The Kouros of Apollonas

In an ancient quarry near the village Apóllonas in the north of Naxos lies a large, unfinished marble statue, the Kouros. On the whole hill many traces of the marble quarrying are still visible today, and another smaller statue lies inaccessibly in the scrub under the road.

der Kouros von Apollonas
the Kouros of Apollonas

beim Kouros von Apollonas
view from the Kouros to the village of Apollonas

The quarry in which the Kouros is located is one of the most important marble quarries of the early Archaic period, not only on Naxos, but also in the wider area. It was in use probably from the Mycenaean to the Classical period and it might well be the oldest marble quarry in Greece. Marble blocks and statues from the quarry of Apóllonas are not only found on Naxos, but also on Delos, in the Acropolis and even in Delphi.

der Kouros von Apollonas
All over the hill lie outcroppings of good white marble, some of which still show traces of processing.

The Kouros is an extraordinarily large statue: It is over 10 meters long, and thus even slightly larger than the Colossus of Delos, a statue representing the god Apollo, the largest marble statue ever erected in Greece, which also came from Naxos.

The Kouros lies on his back and has been roughly shaped: Head, legs and arms are clearly visible. The finer carving was probably made only when the statue had been transported to its destination, so that damage during transport could be avoided as much as possible.

der Kouros von Apollonas

Most likely the statue should depict the god Dionysus, the main god of the island (recognizable, for example, by the beard).

der Kouros von Apollonas

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The Kouroi of Melanes

Close to the village of Mélanes lies a hill with marble of high quality that has been quarried since antiquity. The marble was used for the construction of buildings as well as for statues. Not too far away, marble is still being quarried today on a large scale. The area of Mélanes was inhabited since the Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC), and its marble may have been used since then. Right next to the area of the antique marble quarry an excavated Sanctuary of the springs and the protector gods of the quarry can be visited.

The peak time for the use of the quarry was during the 7th and 6th centuries BC (archaic period), but marble was also mined during the rest of antiquity. This quarry is one of the oldest in Greece. The island of Naxos was one of the first places in Greece to develop monumental marble sculpturing. From here techniques of marble processing and temple architecture were exported to the neighboring islands and to other parts of Greece. Today the area of the ancient quarry is most known and visited for the two unfinished antique kouroi (plural of gr. Koúros = statue of a young man) that still lie in the quarry. The colossal, 9 meter high marble statue of Apollo in Delos, the largest kouros ever erected, also came from here.

View over area of ​​the ancient quarry. One kouros lies in the middle of the picture in the small incision in the vegetation, the other to the upper left in a small brown area on the slope.

part of the ancient quarry

One can still see traces of the marble quarrying.

The Kouros has a size of over 6 meters and was probably commissioned by a major figure of the then aristocratic society, who wanted to erect a lasting monument of himself. It was probably made around 570 BC. Such statues were roughly shaped in the quarries, so as to reduce the weight but keep the possibility of damage during transport low, and then finished at their final location. The transport was achieved with wooden sledges on ramps of marble chippings. The graceful posture and the fine, “meatless” design of the body is characteristic of the Naxian marble sculptures. The Kouros was presumably left in the quarry because one leg broke during transport.

the Kouros of Mélanes

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The Sanctuary at Flerio (Melanes)

Near the well-known Koúros of Flerió (Mélanes) an ancient sanctuary has been excavated, in which the patron gods of the marble quarry and the nearby springs were worshiped. It is one of the oldest sanctuaries of the island, dating back to the Geometric period.

The valley near the sanctuary is rich in water and huge plane trees and oleander thrive here.

The sanctuary of Flerió was dedicated to the goddess of the nearby springs, a fertility goddess. Also the two most important heroes of the island, the demigods Otos and Ephialtis, were worshiped here as guardian deities of the marble quarries. Near the sanctuary an ancient inscription with their names has been found.

view of the excavated sanctuary from the opposite hill

The site of the sanctuary was an olive grove before its excavation. Many of the olive trees have been preserved.

