NAXOS | GREEK ISLANDS | CYCLADES
NAXOS TOWN (HORA)
The capital and port of Naxos, Hora has grown up around the large VThe capital and port of Naxos, Hora has grown up around the large Venetian kastro at the top of the hill above the waterfront. The island’s trademark, the Portara or enormous doorway of the Archaic (6th c. BC) temple of Apollo, stands on Palatia islet facing Delos. It is connected to the larger island by a long narrow causeway constructed to protect the harbour. The temple is thought to have remained unfinished owing to a war between Naxos and Samos.enetian kastro at the top of the hill above the waterfront.
Most of the activity is concentrated on the waterfront or perantzada, which is closed to traffic. Its southern end is chock-a-block with cafes, tavernas, ouzeris and little bars. Behind the waterfront, the Old Town invites exploration; its intriguing vaulted alleyways conceal a variety of shops, bars, tavernas and lovely houses. Several of the steep lanes lead to the medieval Kastro, while others are cul-de-sacs originally aimed at misleading pirates.
The Cathedral (church of Zoodohos Pigi) was built in the 18th c. on Metropolis square in the Old Town. It contains one of Greece’s most beautiful icon screens, noteworthy icons, a carved epitaphios (bier used in Good Friday processions), as well as elements from ancient buildings, for example the columns supporting the dome, said to have been brought from the temple of Apollo on Delos. The archaeological site on the square in front of the Cathedral, between four churches, is a subterranean museum with remains of the walls, agora, tombs and workshops of Mycenaean Naxos (1400-1100 BC). In the shallow water offshore at Grotta, which took its name from the caves found at Aplomata, north of the port, swimmers with masks can examine vestiges of what was once an important Mycenaean city.
Of the Hora’s churches, also worth a look, are the picturesque chapel of Panagia Myrtidiotissa (early 17th c.), on the tip of the second islet in the harbour, and Agia Kyriaki, which was a monastery during Ottoman rule.
Enter through the south gate, the Paraporti, or the Trani Gate to the north, with its old wooden door which leads to the main square on the hilltop. Next to the Trani Gate is the only tower that has survived the Castle’s original 12; this is the cylindrical Crispi tower, named for the last dukes of Naxos. It is also called the Glezos tower after the last owners who donated it to the state for restoration and eventual conversion into a Byzantine museum.
As you climb up the alleys with their smooth flagstones you’ll come across several palatial medieval houses with the coats of arms of the Venetian nobles who governed the island from the 13th to 16th c. embossed upon their walls, and every now and then a tantalizing glimpse of the Aegean and farflung islands.
Many of the town’s most important buildings are located around Prandouna square at the top of the Kastro. Here you’ll see part of Marco Sanudo’s fortified palace, the five-aisled Catholic Cathedral (13th c.) dedicated to the Virgin Ypapanti or Gantlema, the monastery-school of the Ursulines (Kazatza Chapel), the Capuchin monastery whose monks serve St. Anthony, the Franciscan monastery and the residence of the Catholic bishop which has a collection of medieval artifacts worth a look (tel. 0285-22470).
The Archaeological Museum should not be missed. Among its exhibits are exceptional pottery of the Mycenaean and Geometric periods, Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic ceramics, a fine collection of glass vessels from the Roman era, as well as a splendid collection of Early Cycladic marble idols.
Also of interest are the Della Rocca-Barozzi Museum in a Venetian mansion and the small church of the Panagia Theoskepasti.
HALKI-APEIRANTHOS AND VICNITY
The lovely historic village of Halki, 16 km east of Hora, is surrounded by an olive grove in a fertile inland valley, as well as windmills and neoclassical mansions. Here you will find the relatively well preserved Barozzi-Frangopoulos-Grazia tower-house (16th-17th c.). In the village centre you’ll see the dazzling white church of the Panagia Protothroni, with its curious, characteristically Naxian stepped facade. Inside there are frescoes from the 9th, 10th, 12th and 13th century.
If you have time, try to visit the hundred year old Vallindra Distillery, which used to export its spirits as far away as the USA. The plant is still in operation, producing liqueurs in a variety of strengths from the citrus fruit (kitro) in the traditional manner.
The hamlet of Akadimi, just beyond Kerami, boasts the Markopolitis-Papadakis tower-house (17th-18th c.), which along with the tower in Kerami is the only one on the islan not built by the Venetians.
In the neighbouring village of Kerami, the 17th c. tower is now a private museum owned by a Mr. Kalavros. It contains a surprising wealth of paintings, objects and heirlooms from the 14th c. and later. On the outskirts of Kerami there is a fine 10th c. Byzantine church dedicated to the Holy Apostles (Agii Apostoli).
