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Kea, (Tzia)
History of Kea

Karthea, Kea
Ancient Karthea by BRÍNDSTED, Peter Oluf. 1826

Kea is the ancient Hydrossa, home of the nymphs who lived near the many springs and fountains which kept the island lush during pre-historic times. These nymphs were chased off the island by a fierce lion and from this point on the island became dry and less-fertile and ruled by the star Sirius. The inhabitants appealed to the semi-god Aristaios, son of Apollo and the nymph Kyrini who rescued the island. The highest point on the island was designated as a sanctuary to the rain-god Ikmaios Zeus and from then on things got better. It is believed that these myths predate those of the Olympian Gods.

A cemetery and settlement found on the peninsula of Kefala between Otzias and Agias Nikolaos dated around 3300 BC is the first example of systematic burial in the entire Aegean. Another settlement at Agia Irini dates to the third millennium and flourished for 1500 years. By 2000 BC this settlement was fortified and the island became more Minoan as it became a link between Crete and Mycenaean due to the size and safety of its harbor. The town was destroyed at around 1500 BC and from that point on the settlement of Korissa, the current port, became more important.

From the 12th Century the island was colonized by Ionians from the mainland and known as Keos. By the 6th Century four independent cities were formed, known as Karthea (top print), Korissia, Ioulis, Poiessa. These cities had individual political structures though they would cooperate with each other in matters of foreign policy and security. Ioulis was inland while the other three cities sat on bays and sheltered harbors. They traded with civilizations as far away as Egypt and developed their art and culture as well as erecting sanctuaries to the gods which are still used as places of worship. The Keians participated in the ancient Olympics and minted their own coins. Temples adorned all four cities. They fought the Persians in the sea victory of Salamis and the words of Simonides from Ioulis are known to all:

At Marathon the Athenians fought for Greece and scattered the might of the Mede and all his gold.
Stranger, go tell the Lacedemonians that we lie here in obedience to their word

Keos joined the Athenian league in 487 which ended their status as an independent state. They later fell in with the Spartans, and again with the Athenians in the second Athenian league. When the city of Ioulis rebelled and attempted to leave the league, Athens took over the rights to the mines of Keos. From then on they usually sided against Athens. During this period a series of watch towers were built around the island as an early warning system to protect them from their enemies. After around 360 the four cities formed a federation with a common parliament and this state peaked in the 5th century BC. During this period Keos gave the ancient Greek civilization such renown personalities as
Bachylides , the great lyric poet, Xenomides , the historian of myths and traditions, Pythokleides , the sophist and music teacher whose most famous pupil was Perikles, and Prodicos , who with Protagoras was considered the father of linguistics and philology. During this period the God Apollo was venerated and the temple of Pythios Apollo at Karthea was praised by Pindaros and famous throughout Greece.

During the Hellenistic period the island went into decline as the dangers from piracy forced them to seek safety under the domination of powerful tyrants. During the Ptolemean wars, the island was used as a base for the Egyptians. They later fell under the influence of the Aeotolians, the Macedonians, Rhodes and the Romans. By the first century BC, both Karthea and Poiessa were no longer independent and after earthquakes and the decline of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, Karthea was destroyed and the population of the island dwindled though the cultural life of the island was still active.

In Keos they practiced euthanasia, known as the Keian Momimon, where old people who had exceeded their age limit, calmly drank poison hemlock to put an end to their lives.

During the Byzantine period the island took the name of Kea and many churches were built with the island under the rule of the Diocese of Athens. With the fall of Constantinople to the Franks, Michael Akominatos, the Metropolitan of Athens took refuge on the island in the monastery of Prodomos where he stayed until he died. The island was captured by the Venetians and recaptured by the Byzantines in 1278. In 1296 it fell to the Venetians again and built a castle on the ancient acropolis of Ioulis. The port became a haven for pirates and by 1470 there were only around 200 inhabitants on the island.

Kea was occupied by the Turks in 1527. The Turks never settled on the island but they did organize its repopulation with Albanians at the end of the 16th century. During this period the island attracted many of the religious and intellectual personalities who wanted to lay low. With the island virtually free of Turks, it was a good place to be. But in 1668 the Turks destroyed the island because they had sided with the Venetians. But afterwards the remaining inhabitants were granted significant rights and by the end of the century the population was at 3000.

In the 18th century the island of Kea, also called Tzia, became involved in trade and small industry. It was occupied by the Russians with the rest of the Cyclades from 1770-1774 and during this period many of the ancient monuments were plundered by the Russian admiral. During the Russian-Turkish war of 1787-1792, the harbor was used by Lambros Katsonis as a base of operations against the Turks. When he and his ship were trapped in the bay by the Turkish fleet, he hauled his ship across the narrow isthmus and escaped. In reprisal many people of Kea were massacred, many houses destroyed and the bishop hanged. During the revolution which led to the formation of the modern Greek state, many distinguished Keians were members of the Filiki Heteria, the secret revolutionary society whose goal was independence. They participated in the sieges and battles of the Acropolis of Athens, Tripolis, Corinth, Peta and Messolonghi in body and by supporting the fighters with weapons, food and money. But the Turkish reprisal and the massacre of the inhabitants of the island of Chios brought to Kea a stampede of refugees and a plague which killed over 2000 people.

Things improved after this as the island again developed culturally and agriculturally, exporting acorns, barley, wine, honey and dairy products and in 1927 Ioannis Gleoudis built the Enamel and Metalworks factory in Korissa, where its ruins can still be seen. Though immigration to America has hurt the island, it has also helped to support it. In the 1970's the artist Fasianos 'discovered' the island and this led to other artists 'discovering' it as well. From there it was 'discovered' by Athenian yuppies who bought and restored old houses in Chora. The island is still in the process of being 'discovered'.

Kea map
Kea 1598

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