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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Agios Pachomios and Agios Georgios near Apiranthos

In the valley south of Apíranthos, close to the hiking trail that leads to Danakós, lie two old Byzantine churches from the 10th century with comparatively well preserved murals.

The two churches of Agios Georgios and Agios Pachomios are located in the middle of the cultivated plain.

Agios Georgios, the larger of the two churches, consists of two naves. Here the two apses from the outside.

the church complex from the southwest side

The low door of the northern nave is covered by a disproportionately large lintel stone.

Quite a few murals are visible in the church; here one of the better preserved depicting a Saint.

The very small church of Agios Pachomios dates from the 12th century, so it is slightly younger than the other.

This church is still in use and has a typical wooden iconostasis.

Here the murals in the corners above the pillars below the small church dome are best preserved.

On the south wall below the dome a large angel is depicted.

View from the south towards the churches with Apiranthos in the background

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Agia Kyriaki near Apiranthos

A particularly interesting Byzantine monument is the small church of Ágia Kyriakí north of Apiranthos. It dates from the 9th century AD, the time of the iconoclasm. Fortunately, in recent years the building has been restored (from the outside and the inside) at the initiative of the Cultural Association of Apiranthos as a collaboration of Swiss Byzantinologists and the Greek Byzantine Association. Since then it is – regrettably but understandably – locked, so that one can’t see the inside any more.

A beautiful hiking trail leads from Apiranthos to the church of Ágia Kyriakí and further to the emery mines.

The small church is located north of Apiranthos on the hill, which can be seen approximately in the middle of the picture.

It lies above an old, picturesque olive grove.

The small building with two naves dates from the 9th century.

The inside of the church is decorated with remarkable murals from the time of the iconoclasm.

These photos were taken before the restauration of the church. Now the very old, rare murals are cleaned and preserved as best as possible.

The walls of the sanctuary show a number of cocks. This is a very unusual decoration. Similar figures are known only from one or two churches in the Middle East.

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Panagia Drosiani in Moni

The most famous Byzantine church and one of the main attractions of Naxos is the church of Panagía Drosianí near Moní. It dates from the 6th century AD and is one of the oldest churches in Greece. In the late Middle Ages, it was used as a monastery, which gave the name to the nearby village. The church has a unique, rather unusual architecture. The oldest part is a nave with a dome and an apse with three niches (typical for early Christian churches from the 4th to 6th centuries). Unusually, the nave is orientated not towards the east, but towards Jerusalem. To the north, three oblique chapels were added to the church in the Middle Byzantine period, of which the two outer have again three-niched apses. The walls are constructed quite carefully of small, unhewn stones. On the south side, a broad gable for the bells was added in a much later time. Inside, the church is decorated with unusual, very old murals (7th century).

The church of Panagía Drosianí is located in the olive groves below the village of Moní.

The church with its rare and very old murals is an important tourist attraction on Naxos. Inside the church it is forbidden to take pictures; if you want to see the murals, you have to visit the church yourself!

Here the two northern chapels with their domes and in the background the dome of the main church.

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Panagia Chrysopigi near Apiranthos

On a ridge named Korakiá south of Apíranthos lie the ruins of a tiny church called Panagía Chrysopigí. It is a unique, very unusual building. The archaeologist Georgios Mastoropoulos concludes from the smallness of the building and the architecture and masonry which are quite unusual for a church, that the building was not originally built as a church but as a tomb, which may date back to the Mycenaean period.

The church lies about half an hour on foot from Apíranthos, near the pass to Danakós. We hiked there starting at the monastery Fotodótis at Danakós, from where you can reach the church in about 20 minutes via a beautiful hiking trail.

The church of Panagía Chrysopigí lies on the small ridge east of this picturesque oak-covered valley between Apíranthos and Danakós (slightly to the right of the center of the picture).

Here you can see the small church on the marble hill above the oak grove (the picture is taken from the same location as the previous one).

the church of Panagia Chrysopigí from the south

The church consists of two small rooms side-by-side. The ceiling of the building has collapsed.

The northern room has a vestibule (porch) in the west, which is most likely younger than the rest of the building. The entrance to the room is made of large monolithic marble blocks.

View through the entrance into the vestibule and to the monolithic entrance to the main room. The vestibule is 1.65 meters long and mostly built from flat, lying stones.