Filoti lies 6 km from Apeiranthos and 20 km from Hora. One of the island’s largest villages, it is built on the slopes of Mt. Zas and has a splendid view of an emerald green valley which bears no resemblance to the usual Cycladic landscape.
On Mt. Zas (Zeus) about 1 km outside Filoti. The interior of the cave has an area of 4,100 sq. m. It possesses one enormous chamber, 115 m long, and a smaller one once used by the locals as a hideout during pirate raids. Its most stunning section is to be found higher up, in its upper part, where there are magnificent stalagmites, while the depths of the cave have yielded prehistoric artifacts and traces of religious rites.
Monastery of Christos Fotodotis
This beautiful abandoned little fortified monastery sits on a hill with a view to the sea and the lesser Cyclades in the distance, in an idyllic setting with springs and lush vegetation, perfect for walks and contemplation.
27 km from Hora. No cars permitted in the old district.
This charming marble-paved market village is one of the most beautiful in the Cyclades.
It was founded at the foot of Mt. Fanari in the 10th c. by Cretan refugees. Rich in folklore, it also has particularly interesting architecture.
A walk up its marble-flagged lanes will go a long way towards revealing its magic, since you’ll come to five museums; a ruined Venetian castle of the 13th c., known as Our Lady Aperatheitissa; Venetian manor houses, such as the 17th c. Zevgoli (Kastri-Somarippa) tower and the Bardani (Sforza-Kastri) tower, also 17th c., with the coat of arms of the Leontos family; two-storey stone houses with flower-filled courtyards and “twin” chimneys, gothic arches, attractive cafes, old churches and pretty small piazzas, like the square with the plane trees.
Of the museums, the most rewarding are the Archaeological Museum, with prehistoric finds, pottery and stone plaques with relief decoration, and the Geological Museum, which has a big selection of minerals from Naxos, Greece and other parts of the world. But do take a quick look at the other three, the Museum of Natural History, the Folklore Museum and the Museum of Handicrafts, where you can buy beautiful embroideries. The most distinctive churches in Apeiranthos are the Panagia Apeirathiotissa, one of the island’s oldest, with its fine icon screen and post-Byzantine icons, the Panagia Katapoliani and the Panagia Theoskepasti (both 17th c.).
11 km from Apeiranthos, Moutsouna itself is a picturesque Cycladic village with rooms for tourists, little tavernas serving fresh fish, sandy and pebbly coves and extraordinary beaches nearby, most notably Psili Ammos. The drive down to the coast is breathtaking, as the scenery changes constantly.
Ask someone in Apeiranthos to show you the path to this beguiling little church (about 1 hour’s walk). It has 9th c. frescoes depicting birds and fish, in compliance with the Iconoclasts’ ban on the human figure. If you continue on another 15 minutes, you’ll come to Kalloni, a beauty-spot with springs and plane trees.
THE INTERIOR OF NAXOS
The circular route we propose here is fairly long and includes most of the major landmarks and sights in the interior of Naxos. This is the island’s most fertile area, with the villages and hamlets of central Naxos, a host of noteworthy Byzantine monuments and churches ranging from the 6th to the 11th century, as well as vestiges of its ancient heritage. We suggest that you make this tour with an experienced local taxi driver who is familiar with the sights, because many of these are located outside the villages and will be hard to find on your own. To see the principal landmarks you will need 3-4 hours. But to really get to know the area, two or more days will be necessary.
A lush village 8 km east of Hora, set in a fertile valley with olive groves, orchards, streams and old water mills.
A partially signposted dirt road starting at the top of Melanes leads to Kalamitsia, 2 km away. Here, in a ravine with springs from which water runs even in summer, stands a half-ruined yet imposing 17th c. palatial mansion with thick stone walls and arches. It was the summer retreat of the Jesuit monks.
In this village you’ll see the fortified residence of the Mavroyenis family and the Marco Sanudo-Frangopoulos-Della Rocca “country” mansion, which bears an inscription commemorating the visit in 1833 of King Otto. The Frankish Karavias tower-house lies behind the hill. A beautiful path starts from Kourounohori to the Archaic Kouros of Melanes, which if you have an hour to spare is the perfect approach to it.
The Kouros of Melanes
Not far from Melanes, at the hamlet of Myli, this ancient Greek youth lies “sleeping” next to a luxuriant vegetable and flower garden. The statue, which is 6.5 m tall, was discovered when the owners of the property were tilling their soil in 1943. It was roughly hewn at the Flerios marble quarry nearby in the 7th or 6th c. BC, but for some reason was never finished or delivered to its intended destination.
