Paros produces what is considered traditionally to be the best quality of marble for sculpture in the world. If it had been more available to him Michelangelo would surely have used it. Many of the greatest sculptures of Antiquity, from the korai of the Athenian acropolis to the Hermes of Praxiteles, are in Parian marble and they derive much of their appeal from the material itself—its responsiveness to the tool, its brilliance, and its translucence above all. In 1844 the ancient quarries were opened again specifically to furnish the stone for Napoleon’s funeral chamber at Les Invalides. Much of the early economy of Paros was based on the exploitation of its marble, and of the sculptural expertise which it fostered. The island became prosper ous and full of outward-looking initiative as a result. In the 7th century bc it founded a very successful colony on Thasos , whose veins of gold and silver made Paros even richer. On board the ships that set out from Paros to colonise Thasos was the greatest individual the island has giv en birth to—the 7th century bc poet Archilochus—whom the ancients viewed as almost as great as Homer himself. No-one better than he expresses the spirit of those early times: the restless energy of the Greek imagination and the new-found freedom of the individual. Archilochus is the island-poet par excellence—a distillation of the independence of mind and the uncluttered horizons which are the particular preserve of the island world.
    In 326 St Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, found herself on Paros. With her customary generosity she was inspired to found a church on the island. She vowed to build it and then continued on her way to Jerusalem, where she was to die. It was probably built by her son in the end and it is the earliest church in the Aegean which is still in constant use today. Paros wears its greatness lightly. It is only small, but it has three beautiful towns—Parikia, Naousa and Lefkes—of quite different and contrasting characters. On the island it is possible to eat well, visit re markable monuments and bathe on some of the most at tractive beaches of the Cyclades. Ten minutes away is the island of Antiparos, with a famous and impressive cave in whose vast halls of stalactites the Marquis of Nointel stage-managed a full celebration of mass with music and fireworks on Christmas Day in 1673. Then, beyond An tiparos, is the deserted island of Despotiko, Ancient Prepesinthos. There is a ferment of archaeology on the Parian islands in general, but the most interesting site currently being revealed is here on Despotiko, untouched by any later habitation. It is a sanctuary of the Archaic era prob ably dedicated to Apollo, of which only a fraction has so far been uncovered, but which may prove to be one of the most significant recent finds of the Cyclades.

Travel Guide to Paros & Greece

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