Ikaria is a well-known Greek island located on the eastern Aegean sea. Ikaria is home to a rich history dating back to antiquity, as well as countless natural wonders.
Unlike the vast majority of Greek islands, however, it is not best known for its stunning scenery and turquoise waters.
It is a great place to recharge, and take a break from the hectic everyday routine that governs our lives.
The island has a laid-back atmosphere, and people generally agree that its inhabitants do not take life too seriously.
Ikaria will give you the feeling that time actually runs slower. And that, perhaps, is one of the reasons lives are longer there.
The wild, natural beauty of the island is breathtaking by any measure. Dramatic gorges, rocky mountains, picturesque beaches, hiking trails, and rural villages set the scene for a dreamy and relaxing holiday.
The mythic history of Ikaria
According to the ancient Greek myth, the King of Crete, Minos, had hired Daedalus and his son Icarus to build the famous Labyrinth, a giant maze. The labyrinth was used to house the Minotaur, who was half man, half bull.
Daedalus and Icarus were the only mortals who knew how to escape from the Labyrinth, so Minos banned them from leaving Crete, for fear that the secrets of the Labyrinth would get out.
Daedalus constructed wings made out of feathers and wax in order for himself and his son to escape the island.
Icarus, however, believing that he could be as strong as the gods and fly as high as they did, ignored his father’s sage advice to not fly too close to the sun.
His pride, or hubris (a common theme of Greek mythology) made him careless and resulted in the melting of his wings and his subsequent plunging into the sea, where he died.
The surrounding area was named after this ill-fated boy who dared too much.
Also according to mythology, the Minotaur would devour seven young men and seven young maidens sent from Athens, as a retribution for the death of Mino’s son Androgeos, who was murdered in Athens.
This event would happen every one, seven or nine years, and it lasted until Theseus joined the third group of the victims and slayed the monster, with help from Minos’s daughter, Ariadne.
She took the advice of Daedalus on how to escape the Labyrinth, giving Theseus a ball of thread, in order for him to be able to find his way back out of the maze.
After murdering the beast, Theseus used the string to escape the Labyrinth, taking Ariadne with him. Making a stop at the island of Naxos, Theseus had a dream where the god Dionysus told him to leave Ariadne on the island, for she was to be his.
Filled with distress, Theseus forgot to raise the normal white sails of his vessel, raising instead of the black ones, which made his father, the king Aegeus, believe that he was dead.
His father jumped off the cliff of Sounio and into the sea, dying by suicide, thus causing this body of water to be named the Aegean Sea.
Sight-seeing in the beautiful Greek island of Ikaria
historic stone houses and archaeological sites dot the island
Like many other islands of the Aegean, Ikaria was tormented by pirates and foreign invaders during the Byzantine period.
Ikarians came up with the brilliant idea to construct their houses in a way that made the homes simply look like large rocks from a distance, in order to protect themselves from the invaders.
These houses were made with enormous stones on at least one side, with no chimneys and low ceilings, so that no smoke could be seen, which would have put people in danger.
The Byzantine Odeon, or small theater, on Ikaria
Built in the first century AD, the Byzantine Odeon (small theater) is located in the northern part of Ikaria, and is on the most fertile places on the island, the ancient site of Oenoe.
The Odeon, constructed in the same manner as the Roman theaters, was divided into three main sections, including the scene, the orchestra, and the cavea.
The structure was used as a meeting place where the noblemen of Oenoe could gather and enjoy theatrical and musical events.
The Temple of Artemis in Nas
Dating back to the 6th century BC, the Temple of Artemis in Nas was said to have been built by the inhabitants of Ikaria to honor the goddess Artemis, who was the protector of hunters and wild animals, as well as the patroness of sailors.
Ikarians brought down a big portion of the temple’s stone blocks sometime around the year 1830, with which they built a church. Now, just the foundations of the temple remain.
According to historical records, its statue of the goddess Artemis was hidden somewhere in the neighboring river.
Travelers can go snorkeling off the coast and come across the huge columns of the former temple underwater.
Ikaria is home to ancient thermal springs
Ikaria has a great many therapeutic springs, including some of the best to be found anywhere in the world.
Therma in Ikaria has been a well-known place specifically for hydrotherapy since the 4th century BC.
The ruins of the ancient baths can still be found, and they are a testimony to the existence of the therapeutic springs in antiquity.
The hot springs are said to cure and heal a number of illnesses such as arthritis, neuralgia, rheumatism, and even infertility.
Therma also has a picturesque bay and a small cove for swimming.
Where to swim on Ikaria
Located near the village of Armenistis, 48 km (30 miles) north west of Agios Kirikos, the capital of Ikaria, Livadi features fine, soft sand and crystal-clear waters.
Lush plant life surrounding the beach and a round lagoon-like pool complete the beautiful scenery.
You can find sun-beds and umbrellas for rent and a canteen that offers snacks and refreshments.
A number of tavernas and accommodations can be found on the main road above the beach.
Located near the beach of Livadi, 47 km (29 miles) north west of Agios Kirikos, the beach at Messakti has golden sand and crystalline waters.
Two small rivers divide the beach, forming beautiful small lagoons.
A canteen is available on the beach, as well as sun-beds and umbrellas that are available for rent.
Restaurants, clubs, cafes, hotels, and overnight accommodations can be found on the main road close to the beach on the Greek island.
Located about 55 km (34 miles) north west of Agios Kirikos, Nas is a lovely sandy beach that lies within a scenic cove.
You can see forests with waterfalls and streams just a few meters behind the beach.
The ruins of a temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis can also be found on one side of the beach.
Some great tavernas sit on the edge of the cliff above the sea, and they offer breathtaking views over the sea and magnificent sunsets.
Located in a scenic, pristine cove, 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Agios Kirikos, this beach is viewed as one of the most beautiful and famous on the Greek island of Ikaria.
Surrounded by towering rock formations, the beach consists of rocks and pebbles, and boasts flawless turquoise waters for swimming.