A large marble block on the site was apparently considered to be particularly sacred; it symbolized the chthonic powers of the heroes Otos and Ephialtis who were able to move rocks. Next to this rock in the 8th century BC (Geometric period) a first temple building was erected. It was made of roughly carved stones and had a size of 5.4 x 6.4 meters with a flat roof supported by two wooden pillars; these stood on carefully crafted marble bases, which are the first known pillar bases of such kind. To the west of the temple building lay an open terrace where the sacrifices were made. To the north the territory was surrounded by a wall. In the southern part of the site lay another small building with three rooms that was used to prepare the ritual meals.

The holiest place of the sanctuary was this marble block. To the left and to the front one can see the eastern wall of the first temple building; on the left in the back the enclosure wall.

Directly next to the sacred rock a small building from the 8th century BC served as a temple. The building was damaged in the 6th century, when the upper part of the marble block slipped towards it, and was repaired provisionally. The easternmost part of the building was then separated by a wall that is visible in the right part of the picture.

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The temple of Apollo and the Portara

The best known symbol of the island of Naxos is the gigantic ancient portal of the Temple of Apollo in Naxos-Town, the Portára. It stands conspiciously on a small island that is connected by a pier to the Chóra (“Palátia”) and greets every visitor already at the arrival at the port.

view of the island of Palátia from the harbour

View from the Portára to the Chóra with the Venetian Kastro; in the background you can see mount Zeus.

The Portára, the monumental temple gate, “The gate” as one might say, consists of four marble blocks of about 6 x 1 m, each weighing just under 20 tons. It belongs to an archaic temple (around 530 BC), of which only the foundations are preserved. The temple was dedicated to Apollo, the god of arts and sciences, but also of agriculture and vegetation, as well as oracles, medicine and light. Apollo’s main sanctuaries lay on the nearby island of Delos and in Delphi. The Naxians had erected important buildings and statues on Delos;(the Terrace of the Lions, the Oikos and Stoa of the Naxians, the statue of Artemis and the 9-meter-high marble statue of Apollo, the largest ever erected kouros). Until the year 540 BC the Naxians ruled over the island of Delos; after that, they lost their supremacy to Athens, which was governed by the tyrant Peisistratos. Perhaps that was the reason why the Naxians now decided to build a monumental temple on their own island, on Palátia island next to the main settlement in Chóra, where probably since the early archaic times a small sanctuary of Apollo had existed. The construction of the temple was started under the Naxian tyrant Lygdamis (who reigned from 538 till 524 BC). The temple was never completed; its construction was probably abandoned with the fall of the tyrant.

Only a few remnants of the temple are preserved except the gate.

Built in the Ionian style the temple building was unusually large (15.4 x 36.85 m) and meant to demonstrate impressively the strength of the island of Naxos. The interior was similar in size to the largest Greek temples except that they often were additionally surrounded by a colonnade (peristasis). For the Temple of Apollon on Naxos it has also been suggested that it had a peristasis, or that one had originally been planned, but a more thorough survey could not confirm that opinion. The roof of the inner hall was supported by two rows of 4 pillars each, which carried the 4-meter long marble roof beams. The side walls projected on both sides of the temple, forming a porch which was supported by two columns each.

Here one can see the foundations of the temple building; in the foreground the remains of the southeastern porch.

Even apart from the impressive size, the construction of the Portára remains an puzzle for the archaeologists. For example the function of the protrusions of the stones remain unclear; according to newer results they could not have been necessary for the transport. On the invisible side facing away from the passage, the stones are indented rectangularly, perhaps to keep the weight a bit lower. On the outside, the stones were to be decorated with unfinished fascia (protruding decorative bands). The gate was thicker than the wall protruding on the inside for about 24 cm, which is very strange. Most astonishingly, the threshold stone was over a meter higher than the level of the floor, so that on both sides a few steps had to be built to lead up to it. When the temple was later converted into a church, the middle part of the disturbing threshold stone was sawn out. The characteristics of the Portára can hardly be explained simply from its function as an entrance. The elaborate and strange design suggests that the gate fulfilled a special function in the cultic procedures.

The central part of the threshold stone, one meter above the floor level, was sawed out when the temple was turned into a church.

The stones of the gate are indented on the invisible side, probably to keep the weight down.

