What’s so special about Greece that makes everyone want to visit it so much? Well, take just this little piece of the country for example… Out to explore Naxos Island, Greece.
Mood of the post: Beirut with Elephant Gun. Why? One, they’re mellow like the mood of Naxos Island and two, they will be playing in Berlin soon.
I took a short trip to Naxos last november, as I had to deal with some bureaucratic little issues – Naxos, besides from being the largest of the Cyclades archipelago islands, is home of many of the government’s offices. And jails. Nope, not my case. Not yet, at least.
When finished with my obligations, I was free to enjoy the pleasing part (thanks mom, for teaching me what comes first, although I only respect this motto 2 in 10 times).
As I had some free hours before catching the ferry back to Athens and dying of boredom for some 5 hours, I went for a stroll around the village of Chora, the island’s main one.
Thinking that you’ve heard the name Chora before? Curiosity number one from the Greek Guide of Costumes and Traditions I’m launching today: Chora means country, land, territory or region in Greek, and it’s the name of almost all capital villages in the islands. Well, at least among the Cycladic ones. Oh yeah, the Cyclades are islands on the south of Greece, and the archipelago’s name refers to the “islands around” (κυκλάς) the sacred island of Delos. If you take a look at the map, you’ll see that the islands look like they are circling Delos. They are more or so 30. More or so, because Greeks sometimes count rocks as islands. Small ones. But still, islands 🙂
Naxos isn’t a small one, though. I mean, 429.785 km2 are not believed to be just some few kilometers when considering the cyclades. Take Santorini’s size for instance, even if added to Mikonos’s total area, the sum isn’t still half as large as Naxos’s size. Both the first being the most visited and celebrated Greek islands.
Chora town is immediately attached to Naxos island’s port, and it’s the first grand view one has when stepping out the commercial passenger ferries that arrive daily. The Apollo’s Temple, or Portara (big door) is also easily spotted from the port and from Chora. The most famous landmark of Naxos island, this massive, 2,500-year-old marble doorway actually leads nowhere. It’s believed to have been dedicated to the god Apollo because it faces the direction of Delos (here it is again!), his birthplace. It is the gateway to an unfinished temple, for its builder, the tyrant Lygdamis, was overthrown before reaching his promised goal: To make Naxos’s buildings the highest and most glorious in Greece.
What I know is that the gods sure must have loved Naxos: it is the most fertile island in the Cyclades. It has a fair supply of water, in a region where most of it is inadequate for consumption. In the 8 years I’ve been living in Santorini I’ve learned that water is the most precious good around and the water bills are quite expensive, as they have to desalinate it. Not Naxos, thanks to Mount Zeus – the highest peak in all the Cyclades, that tends to trap the clouds, permitting greater rainfall.
Because of the abundant water the agriculture has flourished in Naxos. It is a very important sector not only for the island itself but for many other islands around, that are supplied by food coming from Naxos. The vegetable cuts and cattle breeding make of Naxos the most self-sufficient island on the Cyclades. See, Greece is a super nature-rich country, although being so small in area. Every region or island is known within the country for its products specialties. Naxos island is known for its potatoes and well… cheeses. I could make an entire post on Naxos’s cheeses. Maybe one day I will.
Naxos island’s grand history features a war against the Persians, an occupation by the Byzantine Empire, a Venetian domination that lasted 4 centuries (when pirate attacks to the island were as common as the tourist ferries docking nowadays) and the Ottoman Empire controlling what they then called the Nakşa island, until Naxos finally became a member of the Greek state in 1832.
But before that all happened, even before Greece was Greece and still before the Greek Gods that inhabited the Olympus were ever invented (or born, ok), there was an archaic civilization living around the Cycladic islands – The Cycladic Civilization. We are talking about the Late Neolithic or Bronze Age periods. Pre-history. Men were still living in caves in most parts of the world. The Cyclades are well-known for the minimal female figures carved out of the super white marble found around the Cyclades, centuries before the rising of the great Minoan civilization in Crete, a bit south from Naxos island.
And speaking of the Gods of the Olympus, which were the trendy stories happening back then? There is one related to a certain famous Minotaure from an almost-neighbor island: Crete. So, after Theseus fought the Minotaure and got out of the Labyrinth, rumor is that he abandoned his love and savior Ariadne in Naxos. Dyonisius (god of wine, festivities, and the primal energy of life), that happened to be the protector of the island, fell in love with her. But apparently none of those wine-showered and well frequented orgies of his were enough to keep her from killing herself, as it happens in the most drastic tales, or to ascend to heaven, as the oldest and politically correct version has it.
After taking a moment of silence for the fate of Ariadne, let’s keep on strolling around the streets of Naxos, now armed with the knowledge of the past, failures and glories of this island that still has lots to offer (read: cheese. Just kidding!) 🙂
Tatiana Bastos Photography. More at instagram.com/tatyart11.