Kea (Tzia) is yet another island of the Cyclades archipelago. It is part of the Kea-Kythnos region. Ioulis, the capital, is inland at a high altitude (like most old Cycladic settlements, for the fear of pirates) and is quite picturesque. Kea has two other major villages namely the port Korissia and Vourkari, a smaller fishing village. Kea has in recent years been rediscovered by Athenians as a convenient destination for weekends and yachting trips. In 2001 the population was around 2,400.
Of the Cyclades island group Kea is the one closest to Attica and Athens, just about an hours travel by ferry from Lavrio. It is only 20 km away from Cape Sounio and 60 southeast of Athens. The climate is quite dry and the terrain hilly. Kea has a total length of 19 km from north to south and is 9 km wide. Its highest point is 560m. To the northwest lies the much smaller island of Makronisos.
Kea was home to quite a few ‘celebrities’ from the classical period like the lyric poets Simonides and Bacchylides (nephew of the first), the Sophist Prodicus and the physician Erasistratus.
The inhabitants were known for offering sacrifices to the Dog Star Sirius and Zeus to bring cooling breezes while awaiting for the reappearance of Sirius in summer; if the star rose clear, it would predict good fortune; if it was misty or faint then it foretold (or emanated) pestilence. Coins retrieved from the island from the 3rd century BC feature dogs or stars with emanating rays, highlighting Sirius’ importance.
Things to see
About 2 km from Korissia, the port, you’ll find the valley of Milopotamos, through which the waters of Flea, a rich water stream, flows, together with waters from the hillsides. If you enjoy walking you can take the paved path from Korissia to Ioulida. This path is ancient and part of the network connecting the different ancient settlements on the island.
On both sides of the stream, stand 11 grinding watermills. In the old days, they operated all year round, together with the windmills, crunching cereals and supplying the villages with flour and forages.
The watermills are characteristic samples of the Kean architecture and blend with the environment. Most of them are abandoned while some of them are still inhabited.
Ioulida is the capital of the island and a central point of reference in the history of Kea. It is located 5,5 km away from Korissia and is one of the four ancient cities of Kea (Keos). On top of an elevation Ioulida oversees the northern side of the island and the sea. The city was founded during the archaic period, at the place where later on the medieval castle of Ioulida was built. Two walls, that are visible until today, on the western and eastern side of the castle, surrounded the city.
Ioulida is surrounded by plains and gardens and has the largest unit of windmills in the Cyclades complex. If we walk up above the settlement we reach the top of the mountain with the windmills. The windmills represent the local popular architecture and are worth a visit.
Following on of the paths from Ioulida which passes by the springs, you’ll end up at Lionta. It is an enormous rock on which an imposing lion has been carved. The Leon is dated from the archaic ages and many legends have been told about the calm and mysterious Leon of Kea, which stands about 1,5 km from the settlement. According to one of the legends, the inhabitants wanted to abandon the settlement when the nymphs, that lived where the Liontas now stands, started killing the women. A priest of Zeus prayed to the God to save them and he sent a lion that drove the nymphs away. The inhabitants then sculpted a lion on a rock, for the nymphs to see and be scared.
Karthea was the most important of the four ancient cities of Kea. It was founded in ancient times and stayed inhabited and alive until the early Byzantine period. It is located at the southeastern part of the island, in the area of Poles.
Going to Karthea is like going back in time. The way of access to Karthea is even today through the ancient road that connected the city with other cities of the island. The citadel is surrounded by walls with at least six entries, and there were towers controlling the area.
The route, which has been established, begins in the village of Stavroudaki and is 17 km from Ioulida. After about 400 m of dirt road, you’ll meet the paved path.
From there, you leave behind the modern Kea. The natural and historical landscape of the path is the most important in the Cyclades complex. Moving onto the ancient path, take in the impressions of the fauna and flora while listening to the flowing water from Vathypotamos.
At the southern edge of the hills of the Aspri Vigla are the most important monuments:
- Temple of Athena (late sixth/early fifth century) to the north
- Temple of Apollo (530 BC) to the south
- Two more buildings, a building entrance and D (early third century), are on the terrace of the temple of Athena.
- In the valley of Vathipotamos, you’ll find a theatre and part of the city’s water supply system.
- To the east of the Acropolis, lies the cemetery.
The Archaeological Museum (in Ioulida) houses parts of the pediments of the temple of Athena.
Things to do
Walking/hiking: For walkers and hikers Kea is a true paradise with footpaths of a total lenght of 36 km, of which 65% is paved. The paths are part of the road network which connected the ancient cities-states in between. There are wooden signs along the paths indicating the different destinations. Most footpaths lead to remote beaches and bays.
Kea, on the other hand, is literally covered with wild flowers that are to be found everywhere! They cover the slopes of the hills, the banks of streams and the small lakes, the shaded gorges, the sides of the streets, even the slots of rocks.
Endemic plants of Cyclades and Greece, wild orchids, abundant pharmaceutical herbs, aromatic bushes, rare mushrooms, multicoloured lichens, centenarian chestnut trees, maples and “fides” (Juniperus phoenicea), “kokoretsies” (Pistacia terebinthus) and “koutsoupies” (Cercis siliquastrum), crocuses, water flags, bellflowers, wild roses, wild cornflags, daffodils, compose a painting of splendid beauty, that will capture you from the first step along the paths.
In southern Kea, 16 km from Ioulida, lies Koundouros.
A tourist settlement where amazing sandy beaches succeed one another and impressive stone- built mills that are inhabited. Here you’ll find accommodation as well as restaurants.
Where to swim: Koundouros, Aghios Emilianos, Kampi, Liparo, Bouri, Frear, Hiliomidou, Panagitsa, Ligia.