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The Temple of Dionysus at Iria

The area around the capital of the island of Naxos, Chóra, has been inhabited for millennia. Excavations show that from the Early Bronze Age (Cycladic culture) on a significant settlement (excavation Grótta) existed in the same place as today’s city, which was also densely populated during the Mycenaean era. In the following Archaic period (about 8th till 6th century BC), just as today, the settlement in the Chóra was the largest settlement on the island. The significance of the Chóra during the Archaic period is emphasized by the erection of the large temple dedicated to Apollo with its gigantic temple gate. The ancient historian Herodotus reported the existence of a second large temple near the Chóra, which was said to be dedicated to the main god of the island, Dionysus, and located near a river called Byblos.

The plain of the Livádia. In the background you can see the airport area and the peninsula of Stelída. The Temple of Íria is located just to the left of the center of the picture.

For many decades, attempts by archaeologists to locate this temple of Dionysus remained fruitless. An important clue for the search provided a small Byzantine church situated in the middle of the Livádia, the plains next to the Chóra. When the archaeologists mapped the lintels of Byzantine churches on the island in the late 1960s to find the missing lintel of the temple of Demeter near Sangrí, they discovered an ancient lintel in this church, which however did not fit the temple of Demeter. The name of a field near this church attracted further attention: Íria. It was assumed to be an abbreviation for “Jyrotychía”, that is boundary wall (the name of the location of the temple in Sangrí, Jyroula, has the same origin). Test drillings in the field quickly reveiled the remains of the missing temple of Dionysus.

From 1986 to 1991, the temple area was excavated by Greek and German archaeologists (from the Technical University of Munich). No standing remains existed, but only a labyrinth of pillar bases and wall foundations. These could be assigned to four different temples overlaying each other for a few decimeters each (plus a Christian church into which the temple had been transformed around 500 AD). The excavators managed to reconstruct the architecture of the individual temples except for a few details with the help of parts of the temple that had been used in church constructions in the area.

Only the foundations of the temple, but no standing remains were preserved, and these as well were covered by a several meter deep layer of earth.

Next to the temple complex lie these remains of a “dining room”, where presumably the ritual feasts were held.

The area of the temple of Dionysus had been used as a sanctuary since the Mycenaean period (about 1300 BC). In the lowest strata the excavations revealed a large, carefully smoothed marble bowl with a feed channel and a large gneiss plate together with potsherds from the Mycenaean period. The marble bowl and the gneiss plate were filled with fertile mud during the floodings caused by the nearby river (the Byblos of antiquity).

The four successive temples lay closely on top of each other. Today some of the remains of the columns have been erected.

The panel shows the location and layout of the four temples (the first in brown colour, the next two in brownish red and grey, and the last one in yellow).

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The Temple of Demeter in Sangri

The Temple of Demeter at Sangrí is one of Naxos’ main attractions. The temple, which dates back to the Archaic era, is small in size, but of great significance for the development of Greek temple architecture. It is built according to the Ionian order of the islands, which originated on the Cyclades, especially on Naxos, and which was used also by the Athenians after they had conquered Naxos. The temple was built around 530 BC, at about the same time as the temple of Apollo, during the reign of the tyrant Lygdamis.

The Temple of Demeter is undoubtedly one of the most important monuments of Naxos.

Around 1990 scientists from the University of Athens in collaboration with the Institute for Building Research in Munich carried out a thorough investigation of the entire area in order to gather all the components necessary for a complete reconstruction of the temple. Parts of the temple were rebuilt from old and newly cut stones. Important findings from the excavations as well as a partial reconstruction of the roof and the sanctuary of the Christian basilica are exhibited in the very interesting museum on the temple grounds.

The Demeter Temple was partially rebuilt in the early Nineties. Both old components and newly cut stones were used for the reconstruction.

Many interesting finds from the excavations on the temple grounds are exhibited in the award-winning museum next to the temple, as well as a partial reconstruction of the roof and of the sanctuary of the Christian basilica.

In front of the temple the remnants of an older use of the sanctuary are visible.


