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Friday, 11 April 2008 16:50

Naxos

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Naxos island, is the largest of the Greek Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. The island's highest point is Mount Zeus, which is about 1,003 m in elevation.

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The 428-square-kilometre island forms an eparkhia ("eparchy"). The capital and chief port, Naxos, on the west coast, is on the site of ancient and medieval capitals. In ancient times, Náxos was famous for its wines and was a centre of the worship of the god Dionysus. According to legend, Dionysus found Ariadne asleep on the island's shore after she had been deserted by Theseus. the earliest Greek colony in Sicily, founded by Chalcidians under Theocles (or Thucles) about 734 BC. It lay on the east coast, south of Tauromenium (modern Taormina), just north of the mouth of the Alcantara River, on what is now Cape Schisò.

naxos_horaport Although there were already native Sicels at Tauromenium, they cannot have offered much opposition. The adoption of the name of Naxos, after the island in the Aegean Sea, may show that there were Naxians among its founders. It soon founded other colonies at Leontini and Catana, which became far more important. After 461 BC Naxos was in opposition to Syracuse, allied with Leontini (427) and Athens (415). In 403 it was destroyed by Dionysius I, tyrant of Syracuse, and its territory given to the Sicels. Its Greek exiles at last found refuge in 358 at Tauromenium. Scanty traces of its walls are to be seen. Náxos was inhabited in the early Bronze Age by Cretans, Carians, and Thessalians. The island's artists played an important role in the development of Archaic sculpture. In the 7th and 6th centuries BC, a white, deep-grained marble was exported for statuary, contributing much to the island's prosperity. During the 6th century BC the tyrant Lygdamis ruled Naxos in alliance with the tyrant Peisistratus of Athens. In 490 the island was captured by the Persians and treated with severity; Naxos deserted Persia in 480, joining the Greeks at the Battle of Salamis and then joining the Delian League.

After revolting from the league in 471, Naxos was immediately captured by Athens, which controlled it until 404. In AD 1207 a Venetian captured Naxos, initiating the duchy of Naxos, which flourished until captured by the Turks in 1566. In 1770 the island was occupied by the Russians. Regained by the Turks in 1774, it joined the Greek kingdom in 1830 at the conclusion of the War of Greek Independence. The fertile and well-watered valleys of Naxos produce outstanding white wine, citron, and citrus, but the chief export is emery. The inhabitants of the island are mainly Eastern Orthodox, though the island has a Roman Catholic archbishop and several convents. Excavations of a Mycenaean settlement have been made at Grotta, north of the capital. Interesting sightseeing in Naxos are: The Venetian Castle overlooks Naxos town and welcomes every visitor who approaches the port.

It was built in 1207 by Marco Sanoudo in order to house the catholic population of the island. It has two gates available, Paraporti (Side Door) and Trani Porta (Great Door), on the side where the engraving of a Venetian yard are obvious. In the interior the ruins of the mansions belonging to Frankish families are saved, from the 14th and 15th century, while from the fortification with the loopholes only the restored Pirgi's castle remains, inside of which is housed a Byzantine Museum. Inside the Castle also lie the School and the Monastery of Ursulines, the Capuchins Monastery, a remarkable Archaeological Museum, the Catholic Cathedral, the Commercial School, the Capella Casagia, Marco Sanudo's Tower and the Catholic Episcopal Edifice. The view to Hora and the ocean from the Castle is breathtaking. The church of Panagia Apirathitissa lies in the picturesque Apiranthos village. It is one of the most remarkable and oldest churches on the island. In its interior, what stands out is the excellent marble screen with the wonderful decoration and the old post-Byzantine icons. naxos_town

Fragopoulou Tower is situated in Halkio village 16 km south-east of Naxos town, built within a fertile garden. It is an imposing fortress with strong walls surrounding a high castle with loopholes. It has been used as the

habitation of the lords of the Melans feud, while the inscription on its marble table informs us that king Otho was Fragopoulos's guest in 1833. The famous "Portara", the emblem of Naxos, overlooks the port's entrance on the Palatia islet. Built on such a site which stares at the sacred island of Delos, it first impresses the visitor with its large size which is 3.5 m long and 6 m high. It constitutes the entrance of an incomplete ancient temple of Apollo that had begun construction on this site, in 530 BC by Naxos's tyrant Lygdamis. On Palatia's islet, there was once a powerful fortress where it is believed the Milesians and Erythreans besieged the city of Naxos, while according to mythology, Theseus abandoned Ariadne there who was later found by Dionysus and he married her. During the 5th-6th century BC a Christian basilica on Palatia was built and the church was plundered so the castle could be built with its marbles, while only Portara with its imposing size remained as witness to its glorious past.

Naxos sits at the heart of the main central Cyclades group of Greek islands. Its position puts it at the heart of the Greek island ferry system and Naxos, along with its neighbour Paros, is often thought of as the hub for Greek island ferry hopping. Naxos is a big island but

most tourist accommodation is confined to the south west coast.

Visitors expect the best beaches in the Med - that's what the brochures promise - and beaches it certainly has. The whole of the south west coast is one long blonde swathe of sand. Unfortunately much of it is coarse and gritty and many beaches are backed by flat, desolate salt marsh. Inland Naxos has some impressive mountain scenery, particularly around Mt Zas the highest peak in the Cyclades. Abundant springs and rich soil result in dense valleys of citrus and olive. Inland villages are, for the most part, shabby and workaday dull. The island's rich, agricultural heritage has meant the islanders have not needed to make too many concessions to tourism and Naxos maintains a strong Greek island identity, taking to tourism on its own terms. For those looking for a beach holiday with opportunities for easy island hopping this is a Greek island to consider.

