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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 was wrapped in scaffolding in 2004, which was removed again around 2021; at present (2023) there is scaffolding inside, but only a bottom row outside, and there are also many pieces of scaffolding lying around on the site. My photos in this article were taken at different times, the oldest in 1990, when the tower was still without scaffolding (they were paper photographs, hence the poor quality of some of the pictures).

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.

The outer wall of the tower is very carefully built without mortar out of rows of stones of the same height. The height of the rows varies between 30 and 40 cm; the lowest layers are a bit higher. The stones are carefully smoothed on the top and bottom with a toothed chisel so that they fit exactly on top of each other. The outer side of the stones is curved because of the rounding of the tower, but also arched in each stone from top to bottom, which gives the walls a certain liveliness. This outside of the stones is only roughly shaped; however, along the joints, the stones are carefully smoothed and levelled. On some stones letters are engraved, probably the signature of their manufacturer.

The walls of the tower are very carefully built without the use of mortar. The top and bottom of the stones are perfectly smoothed, but the outside is only roughly hewn.

Around the tower lie numerous stones that have fallen from the collapsed upper storeys.

On their upper and lower face the stones are carefully smoothed with toothed chisels.

Some stones carry engraved letters, probably the signature of the mason.

The inner wall of the tower is made of smaller stones. In a technique that is also encountered in many of the island’s traditional stone houses, small stacks of stone slabs are inserted here and there between the larger stones. The inner wall is not built with quite the same precision as the outer wall; for example, the transversal stones are often not exactly cut, but protrude a little out of the wall.

The inner wall consists of smaller stones. You can recognise the typical masonry style that is also used in many stone-built shepherd’s houses (mitáti): here and there stacks of smaller stone slabs are inserted between the large stones.

Some of the transverse binding stones protrude from the wall on its inner side.

On a section where the inner wall has collapsed, the binding stones are visible.

There are about three narrow embrasures in the walls on each floor, which were there for the lighting and ventilation of the tower; it seems though that they could hardly have been used as embrasures because of the limitd space.

an embrasure seen from the outside

An embrasure from the inside. Although it widens a lot towards the inside, according to detailed investigations most of the embrasures can hardly have been used for shooting, as they were located at the stairwell, which was separated by a wooden wall from the inside of the tower and was too narrow to allow the drawing of a bow.

Inside the tower a staircase leads upwards, which consists of large stone slabs that protrude out of the wall; they are fitted about half a meter into the wall and lie on top of each other, overlapping a little. The depth, width and height of the steps (35 x 80 x 26 cm) are kept always the same. The stairs were most likely separated by a wooden structure from the interior of the tower.

The staircase in the tower consists of large stones protruding about 80 cm out of the wall. The picture also shows an embrasure in the wall, which has obviously been enlarged upwards at an angle (subsequently?); presumably to allow a better view downwards from the staircase.

On the lowest floor, the staircase stones seem to have been removed at a later date; perhaps the stone staircase was replaced by a pull-up ladder for greater safety.

The floors of the storeys were made of wood. The only thing remaining of the floors are the holes in the walls for the six thick wooden beams, as well as a small recess in the wall all the way round, the height of which suggests that the thick first beams supported a second row of beams on which the wooden floorboards rested. The lower storey was four metres high, with three and a half slightly lower storeys above it. Each floor had a carefully constructed water drainage channel at floor level, which was fitted with a cast iron plate on the inside and a protruding gargoyle on the outside. This suggests that domestic or farming activities requiring the use of water were regularly carried out in the tower. A large cistern is carved into the rock on the bottom of the tower.

It is likely that the tower originally had five storeys. Of the wooden floors no trace is preserved, except for the holes in which the beams were inserted. Interestingly, the embrasure in the wall that can be seen here has also been extended diagonally upwards.

a gargoyle

The tower as a fortress

Various peculiarities in the architecture of the tower clearly show that it served for the defense of its inhabitants. One of these characteristics is the round shape, which ensures protection from attacks with rams (the rams could best smash the corners of buildings). Significant is also the lack of windows: The tower has only a few embrasures that are very narrow outwards, while they obliquely widen inwards (three per floor). These were so narrow that they could hardly have served for defending the building, especially those that lie towards the narrow staircase; their purpose was probably just the lighting and ventilation of the tower. Nevertheless, the narrowness of the slots is a clear indication that the tower was constructed to ensure maximum protection in case of an attack. The only window of the tower lies directly above the entrance (the only vulnerable place) and obviously served its defense by way of dropping stones; it originally had a wooden porch for this purpose. In this way possible intruders could be thrown back, and battering rams attempting to break the entrance door could be smashed.

The only vulnerable place of the tower during an attack was its entrance.

Above the door lies the only window of the tower, which served to defend the entrance. It originally had a small porch made of wood, as the protruding stones show; next to and above the window you can also see small indentations that probably served some purpose relating to the fastening of this wooden construction.

The tower’s architecture clearly shows that it was not just a watchtower, but that it served as a housing and working building for a rural homestead, and especially as an effective retreat and place of defense in case of an attack, for example by pirates. Its remarkable and costly architecture ensures this goal effectively while avoiding anything that was not strictly necessary.

The outer fortification

The Tower of Chimárrou lies in a square courtyard of almost 40 x 40 meter, which is surrounded by a defensive wall. Three to four additional ramparts surround the innermost wall which is more carefully built than the outer ones.

The Tower of Chimárrou lies in a square courtyard of almost 40 x 40 metre, which is surrounded by several defensive walls.

Towards the outside the houses show thick, carefully laid walls.

The innermost enclosure wall is carefully constructed from hewn stone.

It is again surrounded by two or three less carefully built walls standing next to each other, with narrow passages left open here and there.

