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
FOUR ITINERARIES: see map (Chora = 0.0km for distances in text.)
From the southeast corner of the ring-road of Chora, a road heads south for Aghia Anna and the island’s (currently) tiny airport. After less than 1km a left branch leads to the Sanctuary of Dionysos at Yria (3.8km). (Open daily except Mon 8.30–3.) The island of Naxos was sacred to Dionysos, and this spot in the well-watered plain of the Paratrechos river was his main place of cult from at least the 8th century bc. There are many similarities between the final temple built here and the temple of Demeter at Gyroulas (see above)—in their design, orientation (to south), and their evolution and growth from previous places of cult: but there are many significant differences, and the sanctuary here was both older and grander. At its zenith in the 6th century bc, it consisted of a walled rectangular precinct (c. 100m x 50m), with a marble temple, an altar, a propylon , several hestiatoria and other ancillary buildings.
The site developed through four principal phases.
*Through the 9th and 8th centuries bc, there would have been a small mud-brick shrine with a flat roof and door on the site, and a central sacrificial pit, built over the site of a Mycenaean open-air shrine of considerable antiquity.
*Around 730 bc this was refashioned, in larger size (c. 11 x 16.5 m), with stone walls and wooden posts on marble bases in the interior, which supported a wooden ceiling.
*50 years later (680 bc) this was modified again and now began to acquire the appearance of a temple with the addition of a four-columned porch on the front. A more uncluttered interior was created with only two rows of wooden columns to support the flat roof which flanked the central focus of the sacrificial pit. This building stood for a century.
*Around 580 bc the first all-stone temple, whose remains are visible today, was constructed on the same site, but with substantially larger proportions (28.4 x 14m). The walls were of granite but the roof tiles, the south wall and the four-column porch were built in contrasting white marble. The interior columns (c. 8m high) were also in marble; they framed the central view towards a large,chryselephantine statue of Dionysos in the rear chamber.
The Ionic capitals surmounting the columns were fully developed in design and very finely cut—although lacking some thing of the marvellous plasticity of the early Ionic capitals at the Heraion on Samos . A representative example is exhibited here on the top of a concrete stand. To the west of the tem ple is a marble well-shaft, and the base of a propylon which would have formed a monumental entrance into the sanctu ary from the city. It is possible that the gigantic, Archaic statue of Dionysos, lying unfinished in its quarry at Apollonas at the northern tip of the island, was intended for this sanctuary.
ON THE PRESENTATION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES
In the heyday of Romantic archaeology, when Hein rich Schliemann, Arthur Evans and Theodore Bent came to the Greek islands, the sites they visited were mostly untouched—overgrown with vegetation, pastured by animals, and subject to the degradation of time and weather. Today the same sites are a vulnerable prey to the expansion of urban areas, road net works and of the pressures of more intensive farming and rural building. There are many more sites known now, and there is a much greater public interest in seeing them. How is it possible to reconcile respect for the nature of a ruin with its proper protection? How can presenting archaeological material coherently to the public be reconciled with leaving a ruin as what it is—namely a ruin; something whose appeal lies in the fact that it is in the open and not in the closed context of a museum display case; i.e. some thing that has, above all, a character and atmosphere?
A lot of funding, thought and effort has been spent in particular on Naxos for the presentation of archaeological areas to the public. There have been some extraordinary successes—and a few less successful endeavours. The covered excavations in Mitropoleos Square in Naxos stand as a model of the very best museological presentation of archaeological finds, in which a complex history is clearly and concisely displayed and explained: the visitor is given a privileged glimpse into a fascinating discovery, and helped to share both the sense of discovery as well as the often difficult decisions that archaeologists face as they pick their way through a tissue of superim posed, equally valid layers of history. Furthermore, the excavations and their protective covering have had the least possible aesthetic impact on the living environment at the heart of the modern town. A no table success, in short.
