For its size, Ios was once one of the least populated of the Cycladic islands. The scale and wildness of its mountainous interior beyond the two fertile valleys behind the main city, hindered its development. The construction of roads and a boom in tourism in recent years have altered that, inevitably compromising to some degree the island's solitary beauty and grandeur. Ios has a picturesque Cycladic chora and a number of the finest beaches in the Aegean; these have attracted a very visible and sometimes dissonant kind of tourism to the island whose impact, concentrated in Chora and around the two beautiful bays of Ormos and Milopotas on the west coast, has ballooned in the last decade. Outside this area, however, the island has retained much of its former character: the rural, fertile valley of Epano Kambos, where the existence of the remains of a Hellenistic farm-building indicate the area's agricultural significance to the ancient city; the deserted north of the island, where Homer—according to tradition— was supposed to have been shipwrecked and buried; the deep, eastern bays overlooked by the remnants of a castle high on the promontory of Palaiokastro; and the volcanic, boulder-strewn landscape of the south, which ends in the magnificent sweep of Manganari Bay looking south to Santorini. New roads have also made more accessible two of the remotest monasteries of the Cyclades: the ancient and superbly panoramic monastery of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos, just below the island's 714m peak, and Aghios Giorgios of Kalamos, buried in a landscape reminiscent of that of the hermitages of the Desert Fathers in Egypt. At every turn, Ios surprises with the variety of its landscape.
In Antiquity there were important settlements on Ios: the first was a flourishing and sophisticated prehistoric urban centre at Skarkos, just behind Ormos Bay, dating from the 3rd millennium BC, where ongoing excavations are uncovering the walls of two-storey buildings, well planned streets and squares; the second, Ancient Ios, was on the strategic site of the modern town. It must have been a large city, given the size and circumference of its remaining fortification walls. The finds from both these sites are collected together in a new museum on the ground floor of the island's Town Hall.
The inlet of Ormos and its fertile hinterland were settled in the 3rd millennium BC: the sophistication of the settlement and the quality of the finds at Skarkos have recently brought Ios to the forefront of prehistoric archaeology.
Smaller settlements of the same period have been identified at other coastal sites: at Manganari, Plakes, Aghia Theodoti, Plakotos, and on the islet of Psathonisi. Ios had Phoenician and Mycenaean contacts from before the 12th century BC, and Ionians settled in the 10th century; but the island has so far yielded virtually no remains of significance from the Geometric period.
According to a strong tradition, Homer, whose mother, Clymene, may have hailed from Ios, was shipwrecked, died and buried on the island. According to Pausanias visitors in Antiquity were shown his grave, and its presence on the island is referred to by both Pliny and Strabo—although none of these writers had been to Ios and seen it. By the 6th century BC, Ios was a small city-state. Like its Ionian-settled neighbours to the north, it was early on a member of the Athenian league; was under Macedonian rule from 338 BC; and after 220 BC was allied with Rhodes. Remnants of Roman infrastructure suggest that Ios was not merely a place of exile under Roman rule, but also an active trading centre.
With the demise of Roman power, the sheltered and hidden inlet of Ormos became a base for piracy, and the population moved into the fortified sites of the interior.
Ios was one of the original islands constituting the Duchy of Naxos of Marco Sanudo in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade. It was briefly recaptured for Byzantium by the renegade admiral, Licario, in 1278/9, but was again under Venetian control by 1296 in the form of the Schiavi family who held the island as a fief of the Duchy of Naxos, until by marriage it passed first to the Crispo family at the end of the 14th century, and then to the Pisani family, who held onto it until Khaireddin Barbarossa captured Ios for the Ottoman Sultan in 1537. In the first Russo-Turkish War of 1770–74, Ios was occupied by Russian forces along with the other Cyclades. Ios contributed 24 ships and crews to the cause of the Greek War of Independence in 1821 and was united with the liberated Greek State in 1829. The island was much visited by the poet, Odysseas Elytis, and was latterly home to the painter, Yiannis Gaitis (1923–84), in whose memory a small museum of modern art is currently being created between Chora and Milopotas.