The homestead

In the southern part of the courtyard, to the west and to the east, lie several small rectangular houses, which formed a small rural settlement. The houses have a size of several meters in both directions and are built contiguously. Their walls are also carefully built, albeit of smaller stones and much simpler than the tower. The walls are preserved in most places to a height of more than one meter.

In the southern part of the yard a number of small houses have been excavated.

Several houses in the settlement have carefully plastered pits embedded in the floor, which were most likely cisterns filled with rainwater from the roofs of the houses. The floors are often laid out with neatly joined stone slabs. The remains of an oil press can be found in one of the buildings. A round, slightly hollowed-out stone with a depression in the centre was used to grind the olives. Originally, a wooden axle was placed in the centre, around which the grinding stone, attached to a horizontal wooden beam, ran. Next to it, leaning against the wall, stands a stone slab with a groove running around it’s edge, on which the olives were pressed.

The floors are often made of carefully fitted stone slabs.

In several houses cisterns are built into the floor.

In one of the houses stand the remains of an ancient oil press.

On this stone, the olives were crushed. The intermediate wall, which stands right on the stone of the oil press, must have been built later, at a time when the oil press was no longer used; it also looks somewhat more carelessly constructed than the other walls.

This stone is probably the plate on which the crushed olives were squeezed; The oil ran off in the circumferential groove.

Other Hellenistic towers on Naxos and in the Aegean Sea

The Tower of Chimárrou, according to its architecture, is dated to the 3rd century BC, the Hellenistic period. It is located at a distance of about 3.5 kilometers from the coast; the valleys to the east are nowadays covered by wood. According to its location, the tower can hardly have served as a watchtower; even from its top one would not have had a good view of the sea. The exact location of the tower was probably chosen due to the occurrence of excellent marble as building material in this place.

The tower is built of local marble; north of the tower you can still see the places where the stones were quarried. It can be assumed that the exact location of the tower was chosen because of the excellent marble rocks of this area.

In southern and southwestern Naxos, the remains of at least 6 similar farmsteads have been preserved, most likely from around the same time. These too were not located in elevated areas, so that a function as a watch or signal tower can be excluded. The nearest of these towers lies well conceiled in the valley above a small bay (Órmos Rína) east of Kalandós. According to their location, the towers can have served only as places of retreat and for the defense of a homestead. Similar towers are also found on many neighboring islands (for example, several well-preserved ones exist in Ikaria), but also in the wider area, in Attica, in the Peloponnese and in other parts of Greece. Outside of Greece similar homestead towers from antiquity are known especially from parts of Asia Minor, from the Crimea (which was then colonized by Greeks) and from Sardinia.

Of the similar but smaller tower near Órmos Rína at Kalandós just a few remains are preserved.

Around the tower lie the ruins of a sheperd’s house in whose construction the ancient walls were used.

The existence of such farmsteads testifies to the wealth of the landowners who were able to build such elaborate buildings in the countryside to protect their lands. In the Hellenistic period, an aristocratic society prevailed. It can be assumed that the owners lived in the tower itself, while the houses of the homestead were inhabited by the subordinates or slaves who farmed the fields. The existence of these towers also proves the existence continuous threat that the islands were exposed to, probably mainly by pirates: In a pirate attack, the residents could protect themselves effectively by retreating into the defense tower.

The chapels at the Tower of Chimárrou

Next to the tower lie two tiny Byzantine chapels with roofs made in traditional way of stone slabs. It is said that in their place originally existed an early Byzantine basilica, maybe a small monastery. Only the northern one of the chapels (Zoodóchos Pigí = life-giving spring) is still in use. For the construction of the chapels some stones of the tower were used, which shows that part of the tower had already collapsed at the time of their construction. Not far away a few remains of a small Byzantine settlement (Ariovésa) are preserved.

Next to the tower lie two small chapels. Some remains of an early Byzantine basilica were also found in the area.

The northern chapel (Zoodóchos Pigí) is still in use.

In the construction of the southern chapel a few stones of the tower were used, which shows that at the time of their construction a part of the tower had already collapsed.

The current state of the tower

Judging from a drawing from 1856, the tower was then almost in the same state as it is today (about 40 intact stone layers). However, Ludwig Ross, a German archaeologist from Athens, who traveled to Naxos in 1835, reports that the tower had 50 stone layers (the assumed height of five storeys would amount to about 53 stone layers). He also mentions that Hellenistic tombs have been found in the area.

At least one storey of the tower has already collapsed (photo from 1990).

Some of the top stones have slipped sideways and are in danger of falling.

It is also very worrying (and a pity!) that the inner wall on one side is almost completely broken away – a repair is urgently needed here!

Here you see the damage in the lower part of the wall.

In 2004, construction work to restore of the tower was begun. A scaffold was erected and a lightning rod installed, and the tower was locked by a door, so that it was no longer possible to go inside. The fallen stones were collected and numbered; they were meant to be used for a partial reconstruction. Also the site was excavated and the houses of the homestead exposed. Fortunately, the old, rusty scaffolding has now been removed and you can look into the tower again. Regrettably, all the scaffolding is now lying around on the site; and the carefully excavated houses are also somewhat affected by the construction work. It would be highly desirable for the tower to be properly restored soon, especially to prevent it from collapsing further at some point.

continue: The Roman epoch


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used: Lothar Haselberger, Befestigte Turmgehöfte im Hellenismus auf den Kykladeninseln Naxos, Andros und Keos, unveröffentlichte Dissertation, Institut für Bauforschung und Baugeschichte der Technischen Universität München, etwa 1985,
provided by Mr Chr. Ucke, to whom I express my sincere thanks

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