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
The exterior of the church does not give away its antiquity, which goes back to its foundation as an Early Christian basilica probably in the 6th century. In the 9th century, the original, three-aisled basilica form was modified by the addition of a central dome and crossing; in the 11th century a vaulted narthex was added to the west, at a slightly skewed angle. For much of its early history the church was the seat of the Orthodox bishop of Naxos —hence its name. In the apse of the sanctuary is a synthronon and marble episcopal throne. This is flanked by processions of Apostles painted in the 6th or 7th century which, though damaged by the superimposition of later paintings (now removed), exhibit the characteristic vigour of Early Christian work in their beautifully ‘sculpted’ robes: in the same campaign of work, the dark-skinned face and intense gaze of St Isidore of Chios was painted on the left jamb of the left-hand window above the throne. The Deesis in the conch above is painted in a very different visual language: the stylised hair of Christ and the robe—line-drawn rather than ‘sculpted’ like those below— dates from 700 years later (13th century), the last phase of painting in the church. Some fragments of 9th century, ‘aniconic’ decoration have also been revealed on the north crossing vault by the apse. Two other periods of painting are represented—the finest being the work of a particularly sensitive and graceful painter of the 11th century, who executed the Annunciation of the Virgin and the Presentation at the Temple visible in the south vault below the dome. Beneath the latter, in less felicitous hand, is the huddled mass of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste, who were condemned to death from hypothermia in a frozen lake. The dramatic Christ, ringed by the Four Archangels and Ten Saints in the cupola is by yet another slightly later 11th century hand, who paints with a noticeably harder edge and less tonal unity of colour, but with great clarity nonetheless. The paintings in the north west parecclesion (off the narthex) are also probably by this last artist.
Chalki and its surrounding villages display a variety of domestic architecture, stretching from the 17th century Venetian towers to the dignified neoclassical town-houses of the early 20th century. But above all, it is one of the richest areas in Greece for its painted Byzantine rural churches. The principal ones here are:
To the north
*Aghios Giorgios Diasoriis (3), mid-11th century. (Signed on footpath 1km northwest of Chalki. Generally open 10–2.30 with custodian in summer. Otherwise opening to be arranged with Ephorate.) Here, by contrast, is a rare example of a church with almost all its painting programme intact, executed all in one campaign, shortly after the building was completed. The work is distinguished by its remarkable chromatic harmony and unity, and by the meditative tranquillity of the style of its master artist. The cycle has recently undergone conservation.
The church—un-plastered and of simple and coherent de sign—stands in an olive grove on the edge of the village. The interior is clear and spacious for so small a church: the dome is supported on four piers whose surfaces are also decorated. Although the paintings probably all date from a single campaign of painting of the middle of the 11th century, there are at least two hands at work. We see the master in the dignified and beautifully executed figures in the apse—a youthful Archangel Gabriel to the left, and an even more youthful and innocent St George (centre), flanked by his mother, St Polychronia, and his father, Gerontius. We recognise the same artist’s hand again in the exquisite angels—wings spread—which frame the Ascension in the central vault. A quite different soul is at work, however, in the scenes in the upper corners, such as the Archangel Michael appearing to Joshua (north east corner, north wall) where a flatness and woodenness reveal a less expert hand. This same artist is at work in the roundels with busts of the saints on the eastern piers. The overall effect of the whole programme is nonetheless moving. No detail is overlooked: even the decoration in the robes of the church fathers in the apse is beautifully echoed in the bands of pure decoration which surround and frame the scenes.
Church of the *Panaghia Damiotissa (7) (800m northeast of Chalki, west of the road to the Drosiani. Generally open 10–2.30 with custodian in summer. Otherwise opening to be arranged with Ephorate.) A tiny, free-cruciform, 10th century church with the ruined remains of a (later) narthex to the west. There are chromatically rich paintings in the apse and on other surfaces. Of interest is the particular and idiosyncratic personality of the painter which is revealed in the expressive and stylised modelling of the face, and the laterally elongated eyes. Some finely carved elements from the original templon screen survive, several of which constitute parts of the north window-frame.
Basilica of Aghios Isidoros (8) (1.5km north of Chalki, by a track north from a point 600m west of the main junction in the village centre. Unlocked.) An unexpected sight: this is a large 6th or 7th century, ruined basilica with three aisles and a single apse. It has been modified later: its timber roof, being replaced by the existing, stone barrel-vaults in the 10th/11th century, at the same time probably that the flat-roofed narthex was added. The walls are punctuated with phialostomia—cross-shaped brick decorations (see p.97). No other decoration, apart from fragments of the carved marble para pet of the original church, has survived.
Double church of the Panaghia Theoskepasti and Aghios Spiridon (E) (by the high school in Chalki). Two contiguous single-aisled churches. The conches of the twin apses of the south aisle have 13th century paintings of the Pantocrator (north) and the Virgin ‘Nikopoia’ (south).
At Vourvouria, south west of Chalki
Aghios Konstantinos (F) (400m outside, and due south, of the village of Vouvouria, 1km southwest of Chalki). Substantial painting remains in the apse of a Virgin of the ‘Blachernae’ type, above beautifully depicted saints below, dated to 1311 by an inscription in the conch.
At Akadimi, east of Chalki
Aghios Panteleimon (G) (500m due south of Chalki). 13th century church with contemporaneous paintings, best pre served in the apse and conch, conceived in a highly individu alistic style. Note the especially fine Dei«sis with a powerful, central Christ figure.
At Kerami, east of Chalki
Aghios Ioannis Theologos Keramiou(9) (200m east of the main road passing through Kerami, to the north of the village centre. Open 10–2.30.) The surviving painting-remains here (recently restored against a rather unsympathetic background colour of plaster) are fragmentary but of high quality, dating from the late 13th century. Because of notable similarities in stylistic traits, it cannot be precluded that the artist is not the same as the artist of Aghios Nikolaos (see below), although there is perhaps greater modelling and shading to the faces in the figures here. Behind the real altar, another Holy Table is painted in the apse, covered with a decorated cloth and a pat en bearing the words, ‘Take, eat: this is my Body’. The church is of the domed-square, ‘mausoleum-type’; the vaulted bay to the west and its belfry were added later. The door-frame comprises ancient blocks.
Aghii Apostoli (10) (250 m to the south of the main road passing through Kerami, to the west of the village centre. Locked, but the exterior is of greatest interest.) An ?11th century church, of interest for its impressive design and sophisticated appear ance, set in the midst of olive groves: it has only slight remains of 12th and 13th century paintings within. The building is on an inscribed-cross plan, with a dome supported by free standing piers. The domed narthex to the west, together with the tall drum of the main dome, creates an exterior profile full of interest. The rising mass of volumes and portals at the west front is particularly striking and is the exterior expression of an architectural anomaly—namely the inclusion of a small, domed oratory on the upper level above the narthex. The south side is beautifully articulated with a blind arcade with ‘pendentive’ designs between the arches made with phialostomia—small, hollow, square or cross-shaped elements in terracotta, which because of their similarity to the crimped mouth of a certain kind of water-jug, are called ‘phialo-stomia’ (‘bottle-mouths’). These were included both for decorative purposes, and to increase ventilation in the walls. They are mostly found on islands such as Chios, with a strong tradition of using brick and tile in buildings, and are unusual here on Naxos .
Naxos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.