Continuing on the road from Kourounohori, you’ll come to Kinidaros, a well-watered village smothered in greenery and known for its musicians and church fairs (panigyria).
The ancient marble quarries are situated a short distance south of Kinidaros, at Flerios. This was the source of the marble from which the skilful Naxian sculptors chiselled so many of the astonishing statues, monuments and architectural ornaments we see today in museums and archaeological sites in many parts of Greece. The famous Lions of Delos, the Treasury of the Naxians at Delphi, the massive kouroi and the delicate Early Cycladic idols are just a few of the countless masterpieces the island’s much sought-after craftsmen bequeathed to humanity.
Panagia Drosiani Monastery
This unusual church lies 20 km from Hora, below the small hill village of Moni. It is one of the oldest and most important Byzantine monuments in Europe. The original monastery was founded in the 6th-7th c.; what we see today is a 10th c. construction. Of the later buildings erected round it in the 12th c., nothing remains. From the outside the church seems a bewildering collection of domes and apses, a result of its eventual union with three adjoining chapels. Its rough-hewn stones give it an almost primitive appearance. Inside, its dark walls are covered with rare frescoes, some of which date back to the period before the Iconoclast Controversy and depict non-stylized human figures. Look for the one portraying the Virgin holding a disk bearing an icon of Christ. Painted at different times, sometimes on overlapping layers, the frescoes range in age from the 9th to 15th c.
A detour off the main road after Halki will take you to this pretty village, which resembles a vast garden, a true paradise with springs and streams, attractive little houses, little churches and a sprinkling of fortified mansions. Next to it a river has carved out a ravine, whose banks are thick with leafy plane trees and other tall venerable trees.
The Area South of Sangri
Just outside Sangri (if you’re coming from Halki), you’ll meet a junction beside a petrol station where you should turn left towards Agiassos. Almost immediately you’ll see looming on your left the austere, almost windowless bulk of the Timios Stavros monastery (16th c.). Although it is sometimes opened for exhibitions, you may have to ask its owners, the Bazaios family who live in one of the nearby houses, for the key. The family also own a collection of ecclesiastical memorabilia which they put on display on the day of the True Cross, September 14.
From there half an hour’s walk will take you to the extremely old, abandoned monastery of the Panagia Kaloreitsa or Kaloritissa (11th-13th c.), built in a stunning setting in a natural cavern on Prophitis Ilias hill. Not only is it interesting architecturally, it has rare post-Byzantine frescoes of the 17th c.
Near Timios Stavros, in a field on the right of the road toward the south, sits the long forgotten domed Byzantine chapel of Agios Artemios, which is decorated with nonfigurative representations of spirals, volutes, leaves and rhomboids dating from the period of the Iconoclasts (8th-9th c.).
Two kilometres further, the road leads to the partially restored Archaic temple of Demeter (6th c. BC), which was used for ceremonial rites. Climbing the steps of a beautifully paved and landscaped path, you’ll arrive at the temple where the restoration work is continuing. Some of the finds from the site and from Early Christian churches in the vicinity can be seen in the new museum to the left of the temple. Nearby, the Byzantine chapel of Agios Ioannis Theologos was erected using marble from the temple. The road from the temple of Demeter continues to the Gyroula district and will lead you to the south of Ano Sangri.
Built on a wooded hill with a pleasant view, this village boasts windmills, picturesque houses and important Byzantine and Venetian monuments. In the village itself is the old deserted monastery of Agios Eleftherios, which was once a considerable religious and intellectual centre. Not far to the north of the village, over a rutted lane, stands the restored Palaiologos tower (17th c.). The owners are usually in residence in August and may allow you to see the interior, giving you a fascinating glimpse of another era.
Church of Agios Mamas (9th c.)
Situated approximately midway between Sangri and Galanado. To get there you’ll have to walk on the only path for about 45 minutes; the uphill return will take about an hour. If you stop on the right side of the road underneath the sign, you’ll be able to make out this pretty church in the valley below some 2 kilometres away. Of enormous interest architecturally, it is dedicated to Agios Mamas, the patron saint of shepherds. This cross-in-square-type church is one of the oldest on the island and contains some noteworthy frescoes. It is said that it was the Orthodox cathedral until 1207, when the Franks converted it into a Catholic church. The building next to Agios Mamas was the country estate/residence of the Latin bishops of Naxos.
This imposing 17th c. fortified mansion commands the hillside above Galanado and the fertile Livadia plain with a view of Hora and the sea. It belonged to the Venetian lord of the district and may be visited in summer with the owner’s permission. Next to the mansion you’ll see the charming little “twin” church of Agios Ioannis. One of its chapels is Orthodox, the other Catholic.
