You are here: Home ￫ click here to EXPLORE Naxos ￫ the Chora of Naxos ￫ Kastro
The Kastro occupies the roughly circular summit of the Prehistoric, Classical and Byzantine acropolis. The prin cipal entrance is in the northwest corner where the steps rise steeply beneath the most substantial remaining segment of the 13th century Venetian enceinte of fortifi cations, which visibly includes many blocks of ancient marble in its construction. Projecting bulkily to the north is the only remaining example of the many fortified tow ers in the walls of Marco Sanudo’s original enceinte; it is known both as ‘Sanudo’s Tower’, and as the ‘Tower of the Crispi’, who were the last family of Venetian overlords of the island. Its interior exhibits a small collection of Early Christian and Byzantine sculptures.
How old Marco Sanudo was when he joined his nonagenarian uncle, Enrico Dandolo, Doge of Venice, in the expedition against Constantinople in 1204, is not known since there are no documents recording his date of birth. But he was well positioned, and with courage, charm and shrewdness enough to take full advantage of the scenarios which the capture of Constantinople opened up. The partition agreement between the conquerors of the city assigned the Cyclades, Sporades and Dodecanese, as well as the Ionian islands in the Adriatic, to Venice. But Venice did not possess at this point the financial and human re sources necessary to conquer and hold such a disparate territorial empire, although it devoutly desired the trading privileges and freedom of the waters that went with it. So it was happy to ‘lease out’ or delegate lands and rights to individuals—provided that they were of good Venetian families and loyal to the mother city and her commercial interests. Sanudo stepped into this role. Fitting out a fleet at his own expense, together with other like-minded adventurers, he set out to take the Cyclades—a private enter prise, undertaken on the plea of suppressing piracy and restoring order to the waters.
Most of the 17 islands he took put up little resistance: the plague of piracy and raiding in the Aegean was so great that anyone who gave promise, as Sanudo did, of some degree of protection against them was willingly accepted. Only Naxos resisted because it was currently held by a group of Genoese mercenaries. In 1207 Sanudo landed near modern-day Aghiasos and, in an act characteristic of his personality, burnt his boats so that there could be no turning back. Five weeks later he had taken the stronghold of Apaliros Castle from the Genoese, and the island, indeed the whole western Aegean, was thenceforth his domain. He proclaimed himself Duke of Naxos with allegiance primarily to the Latin Emperor in Constantinople rather than to Venice. He was later recognised as Duke ‘of the Archipelago’ (the word is an Italian corruption of the Greek, Αἰγαίον πέλαγος, ‘Aegean sea’) and built his capital on the acropolis of Naxos . Keeping Paros, Milos, Syros and the islands closest to Naxos for himself, he ‘leased’ the others as fiefs to his companions in arms, in much the same way as Venice had dispensed the islands to him: Andros to the Dandolo family, Tinos, Mykonos and the Sporades to the Ghisi, Kea and Seriphos to the Giustiniani, Santorini to the Barozzi, Astypalaia to the Querini, and Anaphi to the Foscolo families. Courageous and fortunate in adventure, he was also tolerant and intelligent in the exercise of power, attracting loyalty from those below him. Ambition, or perhaps mere injudiciousness, however, led him into two failed enterprises: first an attempt in 1212 to seize Crete for himself from the Venetian Governor whom he had ostensibly set out to help; and then in 1213, to attack the Byzantine Emperor, The odore Laskaris, now in exile in Nicaea. Though the enterprises failed, what is interesting and instructive about Sanudo’s character is how he emerged from these two escapades: the Venetian Republic apparently bore him no serious resentment for his disloyalty in Crete; and, through his charm, intelligence and attractive personality, he won back not just his freedom from the Emperor Theodore, but the hand of his sister in marriage.
Sanudo was now married to a Greek aristocrat; and his son, Angelo, was bi-lingual. He became thereby a prominent example of cultural and religious tolerance. And that in turn became a model for the peaceful co-existence of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, of Greek with Italian. The Cyclades have been notable for an absence of religious bigotry: Orthodoxy was never suppressed or harried, and to this day there are large Roman Catholic communities in the islands. Perhaps for this reason, more than for any other, his duchy survived through twenty successors and three and a half centuries, presiding over a remarkable prosperity and a flourishing of art in Naxos in the 13th and 14th centuries. Sanudo died in 1227.
