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THE CHORA OF NAXOS
From the arriving boat, the salient outlines of the history of Naxos are visible at a glance. In the distance, high on the mountains of the interior behind the Chora, are the white scars of the modern marble quarries on whose predecessors the island’s early history depended, making it the first and foremost centre for monumental sculpture work in the Aegean; to left, on its enisled hill, stands the great marble frame of the ‘Portara’, the surviving door way of what would have been the biggest temple in the Cyclades if it had ever been completed, and whose ambitious size is a measure of the importance and self-esteem of the island in its heyday of the 6th century bc; ahead is the hill of the Venetian Kastro, with its attractive cascade of buildings inside and outside its walls—symbol of more than three centuries of Venetian, Catholic domination of the island which was to bring Naxos protection and wealth in the difficult years of the Late Middle Ages. In recent decades the city has expanded in all directions, covering the fields that once encompassed the Kastro. In the process the building work has revealed important evidence of yet another period in which the island was preeminent: throughout the Bronze Age, Naxos was a flourishing and important centre, based around the Bay of Grotta on the city’s northern shore.
The shape of the modern harbour has been consider ably altered: on the north side of the main modern mole, prostrate columns and blocks of marble can be seen breaking the water surface. These are what remains of the moles, built in 1207 by Marco Sanudo, the first Venetian overlord of the island, and constructed with ‘debris’, including columns and architrave blocks garnered from dismantling the Portara temple and other monuments. The small chapel of the Panaghia Myrtidiotissa (which appears to float in the southeast corner of the harbour) sits on part of these constructions: its common name among islanders—the ‘islet of Bacchus’—suggests that the church may replace a shrine to Dionysos on the same site. A number of columns and architectural fragments lie on its platform.
At the north end of the waterfront are some trees in the middle of which stands the bronze statue of Petros Pro topapadakis (1854–1922) from Apeiranthos on Naxos , who was prime minister at the denouement of the Greco Turkish War in 1922. After the catastrophe of the Greek defeat at Smyrna, he was arrested by a revolutionary military committee, convicted of high treason in the so-called ‘Trial of the Six’, and summarily executed.
One block in from the waterfront, the atmosphere changes from a tawdry commercialism to a more traditional island tranquillity which prevails in the network of narrow stepped alleyways around the base of the hill. Frequently, fragments of antiquity are encountered: many of the churches and a number of the house-entrances have door-frames composed of fine ancient blocks. A short climb from the southeastern end of the small plateia which extends back from the waterfront, the alleyway passes through its own ‘Portara’—a small marble gate way constructed of ancient blocks with a carved lintel still bearing square dowel-holes, at the foot of Alxinoros Street. This is generally known as the ‘Porta Gialou’. Similarly, the door-frame of the venerable church beyond the northeast corner of the plateia, at the beginning of the old market street, is a composition of ancient architraves and thresholds.
The old town divides into two appreciably different ar eas; the Venetian Kastro on the hill above; and the Greek ‘Bourgo’ around its circumference, stretching as far as the north shore—at which point it becomes the area of Grotta which is covered under a separate section below.
Naxos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.