Ormos Bay & Skarkos Hill Ios had no mineral, and only meagre agricultural, wealth: its two assets in earlier times were its plentiful timber and its sheltered and deeply indented port of Ormos Bay (2km). Later, however, the harbour became a liability for the island when it was adopted by pirates as a safe and invisible refuge. It is still today one of the most attractive and protected inlets in the Cyclades, lined with beaches and framed by hills which partially hide the island's chora from view. On the east side of the inlet, visible from the arriving ferry, is the 17th century church of Aghia Irini, one of the island's grandest buildings, with two striking domes and belfries. The oldest church in the area, Aghios Giorgios, lies in a small open area about 250m inland of the harbour to the right of the road to Chora, sunk down into the ground which with time has risen all around it. The pillars of a former narthex or loggia in front of the west door still stand, but the roof they supported is gone. The church itself is a beautiful piece of 13th or 14th century architecture, with a generous dome which covers the entire area of its square floor-plan. From the bend in the road just beyond the church, the old, stepped kalderimi leads from the port—which today is called simply Yialos, or ‘shore'—up to Chora. The partly shaded climb only takes 15 minutes and is the most enjoyable way of reaching the old town from the port.
Shortly before reaching Chora after the climb from Yialos, the base of the ancient city's fortification walls of the 6th century BC is visible in long runs of schist blocks beside the main road, to the left of where the kalderimi crosses its course. These walls originally encircled the whole hill above, suggesting that Archaic Ios was already a community of some size. It had an enviable location with a panoramic, natural acropolis, overlooking its harbour entrance, a protected civic centre in the saddle below, and an agriculturally productive hinterland a little way to its north. Today's Chora climbs attractively up to the rocky peak of the old acropolis, covering the site of the ancient habitation. The broad saddle to the south of the hill (which now lies between the main road and the foot of the hill) has several wells which remain from the ancient settlement. It is likely that the agora and the principal public buildings of Ancient Ios were located in this well protected area, close to the sources of water. An exedra and other vestiges of Hellenistic and Roman buildings are visible just beside the Demarcheion or Town Hall to the south of the main road. The most important churches of Chora are at the bottom of the acropolis hill. Almost opposite the Town Hall across a stand of trees is Aghia Ekaterini, a compact 17th century church, which incorporates several column fragments in its cupola-drum and a piece of Ionic capital in the south wall. The church is believed to stand on the site of the temple of Pythian Apollo, the largest and most important of the island's temples. Immediately to its north sits the long, low structure of the much earlier (possibly 14th century) church of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos, with a raised crossed barrel-vault. Abutting it to the north is the island's cathedral of the Evangelismós, built in 1930 to replace an older church on the same spot dedicated to Aghios Nikolaos. 75m to the east of Aghia Ekaterini, is the domed structure of an abandoned and dilapidated church, known locally as the ‘Frangokklisía', or ‘Latin Church'. In similar fashion to Aghia Ekaterini it has blind niches in the octagonal drum below the cupola and in general has the appearance of a typical Byzantine church of the 14th or 15th century, although it is hard to date more exactly in its present condition. Its name implies that it was used principally for the Latin rite by the island's small Catholic community; after this it appears that the church was left unadopted and abandoned. Above the cathedral church of the Evangelismós the heart of the old chora is bisected east/west by the main ‘calle' which links Kato and Epano Piatsa, two apologies for squares, between which the main commercial activity of the old town is found. Beside the upper square— ‘Epano Piatsa'—is the double church of Aghios Andreas and Aghia Kyriakí which incorporates ancient spolia in its interior. At the top of the habitation, just below the rocky crown of the hill is the church of the Panaghia Kremniótissa, with a shaded panoramic terrace opening out in front of its west door. From here a path leads up through the rocks towards the summit; the penultimate church, Aghios Giorgios, just below the top, has part of a marble tablet, densely engraved with early 4th century BC decrees, immured into the south corner of its façade. The summit, now occupied by the chapel of Aghios Nikolaos, was the principal look-out of the ancient acropolis. At the end of the 14th century the Venetian, Marco Crispo built a fortified enclosure here, using ancient foundations where possible; little of it now remains to be seen beyond short breaks of wall.Wikidata ID: Q216993
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)