Theodore Bent called Antiparos ‘a place without a history’—an ironic comment for a man who pioneered, through his excavations on this island, the discovery of what is now called Early Cycladic culture. One of the oldest organised settlements in the Cyclades is on the islet of Saliagos just off Antiparos. The islet, which scarcely appears above sea level, is visible in the strait (behind the islet of Revmatonisi which is in the foreground), 1km to the north of the ferry route between Paros and Antiparos. Like the other islets in the strait it was originally a low rise on the continuum of land which then joined Paros and Antiparos. Some time— probably in the 2nd millennium bc—a massive seismic movement caused the land to sink by 10–12m, and what was formerly a peninsula became the island of Antiparos, and the summit of Saliagos became a reef.
The Neolithic settlement on Saliagos, inhabited by a community of sheep-farmers and fishermen of the late 5th-4th millennium bc, was excavated in 1964–65 by the British School at Athens. Stone foundations of buildings, obsidian arrow-heads, stone implements and pottery were found. A marble figurine of the seated, cross-legged, ‘fat-lady’ type— an image found also on Malta in the same epoch—was unearthed, as well as some clay chalices of fine workmanship, decorated with abstract designs in white. The settlement has many characteristics in common with that at Ftelia on Mykonos, with which its is more or less contemporary.
Strabo refers to Antiparos as Oliaros, which according to the lexicographer Stephanus of Byzantium was a Phoenician name, meaning ‘wooded mountain’. The old town of Antiparos, 400m inland of the waterfront, was built in the 15th century in an unprotected position which left it vulnerable to pirate attack: it was even less natu rally defensible than the chora of Kimolos, to which it bears many similarities. It relied on its quadrant of walls formed by the high, reinforced exterior of the circuit of dwellings which opened onto the interior space. The single gate into the enclosure is still visible, with rectangular marble blocks from an ancient structure forming part of the base to the right: the arch is faced with dressed stones on its inner side, giving it a slightly pointed profile. Ahead of the gate is a flight of steps which leads to a raised area (now a water cistern) which constituted the base of the original central tower which stood here: some of its lower structure and talus are visible. This suggests that there was at least a tower and cluster of dwellings around it before the planned settlement was begun in 1440—the year in which the island was given in marriage dowry by the Sommaripa Duke of Paros to the Venetian, Leonardo Loredan (sitter in the celebrated portrait by Giovanni Bellini, now in the National Gallery in London). Both to build and populate the new Kastro, Loredan brought in settlers from the neighbouring islands. His Kastro is a simple but effective piece of urban design—beautifully preserved and still inhabited today. The houses are all created on more or less the same plan, with two or three lev els, an exterior balcony reached by a flight of stone steps, and cisterns which collect water from the roofs.
The area outside the Kastro is all of later date. The principal church of Aghios Nikolaos, which bears its found er’s inscription over the door, was begun in 1645, which must mark the beginnings of a tentative expansion beyond the confines of the fortifications. The town continued to be prey to pirate raids however, and as late as 1790 was sacked and left with a markedly reduced population.
The north of the island is mostly agricultural, with a central valley of cultivable land—the Kambos—3km south of the Chora. To its west are two lovely beaches, Livadi Bay and, more difficult of access, Monastiria Bay: the latter is delightfully set between two steep hills, and watered by a spring behind. The more mountainous south of the island has seen considerable mining activity. Bent mentions mines of kalamine, operated by the Messrs Swan who assisted him in his excavations: but there were also mineral-ore mines around Mt Prophitis Elias. Some of the buildings and chutes are still visible.
The Cave of Antiparos (open daily 10.45–3.45 in tours; in winter, reduced hours without tours), to the east of Prophitis Elias, 8.5km from Chora, has been known and admired since antiquity and visited increasingly since the 17th century. Descending steeply to a depth of over 100m, the space is articulated in chambers of increasing size, festooned with a remarkable density of stalactites and stalagmites. The large, slightly unprepossessing stalagmite by the entrance is said to be 45 million years old and the largest known in Europe.
The quantity of names, dates, inscriptions and graf fiti carved into the rock, and going back many centuries, is impressive. Earlier visitors record seeing the name of Archilochus inscribed, and a long inscription recording the names of a group of friends who visited in the ‘time of the Archon Kriton’; but these are no longer visible. The names of Byron (probably not authentic), Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, King Otto of Greece, and countless other visitors (mostly French and German) of the 18th and 19th centuries are well preserved along with others, often in beautiful calligraphy.
The path enters through an area called the antechamber, and then begins to descend steeply in a succession of staircases. At the bottom a branch leads right into the ‘Royal Hall’, and left into the ‘Cathedral’: it is at the extremity of the latter path that most of the interest and the names are to be found. Ahead of where the path stops is the ‘altar‘. It is inscribed at its base: HIC IPSE CHRISTUS EJUS NATALIE DIE ME- DIA CELEBRATO, MDCLXXIII’, recording how ‘on Christ mas Day 1673, mass was celebrated’ in the cave. The organiser of this mass was the French Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, Charles Olier, Marquis of Nointel. He had been sent to Istanbul by Louis XIV to negotiate better trading privileges for the French with the Ottoman Sultan. On his return he went via Chios, the Cyclades and Egypt, and finally re turned from Athens. He was a keen antiquarian, and collected marbles and inscriptions as he travelled. In his retinue was Jacques Carrey, whose job was to draw the antiquities along the way—and to whom we owe the vitally important sketch of the Parthenon Marbles still in situ, in their original configuration on the building, before they were removed by Lord Elgin. By all accounts the mass held here was an extraordinary occasion, with the cave illuminated with flares, the altar decked out with liturgical paraphernalia, fireworks at the entrance at the moment the Host was consecrated, the sound of musical instruments, and the clearly eccentric marquis presiding over what must have been a logistically complicated piece of theatre, requiring much planning and forethought. The arrival of such a grand retinue in the half abandoned Antiparos of the 17th century must have been a source of wonderment to the few local inhabitants.
Continuing further south on the island, a branch to the left leads a further 5km down to the southern tip of the island from the junction at 8.5km from the Chora. The beautiful promontory is covered in dense maquis and in dented all the way down by beautiful bays and beaches: Soros, Sostis and Phaneromeni, where the tiny chapel provides welcome shade under its ‘wings’. By continuing west at the junction, you descend to Aghios Giorgios with good views across the water to the island of Despotiko. It was on the slopes of the hill here, facing the sea, that Theodore Bent’s excavations of Early Cycladic cemeteries were made in the winters of 1883 and 1884.