and be good to each other» (be good to God).
But what about monasteries? Thereupon we are a failure. Although there are a few monasteries, there is no monastic tradition in Ikaria, at least none as strong as in some other islands. In my opinion, besides our natural dislike for discipline and formalities, the most important reason is that the island is poor and cannot sustain monastic communities. The rocky soil produces hardly enough for the population so the Ikarians, even though devout believers, could not afford, so to speak again, professionals in prayer, experts in salvation. Like everything else in Ikaria, the tending of the soul had to be done by the poeple themselves with the occasional help of an educated priest or solitary monk.
Yet, there are exeptions. If monasteries didn’t thrive, small hermitages were abundant in the slopes of Mt Atheras. But let’s not think that these retreats were inhabited by anchorites who pursued unification with God like in Mt Athos or Sinai. Though little is known about the lives of these people, it’s obvious to me that they were more or less ordinary men and women who either by some misfortune or simply because of taste, discarded the joys of the marital bed and the comforts of village and family life. They walked away from the world, seeking solitude, entrusting their fate to their labouring hands, to good God and to Mother nature. I am all respect for them. It’s hard to believe that in am island as virgin and wild as Ikaria and in a time when most settlements were of the kind of «lost villages» (see, entry), there were people who sought even more solitude and peace! Out-of-the-worldness must be some sort of second nature to us. The outer the better, the further the better, the remotest and most inaccessible is the best, ask my friend Nana & co about it!
Anyway, this entry was not meant to be a dissertation of the religious ethics of the Aegean. I have come to Ikaria for the winter and recently my friends, the explorers of OPS Ikarias, in the course of a project to create a long-distance trail from one side of the island to the other, have been in love with a wild area under the tops of Mt Atheras where according to local legends various groups of monks lived in different periods of time from the 15th century to the 1800s. I saw the photos and I found these landscapes absolutely enthralling.
What made men and women walk out of the world and settle in places like this? What kind of experiences were they after? Were they looking for God? Did they want be gods themselves? Was it because of a practical reason such as piracy, oppression, social disorder and percecutions? Or is it something inherent to the human nature? Escapism? Some people just drop everything and go?.. Is that it? 🙄
I have always been too committed to everything I do and to everybody I love to even think about escaping. But as I am growing older, sometimes I am tired of the world and this makes me wonder. Until I sort this out, you take a good look at those rocky wildernesses. Take a good look at those vast views to the mountains above, the sea straight ahead and the skies all over. I am inviting you to find your answer.
It’s more or less like you say…
Wednesday January 25, 2006 – 12:46pm (PST)
Mysterious, deserted stone huts are great, but I have to say that the stream is my favorite of the set. I seem to have a thing for water.. especially running water.
Why post pics here rather than flickr?
Tuesday January 24, 2006 – 02:32pm (EST)
I loaded those pics with the old huts only for the sake of documentation because I was asked to by higher forces. 🙂
I have the same thing for water and I would be an otter if I could.
This blog serves as a test page and a place where I can copy-paste stories from my notebook very easily and fast, like a personal news bulletin. I don’t want to be a bore in Flickr («oh that Eleni again with her fix for Ikaria») 😛
Wednesday January 25, 2006 – 12:33pm (PST)
According to the local tales, people were building the simplest possible houses in the least accesible places in the mountains to escape from pirates, slavetraders and tax collectors. This is what modern-day Ikarians say but I think that the explanation is simpler and more complicated at the same time. They lived with nature, in nature, and upon nature – the only way they knew and trusted. They lived «outside history». It’s something hard to take and hard to understand. 😛 😉
Wednesday January 29, 2006 – 12:46pm (PST)
Good evening readers!
Though I wasn’t able to take a shot of the full moon the other day, I went for a hike and found many beautiful waters the following morning.
After that I have been very angry and tense during the last 28 hours.
For starters I tried to html my photos into this blog and it didn’t work. I thought I’d blast it, then I changed my mind.
~~~ This is just another blog, that’s what it is after all. Masterpieces aren’t made for free. ~~~~ 😉
Then my cat came back from her all night wild sex orgies and she gave me a blank look («how stupid of you to think that we know each other».) She emptied her bowl though, and I was pleased, so I didn’t kill her.
I’m jealous of my cat.
All of a sudden the sky cleared up around noon yesterday and I rushed out to take photos. Some came out all right but I forgot myself out there in the fields and so I burnt my lunch ! Fortunately I hadn’t invited anyone. I met my cat in the fileds («who might you be, misses«?) and she let me take one (1) photo of hers
(«I should have charged you 10 euros for that, but I don’t feel like making money today».)
