The Island of Ios, Farming and Tourism

On the Greek island of Ios the walk from the busy harbour to little Valmas beach is interesting because of the derelict terraces and dry stonewalls that separate the bony hillside into individual plots of land.  Ios is just one large inhospitable rock that has been baked hard in the sun but as recently as only fifty years ago people here were scraping away at the thin soil and the stones here to try and make a living or to feed the family by growing fruit and vegetables.

There is very little useful land on Ios so this must have been almost unimaginatively difficult and the owner of the hotel, Homer’s Inn, Antonia told us of her memories of life before tourism.  She told us how each islander, including her father, had a personal plot and would attend each day to manage and tend the land.  This must have been incredibly hard.  They had to carry all of the water to the side of this cliff and the only way to achieve this was by using a donkey. Then in the 1960s visitors started to arrive and the enterprising islanders realised that there was more money to be made renting out the back room and this was also a lot easier than a twelve-hour day toiling under a hot sun.

The terraces are all abandoned now to giant thistles growing like candelabras and what other few plants can survive in a hostile environment and they are unlikely ever to be cultivated again.  There is no one to look after them or protect the heritage, each year parts of the walls collapse and disappear and soon they will be gone altogether and that will be a sad day.  Although no one will ever see it again I like to imagine what this hillside might have looked like fifty years ago with farmers scratching away at the ground, donkeys patiently waiting to return to the town and fishing boats slipping in and out of the harbour below.

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