Small Cyclades: Iraklia Island
Iraklia is the westernmost island of the Small Eastern Cyclades group. The island’s surface area is 18.078 square kilometers and it’s located south of Naxos, about 18 nautical miles from Naxos Town (1 hour and 15 minutes by ferry) and 2.5 nautical miles from Naxos’s southern capes, Gaitani and Katomeri. Irakleia has a population of 150 who inhabit two settlements: Panayia or Hora (the main village) and Ayios Georgios, the port which are in walking distance the one from the other.
Iraklia is a good destination for travelers wanting to get away from all. There’s little nightlife on the island, but it’s an ideal setting for leisurely strolls or underwater exploration. The port has water supply facilities for boats. The island also has a heliport. There is neither bank nor gas station, however.
Islanders make a living from livestock keeping and farming. The island is famous for its cheeses, meats (goat, lamb, and pork), its fava and its fine thyme honey. In summer, locals also work in tourism-related services.
Iraklia — also known as Arakleia and, in the Middle Ages, as Iraklitsa — preserves its ancient name. Important archaeological finds, now exhibited in museums, suggest Iraklia flourished from 3200 B.C. through 1000 B.C., when Cycladic civilization reached its peak.
For long periods, however, the island was abandoned as inhabitants took flight to escape pirate raids. From the late 18th century through 1826, most of the island was infertile and only a few lots (metohia, or dependencies) were cultivated or used for grazing animals for Panayia Hozoviotissa’s monks on Amorgos, as the island was one of the monastery’s assets.
In 1826, small illegal colonies began being formed on the island by migrants from Aegiali, a village on Amorgos. In 1831, the monastery formally allowed migrants from Aegiali to settle on the island, granting them ten -year licenses to occupy and exploit their products in return for a fifty percent share.
The most well know sites of the island are the following:
Ayios Ioannis Cave, the largest in the Cyclades and among the most interesting in Greece, boasts impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations. In mythology, the cave was inhabited by Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant of The Odyssey; the Avelonisia, two rocky outcrops off the island’s coast, are the rocks Cyclops hurled at Odysseus.
Merihas, a small bay, is framed by sheer cliffs that rise more than 100 meters above the water. Wild pigeons and buzzards nest in its crevices, making Merihas ideal for bird-watching.
Kastro at Livadi is a fortified defensive tower dating from the Hellenistic period.
The peak of Pappas Hill (419meters high) is the perfect spot for surveying the sea area around Irakleia, offering views to Ios, Paros, Antiparos, Naxos, Donoussa, Ikaria, Makares, Koufonissia, Schoinoussa, Keros, Antikeri, Fidou, Agrilou, Amorgos, Anydros, Anafi, Santorini, Venetiko, and Avelonisia.
Ayios Athanasios an abandoned settlement features fine samples of Cycladic architecture and traditional island town planning.
At Almia Bay, a German hydroplane shot down during the second world war lies on the seabed, about seven meters from the surface. The wreckage is visible from the surface, but also attracts divers and underwater photographers.
Irakleia’s beaches are unspoiled, with sparkling, pristine waters. Of which the most popular are the following:
Livadi, Vorini, Spilia and Alpsia beaches are the sandy ones.
For the ones that prefer the pebble or shingle, is the Karvounolakos
Xylobatis is the rocky beach of the island.
While there also deep or secluded beaches like Merihas and Vala.
In summer, boats offer tours of the island and transport to beaches inaccessible by car or on foot.
The panigiria is the traditional festival, often held as part of the observance of the feast of a saint or other religious celebration.
The most well know panigiria on the islands are the following: On August 15, in the forecourt of Panayia church in Panayia. On the feast of Ayios Georgios 23/04, in the forecourt of Ayios Georgios church at Ayios Georgios. On November 8, feast of the ArchangelsMichael and Gabriel. On November 9, feast of Ayios Nektarios, in the courtyard of Ayios Nektarios church. On August 28, eve of the beheading of Ayios IoannisProdromos (St John the Baptist), an evening service is held in the main chamber of the Ayios Ioannis Cave, with pilgrims from surrounding islands arriving to take part in the poignant service.
Also, throughout the summer, the local administration and the Union of Irakliotes in Athens organize various cultural events, including theatrical performances and concerts.