Verdant and prosperous since antiquity, Naxos is the largest Greek island of the Cyclades archipelago.
Situated in the heart of the Aegean, Naxos has a diverse and stunning landscape and a treasure trove of medieval and ancient sites that make it a most alluring and complete destination of the Mediterranean.
Steeped in myth, the island is protected by Dionysus and famous for its towering marble Gateway of the 6th BC Temple of Apollo which welcomes visitors to its capital attractive Chora (or Naxos town).
The Temple and gateway’s roots, like those of Naxos lay deep in mythology; Locals believe it to be portal of the palace of Ariadne, the lover of legendary hero Thesues who abandoned her here after she helped him escape the Minotaur of Crete.
Legend has it that she then took solace in the arms of Dionysus, Greek god of the vine and protector of Naxos.
Chora (Naxos town) has been continuously inhabited for over 5000 years and is one of the most charming and historical towns in the Cyclades.
Behind the bustling waterfront of Chora is the historical old quarter. The paved narrow alleys slowly ascend around shops and houses draped with trellises of flowers and emerge at the highest point of the town, the gate of the 13th century Kastro (Venetian castle).
The Kastro was built during the 13th to 16th centuries when the Venetians conquered and ruled the Island and region. The castle provides an insight in the world of past splendour and the grand mansions built by the Venetian aristocracy continue to bear Venetian coats of arms above their doorways.
The vast coastline of the island of Naxos is dotted with picturesque fishing villages and lined with some of Greece’s finest sandy beaches.
The islands interior is simply magnificent with ancient green terraced valleys and plains overflowing with wineries, olive, lemon and orange groves and its rugged mountains are home to gleaming white hamlets, some so remote that life seemingly continues as it has since antiquity.
Throughout Naxos, traces of the islands impressive 6000-year-old history are on show.
Situated on a low hill of a fertile valley near the town of Ano Sangri is the fascinating 6th century BC Temple of Demeter. The Temple is believed to be devoted to the mysteries and protector-goddess of the island and was unusual in having a square floor plan, whereas most Greek temples are rectangular.
All over the island Hellenistic and Venetian towers, medieval houses, fortified monasteries, Byzantine churches and Catholic chapels can be visited and explored.
Unique to Naxos are three half-finished 7th BC giant statues known as Kouroi (Statues of youth) that have sat abandoned for over two thousand years.
The biggest statue rests in an ancient marble quarry near the pretty northern coastal village of Apollonas is over 10 metres tall and is the largest statue ever found from the Classical era. The other two enormous statues lay abandoned in lush orchards and fields in Melanes valley located in central Naxos.
Zorba the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis cherished Naxos for its ”sweetness and tranquillity,” and when exploring the immense, diverse and unspoilt delights of this island it is easy to see why he felt that way.
All Images, Text and Content are Copyright Steven Sklifas.