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The Naxian Cave Cricket

Caves provide highly specialized living conditions for their inhabitants. The environmental conditions are unusually stable: temperature and humidity change very little. Plants cannot exist in caves because of the lack of light, and thus food is scarce for animals as well. Accordingly only a very few specialized species can exist in the stringent conditions found in caves.

In the caves of Naxos lives an interesting insect: the endemic Cave Cricket Dolichopoda naxia. The Southern European genus Dolichopoda consists of about 30 species. Each of these occurs only in a small area, sometimes only in one single cave. In the hot and dry climate we have nowadays in the Mediterranean area, the sensitive animals cannot survive outside their caves and so they can no longer reach other caves. Thus the populations of different caves are isolated from each other. Their geographic isolation led to the emergence of many different species in a relatively small area. The Cave Crickets came into the Aegean probably about 5,5 million years ago during the miocene age. Genetic analyses indicate that the Naxian species has been isolated for about 3 million years. Its closest relatives live on Samos and Kalimnos, while larger differences may be found in the more distant Cretan species.

Cave Crickets belong to the order Ensifera (crickets, katydids and bush crickets) which are characterized by their long antennae. The antennae―and also the legs of the Cave Crickets―are especially long. Cave Crickets can jump, but they usually just walk rather slowly. In their long adaptation to underground life their wings became very much reduced and they cannot fly. As a consequence they cannot chirp either (the Ensifera produce their songs by rubbing their wings), and accordingly they have also lost their hearing organs. The females can be identified by their long ovipositor.

Crickets develop by an incomplete metamorphosis (hemimetabolism), which means that the larvae resemble the adults from the beginning and grow gradually more alike them with each moulting. In one year the larvae moult about ten times. The adults live only one year. Cave Crickets are omnivorous: in this environment with very little food they have to take whatever they can get.

On Naxos the Cave Crickets occur also in the emery mines which often correspond to natural caves. They can only be found in larger numbers in places with sufficient humidity.

Emery mines below Kóronos; the mine where we found the most Cave Crickets lies behind the tree visible in the back of the picture above the truck.

the entrance to the mine

in the mine

Numerous Cave Crickets sit on the walls and especially under the roof.

The brownish animals have no wings but very long legs and antennae.

female with ovipositor

The small larva already resembles the adult.

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Grasshoppers and crickets

Grasshoppers and crickets belong to the insect order Orthoptera that is divided into two big suborders, the Ensifera characterized by their long antennae and the Caelifera with short antennae. Worldwide exist about 20,000 grasshopper and cricket species.

Grasshoppers are typical insects of open vegetation and dry habitats. Accordingly they are very common in the mediterranean countries. In central Europe they are getting rarer due to the intensification of agriculture. Many species are easily overlooked because of their excellent camouflage. Often you will become aware of their presence only by the chirping, while you notice the animal itself only when it flies or jumps away.

Most people don’t like insects very much. However, some species are very pretty.

Grasshoppers usually sit on a surface similar to their body coloration. In many species, the coloration of the individuals can vary between e.g. gray and brown. Here a blue-winged grasshopper.

The anatomy

Like in all insects the body of the grasshoppers consists of three parts, the head, the chest (thorax) and the abdomen. These are each made up of several segments that initially had an identical design. The head (out of five fused segments) bears antennae, chewing and biting mouthparts (mandibles, maxillae), compound eyes and small ocelli (simple eyes). The chest carries three pairs of legs (it consists of three segments) and two pairs of wings, of which the front ones (the tegmina) are more rigid and serve as covers for the membraneous hind wings, with which the grasshoppers fly. The strong and long hind legs are used for jumping. The abdomen consists of eleven segments.

female Southern Wart-biter

Female grasshoppers and crickets have an ovipositor protruding at the end of the abdomen (particularly striking in the Ensifera). With it they lay the eggs, usually into the earth. The embryonic development can take several years, e.g. up to five years in the Great Green Bush Cricket. The larva moults five to seven times until it reaches the adult stage.