View through the inner entrance into the 2.75 meter long main room. The building is oriented exactly towards the east.

The masonry of the main room is very unusual: It consists of very large, carefully joined stones, some of which are standing upright. The space narrows upwards as the walls widen inwards.

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The Tower and Monastery of Agia

In the northwest of Naxos, close to the small village of Apóllonas, lies hidden in a secluded lush valley a small monastery called Agiá. Nearby on a hill stands a dilapidated Venetian defense tower.

The Venetian tower of Agiá is located in a sparsely populated corner of northwestern Naxos at about 200 meter above sea level on a small ridge. The Monastery of Agiá lies hidden in the fertile, humid valley beneath it.

The Monastery of Agiá probably dates back to the 11th or 12th century. According to legend, it was founded after peasants found a miraculous icon floating in the sea in the bay below the valley. The main church of the monastery, a basilica with three naves, is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary; next to it lies a small chapel of Saint Lesbia. A Jesuit monk named Lichtle (18th century) reported that the remains of Saint Lesbia, who came from Lesbos and died on Paros in the 9th century, were stolen by people from Ikaria and taken to their island. It seems that the people from Ikaria made a stopover on Naxos in Agiá, which was right on their way, and that due to this the chapel was founded.

During the Venetian period the Monastery of Agiá, like all the Naxian monasteries, was taken over by the Catholic conquerors and only returned to the Orthodox Church at the end of their reign in 1559. The Church then gave the management of the completely impoverished and neglected monastery for half of the proceeds to a Naxian priest.

In 16th or 17th century major alterations were made to the church of the monastery. In addition to the church, 14 cells were gradually built, which, however, were not permanently inhabited by monks, but served mostly for the accommodation of the visitors on the namesday of the church on 15th August: For this festival, one of the most important and oldest on the island, people used to gather from all parts of the island and many of them stayed overnight for two or more days.

The Tower of Agiá, like most of the Venetian defensive towers on Naxos, has a quadrangular layout and three floors. Windows exist only on the top floor; the lower floors have only embrasures. Typical are also the jagged turrets on the roof.

The entrance to the tower lies on the first floor and can only be reached via a steep staircase.

The entrance to the property made of large blocks of marble is very low: Only a child can pass upright through it!

The fortified tower of Agia was inhabited until 1992 when it burned down; since then it lies in ruins. Here you can see the remains of the fireplace on the top floor.

From the tower a beautiful path leads to the monastery of Agiá.

The monastery consists of two churches and some dilapidated cells.

This little chapel is dedicated to Saint Lesbia.

Water is running here all year round.

Behind the monastery grows a particularly large plane tree.

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The Venetian Fortress Apano Kastro

Apart from the Venetian castle in the Chóra of Naxos, there is a second Venetian fortress on the island: the Apáno Kástro near Tsikalarió. It lies on a steep hill between the valley of Potamiá and the fertile plateau of the Tragaía and can be reached via a beautiful hiking trail from the village of Tsikalarió.

The history of the Apáno Kástro

Different versions exist of the history of the castle. Possibly a building or a fortress existed here already in antiquity, but hardly any trace of that remains. According to some sources the Venetian Marco Sanudo, when he conquered Naxos in 1207 AD, first settled on the Apáno Kástro, which according to that version must have existed and been in a habitable state at that time. According to other sources, the fortress was first built by his grandson Marco the Second towards the end of the 13th century firstly as a refuge because of the frequent pirate raids and also to intimidate the population, which tried to revolt against the oppression by the Venetian feudal lords, especially because they did not allow them to practice certain religious customs. Even if Marco II did not build the fortress, he certainly used it and maybe rebuilt or restored it.

The Venetian fortress Apáno Kástro is located in the gneiss landscape between Potamiá and the Tragaía.

The path to the fortress starts in Tsikalarió and passes some farms outside the village.

The Apáno Kástro consists of an outer, lower fortress on the southern slope of the mountain and the main fortress on the hilltop. Of most of the buildings and walls only the foundations are left. Best preserved are the four churches of the castle and the cisterns. In several buildings of the fortress, which stand near the steep edge of the hill, the outer side of the building has broken away because of the rapid erosion of the underground.

The fortress is located on the highest, steep hill of the gneiss area.

