The cottages Azalas on Naxos

On the quiet east coast of the island of Naxos we rent four beautifully designed, fully equipped cottages, each 60 m2, suitable for 2 adults and 1 – 2 children. Built in the traditional style of local marble and stone, they are situated directly on the Aegean Sea in between vineyards and olive trees. Each cottage has its own terrace with a breathtaking view of the sea, of Cape Stavros and the surrounding islands.

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The Cave Kako Spilaio at Mount Koronos

There are many caves on Naxos, but most of them are inaccessible, hidden and quite small. The most famous cave is the one of Mount Zeus, which has been used by the island’s inhabitants for thousands of years and whose archaeological investigation has yielded interesting finds.

On the slope of the Kóronos, the northern mountain range of the island, lies another noteworthy cave, the Kakó Spílaio (“Bad Cave”). In ancient times, Mount Kóronos was dedicated to Dionysus, god of fertility. The mountain was then called Driós, as an ancient inscription proves. The ancient myths mention that Dionysus was raised on Mount Driós by the three nymphs Koronis, Filia and Kleio. Dionysus regarded the island of Naxos as his home and Mount Driós as his residence. In ancient times, Dionysus and his entourage were worshipped in the cave, where clay statuettes of the god Pan and of nymphs were found.

The area of Mount Kóronos is mostly made up of granite, which results in a very different character from Mount Zeus (which is made up of marble). Due to the less penetrable granite bedrock, on Mount Kóronos the rainwater does not disappear into the underground as in the areas with marble, but flows off on the surface, feeding numerous springs and small streams. In addition, in winter as well as in summer, due to the north wind Mount Kóronos is very often shrouded in clouds, so that it is much more humid than Mount Zeus – the right place for a god of fertility! Large oak and chestnut forests are said to have existed on Mount Kóronos until the Middle Ages. These have disappeared today, and now only a low heath grows here, but the area still has a very special charm unique to Naxos.

In the past, large oak forests are said to have grown on humid Mount Kóronos. Today, the top is covered with a special, charming heath. Even today, the place radiates a magic that suggests the presence of the god of fertility Dionysus, to whom the mountain was dedicated in ancient times.

The Kakó Spílaio cave is located in a steep valley northwest of the top of Mount Kóronos; it lies approximately in the middle of this picture.

The cave is situated at the foot of a steep rock face; the entrance is low, so that it is hardly visible from a distance.

the entrance to the cave from the other side

The cave has several adjacent entrances.

Inside lies a large, low chamber filled with the dung of sheep and goats that come into the cave seeking for shade.

From the entrance of the cave inwards lies a peculiar “corridor” where the roof of the cave is carved out like a vault so that the ceiling is high enough to walk upright (seen in the middle of the previous picture).

In southern direction, inside the mountain, one soon arrives at a subdivision; but one can creep through below the “wall” and thus reach another room.

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The Cave of Mount Zeus

The Cave of Mount Zeus (in Greek: Mount “Zas”) is located at an altitude of 628 metres on the steep western slope of Mount Zeus and can be reached by a short hike from the spring “ton Arión”.

The Cave of Mount Zeus lies high up in the steep valley on the western flank of Mount Zeus.

The entrance was formerly closed by a door which is now missing.

The Cave of Mount Zeus consists of two chambers that are quite easy to reach and a deeper chamber that is less accessible. The first chamber about 35 by 10 metres in size with a height of two to five metres; the next chamber is much larger with 78 by 65 metres and a height of up to 22 metres. It is difficult to move there because the ground is covered with large rocks that have fallen from the roof.

The first chamber is quite large but relatively low.

The ceiling consists of impressive marble blocks.

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The oldest and biggest Olive Tree

Not far from the Temple of Demeter, where the gravel road leading to the Fortress of Apalírou begins, one can visit an ancient spring (Brysi Adisárou) in a small valley covered with plane trees.

This small path leads to the spring Brysi Adisárou.

The ancient spring has recently been restored. It has water all year round.

Nearby lies this small new chapel of Ágios Isídoros.

But what makes this place really worth a visit is an ancient olive tree, the diameter of which is much larger than that of the supposedly oldest olive tree in Kolymbari in Crete. It is difficult to determine the age of an olive tree, because they don’t usually form regular growth rings, and because in old trees the trunk is often hollowed out or has been replaced by younger trunks that grow from the same root. Our tree is completely hollowed out inside, as it is often the case with old olives trees. So we have to try to guess its age based on its diameter. The smallest diameter of this Methuselah amounts to 5 metres. In the lagest direction the diameter even reaches more than 10 meters! The circumference of the entire giant amounts to almost 24 metres.

