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By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 3, 2003, 11:15
Icaria, also spelled Ikaria, is a Greek island 10 nautical miles (19 km) south-west of Samos.
It is one of the biggest islands of the eastern Aegean, 255 mile² (660 km²) in area with 102 miles (160 km) in coastline and a population of about 7,000 inhabitants. The topography is a contrast between verdant slopes and barren steep rocks. The island is mountainous for the most part. It is traversed by Aetheras range, whose highest summit is 1,040 metres. Most of its villages are nestled in the plains near the coast, with only some of them on the mountains. Icaria has a tradition in the production of strong red wine. Many parts of the island are covered by large bushes, especially ravines, making the landscape lush with green. There are no rare species of fauna on the island. Besides pets, only small goat herds make their presence known, disturbing the serenity of the island with their bells. Icaria's climate is considered mild.
Icaria has been inhabited since at least 7000 B.C. when it was inhabited by Neolithic pre-Greeks called Pelasgians. Around 750 B.C. Greeks from Miletus colonized Ikaria establishing a settlement in the area of present day Campos, which they called it Oenoe. In the sixth century B.C. Icaria was absorbed by Samos and became part of Polycrates' sea empire. At this time the temple of Artemis at Nas, on the northeast corner of the island was built. Nas was a sacred spot to the pre-Greek inhabitants of the Aegean, and an important port in the Aegean, the last stop before testing the dangerous Icarian Pelasgian. It was an appropriate place for sailors to make sacrifices to Artemis, who among other functions, was a patron of seafarers. The temple stood in good repair until the middle of the 19th century when it was pillaged by the villagers of Christos, Raches for marble for their local church. In 1939 it was excavated by the Greek archeologist Leon Politis. During the German and Italian occupation of Icaria in the Second World War many of the artifacts unearthed by Politis disappeared. Local custom has it that there are still marble statues embedded in the sand off the coast.
In the 14th century A.D. Icaria became part of a Genoese Aegean empire. At one stage, during this time, the Ikarians actually destroyed their harbours to deter the aggressive visitors. According to local historians, the Icarians left to their own devices, built seven watchtowers around the coast. As soon as a hostile or unknown sail was seen, the watchers immediately lit a fire and then ran to a cistern that was always filled with water. They pulled out a wooden bung in the bottom and the water, of course, began to leak out. The garrisons of the other towers had been alerted by the fire to do the same thing at the same time. Inside each cistern in each castle were identical lines, like those on a measuring jar. Each of these calibrations had a different message attached to it: "pirates attacking", "unknown sail approaching", etc. When the water level reached the level of the appropriate message, the senders rebunged the cistern and put out the fire and everyone in the other towers could read off the size and proximity of the danger.
During this time, the Icarians seldom built villages. Each house was remote from its neighbour, had only one door and was barricaded behind high walls. A working chimney could be a giveaway, so they endured smoke-filled rooms which were kept bare of lootable belongings. Tradition promises that everyone slept on the floor and hid their belongings in niches in the walls. Men and women wore much the same clothes: woven linen skirts for the women, kilts for the males. This lifestyle is said to have procured longevity, and also classlessness.
The Knights of St. John, who had their base in Rhodes, exerted some control over Icaria until 1521 when the Ottoman Empire incorporated Icaria into its realm. The Icarians killed the first Turkish tax collector, but somehow managed to escape punishment.
The Turks imposed a very loose administration not sending any officials to Icaria for several centuries. The best account we have of the island during these years is from the pen of the Bishop J. Georgirnees who in 1677 described the island with 1,000 inhabitants who were the poorest people in the Aegean. In 1827 Icaria broke away from the Ottoman Empire, but was forced to accept Turkish rule a few years later, and remained part of the Ottoman Empire until July 17, 1912 when it expelled a small Turkish garrison during the Icarian struggle for independence. Due to the Balkan Wars, Icaria was unable to join Greece until November of that year. For five summer months, it remained an independent state, with its own armed forces, stamps and anthem. These five months of independence were difficult times. The natives lacked food stuffs, were without regular transportation and postage service, and were on the verge of becoming part of the Italian Aegean empire.
The island suffered tremendous losses in property and lives during the Second World War and the German and Italian occupation. There are no exact figures on how many people starved, but in the village of Karavostomos over 100 perished from starvation. Ever since the war, the majority of the islanders are sympathetic to communism, and the Greek government used the island to exile about 13,000 communists from 1945 to 1949. To this day, Ikaria is called the Kokkino Nisi (Greek: Κόκκινο νησί), or Red Island because of this fact. The quality of life improved greatly after 1960 when the Greek government began to invest in the infrastructure of the islands assisting in the promotion of tourism.
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