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Cape Stavros near Moutsouna

Cape Stavrós near Moutsoúna is the only major cape of the island of Naxos. It extends about one and a half kilometers into the sea. Our holiday homes lie approximately two kilometers north of the cape. We have a magnificent view of its tip, which turns slightly northwards, across the bay of Azalas.

Cape Stavros, Moutsouna, Naxos
View of Agios Dimitris and the cape; in the background to the right lies Moutsouna.

The word “Azalas” (the “z” is pronounced as a soft “s”) which is used today for the bay and its surroundings, originally referred to the cape. It probably derives from “Zevs alievs” or “Zas tou jialou”, meaning “Zeus the Fisherman” or “Zeus of the Beach.” This name suggests that in ancient times, the impressive cape, like the island’s highest mountain, was dedicated to the godfather Zeus (Zas in modern Greek).

The foremost point of the cape is split into three parts. The two thick, standalone rock pillars are connected to the cape by a low, narrow pebble beach. Several decades ago, this beach did not exist, and one could sail with a boat through the gap between the rocks. The highest point of the cape, with 60 meters height, lies close to the tip.

Cape Stavros, Moutsouna, Naxos

Geologically, Cape Stavros differs significantly from its surroundings. It consists of young, largely unconsolidated river sediments with highly diverse fine and coarse materials: compacted earth, sand, pebbles, as well as larger stones and boulders in irregular layers. The approximately horizontal layers are displaced against each other in many places due to fractures.

Cape Stavros, Moutsouna, Naxos

Around the cape lie large broken boulders in the sea: the material is unstable. In the 1960s, my father-in-law witnessed a large piece breaking off from the foremost tip with a loud rumble and the formation of a huge dust cloud. On the northern side, there’s a cave one can venture into by boat — if one dares!

To reach the cape, one can walk or drive from our cottages along the dirt road towards Moutsouna to the bay of Azalas (about a fifteen-minute walk). From there, one turns onto the path that follows the (dry) riverbed almost to the beach; the last few metres one has to walk through the riverbed. It can be muddy in winter, but in summer the river bed is dry. Then you walk along the beach to its southern end where a small path leads up to the cape.

Azalas Beach, Moutsouna, Naxos

The beach of Azalas is made up of stones and pebbles. We hardly find any sea shells or snails, but the eye cannot get enough of the beautiful, round, multicolored pebbles (especially marble and translucent calcite).

While studying the stones on the beach, we notice that many have holes or pores. Upon closer examination, we discover these holes have various origins. First we find numerous marble stones with small or larger holes originating from the boring sponge.

Stone with holes from the boring sponge
stone with holes made by a boring sponge

We also find perforated, heavy, gray rocks, which are fragments of the riffs made up by coralline algae. Here, we are dealing with limestone deposited by organisms: mainly remains of calcareous red algae, partially with skeletons and shells of worm snails, tube worms, or bryozoans.

fragments of coralligene

fragments of coralligene
Calcareous deposits formed by coralline red algae with remnants of worm snails and bryozoans

At the southern end of the beach, there is a stretch of sand above the waterline, which extends some distance inland without forming actual dunes. Here we find porous stones of another kind: pumice. The pumice stems from deposits on the beach, from which they are gradually being washed free. Pumice forms during volcanic eruptions when ejected lava rapidly solidifies in the air, trapping the gas set free while cooling and thus creating a porous rock. The pumice in the Aegean area largely originates from the major volcanic eruption in Santorini around 1600 BC, that ejected approximately two cubic kilometres of pumice; a second eruption producing great amounds of pumice occurred in 1650 AD. Pumice is very light and floats on water. The quantities of pumice produced during the mentioned eruptions of the Santorini volcano were so large that the Aegean sea must have been completely covered over large areas. Pumice can still be found on almost all the beaches of the Aegean islands.

Pumice stones are so light that they float on the water.

From the southern end of the beach, we climb up the small path to the cape. Although it’s a bit hazy today, the view of the surrounding plain and the hills and mountains of Naxos beyond is wonderful.

View from Cape Stavros

View from Cape Stavros

On the plateau of the cape grows a juniper maquis, including both the widespread Phoenician juniper (Juniperus phoenicea) and the rarer Large-berry juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus ssp. macrocarpa), which typically grows near the sea on sand and dunes. Juniper belongs to the plants that protect themselves from grazing by unpalatable chemicals: both species are hardly eaten even by the hardy goats. Additionally, the Large-berry juniper is quite prickly! Apart from the juniper species many other dwarf shrubs and the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus) grow in the maquis.

Phoenician juniper
Phoenician juniper

Large-berry juniper
Large-berry juniper

Plants and trees here on the cape have to defend themselves not only from the goats and the drought, but struggle with the often very strong north winds. All shrubs are bent towards the south, with their roots often exposed due to the continuous wind.

Phoenician juniper bent down by the north winds
The shrubs (here Phoenician juniper) are bent southward by the wind, often leaving the roots exposed.

A species of broom, Anthyllis hermanniae, displays its first small yellow flowers.

Anthyllis hermanniae

Amidst the shrubs on the barren ground grows a small yellow stonecrop (probably Sedum litoreum), also the yellow low-growing Anthemis rigida of the daisy family, and the beautiful legume Hedysarum spinoissimum with its characteristic fruits.

Sedum litoreum

Anthemis rigida

Hedysarum spinoissimum

Approximately halfway along the path, we approach the steep cliff, and get to admire the view of the precipitous cliff walls. The cape forms a large bay here. However, it is not advisable to venture too close to the edge, as the material is loose and the edge may be caved out below.

Cape Stavros

Cape Stavros

We hear and see Common swifts and a few Alpine swifts; both species breed at the cape. Otherwise, there are no remarkable birds around. Some years ago, a peregrine falcon nested at the tip of the cape, but I haven’t seen it this year.

We then ascend the barren gravel slope to the outer part of the cape. Here, we find a dwarf shrub species (Teucrium brevifolium) that I haven’t seen in flower yet.

Teucrium brevifolium

On the ridge it is particularly windy, and the few low brooms, mastic shrubs and heather that thrive here are tightly pressed to the ground. During winter storms, the waves can rise up to halfway up the roughly 30-meter-high cliff of the cape, and the spray is blown over the edge.

In winter storms, spray is blown over the cliff edge.

Despite these adverse conditions we encounter a kind of meadow on the windward upper slope which at this time of year (late April) is covered with various flowers (especially the small pink carnation Silene colorata, the white umbellifer Tordylium apulum, and the yellow clover Trigonella balansae).

Silene colorata, Tordylium apulum, Trigonella balansae

Within the shrubbery grows a yellow rue species (Ruta chalepensis) with lovely fringed flowers.

Ruta chalepensis

Around the survey pillar, I find several legumes (Ononis reclinata, Trifolium scabrum, Medicago minima, Lotus peregrinus, Hippocrepis ciliata, Scorpiurus muricatus). Some haven’t produced fruits yet, making identification challenging. However, looking closely one can truly appreciate the beauty of these small species! Those that already bear fruits show the most amazing legume shapes, as is typical with this plant family.

Ononis reclinata

Trifolium scabrum

Medicago minima

Hippocrepis ciliata

Scorpiurus muricatus

Lotus peregrinus

Southward, one looks down the steep, barren gravel slope toward a small bay; here on the southward slope some juniper trees grow.

juniper tree (Juniperus macrocarpa)

Finally, we start our descent, going back to the beach along the small path, with the slowly setting sun ahead.

see also: All-round view from Cape Stavros

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