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 history of the monastery
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 Venetian tower of Agiá
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.
The walls are built without much care of small, unhewn field stones.
In front of the tower lie a few farm buildings with an old oil press.
The slightly conical cylinder with which the olives were ground was made from a granite block.
The olives were ground on this flagstone using the cylinder.
Here you can see the press.
The monastery of Agiá
From the tower a beautiful path leads to the monastery of Agiá.
Besides the path grows the ivy-leaved cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) which is already out of flower; we only find the pretty leaves.
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. (Who can see Irini?)
one of the many yellow composites that are so hard to identify, probably Leontodon tuberosus.
an edible grape hyacinth: Muscari weissii
This plant is one of the three endemic plant species of Naxos: the comfrey Symphytum naxicola.
It has white flowers and is very hairy. As with all plants of the borage-family it has helical inflorescences.
The monastery church is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. The buildings next to the church are being renovated.
on the way back
The view down towards the sea. In the area of Agiá the slopes are particularly steep. Until some 40 years ago the whole area was cultivated as this is one of the most fertile valleys of Naxos. Today, hardly any fields are used and maintained.