Insects have no internal supporting structures (such as the bones of the vertebrates), but an exoskeleton made of chitin, which supports the body and protects it against water loss and other damages. The exoskeleton cannot grow, so the larva must shed it from time to time and replace it by a new larger one (moulting). In the grasshoppers the larval development takes place without a pupal stage in which the body changes radically (metamorphosis, for example in butterflies), but the larvae grow with every moulting gradually more like the adults (hemimetabolous development).

tiny Great Green Bush Cricket (early larval stage)

Larger larva of the same kind with the small wings visible on the sides of the body

Here is the adult animal. The Great Green Bush Cricket has particularly long antennae.

Here’s another tiny larva.

Grasshoppers go through several larval stages, during which the animal’s form is gradually approaching the adult’s shape. Some of the adult’s features are recognizable in the larvae as well, others differ so much that it may be difficult to recognize the species. In the Egyptian Locust the larva is green whereas the adult is gray. In this middle larval stage, small wing buds are already visible.

an adult Egyptian Locust

Grasshopper in the process of moulting. Prior to the hardening of the chitin, the grasshoppers are particularly vulnerable and in danger of predators.

The chirping of the grasshoppers

The continuous chirping and buzzing of the crickets and grasshoppers (and cicadas) is the sound of the Greek summer. Most species sing and all have a specific song. The song is used to attract the females and to defend the male’s territory. Sometimes the animals produce different vocalizations for different purposes. The Ensifera produce the chirping (stridulation) by rubbing the front wings that have on their bottom edge a row of tiny teeth which is rubbed over the top edge of the other wing. In the Caelifera the hind legs are rubbed against the front wings.

According to the importance of their songs, grasshoppers have well developed hearing organs, which lie in the Ensifera mostly on the tibias (lower part) of the front legs and in the Caelifera on the first abdominal segment.

In this Great Green Bush Cricket the hearing organ (tympanal organ) is visible as a small green oval membrane on the “knees” of the front legs.


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The vegetation of Naxos

For visitors from Central Europe, the island of Naxos seems in many places at first glance rather barren and dreary.

low dwarf shrub vegetation at Ágios Dimítris

The impression is deceptive, however, and will be revised quickly with a visit, for example, to river valleys like that of Potamiá, Kinídaros or Myrísis, or with a hiking tour through the Tragaía in the center of the island or the green valleys around the mountain villages Apíranthos, Kóronos or Komiakí. Here, grows a rich vegetation in the extensively used cultivated areas as well as in wild thickets and bushland.

valley with lush vegetation near Skepóni

abandoned gardens at Kóronos

Apart from the cultivated areas, most of the island of Naxos – mountain slopes and abandoned terraces and fields – is overgrown with low dwarf shrub vegetation (garrigue or phrygana). Especially in the eastern and southern part of the island large areas are covered by an open bushland of small trees and tall shrubs. In addition more or less natural low forest is found, both in the southern part of the island in sheltered valleys and in some places in the mountain valleys. Along several rivers of Northwest Naxos grow dense riparian forests, and many small springs on the mountain slopes are shaded with wild Plane trees.

phrygana at Kinídaros

Juniper macchia

small forest of Kermes Oak at the Stavró Keramotís

riparian forest at Skepóni


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The landscape of Naxos

Naxos has a lot to offer, its nature as well as its culture. The landscape is especially varied: there are barren slopes where hardly any plants can survive and lush river valleys with dense vegetation; there are high, remote peaks and small cultivated plains. The island has gentle valleys with olive groves, green terraced vineyards and paradise gardens with vegetables and fruit trees of all varieties, it has steep rugged mountain slopes, sometimes bare and bleak, sometimes overgrown with oak forests or low bushes, with hidden springs surrounded by plane trees and deep, green canyons. The coast is diverse as well: you can find small, hidden bays with beautiful white pebbles between inaccessible, sheer marble cliffs; elsewhere there are extensive sandy beaches sometimes with unique juniper-covered dunes.

Cape Stavrós and the islands in the east

the castle of Apalírou

the venetian tower Agiá

chapel near the Chóra

sandy beach in Psilí Ámmos south of Moutsoúna

marble bay close to Ágios Dimítris

And Naxos has just the right size: the island is small enough that you can explore it easily in day trips, but big enough to hold a surprising variety of landscapes: Each area of the island has a character and charm of its own.


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