After eating my (burnt) lunch I worked in the garden for a while until the «sorocco», the mad southeastern wind started blowing from the mountaintops. I don’t mind sorocco much because it’s warm, but this time it was cold. So I got back indoors and spent some time on the computer writing my stuff. I also prepared the photos. There was one with a blooming almond tree loaded with an also blooming parasite plant like an ivy and it was such a success. But when I tried to lower the analysis so that I was able to post it in Flickr, the whole composition blurred and the colors fused into each other. I don’t want to upload photos of a size over 130 KB. In other countries they have fast connections even at home, but in Greece the system and the lines are poor and most internet users go on 30.000 bps. Connections also are very expensive.
So if I want my pictures to be seen by the Greeks I have to keep them small and fast. So I’m not posting my tree pic -just another one of those things of today.
St Athanassios Name day: Greeks celebrate their name days, that is the day the church celebrates the saint whose name they were given when they were baptized. I was baptized and named Eleni in a Greek orthodox church in Brussels Belgium. The priest plunged me naked (I was a baby, ok?) three times in the water in a bronze basin looking like a xxxxl old fashioned wine cup. I cried my lungs out and so I became a Christian. From then on my name day is Sts Constantine and Helen’s day on May the 21st.
That was a parenthesis.
So I visited two friends who are she-Athanassios, that is they are named
Athanassia. (Girls can have names of male saints, but not the opposite. Boys aren’t given the names of female saints. For example, although my name is very common, I never met a Greek man called Elenos. The Greeks are very aware that the male sex is unstable and tends to alter. This is why I think they don’t give their baby-boys female saint names, in case they do not grow up to be men but women.)
In one of the two Athanassias’ house I met some people who were hysteric about the bird flu. I had had a couple of stiff drinks, so I was stupid enough not to just say chk-chk-chk and po-po-po but to engage in the conversation.
I said that there was nothing that we should be afraid of because we do not share our houses with the chickens as in some retarded areas of Anatolia or Indonesia, our children play nintendos and not with ducklings in the pools and we have refrigerators so we don’t have to carry live birds around as presents or to the market. It was stupid of me to say these things. People knew all that already and my speech made them feel I was a know-all foreign bitch.
The real reason for their anxiety wasn’t the bird flu but the fact that the people of Ikaria feel (and are) far away from the government in Athens.
They are always afraid that the government would prove inefficient in an
However I don’t think there will be an emergency. I have traveled to Turkey and I have seen what the situation is like outside tourist resorts…
As I was feeling tense, a clearly good thing happened: I started exchanging
e-mails with a German hobby botanist who is planning a trip to Ikaria. He visited the island many years ago when there were no paths or directions or anything, a time when local people advised the nature lovers to walk on the main roads so that they wouldn’t get lost or tired. I wrote just for the fun of talking about plants as well as to assure him that this time his visit will be successful -the paths of Ikaria and especially the ones in the way they were re-designed in Rahes, were not planned just for sportspeople or as an alternative to the beach on a stormy day. They lead or run across places. I mean real meaningful ‘places’ -interesting sites. I hope my German friend writes to us a short report from his botanical trip to Ikaria. We do not have any in the file «environment» of
I also received a few nice comments under my photos at Flickr.
Even that old ‘pink’ beach shot of mine
attracted attention, oh my.
Now it’s foggy and raining. There was a short blackout too. We rather suffer
from electric pole flu. I felt like screaming, but the power came back soon after.
I turned on the comp and I’m sending out this blog.
Γεια σας τωρα
Αυριο η μεθαυριο παλι
Go ahead and upload big photos to flickr! They resize them so that nobody downloads the big versions unless they click the «all sizes» button. Some of mine are > 2mb.
Thursday January 19, 2006 – 07:32pm (EST)
to Ψ : I’ll try to do what you say, but you also have to consider that my computer and my phone line is no better than what one would expect to find in a ‘barn’
Saturday January 21, 2006 – 01:24pm (PST)
Στις πηγές του Μύρσωνα είναι τα νερά;
Σε πειράζει να βγάλω ένα μονοπάτι μέχρι εκεί;
Έχει πολλά κατσίκια εκεί γύρω;
Friday January 20, 2006 – 10:50pm (EET)
Μα εχει μονοπατι, σημαδεμενο με σωρους απο πετρες.
Ναι εχει πολλα κατσικια. Λιγο λιγο θα τα φανε ολα και μετα το βουνο θα πεσει κατω ! Ηδη ολα τα ρυακια ειναι γεματα χαλικια και αμμο.
Καλα, δεν υπαρχει αλλη δουλεια να κανει κανεις στην Ικαρια απο το να εξαπολυει ελευθερα κατσικια στα πιο ωραια μερη και να τα τρωνε ! ΤΑ ΤΡΩΝΕ, ΛΕΜΕ!
Saturday January 21, 2006 – 01:14pm (PST)
Τhere’s great news about this ! Your instinct brought you to a very remarkable place. Somewhere on a hilltop between the three streams which unite to make Myrsonas you must have ran across several old houses, didn’t you?
