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
North of Apeiranthos
The tortuous and panoramic road north towards Apollonas, reaches an exposed watershed at Stavros (31km), with magnificent *views to west (Paros) and east (Donousa). Branch roads lead west to the villages of Keramoti—set on a spur in a deep declivity, hidden from sight—and the deserted settlement of Siphones, above which is the double church of Aghios Ioannis and Aghios Giorgios (V) (visible below the road to the west before reaching Siphones). This is a complex of two 11th century, intercommunicating churches, one of which (north) is domed and given greater architectural importance by the presence of a synthronon and throne. Both have fragments of 13th/14th century painting conserving strong colour; there are vigorous figures of an Archangel and a Hierarch to either side of the conch in the north church. Beyond Siphones, the road continues to Moni, the Drosiani church, and eventually to Chalki after 11.5km.
Just before the next village of Koronos, two roads branch to the east within 500m of one another. The first branch (at 33km: signed ‘Panaghia Argokiliotissa’) leads down to At sipapi a mediaeval settlement with fine dry-stone terraces, now mostly abandoned. The road passes the pilgrimage place of the miraculous icon of the Panaghia Argokiliotissa (‘slow dripping’), which was found in a cave here with a weak, dripping spring of ‘holy’ water, or aghiasma. The original 18th century church is of a curiously long low rectangular form, designed to accommodate crowds on pilgrimage days: its length is nicely punctuated by a broad belfry half way along. A modern church of much larger dimensions is under construction just above.
The second branch east from the main road (at 33.5km: signed ‘Lionas’) leads into the heart of the emerymining area, and ends at the small coastal settlement of Lionas, 8km below, which still survives with a couple of tavernas even though the mines are now virtually closed. The road descends through a steep and arid landscape, transformed by the human quest for this mineral which has been pursued here for several millennia. Emery was the most valuable and unique of the island’s exports, and until the development of synthetic abrasives in the last century, Naxos alone supplied it to the Western world’s markets throughout the centuries. The material, in impure form, can still be collected on the surface. The industrial method of extracting surface deposits by the process of ‘fire-setting’ is described below, and it is this which has contributed more to the deforestation of this area of the island than anything else. To the right of the road, galleries can be seen perforating the mountain side—the rails, for transporting the material from the mine-face, still projecting beyond the entrances. Half way down the ravine a road to the left cuts back down to the principal loading station and sorting centre. The blocks were cleaned of extraneous impurities here, loaded into overhead gondolas and transported over the ridge to the south and down to the boat-loading station in the port of Moutsouna. The line of the overhead cables can still be followed on its 9km journey. The mines were producing an average of 10,000 tons of emery per year prior to the Second World War.
MARBLE AND EMERY
A pure white marble, of extremely fine quality, and a hard rock known as ‘black sand’ or emery, have together constituted the economy and the influence of Naxos throughout most of its history. Their importance is hard to overestimate: the foundations of marble sculpting for Western art were laid in Naxos , because of the quality of its primary material, and up until the last century, the island was the only major source of emery in the Western world for more than 3,000 years. The two materials first visibly come to gether in the world of the Early Cycladic sculptures of the 3rd millennium bc: the white translucent marble was sympathetic to the elegantly simple forms of the figurines and cups, and the softness of their con tours could only have been achieved by painstaking working and polishing with the emery and pumice. The materials suggested the style; and the figures enhanced the materials.
Naxos marble is a prince among marbles: it is worth picking some up, handling it, and examining it in the light. Its regular crystalline structure is so open that it is almost translucent. That is why the an cient builders were able to roof the Temple of Demeter at Sangri with marble tiles and still be sure that the interior would be suffused with a gentle light. It is acknowledged among sculptors that the world’s most suitable marbles for sculpture are those from Paros and Naxos . Michelangelo and Bernini would have used them, if they had been more readily available to them. The Carrara marble which they used instead (and which the Romans called marmor lunensis) is perhaps purer, but it is quite different in character. Its colour is colder and bluer, and it is of a more regular and compact structure, imparting a ‘sugary’ quality to the stone: it is harder and less responsive to the chisel than Naxos or Paros marble, and it lacks their warmth and translucence. Nor do its crystals glint in such a lively fashion. Naxos was able to lead the Greek world in marble sculpting in the 6th century bc, because it had the best primary material, and as a consequence it produced, both for itself and for Delos , the great est marble statuary of the age. Its hegemony was not to last for long, however: in the next century, Paros and Athens, both with enviable qualities of marble of their own, challenged her supremacy.
