Naousa

Naousa is a beautiful series of contiguous harbours, backed by a small and attractive Late Mediaeval town. It is given unusual character by a stream of fresh water—the Elytas stream of Antiquity, according to some authorities—which comes from near Matzoro in the hills to the south and runs down a channel in one of the streets of the town into the sea. Naousa has grown considerably in recent years owing to its understandable popularity as a tourist destination. Although the wider area of the Bay of Naousa is dotted with prehistoric and Geometric settlements and Hellenistic installations, the town itself does not appear to have a significant ancient precursor even though antique spolia are seen all around the historic centre. The moles of the central harbour were first constructed in the early 16th century, when a small Venetian fortress, in the form of a tower, was built to mark their outer extremity. This now constitutes the heart of the existing castle, which appears to have been enlarged in the next century by the addition of a circular structure all around, perforated with artillery embrasures just above the water level. It is similar in concept and date to the Venetian fort at Avlemonas on Kythera. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–74 the Bay of Naousa was the Aegean base for the Russian Navy. Today the intimate inner harbour and the delightful buildings which encircle it are home to a colourful fleet of fishing caiques.
   Woven into the tight Cycladic fabric of the old town are several 17th and 18th century churches. The most interesting of these is the church of Aghios Ioannis Theologos (1629) in the centre of the original settlement. A small narthex gives onto a wide, domed interior, without any lateral arms, which was once entirely covered with idiosyncratic wall-paintings. The murals are signed as the work of ‘the Sakellarios [Giorgios] Mostratos’ and dated 1784: a ‘sakellarios’ is an ecclesiastical treasurer or sacellarius. The north wall is dominated by a Last Judgement, precisely drawn and meticulously compartmentalised into pictorial vignettes. In the apse is the customary ‘cosmic hierarchy’ in which the Word descends from the Almighty, passes through Christ, and down to a painted ciborium behind the real altar, with painted bible and chalice in position. This is not great painting, but the overall effect, presided over by a fine Pantocrator in the dome, is not unpleasing. A particularly beautiful 17th century icon of St John the Theologian with Prochorus, to the right of the doors of the templon, is worthy of note. Many of the churches of the town display typical, open-latticework belfries in local marble. Beside the church of the Ypapanti (the Purification of the Virgin), uphill a short way to the southeast, rises an abundant spring of slightly brackish water, which also flows through the streets.
   Across the fresh-watercourse, on the west side, is the former monastery of Aghios Athanasios which is now a small Museum of Byzantine Art (open daily 9–3 except Mon, Easter–mid-Oct), worth visiting alone for the small series of salvaged wall-paintings * which have been brought here from the rural church of Protoria, near Naousa. They are the oldest surviving Byzantine paintings on the island, and their intensity and simplicity, combined with their decorative vocabulary suggest a date in the 12th or 13th century. One of the fragments depicts the donor praying. The collection also displays icons of the 17th and 18th centuries, including works by the local Mostratos brothers.

Travel Guide to Paros & Greece

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