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The sanctuary at Flerio near 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 small valley of Flerió is unusually rich in water. Although today there is no flowing river, several springs provide water all year round. The closest settlement is called Míli (Mills), after the watermills that were once in use here. The adjacent valleys are also rich in water. In both the valley of Potamiá to the south and the neighboring valley to the north leading to Engarés, exists a small but perennial river along which a narrow strip of rivarian vegetation grows not only with plane trees and alders, but (uniquely on Naxos) even with willow (Salix alba). The water of the springs at Flerió was carried in antiquity via an aqueduct or water pipe to the Chóra, to supply the large settlement with water.

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

Due to the abundance of water the area has been cultivated since ancient times. Even today, plentiful vegetables and fruit trees grow on the surrounding fields .

The sanctuary of Flerió was dedicated to the goddess of the 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 nearby marble quarries. Near the sanctuary an ancient inscription with their names has been found (OROS TEMENOS TOU OTOU KAI EPHIALTOU = border of the (sacred) area of Otos and Ephialtis).

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.

In the 7th century, between 640 and 625 BC in the early Archaic epoch, a new, larger building (4.5 x 7.4 m) was erected next to the first to serve now as temple. The first building was converted into an auxiliary building. The new temple was designed in such a way that the fire place for the sacrifices, which lay formerly on the western terrace and was considered obviously to be a particularly sacred spot, came to lie exactly in the middle of the building. In the 6th century, this sacred place was covered with stones and surrounded by a semi-circular stone arch.

Particularly noteworthy is the carefully made marble threshold of the temple. Toward the edges of the threshold stone one can see traces of the former upright stones that served as door frames. The monolithic doorframes of the other Naxian temples (of Dionysus in Íria, of Demeter in Sangrí and of Apollon on Palátia island near Chóra) were constructed in the same way, as well as those of the buildings erected by the Naxians in Delos and of the Erechteion of the Acropolis in Athens that was constructed in the Naxian style. Such gates and thresholds are an important element of Ionian order of the islands. The marble blocks of the largest of these gates, the famous Portára, the gate of the unfinished Temple of Apollo at the Chóra, come from the Flerió quarry.

Next to the first building, a second, larger one was built in the 7th century. The threshold of this building can be seen on the left; in the background you can see the stone arch that marks the sacrificial site now in the middle of the temple.

the sacred marble block and the two buildings of the sanctuary next to it seen from the back side

To the southwest of the temple buildings, two new terraces were constructed in the 7th century for fire sacrifices, after the new temple building had covered a part of the old terrace. In the corners of these terraces, the rocks are visibly reddened by the fire of the offerings. On the terraces, the remains of the sacrifices (ashes, bones, fragments of clay pots, pieces of bronze …) were left in shallow pits covered with round slates taken from the rocks to the east of the sanctuary, or later also with clay discs. The terraces were used for sacrifices until the 6th century BC.

The burnt offerings were carried out on these terraces. In some places one can see that the stones and the earth were reddened by the fires.

The ashes were left in small pits which were covered with round slate slabs, later also sometimes with clay discs.

In the 6th century BC a new temple was built in the southern part of the sanctuary. Though this is a very small building, its foundations consist of unusually large blocks of marble, which should probably underline the great mythical strength of the heroes Otos and Ephialtis who were worshiped here. The walls were made of carved marble squares and the gabled roof covered with marble roof tiles, as later in the other Naxian temples (for example the temple of Demeter). In front of the temple one can see the base of a pillar which carried a statue or a sphinx.

Here on can see the foundations of a tiny temple building from the 6th century BC. In the foreground lies the base of a pillar on which a statue or a sphinx may have stood.

In addition to the foundations of the buildings, the excavation also revealed many interesting artefacts that were left behind by the visitors of the sanctuary or by the people who worked in the quarries, as well as unfinished or damaged marble statues.

To the east of the sanctuary follows a rocky terrain, partly with marble, which also bears some traces of carving, partly with slate, from which visitors of the sanctuary made the round slate slabs that they used to cover the pits for the burnt offerings. In this area you can see traditional beehives made from clay, similar to those used in antiquity. A threshing floor carefully made of stone slabs further testifies the agricultural use of the area.

Next to the sanctuary, lying on the rocks, are traditional beehives very similar to those used in antiquity (behind the grilles).

The threshing floor testifies to the agricultural use of this whole area.

View from the sanctuary to the area of the ancient quarry; one of the kouroi (marble statues) 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.

continue: The Kouroi of Flerio near Melanes

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