Emery is marble’s alter ego: much harder and stronger, and dark grey to black in colour. It is com posed principally of corundum (aluminum oxide), mixed with small proportions of iron ore and magnetite. It abrades any softer stone, such as marble, without leaving scores or traces of colour, and can polish surfaces to considerable softness, especially when combined with volcanic pumice. It was also used as an abrasive for sharpening metal tools and weapons. In earliest times it was obtained, in the eastern valleys of Naxos , from loose rocks and boulders which had been exposed to weathering; but dur the Ottoman occupation it was first deep-mined and extracted from the mountainsides. The ancient Greeks called emery, σμυρις’. From Naxos the mineral was shipped to Smyrna (Izmir) in the eastern Aegean—its principal market and distribution-centre. It is not improbable, therefore, that the name ‘Smyrna’ comes from ‘smyris’. The Romans called emery ‘naxium’. Its qualities and uses are mentioned by Theo phrastus, Dioscorides and Pliny.
Until 20th century mining techniques were introduced, the surface emery deposits were detached by ‘fire-setting’, i.e. heating a prepared area for several hours by the burning of a fire on the surface; the sub sequent dousing of the heated area with cold water, caused the rock to fracture along its natural faults, facilitating its breaking up and extraction.
Abrading or ‘polishing’ with emery was the last phase in the working of a marble artefact. In the discussion of the unfinished kouroi (above), mention has been made of the tools and working practices of the early sculptors. It must be remembered that although iron was known and used in the 7th and 6th centuries bc, it was still a precious metal and remained the preserve of the rich and the warrior classes, principally for weaponry. Sculptors still had to make do with softer tools of bronze. This is why the surface of a marble block that was going to be sculpted had to be beaten and ‘bruised’ first of all, before it was cut. This ruptured the crystalline structure of the stone and made it much more sensitive to the strokes of the bronze tools. When a sculpture was completed, however, the crystalline structure was once again altered, this time by the abrading with emery. This slowly compacted the fractured crystals in the surface so that they began to reflect light, i.e. to shine or acquire a ‘polish’. At the same time, by compressing the surface, the abrasion created a kind of protective ‘skin’ for the marble, which impeded the absorption of corrosive elements into the heart of the stone which might cause it to decay and erode. This is what conservators, such as those working on the Parthenon, are referring to when they say that (modern industrial) pollution has eaten through the ‘skin of the marble’ laying it wide open to a corrosion in the interior of the blocks, which leads eventually to its crumbling. The sections of the Parthenon’s frieze exhibited in Athens, show this all too clearly—both the areas where the surface ‘skin’ has held up and preserved the refined detail of the carving, as well as where it has been eroded and has turned to little more than illegible, powdered gypsum.
The domestic architecture of Apeiranthos and the other villages along the island’s northern ridge of mountains— Keramoti, Koronos, Skado, Koronida (named from the nymph, Koronis, who reared Dionysos in a cave here, and often called by its older name, ‘Komiaki’) and Mesi—re veal a prosperity which has been underpinned historically by two things: emery mining and agriculture—in particular the production of an excellent wine. A number of the valleys between them are meticulously stepped with banks of dry-stone terraces, growing vines. What the olive tree is to the Trageia, the vine—and its patron divinity, Dionysos—is to this area. The springs, threshing floors, water mills for grain, olive-presses, wine-presses, and the terraces without number, all form a well-preserved and self-sufficient agricultural unity on this ‘roof ’ of the island.
Naxos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.