Ios is one of the Cycladic islands, with an area of 108,713 km2, located among Sikinos, Amorgos, Santorini and Paros. It is considered a mountainous island, culminating in Pyrgos (732 m) and Profitis Ilias (500 m). Despite its mountainous ground, it is considered fertile in comparison to other Cycladic islands. There are cultivable valleys at Epano Kambos and Kato Kambos at the northwestern part of the island, at Manganari to the south, and at Psathi and Agia Theodoti to the east.
Until recently, the island’s economy was mostly based on land cultivation (grain, olive trees, wine) and stock farming. The traditional cultivating method, dating from the 6th century BC, was the terrace cultivation system, the so-called “pezoules”. They were formed with low dry stone walls (“kserolithies”) allowing cultivation on declivitous land. Nowadays though, the residents’ main source of income is tourism.
Local tradition explains the island’s name based on the many violets (in Greek: ion) of Ios; it seems violets were abundant in Ios already since the antiquity . According to another etymology, the name of the island comes from the Phoenician word iion, meaning “pile of stones”.
According to the another view, the island was named after the Ionians who colonized Ios in the 11th century BC. Up to then, it was called Foiniki (Phoenicia). Stephanos Byzantios and Pliny inform us of the settling of Phoenicians and the establishment of a Phoenician centre on Ios from the 12th up to the 9th century BC. According to Pliny, the island “was not only conquered by them but also named by them with the name Phoenicia”.
During Ottoman rule, it was called Anza or Ayna. Its modern name (i.e. the official use of its ancient Greek name) was established in the 19th century.
2. 1. Prehistoric Times – Antiquity
Human traces dating from the Protocycladic period have been found on Ios, which flourished throughout the 3rd millennium thanks to its location. During the following millennium (Middle and Late Bronze Age), Ios lost its autonomy, like the rest of the Cyclades.
Ios is one of Homer’s seven alleged homelands. According to some sources, Homer was buried on Ios, whereas his tomb is considered to have been located at modern Plakoto, at the north end of the island.
In Classical Times, Ios used to be a member of the first and the second Athenian Leagues. In the 3rd century, it joined the Commonwealth of the islands, and was probably temporarily named Arsinoe after the wife of Ptolemy II. The cult of Athena Polias and Zeus Polieus (“city protector”) was established on the island. There was a sanctuary dedicated to Apollo the Pythian, as well as a sanctuary or monument dedicated to Homer. One of the local calendar months was also called Homerion, whereas Ios was the first island to mint coins depicting Homer’s head around 350 BC.
The island went under Roman rule; in the 2nd century AD it declined and was used as an exile destination. During Roman rule, Ios belonged to the eparchy of Asia, and from the mid-3rd century on it was integrated into the eparchy of the islands (provincia insularum).
2. 2. Byzantine Period – Modern history
In the Byzantine period, the island's role did not change significantly. The Franks took it over in 1207 and integrated it into the Duchy of the Aegean. The Byzantine fleet recovered it in 1269. Domenico Schiavi conquered it in 1296. The Schiavi family ruled it up to 1335, when it was granted for the second time to the Duchy of the Aegean. In 1371, when Francesco Crispo created the Crispi dynasty, he conquered Ios, which remained under the Crispi up to 1517. Throughout Medieval Times, pirates predating the Aegean plagued its residents.
In 1537, the Ottoman fleet took Ios over with Hayreddin Barbarossa, and it became a tributary to the sultan, remaining at the same time under the command of the Crispi family. In 1566, after the last member of the Crispi died, Ios was officially integrated into the Ottoman Empire. The same year, the sultan granted the island’s administration along with other Cycladic islands to the Jewish diplomat and administrator Joseph Nasi up to 1579.
But since piracy had not been completely eliminated, Ios and other islands were often pillaged. Therefore, the island was sacked in 1558, and its residents dispersed on nearby islands, leaving Ios deserted for several years. During the Russo-Ottoman War (1768-1774), the residents of Ios took part in the conflict on the Russians’ side. On March 1st 1821, Panagiotis Amiradakis raised the flag of the Greek Revolution on Ios. During the Greek War of Independence, Ios’s residents participated in the sea-battle of Kuşadası (1821). After the War of Independence was over in 1830, Ios and the rest of the Cyclades were integrated into the Greek State.
During World War II, Ios shared the fortunes of the other Cycladic islands. At first, it was taken over by the Italian (1941-1943) and then, after the Italians capitulated, by the German troops. Finally, after the war was over, it was integrated into Greece. In the mid-20th century, there was a migrating wave from Ios towards areas of Athens and Piraeus. That was the second - and larger- migratory movement in Ios' modern history. The first one was smaller and shorter and lasted from the late 19th century up to the two first decades of the 20th century. The migrants were mostly families moving primarily towards Athens and Piraeus, and, to a smaller extent, abroad (Egypt, Australia, USA, Canada) .
For the society and economy of Ios, the 1970s were the beginning of structural changes, as new forms of economic activities oriented towards tourism appeared.
3. Archaeological sites and monuments
Belgian archaeologist P. Graindor, a member of the Ecole Française d'Athènes, conducted the first excavations at the Ancient City (area of Agia Aikaterini at Chora) in 1904. The second phase of the excavations began in the early 1980s by the Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities of the Cyclades.
