Ikaria: The Fountain of Youth
For an island as small and as far away from the tourist trail, Ikaria punches well above its weight. Located in the North Aegean cluster of islands, Ikaria is a mythical place. And we’re not talking about the beer, either. The island owes its name to the myth of Icarus. Legend has it that the son of Daedalus flew too high near the sun on his wax wings. The Gods were angered by this slight and melted his wings causing him to fall to his death. Ikaria is supposedly where he fell from the sky. So you know the island is steeped in mystery and allure.
Venture out to this remote outpost near Turkey and it becomes evident that Ikaria is a special place. First inhabited some 7,000 years ago in the Neolithic age, the first settlers quickly became part of the Delian League, and quickly set about constructing temples honoring the Godess Artemis.
One of them is still just about standing. In Nas beach the 6th BC temple and its ground can be discerned. Further inland another site worth your time is the Castle of Koskina. Built in the 10th AD on the mountain near the village of Kosikia it served the purpose of overlooking the sea to warn of impending pirates.
There are several other monasteries, churches and ruins in various states of disrepair (we think that adds to its allure) such as the Monastery of Osias Theoktisti, the Lighthouse of Kavos Pappas as well as the mysterious Menirs found near the airport. They are as of yet still unidentified. In addition to that, Ikaria is home to Roman baths. That’s right. The Romans left their mark here, too. Unfortunately not much of the original structure can be seen as it was destroyed by an earthquake circa 205 BC. But significant artefacts still remain on the bottom of the sea bed right next to it. Scuba diving, anyone?
Nowadays, the population of Ikaria is a somewhat different lot, but not for the reasons you’d think of. It forms part of a prestigious club that consists of only 5 members. The Blue Zones club. Along with Sardinia, Okinawa, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Loma Linda in the US, Ikaria is one of 5 places in the world where people live unfathomably long lives. Right up until their 90’s the elderly residents of Ikaria are sprightly and active. They walk, they dance, cook and generally do what they would otherwise, and they do that without illnesses, tumors and old age mobility problems. This is fountain of youth stuff, right here.
People have tried to understand this phenomenon and many book have been written, but hey, come and have a look yourself, right?
The geology of the island is rocky. Plain terrain is almost non-existent and so it seems that people here get a fair bit of daily exercise (a reason for longevity?).
In Ikaria, summers are almost sacred. The panygyri (a type of state fair cum religious fest) means that the entire village partakes in it and only leaves when the sun goes down. Communal spirit thrives here, obviously. Everyone chips in and helps with preparations and whatnot.
It is a deeply spiritual affair as everyone gathered is on the same page, whether they are old or young, foreign or local. In a sense, the Ikarian panygyri is a visceral reminder that you need to add life into your years as much as you add years to your life.