Apart from the alluvial plain of Engares, the northwest coast of Naxos is wild, rocky and mostly deserted: the twisting road that rounds the northern tip of the island and finishes at Apollonas is of recent completion. These were the lands of the Venetian, Cocco family whose two impressive towers punctuate the coastline.
Two kilometres out of Chora to the north, after pass the turns for the fortified, 18th century monastery of Aghios Ioannis Chrysostomos on the hillside to the right hand side, the road makes a sharp turn around a creek. Above the bend can be seen the whitewashed chapel of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos (unlocked). The interior has small areas of 15th century painting in the apse; the beautiful and expressive face of Christ on the Cross in the niche of the apse, and the saint to the right, are of particular note. Directly below—but now almost completely obscured by oleander bushes—stands what is left of the fountain-house of Ismail Hasan Aga, built in 1759 by the Ottoman governor of Naxos . This is the last remaining substantial Ottoman monument on the island.
After 4km, a track leads off to the left, and winds into an area of hilly scrub, dropping eventually to the Ypsili Tower, the largest of the fortified manor/monasteries on the island, built at the beginning of the 17th century by the Cocco family. The tower, though hidden from some angles, dominates the fertile Engares valley. After a further 2km along the main road beyond the turning for Ypsili, by taking the road left for Galini and continuing through the village towards the beach, you come (on the right) to the 9th century church of the Koimisis tis Theotokou or ‘Panaghia Attaleiotissa’ (Q), sited at the edge of a sea of greenery. This is a beautifully proportioned building with a cross-in-square plan, forming three aisles and apses. Some 14th century painting of considerable sophistication survives, as well as fragments of a carved marble throne or ambo from the original foundation on the site. To the left of the entrance gate, a frieze with triglyphs is built into the perimeter wall, along with other spolia taken from an ancient building in the valley—possibly the Temple of Athena Poliouchos, which is believed to have stood in the valley a short distance to the north of Engares (7.5km).
After these fertile fields between Galini and Engares which grow fruit and vegetables for the city, the coastline becomes steeper, more barren and much less populated.
As the road comes to a water reservoir at 15km, a track heads into the steep interior of the Koronos massif, with its peak at Mavro Vouni, (‘Black Mountain’—997m). The track leads to the villages of Skeponi and Myrisis, after three and six kilometres’ climb respectively. On the hill side south of Skeponi is the ruined church of Aghios Giorgios (R), with remains of 13th and 14th century lay ers of painting. Remote and scenic Myrisis is a good cen tre for walks which explore the valleys of the north of the island; the route from Myrisis to Koronida (Komiaki) is particularly rewarding.
Before the northern tip of the island, the road passes (24km) above a bay where the whitewashed, 9th/10th century church of Aghios Theodoros (S), built on the site of an Early Christian predecessor, is visible just behind the shore. Not far beyond, the striking profile and posi tion of the crenellated Tower of Aghia (27.5km), built in 1717, comes into view, impressively sited at a height of over 200m above the shore of the northern tip of the is land. This is the second of the towers built on this coast by the Cocco family. The interior is derelict and the floors have collapsed, leaving fireplaces suspended at the upper levels. Entrance was originally by a wooden ladder: the stairs to the door were probably added in the last century. The holes for the fixing of scaffolding during construction are still visible in the walls. A stepped path to the east leads down to the spring and to the picturesque setting of the monastery of Aghia (T), founded in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 17th century at the time the tower was erected.
The road rounds the northern tip of the island and finally drops down to sea-level, regaining human habitation at the village of Apollonas (35km), set between two small coves on the northeastern tip of the island. The gigantic –abandoned Kouros of Apollonas lies in the cradle of its own quarry, just above and to the west of the main road, 500m south of the harbour. This massive figure, 10.7m in stature and probably representing the bearded god Dionysos, would, if it had been completed, have been the largest solid monolithic sculpted figure of Greek Antiquity. Its dimensions and boldness still astonish.
Because they are unfinished and considerably eroded, it is notoriously difficult to date these pieces, but the work is believed to have been begun around 550 bc, slightly later than the estimated date for the Flerio kouroi. Larger tools have been used here than at Flerio: the upper surface is covered with the marks of a very large bronze point, used once again perpendicularly to the surface. Around the supine figure, the native rock bears the parallel striations left from the ‘cleaning’ of the surface, after the stone had been cored out with drills and picks in order to free and delineate the statue. A perfectly cylindrical hole in the rock scarp beside the feet of the statue served as a capstan-hole for the winching of debris out from the long, narrow space. The projecting arms and hands—a position for receiving offerings—have broken and eroded with time, but the eyes, nose, beard and pectorals all retain some definition.
It is possible that the figure was destined for the sanctuary of Dionysos at Yria. Once again this presents considerable difficulties of transportation—here more than ever, given an estimated weight of 130 tons. The descent to the sea is steep: the beginnings of the stone ramp which had to be cut down to the shore is just visible to the right of the steps as you climb up.
Above Apollonas on the sharp summit (355m) to the southeast of the village, are the remains of the most in accessible of the island’s Venetian fortresses, Kalogeros Castle which surveys the open waters and sea passages of the Icarian Sea. Once again the fortress (accessible by path from the main road, above a hair-pin bend 5km south of Apollonas, at the turning for Mesi) is built on the site of earlier Byzantine and prehistoric fortifications.
Naxos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.