Cultural Portal of the Aegean Archipelago FOUNDATION OF THE HELLENIC WORLD
Main Image




empty empty empty

Search on map


The Project







      Νάξος (5/3/2006 v.1) Naxos (5/3/2006 v.1)

Author(s) : Tsonos Konstantinos , Mavroidi Maria (3/31/2005)
Translation : Velentzas Georgios , Dovletis Onoufrios , Nakas Ioannis (6/29/2005)

For citation: Tsonos Konstantinos, Mavroidi Maria, "Naxos", 2005,
Cultural Portal of the Aegean Archipelago

URL: <>


1. Position - Environment

Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades, situated around the centre of the island cluster, to the east of Paros and to the south of Mykonos. From north to south the island is crossed by a mountain range, whose highest point is Mount Zas (1,001 m). The eastern sides of the range are particularly steep, in contrast to the western ones, which are gentle and end in flat and arable land, thus making Naxos the most fertile island of the Cyclades. The coastline is not particularly sinuous, although sometimes (Cape Stavros in the east) oblong headlands and small gulfs with beautiful and tranquil beaches are formed. The organised and modern port of the capital is in the west, on the bay of Naxos, the largest of all bays. There is fine quality marble in the subsoil of Naxos, while emery, a hard rock known from Antiquity as ‘Naxian Soil’, is still mined and has always been used by Cycladic stone carvers.

2. Historical Background

2. 1. Prehistory and Antiquity

According to tradition, Naxos is the island where Theseus, on his way back from Crete, provisioned his ship and abandoned Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos. Dionysos fell in love with her there and took her to Mount Olympos via Mount Drion (Zas) giving her immortality.

The first evidence of habitation in Naxos has been traced in the Cave of Zas dating back to the late Neolithic Period (4th millennium), while the Cave was continuously used until the late Historical years. In the Early Cycladic period (3rd millennium) Naxos became one of the Cycladic civilization centres and, as a result, the latter's initial developmental phase, the Early Cycladic Ι, was named "Grotta-Pelos" phase after the important findings in the town of Grotta, on the north limit of the present Chora.

The central position of Naxos as the crossroads of sea routes, but also marble and emery, are the key factors for the cultural and economic development of this period, which is mainly expressed through stone figurines and the development of stone carving in general. In the Mycenaean period (1600-1100 BC) Grotta with its cemeteries at Kamini and Aplomata help Naxos maintain its major role in spreading the Mycenaean civilization over the Cyclades.

The Archaic period appoints Naxos to one of the most famous and thriving Aegean centres, as proven by the big number of archaic sanctuaries (Sangri, Gyroulas, Portara, Yria) and the development of sculpture (monumental Kouroi, Sphinx of the Naxians in Delphi, House of the Naxians in Delos).

Aristocrats seem to dominate this period and the island must have been in a period of great economic growth. Together with colonists from Chalcis the Naxians founded Naxos, the first Greek colony in Sicily, already from 735 BC. In the second half of the 6th century BC, Lygdamis, helped by the Athenian Peisistratos, seized power and governed as a tyrant. In the same period Naxos extended its power into Paros and Andros. Around 510 BC the tyranny was abolished and a group of aristocrats was exiled. They were the same who pointlessly attacked the island in 501 BC, helped by Aristagoras, the tyrant of Miletus, and originally supported by the Persians. In 490 BC, Naxos was destroyed by the Persians but in the Sea Battle of Salamis and the Battle of Plataea the island contributed to the Greek victory. Then Naxos took part in the First Athenian League in 478/477 BC but left very early. It was finally subjugated by the Athenians (466 BC) and became a tributary of Athens. In 376 BC, Naxos became briefly a member of the Second Athenian League by force. In the Hellenistic years Naxos became a member of the Commonwealth of the Islands (2nd c. BC), while in 41 BC it was incorporated in the Roman province of the Aegean Islands (provincia insularum), seated in Rhodes.

2. 2. Byzantine Period - Modern Times

There is not enough information about the development of Naxos in the Byzantine times. However, the important remains of Byzantine architecture and painting (6th-14th c. AD) prove that the island played a pivotal role in the Cyclades in this period as well. After Constantinople was conquered by the Franks (1204), Naxos became the seat of the Duchy of Naxos under the command of Marco Sanudo. This fact led Naxos to progress and development as it became the economic and commercial centre for Latin sovereigns. Latins streamed to Naxos and, as a result, a large part of the population converted to Catholicism; the two Christian religious communities (Orthodox and Catholics) have been living together in Naxos ever since.

In 1537 Hayreddin Barbarossa, in command of the Ottoman fleet, occupied Naxos and other Cycladic islands and made the island subject to Ottoman taxation. Some years later, in 1566, Sultan Selim II conceded the administration of the former Duchy of Naxos to the Jewish diplomat Joseph Nasi and in 1580 Sultan Murad III conceded a preferential treatment (ahtname) to the islands of Andros, Milos, Paros, Santorini, Naxos, Syros and Sifnos. According to this treatment, the islands were absolutely free in religious matters, taxes were reduced, the Janissaries were not allowed to settle and devşirme (levy of boys from the Christian rural population for service at the palace or the army) was prohibited. The treatments granted to the island during Ottoman rule favoured the development of communal institutions. During the Greek War of Independence in 1821, despite the negative or wavering attitude of the upper social strata, some of the Naxians took actively part in the operations against the Ottomans with two ships and two armed corps. The island sheltered also many refugees from regions that had been dealt a blow by the Ottomans. After the establishment of the modern Greek state, Naxos, just like the rest of the Cyclades, was incorporated to the territory of the new state. Affected by the growth of Athens, it gradually lost its central importance.

