Behind the mountains and the craggy peaks of the North Aegean island of Ikaria lie scattered lights from residences. It begs the question: Why would people choose to live farther from the more level ground near the sea, making their lives harder for themselves?

Ikaria was blessed and cursed by the sea. It allowed the island to spread its reputation for its outstanding and strong Pramnian wine throughout ancient Greece, along with olives and honey. But the sea also brought pirates, lured by the island’s prized products and the affluence it offered. Fearing invasion, Ikaria’s inhabitants came up with an audacious strategy: they relocated their residences into the mountains, making the island appear deserted to approaching ships. The island was not only beleaguered by pirates, but it also suffered a succession of unstable rulers. Between 500 BCE and 1521 CE, Ikaria was influenced to varied degrees by numerous empires, including the Persian Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Romans, among others. For the next three hundred years, islanders would keep their culture hidden among the craggy summits of Ikaria’s Aetheras range. The early years were aptly referred to as the “century of obscurity,” and this time period was known as the “piratiki epochi” (pirate era).

Lagkada was the upland sanctuary that retains a sacred place in the hearts of islanders. But now, it’s nothing but a settlement of stone houses, more or less a ghost town. “There is still at least one man living there permanently,” an Ikarian wine producer said. “[…] Most of us see him only when we go to Lagkada’s panigýri (festival). The rest of the year, he must be surrounded by ghosts.”