Sanctuary of Iria
West of the road linking Galanado with the village of Glinado, off the road between Hora and the airport and next to the Naxos Holiday hotel, there is a decent dirt road that will take you to the ruins of the once important ancient shrine of Iria (ca. 1.5 km). The original structure was most probably built in the 7th c. BC and expanded a century later.
Although it is not known to which deity the sanctuary was dedicated, some say it belonged to Dionysos. It remained in use through Roman times.
FROM NAXOS TOWN TO APOLLONAS
This route follows the rugged coastline of northwest Naxos and will give you the chance to discover remote monasteries, romantic tower-houses and delightful coves.
Chrysostomos Monastery (17th c.)
This convent 3 km outside Hora is easily accessible from the road. A solid, fortified complex, it has a marvellous view of the sea and the Hora. It possesses a supposedly miraculous icon of St. Chrysostom. Near the convent is a chapel called Theologaki, a photographer’s delight since it has been carved out of a cave on a rocky knoll. The roadcomes to within 200 metres of it.
Ypsilis Monastery or Angelakopoulos tower (16th c.)
The monastery was built in 1660 by the Kokkos family. It has an exceptionally interesting interior and was initially dedicated to the Panagia Ypsilotera (Our Lady in the Highest). Because of its virtually impregnable design — it is the most heavily fortified building on the island — it was often used as a fortress-refuge where the Naxians sought refuge from pirates. And when the country people rose up against the Venetians, it was also here that they fled for protection.
The interior is divided into two levels around a court or atrium, which is approached by a dark, narrow corridor beginning at the entrance. The other three sides are occupied by cells and storerooms. Rising out of the southwest corner is a cylindrical tower with battlements, embrasures and a platform from where boiling oil could be poured on would-be assailants. The tower communicates with the flat roof via a low door and with the atrium by an internal stone staircase. Mid way down the fourth side of the atrium stands the monastery church, a post-Byzantine chapel. This evocative setting is completed by stone windowsills, ledges and half-moon ogival arches.
Panagia Faneromeni Monastery (17th c.)
You can get here from Ypsilis Monastery by taking the paved road a few kilometres further. Beautiful, dazzling white and in good condition, with stunning interiors, rare icons and a library.
Agias Tower and Monastery
The Agias fortified mansion dominates a strategic point between cape Abrami and Apollonas, controlling the northernmost section of the island. It lies alongside the road on your left; you can’t miss it. Down a short, thickly shaded path from the tower is the tiny church of Agias dedicated to the Virgin, next to a bubbling spring. The low buildings nearby were once monks’ cells. The tower is picturesque but abandoned.
34 km from Hora, on the coast road. Apollonas is a small resort built above a beach on the cove of the same name. Trees shade some of the small simple hotels and rented rooms, while there is also a little mole for boats. The area was known in antiquity for its good quality marble, hewn from the quarries near Emboli or Amboli hill. Many of the most talented sculptors of the day created the marvellous works dedicated to Delos at this spot. A bit to the north of the hill you can still make out the battered remains of a medieval castle called Kalogeros or the Monk.
The Kouros of Apollonas
To see this enormous (11 m) unfinished statue of a young man, follow the signs (or the other sightseers) up a slope on the outskirts of the village. Here stretched out in a hollow surrounded by rocks is the Archaic Kouros (7th-6th c. BC), which is thought to be older than the Melanes Kouros. Why it never left the site remains an enigma.
If you wish to continue as far as Koronos, you can take a look at the emery quarries between Koronos and Lionas. If time is a factor, the return to Hora is shorter and quicker over the coast road. Just before you arrive at the mines, on your left below the road you’ll see the unloading station and warehouses where the emery was delivered. It’s also a favourite spot with the tour buses which stop here to let their passengers feel the weight of the stones with their own hands. Emery is an especially hard mineral, second only to diamonds in strength. The mining of emery was once a source of wealth for the island and many locals worked in the quarries. From here the stones embarked on their aerial journey down to the harbour at Moutsouna and from there to points round the world. Emery used to have many applications in industry (and was particularly used for polishing — remember the emery board?); today however artificial materials have taken its place. The funicular line with its buckets is still standing. When it stopped operating in 1989, large quantities of emery were left abandoned in the warehouses.
THE SUMMER RESORTS OF SOUTHWEST NAXOS
An immense, almost unbroken beach extends from Hora for more than 25 kilometres until it finally ends at Agiassos. Most of this coastline consists of delightful sandy coves, big and small.