Here is our gigantic olive tree. Inside, the giant is completely hollowed out, which often happens with old olive trees. It looks like separate trunks standing in a circle, but all trunks are in fact the same tree. We look either at what is left over of a trunk that has fallen apart, or more likely the original tree trunk has disappeared completely and what we see today are “new” shoots grown in a circle out of the root. However that may be, the size of the root shows the tree’s true size even after the trunk has been lost.

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The ancient Water Pipe from Melanes to the Chora

The Chóra, the main settlement of Naxos, has been inhabited since the Neolithic period, i.e. for over 6,000 years. During the Bronze Age and in ancient times an important settlement existed in the area of the Chóra, of which numerous remains have been found in excavations. In the Archaic period, a water pipe was built that lead from the springs at Flerió, near the village of Mélanes, to the Chóra, to supply the inhabitants with water.

The water pipe was in use from the 6th century BC to the 8th century AD. During the Roman period, the old water pipe consisting of clay tubes was replaced by an open canal. The water pipe starts at about 200 meters above sea level and has a length of 11 kilometers. The average gradient of 2% is quite large for an ancient water pipe. Similar, albeit much longer and more elaborate water pipes were built at the same time in other areas of Greece, such as Athens and Samos. Lygdamis, the tyrant of Naxos, who ruled the island towards the end of the Archaic epoch, knew the tyrants of the two cities mentioned – so it seems likely that the Naxian water pipeline was built under Lygdamis.

The springs of Flerió lie in the vicinity of the Koúros of Mélanes. Even today the adjacent valley has plenty of water all year round and high plane trees and oleander grow here.

The springs of Flerió lie a little to the left outside of the picture, behind the chain of hills in the middle of the picture. The water pipe runs from there through a tunnel into the valley in the middle of the picture and then along the hills to the Chora, which lies behind the hills on the right in the background of the picture.

The water pipe was built during the Archaic period in the 6th century BC, when the sanctuary and the quarries of Flerió were in use. The pipe consisted of carefully manufactured clay tubes of exactly the same size, which were stuck into each other; the joints were closed with mortar. Over the centuries, the clay pipes became clogged with lime, so that in places a new pipeline was built just above the old one. During the Roman period, the clogged clay pipe was replaced by an open brick canal that followed the same route.

Along the road to Kourounochóri several sections of the ancient water pipe are encountered; above the clay pipeline traces of the later open canal can be seen.

Here a long section of the water pipe is preserved.

The water pipe consists of clay tubes of exactly the same size.

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The Mycenaean Tholos tomb at Komiaki

On Naxos exist only relatively few testimonies from the Mycenaean period (approx. 1,700 to 1,150 BC). One of them is the Mycenaean tholos tomb (dome tomb) near Komiakí, one of only three tholos tombs discovered in the Cyclades.

Tholos tombs are typical for the Mycenaean period in Greece. During this epoch most people were buried in sometimes richly equipped shaft or chamber graves; in addition, however, the much more elaborate tholos tombs now appear, which were reserved for the local rulers (lords). The Mycenaean tholos tombs are large stone constructions; they consist of a round chamber with a false dome and a straight passage leading to this chamber. The dome vault is created by the stones protruding inwards towards the top (false dome); a larger stone slab is sometimes used as a cap stone. The domed tombs were often immersed in the ground and always covered by a large heap of earth or stone. The Mycenaean tholos tombs have very different sizes from 1.9 to 15 m inner diameter.

The tholos tomb of Naxos is located near the village of Komiakí in the north of the island in one of the most fertile and green mountain valleys. With an inner diameter of 3.3 m and a height of 2.4 m it belongs to the small tholos tombs.

View to the village of Komiakí in the north of Naxos; the Mycenaean tholos grave is located on the right side of the picture next to the village.

The valley of Komiakí is one of the greenest and most fertile areas of Naxos. The tholos grave is situated in a wine terrace called “Axós” (in the middle of the picture).

The tholos tomb lies under the trees visible in the foreground. Originally, it was completely covered by earth. In 1908 it was discovered by a farmer who worked the field. It . During the excavation no artifacts were found except a few fragments of unadorned, simple pottery: The grave was probably already looted in antiquity.

Tholos tombs consist of a dome-shaped burial chamber covered with a mound of earth or stone and a passage leading to it. Here you can see the 3 m long passage into the burial chamber. On the left you can see a terrace wall of the vineyard.

View into the burial chamber. The large stone covering the entrance is visible; it is 1.5 m long. The east-facing entrance was only 1.15 metres high.

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The Geometric Cemetery at Tsikalario

Near the village of Tsikalarió lies an ancient cemetery from the Geometric period (11th to 8th century BC), not far from the Venetian fortress Apáno Kástro. It is located within the granite landscape between the valley of Potamiá and the Tragaía and can be reached by a nice walk if you know how to find the way.

From the village of Tsikalarió it is a short walk to the Geometric cemetery.

