Five kilometres from the harbour, after a steep climb to 330m a.s.l., the main road reaches Chora. Already in the parking area below the town, a large fragment of fluted column announces the antiquity of the site. Higher up, as you enter the habitation, on the right-hand side beside the Ethniki Trapeza is a doorway whose marble frame is composed of three re-used ancient marble architectural elements: the lintel-block was re-carved with Byzantine motifs and an inscription in the early 19th century. The town today officially keeps the name of its pagan predecessor, Ioulis (or ‘Ioulida' in the more demotic form), but is generally referred to as ‘Chora'.
The entry into the town is through a passage under buildings; such ‘stegadi', as they are called, are a common feature of the urban architecture of Chora. The street to the left out of the tiny square beyond leads up to what was the acropolis of the ancient city, where the temple of Apollo once stood. As you climb the steps beyond the church of Aghios Charalambos, you are confronted to the left by a stretch of Archaic fortification or retaining wall in large rectangular blocks, on top of which rises the smaller, irregular masonry of the Venetian kastro built by Pietro Giustiniani or Domenico Michieli around 1210, most of which was taken down in 1865. All that now remains is the long arched gate-house, with its series of placements for gates. The interior of the kastro is occupied by municipal school buildings and other modern structures, but it offers a good view of the superb amphitheatre of whitewashed houses densely packed on the slope opposite. Beyond the museum the main street climbs into the upper part of Chora. Below the buildings to the left (north) of the street are stretches of the enceinte of 6th century BC defensive walls of the town: these are best seen from the lower terrace of the café, En Levko (‘ΕΝ ΛΕΥΚΩ'), just before the town hall. The town hall itself is a piece of very fine architecture dating from 1902—neoclassical in design, with much of its decoration in good condition, including the two figures of Apollo and Ares standing on the attic balustrade. In the south wall of the building, fragments of classical sculpture and of a low relief of figures at a sacred event have been immured in a small niche: in the interior of the building just inside the front-door, are a 1st century BC stele (left), and a mediaeval lion, emblem of Venice (right), to either side of the stairs.
The Roman moralist, Valerius Maximus (Factorum ac Dictorum Memorabilium Libri II, 6.8, tr. Shackleton Bailey), witnessed the revival of an ancient Kean custom:
'I believe this usage of the Massilians [suicide by hemlock] did not originate in Gaul but was borrowed from Greece because I saw it also observed in the island of Cea when I entered the town of Iulis on my way to Asia with Sextus Pompeius. For it so happened on that occasion that a lady of the highest rank there but in extreme old age, after explaining to her fellow citizens why she ought to depart from life, determined to put an end to herself by poison and set much store on having her death gain celebrity by the presence of Pompeius. Nor could that gentleman reject her plea, excellently endowed as he was with the virtue of good nature as with all other noble qualities. So he visited her and in fluent speech, which flowed from his lips as from some copious fountain of eloquence, tried at length but in vain to turn her back from her design. Finally he let her carry out her intention. Having passed her ninetieth year in the soundest health of mind and body, she lay on her bed, which was spread, as far as might be perceived, more elegantly than every day, and resting on her elbow she spoke: “Sex. Pompeius, may the gods whom I am leaving rather than those to whom I am going repay you because you have not disdained to urge me to live nor yet to be witness of my death. As for me, I have always seen Fortune’s smiling face. Rather than be forced through greed of living to see her frown, I am exchanging what remains of my breath for a happy end, leaving two daughters and a flock of seven (?) grandchildren to survive me.” Then, having urged her family to live in harmony, she distributed her estate among them, and having consigned her own observance and the domestic rites to her elder daughter, she took the cup in which the poison had been mixed in a firm grasp. After pouring libations to Mercury and invoking his divine power, that he conduct her on a calm journey to the happier part of the underworld, she eagerly drained the fatal potion. She indicated in words the parts of her body which numbness seized one by one, and when she told us that it was about to reach her vitals and heart, she summoned her daughters’ hands to the last office, to close her eyes. As for us Romans, she dismissed us, stunned by so extraordinary a spectacle but bathed in tears.' … spectaculo obstupefacti erant'.
More dedicated to the arts of preserving rather than terminating life was Erasistratos of Ioulis (c.315–240 BC), one of the great anatomists and physiologists of Hellenistic medicine. Most of his teaching and writing dates from his time in Alexandria to which he moved from his native island. His detailed and minute descriptions of the mechanics of respiration were the fruit of dissection-work on human cadavers and animals. Celsus claims that Erasistratos practised vivisection on convicted criminals. He provided the first analysis of the valves of the heart, pointing to their function in ensuring the irreversibility of the flow. His observation of the circulation of the blood, though incorrect in some important details, was ground-breaking, and was not to be bettered as a model until William Harvey's refinement of it in the 17th century. Erasistratos also wrote widely on pathology and the causes of diseases. To the ancients, however, the two most famous sons of Ioulis were the early lyric poet Simonides (c. 556–c. 470 BC) and his nephew, Bacchylides (c.550–431), whose works were often a stimulus to competition for Pindar.
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)