Naxos Island, Greece.
843 00 02
Naxos : area 389 sq.km
resident population 17,357
max. altitude 999m.
Port Authority: T. 22850 22300 & 23939.
Tourist information: Zas Travel (T. 22850 23330, fax 23419)
Naxos Travel Guide
East of Melanes is the village of Kour[ou]nochori (6.5km), where the turreted and machicolated Mavrogenis/Della Rocca Tower—one of the best preserved of the several early Venetian towers in the valley—rises conspicuously above the village roof-scape. These ‘towers’ were fortified manors belonging to the important Venetian families of the 14th and 15th centuries, built to mark and survey their rural properties.
Just beyond, the road descends to Flerio (10.5km): this is the site of the two *unfinished marble kouroi, which constitute one of the most fascinating remains in the Cyclades, as well as of the recently uncovered ancient sanctuary nearby. A path leads left from where the road ends along a plane-shaded torrent-bed, and then cuts along side a garden of citrus trees to the right: just above the or chard, you unexpectedly come upon the first Kouros lying in a small walled enclosure beneath some ilex trees. The sight is momentarily breath-taking. The massive supine figure, 5.8m long, is, beneath the dark patination of its surface, in pure white marble. It lies in the place where the uncut block was initially detached from the bedrock of the island. This is clear from the chiselled striations and workings of the stone in the immediate vicinity. After the piece had been given an approximate form and principal characteristics as a Kouros—i.e. a nude, standing, heroic, male figure—it was moved through 90 degrees from the position in which it was originally roughed out. Then the piece was abandoned, never worked again and left unfinished, probably because a fault in the marble at the shins of the figure (structurally its weakest point) caused the stone to fracture, though it is not impossible that some purely external factor—an earthquake or a war—caused the work to stop, and that the fracture occurred after wards. It still lies in the same spot where it was created, abandoned, and accidentally discovered again in 1943.
UNFINISHED KOUROI OF NAXOS
There are three unfinished, gigantic kouroi statues on Naxos : two here at the site of Flerio, and one at Apollonas, near the northern tip of the island. The latter is of an apparently bearded male figure (probably Dionysos), and dates from around 550 bc. At 10.7m long, it is by a long way the largest of the three. It lies in its quarry in the bedrock close to the sea, and has been known for a long time. The Flerio kouroi date most probably from a little earlier in the first half of the 6th century bc, and have come to light only recently. These objects are not just remarkable and moving sights, they are also highly instructive in what they can tell us about the way ancient sculptors worked.
Quarry site. The kouroi clearly demonstrate that, in this early period in Greece, the sculptors travelled to where the stone was, rather than the stone travelling to the sculptor’s workshop. Unlike the army of stone-cutters in the centre of Ancient Rome who worked in shops beneath the Palatine hill (in what is still to this day called the Via Marmorata) on blocks of rough-hewn marble unloaded from barg es on the Tiber and brought to their door, the early Greek stone-cutters went to where the best marble occurred in the natural landscape and did much of their preliminary work there, on the spot. Experience and local knowledge would tell them where in the mountains the purest marble deposits were. Af ter doing preliminary soundings with a pick in the area, they would decide on a particular pure vein in the bedrock and begin the work of mapping out the figure and releasing the roughed-out form from the living rock.
Transportation.This,however, left the substantial problem of transportation. The marble was in the mountains of the interior and the partly finished piece had to be got down to the sea. Massive marble objects are transportable by water, but moving them over land is difficult and risky: the marble can easily get chipped or broken even in simple moves. It is clear for all to see how particularly difficult the terrain on Naxos is: steep, rough and bolder-strewn. The 12 kilometres from Flerio down to the sea look like an insurmountably difficult journey. There is the dry bed of a stream nearby, but even allowing for Cycladic deforestation and ecological change, it could never have had enough water in it to facilitate the descent in any useful way. So, unless the Naxiots had invented a very large hot-air balloon and never told us, there seems to be no alternative to their having intended to build a ‘runway’, in parts made of loose marble chips, in other parts of packed earth, leading all the way over this unforgiving terrain down to the shore. Sledges, carts, ropes and a great deal of man and animal-power were then necessary to propel and to brake the movement of the fragile monoliths. No evidence of this ‘piste’, however, is visible today on Naxos . In Athens a road of this nature was improvised over the 15km between the quarries on Mount Pentelicon and the Acropolis hill when the Parthenon and propylaia and the Erechtheion were being built, but Athens had a large population and a lot of slave-power, and the Athenians were transport such large quantities of stone over a long period that it was worth their while to invest in a runway of such length and magnitude. The slope is for the most part relatively gentle and the floor of the Attic plain is considerably more accommodating than the rocky interior of Naxos .
