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The Byzantine fortress on Mount Kalogeros

Near Apóllonas on the northern tip of Naxos, the remains of a small Byzantine fortress lie on the 350 metre high mount Kalógeros.

Mount Kalogeros at Apollonas
View of the Kalogeros from the harbour of Apollonas; the fortress lies on the far right.

The valley from Apóllonas towards Komiakí, which is overlooked by Kalógeros, is cut into a deep V-shape. Most of the slopes here have an incline of around 45%, which seems rather intimidating (on average, the island only rises at an incline of around 3%: 1 km of elevation gain over a distance of around 15 to 20 km). The slopes of the valley consist of slate, which erodes relatively easily, creating a steep V-shape.

valley of Apollonas
The valley of Apollonas is cut into a deep V-shape.

The summit of Kalógeros, on the other hand, consists of marble; it’s the same layers as on the other side of the valley on the hill near the village, where the ancient marble quarry with the gigantic Kouros is located. The marble is more resistant to erosion than the slate, resulting in steep, almost vertical cliffs that protect the highest peak of the mountain – the ideal place to build a fortress!

Mount Kalogeros
The remains of the fortress lie on this cliff.

The easiest way to climb mount Kalógeros is via the old path that ascends the slope from the beach near Apóllonas in a north-easterly direction and then leads quite comfortably along the gently rising ridge of Kalógeros (a good 2 kilometres one way). The ascent from the south starting in the bend of the road to Mési is much shorter, but also much steeper. We choose this route for our hike. I suspect that we haven’t found the best ascent – our hike quickly turns into a climbing tour! If you don’t have a head for heights or do not appreciate falling rocks and spiky undergrowth, you should choose a different path. Once we have conquered the first mountain peak, we realise that it would probably have been easier a little further north; the slope is not quite as steep there.

view from Mount Kalogeros into the valley
view down into the valley with the course of the river lined with plane trees and alders

view from Mount Kalogeros towards Apollonas

The former fortress is located at the southern end of the ridge, where it’s most precipitous. Very little remains of the buildings, mainly a thick defence wall made of unhewn marble stones. It has a low, small entrance. Behind it lies a second wall, transversely to the first on, which was once part of a building. Apart from this, hardly any remains of buildings can be recognised. I have not been able to find out much about the former castle. It is said that there was a small chapel on the site of the fortress and a water reservoir made of a very hard type of cement made from volcanic material from Santorini, but we can’t discover any remains. In any case, the whole complex was quite small.

Byzantine fortress on Mount Kalogeros
the defence wall of the fortress with the small entrance

Byzantine fortress on Mount Kalogeros
Only few small remains of buildings can be seen.

Byzantine fortress on Mount Kalogeros
The low entrance is well fortified (view from inside to outside).

Ihe top of mount Kalógeros consists of large blocks of marble; the stones for the walls and buildings of the fortress were probably quarried right here on site. At one point, the marble rock shows traces of ancient carving similar to the processing traces at the Kouros of Apóllonas. This suggests that the area has been used since ancient times for marble quarrying. On the less steep western side, we can make out part of an old enclosure wall a little further down.

Byzantine fortress on Mount Kalogeros
The defence wall of the fortress demarcates the southernmost tip of the mountain. A few juniper bushes and mastic shrubs grow on the small summit plateau with large marble boulders.

Byzantine fortress on Mount Kalogeros
Parts of the old enclosure wall a little further below on the western slope are still visible.

Byzantine fortress on Mount Kalogeros
On this boulder traces of carving similar to those at the Kouros of Apollonas can be seen.

ancient processing marks on the Kouros
ancient processing marks on the Kouros

Naxos played no particular political role during the Byzantine era, but was used as a supply harbour and place of refuge by ships sailing from Constantinople to Crete. The Byzantine fleet sailed from Constantinople along the north-east Aegean coast, then to Chios and Fourni (small island between Ikaria and Samos), after which a relatively long stretch of open sea had to be crossed to Naxos. The valley of Apóllonas, the northernmost point of Naxos, with its year-round flowing river and fertile gardens, was certainly an important port for the ships to replenish their supplies.

Pirates could easily hide among the many islands of the Cyclades, so watchtowers were built at suitable locations from which one could easily overlook large stretches of the sea. The watchtowers would alert the neighbouring posts and castles with smoke or fire signals. In this respect, Apóllonas was probable of importance as the northernmost point of the Cyclades on the major ship route. Further south, the next watchtower lay on the island of Ios; the large Byzantine fortress of Apalírou inland from the sheltered harbour of Agiassós in the south of Naxos, on the other hand, had a less favourable view. It can be assumed that there was an additional post on the mountains of Naxos with a line of sight to both Apalírou and Apóllonas. On Mávro Voúni near Kóronos, near the highest peak, there is a strange building that might have played this role.

view from Mount Kalogeros to the south
View southwards up the valley to Komiaki; on the right in the background lies Mavro Vouni, where a signalling post may have been located.

We descend the mountain going north. Shortly behind the outer wall of the fortress, we pass the outer perimeter wall, which is reinforced by protruding bastions.

Byzantine fortress on Mount Kalogeros
the outer enclosing wall with its bastions

Byzantine fortress on Mount Kalogeros
This wall is also very thick.

Byzantine fortress on Mount Kalogeros
View from below of the fortress with the outer enclosing wall.

A semi-overgrown path leads along the ridge of the mountain, which forms a small, gentle plateau here, mainly covered in Phlomis fruticosa and gorse. Old terraces with low terrace walls can be recognised. A hundred years ago, cereals were still cultivated here. Today, only goats graze on the barren plateau.

at the Byzantine fortress on Mount Kalogeros
The small plateau to the north of the fortress was once cultivated with grain.

We can’t stay any longer – dusk is coming. So we climb down the slope through undergrowth and over stick and stone, and reach the village of Apóllonas in a quarter of an hour.

continue: The Venetian Castro in the Chora

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