The Northwest

Along the route from Parikia northeast to Naousa are several places of interest beside the way. At 3km, after passing Tris Ekklisies, the steep hill of Prophitis Elias rises 261m to the west of the road. It was the site of several places of cult in Antiquity. The summit is best reached from the western side of the hill (left turn at 3.5km, round north side of hill) up a track which passes a picturesque, abandoned monastery.

   The chapel of Prophitis Elias sits on the summit where once, according to an inscription found on the site, was the cult of Zeus Hypat[i]os (‘the Highest’). Down the spur to the south west, at a point overlooking the port below, is a plateau with a raised knob of rock about 3m x 1m, which may correspond to the altar of Aphrodite or of Eileithyia, divine protectress of childbirth, whose cults are also attested here: nearby are a couple of shaped blocks of limestone which must have been part of the structure, and some cuts in the native rock lower down. Continuing west to the edge of the spur, you come to a cave in the rock with votive niches; nearby are rocks with— once again—the faint outlines of feet incised on them, left behind as votive acts by women who frequented the shrine.

   On the slope across the valley, to the east of the main road (turnings at 2.5km and 3.7km) stands the monastery of Longovarda, dedicated to the Zoodochos Pigi (‘Fount of Life’), and built on the site of a fresh-water spring, now dry, in a ravine in the hills (open to male visitors only, 9.30–12).

   The buildings of the complex have grown substantially over the years since it was founded, or rather was moved from Naousa, in 1638. It was almost immediately rebuilt and enlarged in 1657 in a form commensurate with its new status as a stavropegic monastery (i.e. under the direct administration of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople). The interior of the domed, ‘free-cross’ catholicon is entirely deco rated with (now darkened) murals. The upper areas—pen dentives, drum and cupola—are the original 17th century work, while large areas lower down were repainted in the 19th century. Of particular note are two small icons executed by two brothers who were monks, Hierotheus and Methodius, painter and wood-carver respectively, in the late 19th century. The right-hand icon is meticulously and minutely carved with scenes of the Life of Christ—a piece of rare and extraordinary skill. At the end of the 19th century the monastery counted 125 monks: there are now nine.

   As the road descends to Plastiras Bay the landscape changes dramatically: the limestone promontory to the northwest has a convoluted and knotty form, of a kind familiar from Delos , Mykonos and parts of Tinos; the bay is dotted with small islets; and the impermeable bedrock has created a wide alluvial plain behind the shore. It is a configuration and marine landscape that seems to have appealed to Neolithic man, and it is no surprise to find that one of the most important Neolithic cemeteries of the Cyclades was excavated here, and that the bay has given its name, as a result, to a stylistic genre of Cycladic sculpture. The ‘Plastiras group’ of Cycladic figurines are perhaps the most distinct and recognisable of all—less schematic and more naturalistic than other types, with stocky bodies, clearer facial features, often very elongated necks, and sometimes an unusual headgear on the heads of the male figurines. Of the excavated Neolithic cemetery little is to be seen; but of its Bronze Age successor on the hill of Koukounaries, there are clear remains. The Mycenaean acropolis is on the knob of hill immediately west of the westernmost point of Plastiras Bay (2km to the west of the main Parikia/Naousa road, shortly before it enters Naousa: ascent of the hill is from the southwest side).

   The site overlooks the whole bay below, the plain behind, and the channel between Naxos and Paros: a protective ra vine encircles it to north. A lower enceinte of fortification walls in large polygonal blocks can be seen in places. Just short of the summit is a wall running east/west constructed in large, oblong mansonry, enclosing a flat area above, which is traversed by the foundations and bases of interconnected buildings of large proportions, as well as of smaller dwellings. In the store-rooms, just inside the main wall, were found bronze weaponry, vases and domestic items, as well as stores of stone projectiles—all buried in ash, indicating a destruction by fire in the late 12th century bc. Curiously, what was built here was also begun in the 12th century bc; so the existence of the settlement in Mycenaean times was short. It continued to be inhabited after the destruction until the 7th century bc, after which time it was deserted. Fifty metres southeast of the summit is a hollow whose floor is cut by archaeologists’ assay trenches; to the south of these can be seen the remains of dwellings and the base of a temple (probably dedicated to Athena) dating from the Geometric period. From Koukounaries, the road continues a further 3km to an isthmus where there are boatyards and a couple of protected beaches, overlooked by the picturesque monastery-church of Aghios Ioannis, just short of the northern tip of the island. In the marshy streams south of Koukounaries, the night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) can sometimes be seen by day: it returns each year from its winters in the Nile Valley to breed by the coast here.

Travel Guide to Paros & Greece

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