Destination. It is possible, however, that this laborious transportation was not actually necessary because the pieces were intended for the sanctuary which has recently been uncovered some 50–100m to the north of the abandoned kouroi at Flerio; but, given the nature of what has been revealed so far of this site, this seems unlikely—though not impossible. Most probably the kouroi would have been created for exportation to another island—as in the case of the huge, monolithic statue of Apollo which was dedicated and given by the Naxiots to the sanctuary at Delos around 600 bc.
A consonance between the dimensions of the Flerio Kouros (5.8m) and the monumental doorway (interior measurement, 6.5m) of the Archaic temple remains of the Portara could indicate that the Flerio Kouros was destined for the cellaof the temple. It is possible that work on that temple may have been stopped at the time of the overthrow of Lygdamis in 525 bc, a timing that could correspond also to the abandonment of the two kouroi, if we accept a later date for their creation.
Sculpting method and tools used. The fact that these pieces were left just as they were in mid-creation gives us a rare opportunity to look over the shoulders of the scupltors and to see how they worked. The whole surface of the Flerio Kouros is covered in small and regular circular depressions left by the sculptors’ tools. The straight chisel or bull-nosed chisel generally leaves a running groove, but the sculptor’s point or ‘punch’ (a tool like a chisel but with a pointed end) leaves such dimple-like marks. The ‘dimples’ reveal that the sculptor has used a hammering stroke, perpendicular to the surface of the stone. This is a laborious way to work stone: a perpendicular stroke soon blunts a tool, which then constantly requires sharpening. These perpendicular strokes were used because the sculptors’ tools were not of hard enough metal for any other method. There is a ratio between the strength of the metal tool used and the hardness of the stone to be cut which limits the angle at which the tool can be used. Bronze tools of the sort available to a stonemason of the 6th century bc were not hard enough to permit the oblique stroke of a point or flat chisel: they would tend always to skid across the surface of the stone when used obliquely. Consequently they were used perpendicularly to the surface, dislodging small pieces of marble and leaving the indentations we see all over the surface. Iron tools, by contrast, would be hard enough to allow a more oblique stroke to cut the stone, and to create a more uniform and flatter surface. Iron, though a late arrival by comparison with bronze and copper, had been known and used in the Mediterranean since before the beginning of the 1st millennium bc: but, like all metals when they are first discovered, it was still an expensive commodity in the 6th century bc. (It had been one of the most valuable prizes offered by Achilles to the victor of the weight-throwing contest in Book 23 of the Iliad.) The first people to benefit from any increasing availability of iron would have been the warriors and soldiers who needed it for their weaponry: in second place of importance would have come the stone-cutters. So, it appears that bronze tools were still in use for sculpture long after the introduction of iron—just as stone tools were still used in Egypt after the arrival of bronze.
Continuing to work with old-fashioned bronze tools may also have had a good technical reason. Marble has a strong and regular crystalline structure; by continual striking of the surface with these perpendicular strokes, the crystalline structure begins to break down and the surface of the marble loses its rigidity and becomes more responsive to later, fin er cutting and to abrasion with emery, as the piece nears its completion. Sculptors call this ‘bruising’ the marble. The final surface of these kouroi was, in any case, left intentionally rough in order that the thin coloured plaster-wash, which was commonly used, had something to ‘key’ into on the surface when it was applied. All these early kouroi were brilliantly coloured.
