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Kea: The Unsung Jewel of the Cyclades

File photo

Kea, called Tzia by most Greeks, is the closest to Athens island of the Cyclades cluster. It doesn’t share the fame and glamor of Mykonos or Santorini, yet it has many of the qualities a traveler to the Greek islands seeks.

One doesn’t have to travel far from the capital to reach Kea. It is only 60 km (37 miles) from Athens and one can be there in one hour by ferry from Lavrio.

Ioulida Photo: wikipedia

The first thing one seeks on a Greek island is crystal clear waters and sandy beaches, to bask in the sun and cool off with a dip in the sea. Kea has plenty of those: Otzias, Koundouros, Pisses, Gialiskari, Frea, Korissia, Kampi are only some of them.

Kea is an island for water sports lovers. It has a long tradition of classic sailing, but the visitor can engage in water skiing, wakeboarding, surfing, wake surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, jet-skiing, SUP, scuba diving and all kinds of water activities.

There are several water sports facilities on the island where one can find equipment and the appropriate trainers. Quite often, water sports races are held.

One who likes walking can use the cobblestone paths to explore the island and admire its green ravine, the remote, hidden coves, the ancient ruins, and the Byzantine chapels.

History of Kea

Speaking of ancient ruins, Kea’s history starts in The Bronze Age, with a settlement at a site now called Ayia Irini. The island reached its height in the Late Minoan and Early Mycenaean eras (1600-1400 BC).

Temple of Athena: Photo: wikipedia

During the classical period, Kea was the home of Simonides and of his nephew Bacchylides, both ancient Greek lyric poets.

The inhabitants were known for offering sacrifices to the Dog Star, Sirius, and to Zeus to bring cooling breezes. Coins retrieved from the island from the 3rd century BC feature dogs or stars with emanating rays, highlighting Sirius’ importance.

The island is known for an ancient stone-carved lion, known as the Lion of Ioulis (or Liontas), which was carved sometime prior to 600 BC. Legend has it that once the island was home to water nymphs whose beauty made the gods jealous, so much that they sent a lion to lay waste to the island.

During the Byzantine period, many churches were built and the prosperity of the island rose. It was Byzantine until, in 1204, it was captured by the Venetians after the Fourth Crusade. The Venetians built a castle on the ancient acropolis of Ioulis.

Kea Today

Today Kea is popular with those who like the Cyclades but want to stay away from noisy and over-crowded siblings like Mykonos, Santorini, and Paros. Accommodation and overall stay are less expensive in Kea too. It is ideal for families and more adventurous travelers who like to discover new places.


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