These houses are of the 17th century or earlier. Stray goats use them for shelter now and destroy their remarkable stone-made walls and roofs (goats can do that all right -everybody knows that). Anyway, this is the long searched for ‘lost village’ (το χαμένο χωριό). As I wrote in my testimonial for you in Flickr (and thank you for accepting it) Ikaria ‘opens inwards’ not outwards and this was a good example. I discovered it by chance while I was trying to draw a possible new long distance trail across this strange area (I shall call it ‘the sources of Myrsonas -as «sources of the Nile» -Livingstone forgives). I found and followed some very old (almost completely erased) red marks on the ground and some stone piles here and there.
Simon (you know who) sent me several BW photos of the houses of the lost village. I suppose you took pictures too when you were there. If so, even if they are not good enough, please post them in your blog. Σε παρακαλώ πολύ. If you don’t feel like, don’t waste time to write anything under each one. You ‘ve done already so much. I’ll make the comments if that’s ok with you.
Monday January 23, 2006 – 11:02pm (EET)
I obey, master
I live to serve
Tuesday January 24, 2006 – 02:46am (PST)
This is the cover of a good book about the history of the island. After reading it, I was more determined to spend the winter in Ikaria.
When people ask me for the reason, I say ‘Leave me alone! I’m a Rebel and Radical’!!! Now I have some scholarly arguments to support my position.
Anyway, I’m not watching the big football match between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos on TV tonight. Men go nuts about it, but I’ll stay cool and I’ll blog a little. I’m not very keen on politics and I can’t write an essay about communism in Ikaria. But what I can do is to quote Pr A. Papalas’ book review from the website page of his publisher.
So here it goes:
« … Icaria, a long, craggy and destitute isle in the Aegean Sea is visible from Turkey. The toil and travail of its people symbolizes the journey all Greek People made to achieve a modern society. But unlike other Greeks the Icarians often chose a dead end path. Never in agreement with those around them, the story of the Icariaians shows the best and the worst of Greek society. The Icarians were loyal subjects of the Ottoman Empire who, because of poverty and lack of resources, were not expected to pay heavy taxes while most Ottoman Greeks were dissatisfied with Turkish rule and dreamed of independence. But just before World War I, when the Greek government did not want to annex the island because of international complications, the Icarians expelled the Turks and demanded inclusion in the Greek State. At that time the bulk of the young men were escaping the grinding poverty of the island by immigrating to the United States. Although the majority of these men stayed in America and brought wives from the island to the New World, they maintained local ties. Their influence, both positive and negative, affected many qualities of Icarian life. The Icarians did not find their expectations fulfilled as part of Greece and remained disenchanted with their conditions through the twenties and thirties of the 20th century. The forties brought first, the Italians, then the Germans, and finally the British. After the turmoil, many Icarians supported radical political solutions to their problems, sympathizing with a native a guerrilla movement and rejecting efforts to improve their island, seeing only the great Capitalistic conspiracy at work. In the last decades of the 20th century the Icarians finally entered the modern but at a too rapid rate leaving the people unable to cope with some aspects of modernity.»
«Anthony J. Papalas has assembled a true “peoples» history by bringing together unusual documents such as dowry agreements and Ottoman court records, memoirs, and accounts of Icaria by people who were involved in the events he describes, all interwoven with informative and perceptive descriptions from forty years of interviews with Icarians from all areas and conditions. Here is a history on the social level, not grand politics or great battles, but rather the everyday existence and immediate choices which, once made, shape succeeding events.»
(there is more in the webpage cited above )
Ευχαριστώ για την παρουσίαση αυτού του βιβλίου. Φαίνεται πολύ ενδιαφέρον! Θα το παραγγείλω.
Φιλικά, Κωνσταντίνος 🙂
Sunday January 15, 2006 – 08:46am (EEST)
Bolchazy-Carducci! They’re a local publisher based near Chicago, and I never realized they were so widespread. I have a shelf full of their books because they are the only ones publishing new editions of ancient Roman and Greek texts. They are always marketing their books at Latin teacher conventions, hoping they will order class sets, but I’ve never seen this one.
Sunday January 15, 2006 – 04:55pm (EST)
Hi Ψαλάκανθε! It’s a small world, isn’t it? Bolchazy also sells the same author’s ‘Ancient Icaria’. Just because of your nickname, you win a free copy of it translated in Greek : «Αρχαία Ικαρία» with many illustrations etc., far better than the American original in layout. Only that you ll have to travel to the island to get it 🙂
Monday January 16, 2006 – 10:56pm (EET)
Haha! Thanks.. see you in May, as soon as the semester ends and I can get a plane out of here.
Tuesday January 17, 2006 – 12:18pm (EST)
I think we will not be all dead from bird flu by then.
When you come, there will be a copy with your nickname on it waiting for you in the newsagent’s (in the same time a ‘βιβλιοπωλείο’) in Evdilos, the nearest town.
Wednesday January 18, 2006 – 01:09pm (PST)