Measurements and proportions. Of all the indentations in the surface of the Kouros, the largest and most worn is at the navel. From this central point, all the canonical measurements which guided the sculptor in mapping out the body were taken: used constantly as a fixed point of reference, it has been worn more deeply than any other point. The distance from the navel to the break between the legs gives us a measurement of about 33cm (the length of a fore arm from knuckle to elbow). It is the same distance from the navel to the flank; the same from the chin to the crown; twice this distance, from the navel to the sternum; twice, also from the break in the legs to the knees; and again from there to the soles of the feet; and so on. In other words, a precise received scheme of proportions governed the sculptors’ work, based on a single unit of length.
Identity. What exactly the kouroi ‘represent’ is also the subject of debate. Of the several dozen male kouroi that have survived from Antiquity, there is no common key to their purpose or identity. Some are grave-markers, some are votive statues; some represent divinities, others heroes, some perhaps ordinary mortals or even living athletes; few have attributes of any kind to help define them better. What they all have in common is youth and nudity. The Greek word for a sculpture was ‘αγαλμα—‘that which gives delight’, to the deities, to the dead, or to the living.
The kouroi are ‘agalmata’—unchanging incarnations of beauty, hence the apparent frequency with which they are associated with Apollo. Apollo was the image in which the Greeks worshipped youth and beauty. The main Flerio Kouros could equally be an anonymous hero or an image of Apollo. The beard of the Kouros at Apollonas, however, precludes Apollo, and for that reason it is thought generally it would have been an image of Dionysos.
From the first Kouros a path leads to a small cottage where it is possible to take refreshments in the shade of citrus trees. Not far beyond, a path leads diagonally up the hillside to the second Kouros, which lies exposed on the hillside. It is of similar dimensions, and though more eroded, was in a slightly more advanced state of completion. The front of the face has sheered off and both legs are broken at the knees. Fragments of the feet and shins lie in the area. From here it is possible to cut southwest across the fields and rejoin the stone kalderimi or mule path which leads from Myli across the hill, south to Ano Potamia (35mins by foot), arriving in the village beside its spring and taverna. It is an easy and very rewarding walk, which traverses the area where some of the earliest surface quarries of white marble in the Greek world were first exploited. It was possibly on these slopes that the elements of the Portara and of the great Naxiot dedications on Delos were first cut and shaped.
The most recent discovery in the area of Flerio is the sanctuary to chthonic deities discovered on the hillside beside the point where the asphalt road ends. The sanctuary, which has an interesting and unusual circular configuration of buildings, was probably frequented predominantly by the quarrymen and sculptors, since it stands in the heart of their work area.
The first cultic buildings here date from the 8th century bc. In the 7th century bc a rearrangement of the site was under taken, together with the building of a new marble temple. It was characterised by a monolithic door-frame (threshold visible) which, in design, prefigured the ‘Portara’ and the en trances of other later Ionic temples. Damage to the building occurred resulting from an earth tremor in the 6th century bc, and the temple and its surrounding buildings—amongst which were a hestiatorion, or ritual dining area—were re paired. The survival, throughout all this, of a sacred hearth for burnt offerings suggests that the divinity worshipped was chthonic—perhaps a fertility divinity, or the giants, Otus and Ephialtes, who perished on Naxos and were honoured as protectors of quarrymen. The latter—twin sons of Poseidon—are protagonists of some of the most bizarre of all Greek myths: it was they who, having declared war on the Olympian gods, ‘piled [Mt] Pelion on [Mt] Ossa’ on top of Mount Olympus, and threatened to make the sea dry by filling it with mountains. They bound Ares in chains and put him in a cauldron, and declared their lusts—Otus for the virgin Artemis, Ephialtes for queen Hera. When finally killed on Naxos by a ruse excogitated by Artemis, they went to Hades, were bound to pillars with snakes, and tormented by a ceaselessly screeching owl.
Naxos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.