An indistinct path leads from the last houses of the village into the granite landscape around Apáno Kástro and to the small plain where the ancient graves are located.

In the beginning of May the sage-leaved rock rose is in bloom.

If you follow the valley to the end, you meet a menhir that marks the entrance to the cemetery.

the menhir with the Tragaía in the background

Towards the other direction one looks from the menhir onto the burial ground. The graves are surrounded by circles of upright stones. Here the largest of the stone circles.

Within this stone circle, smaller structures surrounded by stones can be recognized; these are the former individual graves.

On the little plain to the west lie at least six more stone circles.

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Agios Nikolaos at the Troullo (Komiaki)

The small but intersting Byzantine church of Agios Nikolaos is located below the road from Skadhó to Komiakí, the northernmost of the mountain villages of Naxos. Komiakí lies on the edge of a large fertile and lush valley.

View of Komiaki, in the foreground you can see the church of Agios Nikolaos.

the small Byzantine church of Agios Nikolaos

This area of ​​Naxos has a character of its own: Even in summer clouds often form on the mountains, and in winter the whole area ist frequently shrouded with a dense cloud layer. We visit the Troúllo in mid-September and stand in the fog!

About halfway from Skadhó to Komiakí the mountain bends towards the north forming a protrusion called “Troúllos” (dome). This whole hillside is overgrown with wild scrub or forest that is in some places nearly impenetrable. The road is shaded over by mighty plane trees. Shortly before the plane trees a sign by the roadside “Βυζαντινός Ναός Άγιου Νικολάου” marks the path to the church.

The narrow path leads through a small grove of special charm. On the day of our visit, the picturesque trees and the dense, green undergrowth seem almost enchanted in the mist.

The path to the church is partly overgrown with blackberries, but don’t give up. At a fork you have to turn left. After one or two bends, the forest becomes less dense and the path leads past vineyards that are still in use. And then there it is suddenly, next to a vineyard, the little church of Ágios Nikólaos.

the small single-naved church of Ágios Nikólaos

The interior of the church is only about 5 meters long and 1.5 meters wide. It is built as a simple barrel vault without a dome. The sanctuary is not separated by an iconostasis, but by a simple pillar with two small arches on the sides. In the apse and under the vault old murals are preserved. Unfortunaly they have severely suffered from the moisture in the building, especially on the southern wall.

view of the interior of the church with the murals under the vault, the sanctuary separated by a pillar with arches and the simple apse

On the left side of the church the murals depict Candlemas, the “Presentation” of Jesus Christ forty days after his birth in the Temple of Jerusalem before the two Elders Simeon and Hanna.

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Agios Georgios and Agios Joannis in Sifones

Close to the small abandoned village of Sífones between Moní and Stavrós Keramotís lies one of the numerous Byzantine churches of Naxos, a double-naved church dedicated to Saint Joannis and Saint George. The simple building dates back to the 10th century AD and is adorned with some very well-preserved murals from the 14th-century: It is one of the many small but remarkable Byzantine churches scattered all over the island to attest to the important role that Naxos played also in the Middle Ages. One aspect that makes all these churches so interesting is the fact that they have barely changed over the course of the centuries that have passed since their construction, and that therefore we see them today still more or less in their original state (except for the generally poor condition of the murals).

view of the abandoned village of Sífones

The church is just below the road; a nice path leads through the fields down into the valley.

view from above over the church and the valley of Sífones

the southern nave, dedicated to St. Georgios

Some of the wall paintings are very well preserved. In many places you can see that an attempt has made for their preservation.

This painting probably represents Saint Georgios.

The pictures of the saints made with great care.

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Agios Panteleimonas in Lakkomersina

Southeast of Apíranthos, between the road to Moutsoúna and the road from Danakós to the coast, lies a valley called Lakkomérsina. When we explored that area in November 2011, we discovered a small Byzantine church on the adjacent slope and followed a small footpath to visit it.

View over the valley of Lakkomérsina with mount Zeus in the background. The church of Agios Panteleímonas is located approximately in the middle of the picture.

Here you can see the small Byzantine church.

It is a low, two-aisled church without a dome, with a porch to the west, which results in a curious, almost square building.

As is typical of most small old rural churches, the roof of this church is covered with stone slabs.

Like most churches on Naxos, Ágios Panteleímonas is rather negligently built. These simple small churches are of special interest because – apart from natural decay – they are usually almost entirely in their original, centuries-old state, that is, they have never been reconstructed or renewed.

Like so many other small Byzantine churches hidden in some valley of the island, Ágios Panteleímonas also shows some significant murals: The southern nave is adorned with extensive but (unfortunately!) rather poorly preserved murals.

The nave is decorated on both sides with a series of standing saints. Unfortunately most are not in a very good condition.

These figures are in a better state. Note the garments decorated with beautiful, carefully painted details.

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