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Ikaria - General data

Ikaria has an area of 267 square kilometres, and is located 144 nautical miles from the port of Piraeus. Its name is connected to the myth of Ikaros, the first man to fly, wearing a pair of wings made out of wax, and who drowned in the sea around the island, which was named after him. It has also been known as: Makris or Dolichi (because of its shape), Ichthioessa and Anemoessa, while its residents refer to it as Nikaria.

Ikaria’s climate is considered generally mild, and its landscape is composed of diverse features, with dramatic natural relief, as it consists of both areas of thick vegetation, and bare, steep cliff sides. Its terrain is mostly alpine, and the island is covered, in the most part, by the Atheras mountain range (mount Drakanon or Pramnos), whose highest peak measures 1,037 metres (in the east). On the western part of the island, the highest peak reaches 957 metres. Its subsoil consists mostly of granite, slate and marble.

Because of this terrain, cultivable land is limited, and found mainly on the north side of the island, in the plains of Kambos and Faros. Ever since antiquity, and in order to cope with the island’s difficult morphological conditions, the residents of Ikaria have used terrace cultivation techniques (stone terraces), for soil and water conservation.

The settlements of Ikaria are scattered, almost swallowed into the creases of this steep rock that rises from the sea, and bears the name of mythical Icarus. Even today, when new roads follow the contours of the land and bring us right up to the houses, it is still hard to tell where each settlement lies.

In the past, locals often used to go on foot from one settlement to another; there were no roads, and barely even any safe paths to take. Long journeys that demanded a good physical condition, loaded with things they brought or took back – food supplies and anything else the secluded settlements and households needed to survive. The old folks speak of six or eight-hour journeys to reach Evdilos or another anchorage, where they’d procure the necessary supplies:

«It took him three hours to get to Raches from here [Amalou]][…]. Sometimes two, sometimes three […]. [His wife, Anna, says] and from Raches, to reach Evdilos is another three hours, right? […]. Longer […]. [On the roads between villages:] There were little roads And they’d made them with douseme, most of them […]. I mean stone, most roads were paved in stone […]. There’s one […], a few, actually. Many. If you go to Langada, the road is paved in stone all the way […]. [The roads were built by] personal labour […]. Four days’ work, five days’ work each year [voluntarily]» (Interview with Stefanos Plystakas, Amalou, Study 2008).

There seems to be an important difference between Ikaria and other Aegean islands. Collectivity and culture seem to go hand in hand. The local festivals are organised and prepared by the island’s cultural associations. It’s been a while since they took that role over from the clergy, who used to be in charge of festivals in the past:

«It used to be managed by the church committee. But ever since the association was founded, the responsibility was taken up by the village association [...]. Which is basically the whole village». (Excerpt from a discussion with residents and association members in the village of Aghios Dimitrios, Study 2008.

This change is connected to the need for certain basic infrastructures in the Communities. The profits from the festivals are generally used to build roads and for similar projects, and are managed by the President and the Board of Directors. Immediately after each festival, a table listing profits and expenses is displayed, so that everyone knows how the community will benefit from the event. Then they decide how the profits will be spent, if the decision wasn’t already made before the festival. In certain cases, the money is used for social causes, especially if someone is seriously ill and needs to be sent somewhere for treatment. The associations and their members seem proud of the collectivity they have achieved, and they believe it sets Ikaria apart from other islands. Festivals are prepared all year round, with specific duties and tasks allocated to the members and the board of directors, but without putting them under any particular pressure. Orders for meat and other supplies are placed in the final month before the festival. Goats are mainly purchased from the major farmers in the Community, but also from individual households:

«[The meat for the festival in Frandato comes] from here. The village […]. Some are from the households. Some from up there, on the mountain […]. This also helps out the owners a bit, because they sell to the festival […]. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to consume [all that meat]». (Excerpt from a conversation with residents in the village of Frandato, Study 2008).

«[Regarding the festival in Aghios Dimitrios:] To set the dates for the meat, for the wine, it begins […], we may even start talking about it tomorrow […]. [Discussions on matters concerning the association are] regular, many. Maybe 10. There might be one or two General Assemblies. But councils are regular […]. [The meat is] Local. All of it, local. In yesterday’s festival there were 600 kilos of meat». (Excerpt from a conversation with residents and association members in the village of Aghios Dimitrios, Study 2008).


The people of Ikaria always find it hard to say whether the Ikariotikos is a dance or an instrumental piece of music. Music cannot be separated from Dance. In fact, certain musicians refuse to play the instrumental part without the presence of dancers. It is a fact that as soon as the first note that announces the Ikariotikos is played, the atmosphere of the festival changes immediately. Almost everyone gets up, as if pulled up by a greater force, and form a circle, holding one another by the shoulders. As more people join in, the circle grows wider and new rings form on the inside. There is, essentially, no first or last dancer or, at least, no one perceptibly leading the dance, as is the case with tsamiko and other traditional dances where, following a request to the band, a family or a group of friends get up and lead. The dancers form a collectivity which is expressed through their rhythm, and in the ever-widening circle, while the musicians follow the rhythm of the dancers. Musicians tell us there is constant communication between them and the dancers, a two-way exchange in which dancers and musicians exchange not only the rhythm but also the style of the dance:

«You can’t imagine. When there’s a dancer and he makes a particular move and I like it, I capture it, immediately, I keep it in my mind. I come home and I think, his [the dancer’s] feet went sort of like this. I learn from dancers, but they must be proper dancers […]. And it excites me. And I play more for them, because it gives me joy». (Interview with Nikos Tseperkas, Aghios Polykarpos, Study 2008).

So there might be a few intense notes in a row that’ll cause the dancers to dance more intensely, or a more melodious interval that will allow them to move smoothly around the circle. Sometimes, faster and mellower passages succeed one another, giving the dancers the chance to regain their strength. In other cases, however, the musician, usually the violinist, will lead the dancers into a ruthless crescendo of repeats and variations of the Ikariotikos theme:

«The Kariotikos is basically an orchestral piece, improvisational, I’d say, which we want to play, to dance to all the time. All the time […].The Ikariotikos is] both long and [played] many times. Repeated, if you like […]. Then […] you play some nisiotika, then something European, then Kariotika […]. And after a while, to break up the programme a little, you play some laika, some rebetika […] depending on the time. That’s how I do it, at least». (Interview with Nikos Fakaros, Christos, Study 2008).

Few researcher’s descriptions of the dance steps of the Ikariotikos coincide, and it’s hard to even identify its basic structure and main variations. Any observations made today are impeded by the dancer-visitors, who come to Ikaria especially for the festivals and celebrations. The way they dance the local dance generally encompasses their own experiences and knowledge of similar dances. In fact, in certain festivals that attract a big crowd, like the one in Aghios Dimitrios, most dancers are visitors who have come to the island to combine their summer holidays with events like festivals and other summer events. Young people, mainly from the major cities, come to Ikaria, recognising something special in the island’s culture, a tradition that remains intact, and a collectivity in the way they celebrate that differs from other festivals, which have taken on a rather commercial nature. Taking part in Ikaria’s celebrations and festivals creates, in turn, a series of exchanges and influences that are very hard to describe, since they form a dynamic and continuously evolving phenomenon.

Research 2008

«Creating an interactive multimedia application for the promotion of the Musical Culture of the North Aegean», funded by the Operational Programme «Information Society », 2000-2006 Third Community Support Framework, Axis 1: Education and Culture, Measure 1.3, «Documentation, Utilisation and Promotion of Greek Culture», managed by the Ministry of Shipping, the Aegean and Island Policy / General Secretariat for the Aegean and Island Policy.