Ahead is the finely constructed Gothic arch of the main gate, or ‘Trani Porta’: a vertical incision (82cm long) on the right-hand marble post of the entrance-arch marks the standard Venetian measure or ‘yard’, for the pricing of merchants’ cloth. Inside the Trani Gate, the house of the Della Rocca-Barozzi family is immediately to the right, now a small museum (open daily 10–2.30, 4.30–9).
The Della Rocca family, whose origins were Burgundian (de la Roche), styled themselves Dukes of Athens from 1207 to 1308; and the Venetian Barozzi family was given the lord ship of Santorini by Marco Sanudo in 1207. The building has remained in the possession of the intermarried families continuously: it was their city residence, and was supplemented by fortified towers in the rural interior of the island which were also the property of the family. The rooms are pleasingly proportioned and luminous for a fortified dwelling. There is a variety of kinds of ceiling, ranging from the Venetian ‘cassettone’ (main room), to the traditional island wattle over cypress beams, sealed with seaweed and sand mud for insulation (chapel). The fine doors, in a beautiful native Naxiot cedar-wood (now no longer produced on the island), are surmounted with escutcheons and endowed withenious locking mechanisms which allow time for escape through a trap-door in case of surprise attack. Within the substantial thickness of the walls on the west side is a minuscule escape route, communicating with adjacent buildings. The spacious storage-cellars now host a programme of concerts in the summer.
Both south along the curve of Della Rocca Street and up Sanoudou Street to the left are many stately Venetian residences: some bear the family’s coats of arms, carved in stone above the entrance—an ostentatious practice that was frowned upon back home in Venice. Among them is the residence of the Sommaripa family, barons of Paros through the 15th and 16th centuries. The atmosphere in the Kastro was always one of a rarified Catholic aristocracy, separated physically and culturally from the native, Orthodox Greek inhabitants over whom it ruled. The focus of this world was the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Presentation of the Virgin at the summit to the east (open daily 10–1.30, and during liturgies).
Although some scholars maintain that this was built origi nally by Marco Sanudo in the early 13th century as a Catholic place of worship, it is more likely to have been adapted from a pre-existing Byzantine basilica: this would better explain its curious hybrid design—a basilica with a central dome over an inscribed cross, with no apse. The structure has been rebuilt once and restored twice over the intervening centuries: the façade was rather clumsily re-clad in Naxiot marble in the last century. The escutcheons over the door are of the della Craspere, Crispi and Sanudo families (from left to right), with that of the (?)Venetian Republic inserted second from the right. East of the crossing are two antique columns, one of which is fluted; their capitals have vestiges of their 17th century colouration. On the north side, in places, the floor is laid with elaborate memorial stones commemorating the dead of the many grand Italian and French families who still inhabited the kastro in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries: there were once many more memorials. Above the altar, in an ornate 17th century frame, is the magnificent, full-length *icon of the Virgin and Child with the figure of the donor below—an Italianising processional icon of the late 13th century of consummate beauty. The icon stands a serene 190cm high. By the Virgin’s feet kneels the donor, Bishop John of Nicomedia, with a prayer to the Virgin written just above him. The rear side bears the figure of St. John the Baptist (ask the attendant to turn the icon). Along the east wall are a number of interesting paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries—most notably the panel dedicated to St Carlo Borromeo with scenes of his life. In the south aisle is a delicate 17th century, Virgin of the Rosary.
In the small church of the Panaghia Theoskepasti, directly to the east of the Catholic cathedral, are two more particularly fine *icons, both dating from the 14th cen tury: the Virgin ‘Hodeghetria’ with a powerful Crucifixion on its reverse, and the damaged icon of Aghia Anastasia.
The brilliant marble façades and paving of the streets within the kastro underscore the slight lifelessness of the area; although they constitute an ensemble of grand and historic buildings, the human presence among them is lacking. To the south of the cathedral are the lower re mains of the central tower of the original, 13th century fortress of Marco Sanudo—now used as a water cistern. To its east stands the residence of the Catholic bishop, and beyond it, the buildings of the Ursuline Monastery and its school which functioned for 300 years from its founding in 1672 until it was closed in 1973. Off the small square formed by these buildings is the entrance to the Naxos Archaeology Museum (open daily except Mon 8.30–3.). Although displayed somewhat dowdily and with patchy labelling, its importance lies particularly in its wide-ranging and magnificent collection of Cycladic, marble figurines and objects.