3. 1. Settlement of Skarkos
The hill of Skarkos is located at Kambos, one of the most fertile areas of Ios. This fort-like settlement dates from the Protocycladic II period (2700-2400/2300 BC) and is mostly known through the figurines of the necropolises. Even though it had been sacked for the greatest part, it has been exceptionally preserved and therefore helps to understand better the Cycladic expansion during the Early Bronze Age.
It has an area of approximately 3 acres – quite large for a Cycladic settlement. It is arranged radially and has spacious streets, squares and complex or simpler stone-built two-storey structures, which suggests a complex social organization and stratification.
A series of sealed rectangular clay objects has also been uncovered there, demonstrating that residents obviously used seals as a means of demonstrating their personal identity.
4. Odysseas Elytis Open Theater
In 1997, an open-air theater with a capacity of a thousand people was inaugurated. It was named after the Greek poet Odysseas Elytis, a Nobel Prize winner.
This stone-built theater with a circular orchestra was built according to the pattern of ancient Greek thatres. Cultural events (concerts, thatre and ballet performances) take place there during summer. At Tsoukalaria, where it was built, there used to be the dump of the island. After its construction, the area became a part of a program for exploiting old waste disposal sites.
From the 6th century on, Ios’s Orthodox churches belong to the Sifnos Archbishopric. The only period when it was not clear where the island belonged ecclesiastically was the time of Frankish rule.
There are many churches on Ios; some distinctive ones are Agia Eirini and Agia Theodoti, dedicated to the Birth of Virgin Mary. We have to mention the metochion of the Chozoviotissa Monastery, which was already on the island since 1579, but we do not know exactly when it was granted to the monastery.
The island’s catholic church was built in the late 14th century, at the time of the Crispi rule. It belonged to the bishopric of Santorini up to 1887, when it was sold to the Bank of Greece with the permission of the Vatican. Now, its interior is deserted and has no decoration.
6. 1. Archaeological Museum
The archeological museum is housed in a neoclassical building at Chora, the island’s capital. It includes significant findings from P. Graindor’s excavations and those of the Greek Ephorate of Antiquities. The museum is separated into four rooms. The first one is divided in two parts: one part houses exhibits pertinent to the natural environment and research history, and the other presents Ios during the Protocycladic Period. The second one houses exhibits from the Skarkos settlement, dating from the Middle and Late Bronze Age. The other two house exhibits pertinent to the historical course of Ios up to the 7th century AD. Most of these exhibits come from the ancient city of Ios (Chora).
6. 2. The Jean Marie Drot Museum
It was built in 1993 and houses the collection (drawings, paintings, personal items) of art collector, writer and cinematographer Jean Marie Drot.
7. Traditional and modern architecture
Chora, the main settlement of the island, developed in an amphitheatrical way. It still preserves its original core on the slope of the hill, on the top of which we can still see the remnants of the Venetian castle and the church of Panagia Gremiotissa.
At Chora, due to the lack of space, the -usually separate- ground floor (katoi) and upper floor residences (katoi and anoi respectively) were traditionally under the sytem of horizontal property, that was mentioned already in the customary law of the Cyclades during Ottoman rule.
The densely built part of the main settlement left no room for auxiliary structures –necessary for agricultural use. Thus, until the 1960s, they were developed outside the settlement.
Rural buildings, called katoikies, agroikies or etzeries by the locals, form small settlements. Their complexes give a complete picture of the islanders' rural occupations.
In the recent times, the built environment changed. since it absorbed and reflected in its turn the new socio-economic conditions that prevailed on the island. Now there are few settlements with rural houses; zones for agricultural use are just as few. After the 1970s, the main settlement expanded towards Gialos, Mylopotas and Kato Kambos, making limits of these settlements indistinct.
At the old settlement of Chora, buildings are reconstructed, whereas insufficient space favors the “congestion” of bars and restaurants during summer. Pentanoussa, situated opposite Chora, is developing to fulfill the growing needs for hotel infrastructure. Some of the new buildings alter the dominant architecture through the colors, style and combination of miscellaneous characteristics.
8. The development of tourism and population increase
The 1970s for Ios were the beginning of structural changes in economy and society, in mentalities and behavior, since new forms of economic activities oriented towards the tertiary sector appeared.
The island was able to enter into the first stage of tourism development with the help of non-local businessmen –mostly Athenians and foreigners– , even though the creation of the first infrastructure was greatly assisted by the return of the internal migrants.
In the late 1980s, Ios entered the stage of mass tourism (the stage it is in until now), rising to the top of the islands with the highest rates of tourism development along with Mykonos, Santorini and Paros.
Selective choices, clever management and effective negotiations define the professional behavior and the methods of local businessmen that gradually improve, expand and renew the services offered.
Tourists come mostly from Italy, Austria, the USA, Britain, Germany, France and Sweden.
The stability and the growth of the island's population is due rather to the “colonization” by populations coming from Greece and abroad in order to fulfill the growing need for new jobs caused by tourism development, than
to a "normal" demographical increase.
During the 1981 and 1991 censuses, Ios had the third place among islands with a small local population and an increased settling. During that period, foreigners that settled on Ios came mostly from Europe (Britain, Holland, Germany) and had a high educational level; most of them were self-employed in jobs related to tourism or fine arts.
In the 1990s, economic migrants (mostly from Albania and Romania) settled on the island in order to work in construction or tourist businesses.