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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The Hellenistic Tower of Chimarrou

South of Filóti, on the road to Kalandós, one can visit an interesting ancient tower from the Hellenistic period (3rd century BC). It lies at 340 m altitude on the low hills southwest of mount Zeus, in a hilly landscape that seems dry and barren in the summer, but in spring is covered with lush green. It can be assumed that the whole area was used for agriculture in antiquity; since the Bronze Age, this area of ​​Naxos was particularly densely populated.

The Tower of Chimárrou stands on a low elevation surrounded by higher hills.

The area seems dry and barren in the summer. In spring, however, many valleys and slopes are covered in a surprisingly lush green.

The architecture of the tower

The Tower of Chimárrou has a round shape as most of the other Hellenistic towers of the Cyclades. Its inner diameter is 7.2 meters. The walls are about one meter thick, which results in an outer diameter of over 9 meters. Towards the top, the tower gets a little thinner. It is preserved up to a height of 15 meters (about 40 rows of stones of 30 to 50 cm height). Originally, it was probably made up of five floors. The top floor and about half of the next one have collapsed, presumably due to lightning. We don’t know whether the tower once had a pointed roof or a roof terrace.

The Tower of Chimárrou dates from the 3rd century BC. It served as a place of retreat and defense for a small settlement to which the residents could withdraw during an attack.

The walls of the tower are about one meter thick and consist of an outer wall of larger stones and an inner wall of smaller stones. Both walls are connected by transversal stones (every third or fourth row consists alternately of running and transversal stones, the latter being almost square or a bit wider from the outside).

Here on can see in some of the rows approximately square stones lying between the oblong “running” stones: These are the transversal stones that connect the inner and the outer wall. The tower has been encased in a scaffold since 2004; the picture dates from the time before that.

The entrance with its thick lintel is located on the weather-protected southern side of the tower.

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The Bronze Age Acropolis in Panormos

Near the bay of Pánormos at the southeastern tip of Naxos lies on a low hill called Korfári ton Amygdalión (= hill of the almond trees) a small Bronze Age acropolis (= fortress). It consists of about twenty tiny rooms and is surrounded by a wall which is reinforced by small bastions. The walls of the houses and the protective wall are preserved in most places only up to about knee level. The acropolis was excavated in the 1960s by Greek archaeologists under Chr. Doumas.

The Acropolis of Pánormos is probably the oldest building on Naxos. It dates from the Early Bronze Age (about 2,300 BC) and is thus almost four and a half thousand years old. The acropolis lies on a small flat hill which offers only little natural protection. The environment is quite fertile and was cultivated until very recently with wheat and barley. The acropolis is located very close to one of the island’s bays that are best protected from the predominating northern winds. Due to its location behind a hilltop it can hardly be seen from the sea. Around the Acropolis grow wild almond trees (Prunus webbii), after which the hill is named (amygdalo = almond).

The wild almond trees that grow here gave the hill Korfári ton Amygdalión its name.

The small size of the rooms of the Acropolis of Pánormos (1.2 x 1.4 m to 2.5 x 3.5 m) suggests that it was only a refuge and not a permanent settlement. This is confirmed by the fact that no tools of domestic use were found in the fortress during the excavation. (However, the acropolis was destroyed during an assault – any tools could also have been taken away by the fleeing inhabitants or by the conquerors.)

The layout of the Acropolis is irregular and depends on the structure of the underground. The small rooms and the narrow passages in between are only approximately rectangular. The surrounding wall is one to two meter wide and forms seven irregular bastions, which protect especially the flatter northern side. The single entrance is only 80 centimeter wide. A series of steps leads up to it. The walls, as far as they are preserved, consist of unprocessed stones which are put together without much care using a mortar made of earth. The whole complex is built of stones from the immediate vicinity. The roofs are believed to have been simple constructions of wood, reed and stamped earth.

Die Acropolis von Panormos
The Acropolis of Pánormos is located on a small, flat hill of only 63 meters height that lies amidst abandoned crop fields.

Die Acropolis von Panormos
The entrance is protected by two small bastions.

Die Acropolis von Panormos
The outer wall is reinforced by several irregular bastions of this kind.

Die Akropolis von Panormos
The the fortress is made up of about 20 small rooms with narrow passageways in between.

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The ancient inscription at Apollonas

The village of Apóllonas was named after an antique inscription which lies on a marble cliff on the southern side of the hill with the ancient marble quarry in which the famous Kouros, a gigantic, unfinished marble statue, lies. The inscription reads: “OROS CHORIOU IEROU APOLLONOS” (border of the sacred district of Apollo). The whole hill with its marble quarry was thus dedicated to the god of light and the arts.

View towards Apóllonas; the hill with the marble quarry can be seen on the left. The inscription is located at the top of the hill.

To get to the inscription, you have to climb a fence and then mount this slope.

The ancient sculptors always made their inscriptions on vertical or slightly overhanging marble surfaces, preferably protected from the rain.

ΟΡΟΣ ΧΟΡΙΟΥ ΗΕΡΟΥ ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΟΣ (the right spelling is actually “ΙΕΡΟΥ” – an error?)

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The ancient marble quarry at Apollonas

Close to the small village of Apóllonas, at the northern tip of Naxos, lies the island’s main antique marble quarry. It is located on a small hill to the southwest of the village that consists of very good, white, fine-grained marble from which many statues have been made. One of these statues lies unfinished in the quarry, the gigantic Kouros.

im antiken Steinbruch bei Apollonas
view from the quarry towards Apóllonas

The quarry of Apóllonas was probably in use as far back as the Mycenaean period, and marble was mined here for many centuries. It may be the oldest marble quarry in Greece. Mineralogical research has revealed that numerous statues come from this quarry, not only those found on Naxos, but also in Delos, the Acropolis of Athens and even in Delphi. Certainly material from this quarry has been used for the temples on Naxos and Delos. Especially in the Archaic period large quantities of marble must have been mined here. The tyrant Lygdamis (from 538 BC) ensured that the quarry was nationalized; however, after that its importance soon diminished as, with the development of technology, the underground quarries in Paros and Pendelis near Athens could be exploited more effectively, whose marble was finer and thus more suitable for sculpturing.

im antiken Steinbruch bei Apollonas
The whole hill is covered with big boulders of good quality marble.

Here a block has been removed for instance for a statue.

Of particular interest is a rock just above the Kouros (to be reached unfortunately only by climbing over a fence and many thorny bushes). Here one can see clearly how the ancient masters removed larger blocks of marble.

From this rock, the ancient builders removed several large marble blocks.

To remove a block, first a long line of deep, narrow holes were drilled in its “back” into the rock. Then from the front, that is the “free” side, at the lower edge wedges were driven into the marble until the block broke off as a whole.

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