Unlike underground excavations, the Temple of Dionysos at Yria was a rural site of considerable personality. Its current presentation is an example of how easily over-management can kill the spirit of such a place. Once a place of profound cultic importance, today it has been reduced to a document. What is called ‘enhancement’—the fencing, the gravel paths and corrals, the inappropriate municipal vegetation, and above all the heavy-handed reorganisation with new, machine-cut marble slabs and concrete plinths—in the end alienates, rather than enhances. It becomes intrusive in a place of cult and of ruined antiquity. The archaeologists have pains takingly revealed a site of immense importance; but officialdom has rendered it almost perfectly sterile.
Notwithstanding, on 4 June 2003, in the presence of the Prince Consort of Denmark, President of Europa Nostra, and high officials of the European Union, the Category 1D Award for ‘outstanding heritage achievements’ was given for the sanctuaries of Dionysos at Yria and of Demeter at Sangri, in recognition of their presentation and reconstruction. The future will probably see many more ruined, rural sanctuaries turned in this manner into extensions of the urban context.
To the west of Yria lie the flat salt-marshes of the Paratre chosstream, bordered to the west by the rocky outcrop of Aghios Prokopios, and by the long sandy beaches of Aghios Giorgios, to north, and Aghia Anna, to south. Due south of Yria, and accessible from the road from Vivlos to Plaka (on a hillside to the north, 1.5km west of Vivlos) is the Hellenistic tower of Plaka (8.5km). The building is about 11m square and of equivalent height, constructed in an immaculate isodomic granite masonry which suggests a date of the late 4th century bc. Its position would appear to preclude its having been a watch tower: the site of the windmills above would have been more appropriate for that. It must represent a fortified rural building whose purpose was to survey and protect the productive valley of Plaka below. Just across the road in the valley lies the church of Aghios Matthaios, built on the site of an Early Christian basilica, from which some vestiges of mosaic floor, architectural fragments and a baptismal font survive on site. Three kilometres south of Vivlos (formerly called ‘Tripodes’) is the church of Aghios Ioannis Theologos Kaknadou (O), with 13th century paintings of distinctive style and chromatic range.
The long, sweeping bays of the west coast are interrupted by the rocky knob of Mikri Vigla (17.5km), which projects into the sea at one of the most exposed points on the coast, between two shallow coves. Excavations on and around the summit of the outcrop have revealed a stone construction of the Middle Bronze Age where clay figurines, pottery (of Minoan influence) and fragments of wall-paintings have been unearthed. Mikri Vigla, which appears to have flourished in the early 2nd millennium bc at a time when other Early Cycladic settlements were being abandoned, represents an important piece in the jigsaw of a wider understanding of the prehistoric Cyclades. In spite of its healthy survival into the Middle Bronze Age, it too succumbed shortly after 1500 bc to the grow concentration and centralisation of settlement at Grotta (modern Chora), which left the other island centres largely empty.
Visible to the east of the main road, shortly after the turning for Mikri Vigla is a 17th century ‘pyrgos’, known as the Oskelos Tower, now abandoned except for a large community of doves. Above it on the hill is the church of Aghios Giorgios Oskelou (P), and to its north the church of Aghios Ioannis Oskelou. Both preserve interesting late 13th century paintings, and the former incorporates large blocks of antique marble and carved Early Byzantine pieces. There are several natural outcrops of fine marble in the area.
The landlocked salt-pools, reed-beds and marshes which lie behind the stretches of sand on this coastline constitute a stopping-point on the migration route of a magnificent variety and quantity of birds in the spring: these include the Collared flycatcher, the rare (in Europe) Isabelline wheatear, Red-throated pipits, shrikes and Red-footed falcon. At the southwest corner of the island, below Kastraki (17km) the dunes are densely covered in juniper, dwarf-cedar and arbutus, with sea-thyme on the surface. To the east of the point stretches the sheltered bay of Pyrgaki (20km) with beautiful sands.
Naxos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.