(Main floor) The small collection of Neolithic finds, includes (case to right of door) a small strip of beaten gold, perforated at the corners— the oldest gold artefact to be found in the Cyclades—dat from the 4th millennium bc, which was found along with copper tools and other objects in the Cave of Zas just below the highest summit on the island, indicating contacts with North Aegean centres (?Macedonia) far from this inland Cycladic site.
The Cycladic artefacts dating from the late 4th and 3rd millennia bc are created from local marble, shaped with obsidian from Milos, and then extensively refined and finished by abrasion with the island’s abundant emery. The dignified forms of the marble bowls and offering platters are satisfyingly simple, but, without metal tools, these were arduous to create. The interior of a bowl or jar—once the exterior had been painstakingly shaped by rubbing with emery—had to be hollowed out by making countless laborious perforations with a wooden drill tipped with obsidian, then connecting the perforations into a continuous cut by abrading and chipping the residual material between them, removing a core, and then further abrading and enlarging the interior. Given the time-consuming difficulty of all this, it is remarkable that the pieces emerge in so masterfully symmetrical and pure a form. Similar technical processes were used with the *figurines (show-cases in first room). These vary in height between 20 and 50cm: the majority are of female figures, most commonly with arms folded, narrow shoulders and relatively large necks and heads, bearing a sculpted nose but no other facial features: this is the typical ‘Spedos’ type, named after the finds from Spedos in southeastern Naxos . From the cemetery of Louros in southern Naxos comes an even purer and more schematic form, without arms—the so-called ‘Louros’ type. Of particular beauty are the several examples of seated female figures, with arms crossed, on stools or high-backed ‘thrones’ (mid 3rd millennium bc), whose proportions tend towards the naturalistic. Once again the lack of arms, rather than distracting, in fact enhances concentration on the volumes of the body. Contemporary with these pieces are a number of objects in clay which have survived: a zoomorphic cup in the form of a pig (right hand wall), and a set of wide-rimmed bowls, like up-turned hats.
Subsequent rooms exhibit objects from the Mycenaean burial sites on Naxos , which have yielded fine jewellery and bronze ornaments—including a series of small gold sheets with framed and embossed figures of children (middle gallery). In the cases against the walls are other examples, with repousse forms of lions, bull’s heads and other animals, found at Aplomata and at Kamini. A frequent design on the decorated Mycenaean pottery is the sensuous and fluid octopus motif—symbol of regeneration. One of the most unusual pieces is a vase (third gallery) decorated with two moulded snakes whose heads drink beside its spout. Note also a small 12th century bc hydria bearing an unusual scene of fisher men drawing in a net with its catch; and the fragments of a large pithos, decorated in relief with chariots and riders who bear Homeric, ‘figure-of eight’ shields. The fine collection of Geometric vases comes from the cemeteries at Tsikalario on Naxos and at Vathy Limenari (see p. 170) on Donousa. Amongst them are the burnt remains of fruits and nuts which were given as offerings.
(Mezzanine floor beyond galleries.) The collection of Archaic exhibits is small for an island with such artistic preeminence in the period. They include a fine 6th century bc, Kouros head from Grotta, and fragments with bold Archaic inscriptions—including a disc-like grave-marker with clearly inscribed border. At the edge of the outside terrace are two unfinished Archaic kouroi—one almost life-size, the other substantially smaller.
In the centre of the terrace is displayed an ornate but unsophisticated mosaic of the 3rd or 4th century ad, figuring a marine nymph, framed by corner-segments with pea cocks and hinds, which was found in a late Antique house in Naxos . Of note among the other Hellenistic and Roman exhibits (final room, upper floor) is a large collection of beautiful Roman glass.
The museum adjoins the former French School whose main building is down the alley to the left, as you face the museum entrance. Founded in 1627 with a charter ap proved by both the Pope (Urban VIII) and the Ottoman Sultan (Murat IV), and open to Catholic and Orthodox students alike, it became one of the foremost schools of the Aegean world. The novelist, Nikos Kazantzakis studied here as a boy in 1896, until—as he relates (with some elaboration) in his Report to Greco (1961)—he was forci bly removed by his father and returned to Crete.
The street (named after Kazantzakis) leading out of the West Gate or ‘Paraporti’ of the Kastro winds down past a series of grand residences with refined marble or namentations to their window and door frames, as far as the small esplanade of Plateia Brandouna, which is lined with cafes and tavernas, and offers cool on summer evenings and views over the port towards Paros.
Naxos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.