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The Venetian fortress Apano Kastro

In addition to the Venetian castle in the Chóra of Naxos, there is a second Venetian fortress on the island: the Apáno Kástro near Tsikalarió. It is located on a steep hill between the valley of Potamiá and the fertile plateau of Tragaía and can be reached via a beautiful hiking trail from the village of Tsikalarió.

The history of Apáno Kástro

Different accounts tell us about the history of Apáno Kástro. Probably a building or fortress existed already in ancient times on the hill, but hardly any remains have survived. According to some sources, when the Venetian Marco Sanudo conquered Naxos in 1207, he first settled on Apáno Kástro (= “Upper Castle”, called “Castello d’Alto” by the Venetians – in contrast to the castle in the Chóra), which according to this version must have been in a habitable state at the 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.

Apáno Kástro is located in the gneiss landscape between Apáno Potamiá and Tsikalarió.

The castle complex

Apáno Kástro consists of an outer, lower castle complex on the southern slope of the hill and the actual main castle on the hilltop. Both complexes had high defence walls, but only contained a few buildings, almost all of which are churches or chapels. Some of the castle’s churches are quite well preserved. Several cisterns and remains of the “palace” can also still be recognised. The outer sides of several buildings of the fortress, standing on steep slopes, have collapsed due to the rapid erosion of the bedrock.

The fortress is perched on the highest, steepest hill in the gneiss landscape.

At this chapel of St Panteleimonas, you turn off the path from Tsikalarió to Apáno Potamiá and climb more or less cross-country up the hill. There is a deep well in front of the chapel.

The outer castle

On the southern slope of the fortress hill, below the main castle itself, is a larger fortified area with several churches. This outer castle was accessible from the east side; the former entrance is protected by a protruding, round fortification with embrasures, the barbican.

Below the main fortress at the top of the hill are several Orthodox churches in the equally well-fortified outer castle. This is where the Greek inhabitants of the surrounding area took refuge in the event of pirate attacks. The churches were probably intended to ensure divine assistance in the defence of the fort.

The former entrance on the less steep eastern slope is protected by a multi-storey, projecting round tower with embrasures looking in all directions (barbican).

View through one of the embrasures of the barbican. It is said that cannons had been installed here that were used to fend off attackers.

The Kastro comprises a whole series of churches and chapels. This chapel dedicated to St George stands alone on the steep eastern slope. As a “military” saint (dragon slayer), Saint George was apparently invoked to assist in the defence of the castle.

Only parts of the upper enclosing wall have been preserved.

One of the reasons why the walls and buildings of the castle have collapsed and vanished so quickly is the rapid weathering of the bedrock. The speed of erosion can be recognised by the fact that the rock surfaces are often completely free of lichen.

This building is a church, named Panagía Kastrianí, which used to contain important murals and icons. It was still visited by people from Tragaía and Potamiá on the day of their church festival until the last century. Unfortunately, the south wall of the building has since collapsed.

Chiselled decorations have been preserved around the window.

In front of the building lies a mill stone.

All that remains of the wall of the inner courtyard is the arch.

The south side of this larger church building (Agios Joannis) has also been demolished. Note the ancient marble stones on the left entrance door.

This tiny chapel (Metamórphosis) is located on the south side below the Kastro.

Ascending to the upper castle, one passes walls or the remains of buildings that give the impression that they are older than the Venetian structures.

In the far west, sheltered under a rock, there is a lookout point towards Chóra. From here and from a lookout post below the castle towards Potamiá, guards were constantly on the lookout for approaching pirate ships.

The view is actually the best of all, here to the west over the valley of Potamiá with the Chóra in the background.

The main castle

The main castle on the hilltop covers an area of around 120 by 50 metres with the ruins of several buildings. It was protected by thick, high enclosure walls, of which only small parts have survived. The particularly well-fortified entrance to the main castle was on the south side of the hill. The path climbs up steeply between two defence walls. According to tradition, the netrance was originally guarded by an iron gate. Near the entrance stand the ruins of a large church; this was the Catholic church of the Venetian feudal lords who lived in the castle or could retreat there in the event of pirate attacks. Further east lie the remains of the “palace”, i.e. the residential building of the Venetian lords. A small remnant of a building on the eastern edge of the hill is known as the “balcony”, as it offers a beautiful view over the Tragaía. There are also at least three cisterns on the site.

the steep, well-fortified entrance to the upper fortress or the inner castle

Here, the walls are still quite well preserved in places. The masons who built the castro used a particularly hard mortar which, according to folk lore, was made using oil. The strength of this mortar can be seen from the fact that the upper part of the wall is still standing despite the large hole underneath.

The best-preserved building in the upper fortress is a large church.

Some antique marbles were also used in this construction.

Here and there you can find porous tuff-like stones in the walls (as on many Byzantine and Venetian buildings), which do not originate from Naxos, but were possibly imported from Santorini.

The church from the east. One of the cisterns of the fortress can be seen in the left foreground.

The cisterns are lined with a pinkish-coloured plaster containing many finely chipped shards of clay. In the centre is another ancient marble stone.

These walls with the carefully hewn stone corner are the only remains of the “palace”, the residential building of the Venetian feudal lords.

View from the upper fortress to the lower castle area with its churches.

view from above onto the barbican

From the fortress you have a magnificent view over the nearby plains to the west, south and east. Here the view to the east of the Tragaía.

To the north-west, a wall has been built on the steep slope, which has partially collapsed.

The wall also looks older than the Venetian buildings. The rocks covered in bright orange-yellow lichen are impressive.

As we descend from the Kastro, we pass the church of Ágios Joánnis again. The entire south side of the building has collapsed; some of the material looks as if it has just fallen down. Until a few decades ago, the churches were still standing. It is very regrettable that nothing has been done to preserve them.

Not far from the fortress to the south-east, between the gneiss hills, lies a unique cemetery from the Geometric period with tumulus tombs whose outlines can still be recognised. It seems certain that this cemetery belonged to an ancient city on or near the fortress hill.

To the east of the Kástro hill lies a more level area with old terraces. From here you can enjoy a beautiful view of the fortress.

one of the stone circles of the remarkable 3,000-year-old cemetery

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used literature: Νίκου Ανρδ. Κεφαλληνιάδη, Δυο Κάστρα της Νάξου, Εταιρία Κυκλαδικών Μελετών, Τόμος Δ’, Αθήνα 1964
provided by Mr Chr. Ucke, to whom we would like to express our sincere thanks