The Greek Island of Ikaria in the Aegean Sea is home to numerous quaint houses built under giant rocks to make them harder to spot…by pirates.
Inhabited since at least 7000 BC, according to tradition, the island’s name derives its name from Icarus, the son of Daedalus in Greek mythology, who was believed to have fallen into the sea nearby, and today Ikaria is a popular tourist destination famous for its sandy beaches, picturesque villages and pristine natural landscape.
However, it wasn’t always the slice of paradise of modern times.
Hundreds of years ago, in fact, the island was one of favorite target for the pirates who called the Aegean their home, so to protect themselves from their raids, the locals started building anti-pirate homes deep into the mountains, to make their island look uninhabited from the sea.
And, at one point in history, the entire population of Ikaria concealed itself in rock houses that didn’t attract attention (unless you literally walked past them).
Either way, historical records said that piracy plagued Ikaria and other islands of the Aegean since the 1st Century BC, but things only got worse with the passing of time.
Raids of the island occurred both under Roman and Byzantine rule, and in the 14th century, after the island became a part of the Republic of Genoa, piracy got so bad that the locals destroyed their own ports to deter incursions.
But that wasn’t enough.
It was only after Ikaria was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire that its inhabitants decided to take desperate measures.
Also the lax rule of the ottomans encouraged pirates to attack and raid islands, and locals didn’t have many options to deal with the situation.
They could, for example, either stand their ground and probably die, or leave their beloved home and move somewhere safer.
But they chose a third option.
With no real hope of successfully resisting pirate invaders, they abandoned their homes on the coast of the island and migrated inward, into the mountains, making it seem like they had abandoned the island entirely. Many moved in modest, stone-built homes that lacked the comfort of their village houses, but offered perfect camouflage.
Known not by chance as “anti-pirate houses”, these dwellings incorporated natural features of the island’s mountainous landscape, such as boulders, rocks, cliff overhangs and thickets, thus making them harder to spot from long distances.
Ikarians would continue to build and live in anti-pirate homes for about three decades, a period commonly known as “piratiki epochi” or “the pirate era”.
To avoid attracting attention, houses would generally have just one level, lower than the boulder or cliff camouflaging it and they would have no chimney, to prevent columns of smoke.
Locals would mostly interact at night and avoid using fire or any sources of light, and they didn’t even keep dogs, for fear that their barking would attract unwanted guests.
Still today, ghost mountain villages, and Lagkada is just one example, feature stone dwellings from that time, many of which are as hard to spot today as they were back then.
Interestingly, despite the hardships endured by the locals over the centuries, Ikaria is one of the world’s rare “blue zones”, known as Greece’s land of longevity, where one in three people ends up living well into their 90s, and many become centenarians….
Images from web – Google Research