General

Multum in parvo. Kea is a small island, unexpectedly rich in history and variety of landscape. Its geography is noticeably different from that of its neighbours. The deeply folded valleys of its interior, laboriously terraced throughout centuries of cultivation, create a variety of biotopes which favour many species of wild flower. The upland slopes support the magnificent Valonia oaks, which have long been cultivated on the island for their acorns and which seem from their healthfulness and age to have found an ideal home in the soil and climate of Kea. The island’s relatively abundant water and mineral deposits have also encouraged human settlement from earliest times. This first appears at an important Neolithic village at Kephala on the northern tip of the island. It was superseded by a Bronze Age settlement of considerable sophistication at Aghia Irini in the wide harbour that cuts into the northwestern coast of Kea, which has yielded artefacts of astonishing beauty and importance— most unusual of which are the almost life-size terracotta figures of females, naked from the waist up and wearing garlands and full skirts. These unique works of art have fortunately remained on the island and are now the centrepiece of the small and exemplary museum in Chora. In historic antiquity, there were no less than four important cities on Kea—Ioulis, Koresia, Poiei«ssa, and Karthaia. The remains of the last of these constitute one of the most evocative sites in the Aegean. And, most remarkable of all—and worth the journey to the island alone to see—is the Lion of Ioulis, couching, un-fussed and unenclosed, on a hillside outside of Chora. It is one of the earliest, largest and least-known pieces of monumental sculpture in the Greek world.

   In early spring, Kea’s flora is among the most diverse of the smaller islands and is not difficult to find and enjoy. The island is particularly good for walking: indeed some of the sites, such as Karthaia, can only be reached by a long and rewarding walk. The paths on the island meander beside walled fields and among stone barns, pens and farmsteads which have changed little in design in 2,000 years and are in themselves of great interest and beauty. There are also several well-preserved ancient towers, and a network of ancient roads which still constitute many of the island’s by-ways today. Perhaps the only reason why this remarkable island has tended to be overlooked is be cause of its proximity to Attica and the fact that it is not a port of call on the route to any other island. But that same reason of proximity to the mainland is what made it strategically important and gave it such a rich history. Today it is increasingly frequented by Athenians with weekend houses. Some rashes of concrete building, sometimes in a style which clumsily apes the island’s dignified traditional architecture, have spread in recent years: but most of the interior of the island is untouched and has never lost its ability to surprise and impress.

Kea Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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