On the southern slope of the hill, below the main fortress, lies a larger fortified area with a number of buildings, especially churches. Some of the buildings probably had an agricultural function, as a millstone which lies there suggests. The outer fortress was accessible from the east side; the former entrance is protected by a protruding round tower with embrasures, the barbican.

Below the main fortress on the top of the hill lie several buildings on the southern slope, especially churches.

The former entrance on the flatter eastern slope is protected by a round tower of several storeys with embrasures that look towards all directions (barbican).

one of the embrasures of the Barbican

There are a number of chapels on the Kástro. This chapel, dedicated to St. George, lies on its own on the steep eastern slope.

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The Byzantine Fortress of Apalirou

The most important Byzantine fortress of Naxos is located in the southwest of the island between the small village of Sangrí and the bay of Agiassós. The large castle complex occupies the top of the 450 m high mountain of Apalírou and overlooks one of the largest plains of Naxos. The mountain and the castle got their name from the buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides, gr. apaliriá), which can still be found here today. Today it grows only as a low shrub; in the past, however, it is said that there were whole forests of large trees of the species on Naxos, and the very durable wood was used for roofs and other constructions.

To visit the fortress of Apalírou, one passes Sangrí (coming from the Chóra) and follows the road to Agiassós to the south. After about 1.5 kilometers, one turns left onto a small dirt road and follow it to its end. There one starts the ascent by a sign “Kastro Apalírou”, which stands near the house at the foot of the slope.

view of the mountain of Apalírou from the asphalt road

The path that leads up to the fortress is not very obvious. On the whole, you have to climb diagonally to the right steeply up the slope. It’s best to stick as much as possible to the largest goat path. First one passes through sparse vegetation, then through an open maquis of Phoenicean juniper; in some places there are also small groups of Kermes oak trees.

The first part of the hill is covered by an open maquis, mainly of Phoenicean juniper.

On the first hilltop, the view opens up to the uninhabited valley in the east and to the top of the mountain with the fortress. The path runs southwards over the saddle and then continues diagonally up the steep slope of the mountain. Again, one should try to stay on the widest path, because the steep slope below the fortress is covered in gravel and therefore slippery.

View into the barren valley on the eastern side of the mountain of Apalírou; in the background mount Zeus

On the saddle the view opens towards the fortress of Apalírou, which is proudly perched on the summit.

The slope below the fortress is very steep and rather difficult to ascend. It is littered with rubble with lots of potsherds. In the Middle Ages, the inhabitants of Naxos had given up the harbour towns (like the millennia-old settlement in the Chóra) because of the continuous threat through pirate attacks, and retreated to the sheltered interior of the island. During these times the largest settlement on the island was here in Apalírou. The inhabitants cultivated the large fertile plain below the mountain.

During the Middle Ages the largest settlement on the island lay on the mountain of Apalírou below the fortress. The steep slope below the castle is covered with rubble.

Quite high up on the slope, the path turns back and runs now, rather indistinctly, diagonally to the left, that is towards to the northern part of the castle, where most of the better preserved buildings lie. Approaching from below you can see the impressive defensive wall of several meter height which in its northwestern part is largely intact. In this area there are two walls that are located directly above each other. In this area the foundation of a large round tower belonging to the outer wall has been preserved. Traces of other towers can also be detected. Within the area of the fortress lies a whole series of buildings and many large and small cisterns. An accurate mapping of Castle of Apalírou has been carried out since 2010 by archaeologists from the Universities of Oslo and Newcastle. Within the perimeter walls, especially on the west side of the hill, a large number of buildings (at least 75 houses) were found, a total of 40 to 50 cisterns, two church complexes and a monastery. The houses had a sewer system and were sometimes two storeys high. The fortress of Apaírou is by far the largest such complex of its time in the Cyclades.

Directly above the lowest defensive wall lies this second wall, which is reinforced with bastions. Behind it lie several buildings.

This large, well-preserved cistern is built from raw stones in the shape of a barrel vault. From the inside the walls are plastered.

It is mid-September and the first bulbous plants are in bloom, here the delicate Prospero autumnale.

Looking towards the northwest over the wide plain which ist still today cultivated with grain. Approximately in the middle of the picture lies the Temple of Demeter, to the right the village of Sangrí. In the background the villages of Ágios Prokópios and Ágia Ánna are visible.

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