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 gneiss landscape
The Apáno Kástro is located on one of the peaks (of 422 m) of a peculiar gneiss landscape that makes up this area of the island. The gneiss was formed about 20 million years ago (in the Miocene), when in central Naxos liquid magma penetrated into higher strata of the earth’s crust due to the large-scale stretching of the Aegean region. The heat from that magma caused the transformation (metamorphosis) of the overlaying rocks into gneiss. Gneiss has a similar composition to granite, but has a distinct, curved or wavy banding. The gneiss erodes to a coarse-grained sand, especially in moist, shady places, but sometimes also on the exposed tops, where the crystals are shattered by the intense heat during the day. In some places, the rock surface erodes so quickly that no lichens can grow. Less exposed areas of the gneiss are usually densely covered by lichens.
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.
Gneiss can be recognized by its (here very fine) banding, which is not straight, but bent or wavy.
The rocks are densely covered with lichens, especially on the shady sides. Here a rock tripe (Umbilicaria spec.).
looking north, in the background mount Kóronos
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.
At this chapel of St. Panteleimonas one has to leave the path and climb more or less cross-country up the hill. In front of the chapel lies a deep well.
The outer fortress
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.
The upper surrounding wall is only partially preserved.
The fact that the walls and buildings have decayed so much is partly due to the rapid weathering of the rock. The intensity of the erosion can be gathered from the fact that rock surfaces like these are often completely free from lichens.
This building is one of the best preserved of the castle complex; here, too, however, the outer side of the building has collapsed.
A carved decoration is preserved at the windows.
In front of the building lies a millstone.
Of the wall of the courtyard nearly only the bow remains standing.
This tiny chapel (Mórphosis) is located on the south side below the fortress.
These ruins give the impression that they are older than the Venetian buildings.
Many of the stones are densely overgrown with lichens. This small fruticose lichen belongs to the species Roccella phycopsis.
In this larger church (Panagía Kastrianí) the south side has broken away. Note the antique marble stones on the left front door.
Towards the west, sheltered by a rock, lies a lookout towards the Chóra.
The beautiful view is actually one of the best reasons to visit the Apáno Kástro, here to the west over the valley of Potamiá and the Chóra in the background.
The main fortress
The main fortress on the hilltop covers an area of about 120 by 50 meters. It is protected by strong and high walls, of which, however, only small parts are preserved. The well-protected ascent to the main fortress lies on the south side of the hill. In this main part of the Kástro a number of buildings are preserved. Near the entrance lie the ruins of a large church, while a larger building on the east side is interpreted as a palace. Furthermore, there are at least three cisterns.
the well protected ascent to the upper fortress
In this area the walls are in some places still in quite a good condition.
The best preserved building of the upper fortress is a large church.
Here as in many churches some antique marble stones were used.
Sometimes one can see in the walls (as in many Byzantine and Venetian buildings) tuff-like stones, probably not from Naxos, but possibly from Santorini.
The church from the east. On the left in the foreground you can see one of the cisterns of the fortress.
The cisterns are plastered on the inside with a pink-looking plaster, which contains many finely ground potsherds. In the middle again an antique marble stone.
On the north side of the fortress the surrounding wall is quite well preserved. The corner built with neatly carved corner stones seen here is the most carefully crafted part of the whole fortress.
view from the top to the lower fortress area with its churches
view of the barbican from above
view over the Tragaía
On our way back we pass by the church of Panagía Kastrianí. The whole south side of the building has collapsed; some of the material looks like it has freshly fallen down.
East of the hill of the Apáno Kástro lies a rather level terrain with old terraces. Here the view back up to the fortress.