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Chora, the capital town of Naxos is the gateway to the Cyclades and has the doorway to prove it. The gigantic and somewhat creepy marble frame stands 21 ft high on the tiny Palatia island linked to the town by a short causeway. The frame is all that remains of what was meant to be a colossal 6th century BC temple to either Dionysus (wine god) or Apollo (sun god) depending on which guide you read. It was never finished and all you get now is this majestic old tooth sticking out of the sea.

naxos_venetian_casttle It is worth a visit both for the creepy feeling of standing in a giant doorway to nowhere and for some nice views of the town itself. To the north of the causeway is the Grotta area - once the site of the original town now sunk beneath the waves. To the south is Naxos itself - a happy mix of the brash (vulgar tavernas, bars, car rentals and tourist tat strung along the waterfront), the twee (an intricate web of whitewashed back streets stuffed with craft and curio shops) and the historic (claustrophobic alleyways that wind up to the Venetian kastro on top of the hill and no less than 45 Byzantine churches). Further south is a suburban sprawl of hotels and studios that back onto the long town beach of Agios Giorgios.

The waterfront is a promenaders' paradise with an extensive and attractive sea wall pocked with small, semicircular benches, dozens of street tavernas packed alongside with shops behind and a prosaic but interesting harbour at the end of it. What strikes you is the liveliness of the place. A fun fair can be in town or a street festival under way - this place is never dull it seems. Tiny alleys lead off the front and up the hill through cobbled whitewashed alleys to the 13th century kastro. Expect to get lost in this marble paved warren with its arched porticoes, crumbling mansions, gorgeous flowerpot gardens and street tavernas. The kastro has a catholic cathedral and a good museum. Exhibits include some early Cycladic goddesses with prominent breasts, bellies and pubes as well as some stunning views of the town from the balcony. Naxos may have its crappy tourist glitz but it all seems contained somehow and essentially Greek despite having grown fourfold in the last ten years on the back of the tourist bonanza. Tourists are more tolerated than touted and I am not surprised to learn that more visitors stay longer here that any other tourist resort in Greece.

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Virtually the whole of the south east coast is one line of beaches many linking into each other with only the names of nearest villages to separate them. So me are huge swathes of sand backed by dunes and bamboo, others narrow slivers that shelve steeply into the sea. Generally the further south you go the bigger and wilder the beaches get. The most characteristic image of Naxos is the great gate just outside Chora. The locals call it the Portara - the great door, and it is the most photographed spot on the island. The gate was built in the 6th century BC by order of the tyrant Legdames. It was to be a temple to the god Apollo, but the building was abandoned when war broke out between Naxos and Samos. Later, Christians built a church on top of the unfinished temple.A very good time to go to the gate is in the evening when you will get to see a fantastic sunset. You can also see Paros from here. Parts of the temple were also used to build the castro in Chora. The castro is dominating the Old town, all its little streets lead to it. The archaeological museum of Naxos is well worth a visit. It is located at the commercial school and used to be a place where catholic monks had a school.

naxox_apollo_temple The famous Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba the Greek, The last Temptation of Christ) stayed here for a while. The Metropolitan church of Ag Nicodemus and Nectarius was built 1780-87 which was built partly with ancient remains. It holds a priceless New Testament which was given to the church by Catherine of Russia according to tradition. The church of Ag Kyriaki used to be where the hidden school was held during the Turkish rule. Just outside the village Galanado stands the Tower of Belonia. Next to it is the church of St John, which is half Catholic, half Orthodox. At the village Vivlos or Tripodes stand windmills. In Prompona a good local wine is worth a try. At the village Ano Sagri is the monastery of Ag Eletheriou, which used to be a hidden school during the Turkish rule. Another monastery is dedicated to St. John, and here excavations indicate that there used to be a 6th century BC temple to the goddess Demeter here. You can also visit the Castro of Apalyrou.

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The village Apiranthos is also called the marble village, since many buildings and streets here are made of marble. It has many beautiful buildings, and you can go to the tower of Zevgoli from the 17th century and the tower of Bardani. There is also a small museum here with various findings from the east part of the island. You should also try the local wine. At the village Flerio there is a 7th century statue lying on the ground. It is a kouros, or boy, with a height of 6,40 meters. If you want to climb the Za (Zeus) mountain this is the place to start. You can also take a two hour walk from here to the ruins of the monastery Fotoides. The Byzantine capital of Naxos was Halci, and there are still venetian castles there as well as the oldest lemon distillery of the island. At the village Moni you can visit the monastery of the Virgin Mary with its old wallpaintings. The village Koronida or Komiaki is the highest village on the island, built at 700 meters above the sea level. The village Apollona has the remains of an ancient temple to Apollo, with a ten meter statue lying on the ground. From Galini you can go to the monastery of the Highest Virgin Mary (Panagias tis Ypsiloteras) which is also called Tower of Agelakopoulou, which was the surname of the last owner. In the 17th century this was a monastery. From here, the people of Naxos fought both Venetians and pirates. Close to Agios Arsenios is a 17th century monastery to St John as well as the oldest church on the island: Ag Mamas from the 9th century.

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