In 1941, Naxos came initially under Italian rule, since the Axis Powers occupied the Greek territory. After Italy capitulated in 1943, the Germans occupied it up to its liberation in 1944.

3. Archaeological Sites and Monuments

Chora was the capital of Naxos in Prehistoric and Historical years. Significant traces of the Mycenaean and Historical town of Grotta, to the north of the Chora, are exhibited today in the on-site Archaeological Museum on Metropolis Square (Plateia Mitropoleos). It is the first museum of this kind in Greece and has been in operation since 1999. The visitors may tour the place with the help of comprehensible visual media, admiring the ancient remains at the site they were discovered and first excavated. The most important finds include a part of the Mycenaean wall of Grotta and a pottery workshop from the same period, as well as the earthen barrow of the Geometric period, where the previously buried inhabitants where worshipped as heroes.

Moreover, the organised archaeological sites of the Archaic sanctuaries in Yria, Sangri and in the islet Palatia of Chora (Portara), as well as the unfinished monumental Kouroi, remaining at the same point they were sculpted, two in Melanes, a mountainous village to the east of Chora, and one, identified with god Dionysos, in the village of Apollonas, in the northeast corner of the island, give a clear picture of the increased cultural activities on the island in the Archaic period.

It is worth mentioning the round multistoried Tower of Cheimarros, at the southeast foot of Mount Zas, built in the Hellenistic period; it was probably a fortified country house or was associated with the control of emery mines that were situated a little to the north. Similar towers of the Hellenistic (Tower of Plaka) and the Medieval period exist all over Naxos (Tower of Mavrogenis, Tower of Oskelo, Tower of Agia, Tower of Ypsili, Tower of Bazaios, Tower of Barotsis in Filoti and Tower Dela Rocca in Melanes). The Hellenistic towers protected positions of a military or economic character in the country or functioned as places sending visual signals (phryktoriai), while, according to others, they were used as cottages or parts of cottages. On the other hand, medieval towers demonstrate the feudal system existing on the mainland, while their fortified positions protected the owners from pirate raids.

(Transl. Georgios Velentzas)

3. 1. Archaic Sanctuaries of Naxos

The ongoing program of research, study, partial reconstruction, preservation and proper management of the archaeological sites at Yria and Sangri in Naxos, is a pioneering endeavour for the Cyclades, since, notwithstanding the existence of many and important archaeological sites, there has never been a similar program for their management and exploitation. The case of Naxos’ archaic sanctuaries can be used as an example for the thorough and scientific organization of an archaeological site, aiming basically in presenting Naxos’ contribution to the emergence of the early monumental architecture in ancient Greece.

The sanctuary of Yria, situated in Livadi area, is considered the most important sanctuary of the island’s civic centre during the Archaic age. The beginning of the worship dates back to the Mycenaean times (1300 BC) and the documentation of its continuation throughout history highlights this site as a perpetual cult centre for Dionysus in antiquity and St George in later times. The practice of adoration inside a temple edifice, which replaced outdoor worship, can be divided in three phases: a) 800 BC: a single-room temple built from rough stones, b) 730 BC: a long, large room divided in four naves, c) early-7th century BC: a three-nave sanctuary with wooden portico on its façade, an early example of a monumental templar façade and d) 580-570 BC: the earliest stone prostyle temple of the Ionian style in Greece is erected. Meanwhile, the discovery of a square edifice with stoas, that surrounded the temple, is identified with a ritual restaurant and offers important clues about the history of the priests’ ritual feastings.

The rural religious centre of Gyroulas in Sagri is formed by a colonnaded room used for the gatherings of mystic rituals, a telesterion, which was part of the great building program undertaken by the tyrant Lygdamis and is contemporary to the Αrchaic temple of Apollo situated on the islet of Naxos’ main harbour, from which the reconstructed entrance of its nave, the famous “Portara” (Great Door) (530 BC) survives today. This all-marble, well preserved two-nave Ionian temple with its optical elaborations is the precursor of the architecture of classical Athens, which, one century later, created Parthenon. The transformation of the temple into a three-aisled early Christian basilica proves the acceptance of this site as a cult centre transcending the historical periods.

(Transl. Ioannis Nakas)

3. 2. Byzantine Monuments of Naxos

There are remarkable Byzantine monuments on the island, signifying the possibly important position of Naxos in the Aegean Sea throughout the Byzantine period. Panagia (Virgin Mary) Drosiani in the village Moni in the centre of the island, as well as Panagia Protothroni in Chalki preserve, under the subsequent layers on the walls, paintings of the 6th – 7th centuries, a very interesting evidence of Early Christian art. Worth mentioning is the group of churches of Panagia Protothroni, St Artemios, St Kyriaki and St John the Theologian at Adisarou, with aniconic wall paintings, mainly geometric motifs from the age of Iconomachy (724-843). It is a unique group of churches in Greece and one of the few preserved groups in the East, owing its uniqueness to the number of churches preserved.

There is also a big number of monuments (Protothroni, St George Diasoritis and St Nicholas of Sagri), which date back to the Middle and Late Byzantine years (10th -14th c.) and preserve remarkable pictorial programmes, thus verifying the participation of the island in the developments of the time. Particular reference should be made to the fortified monastery of Ypsilotera in Engares, the most protected and fortified location of the island. All the above churches are quite far from the centre of the island, where the capital was transferred –to the Castle of Apaliros and the Epano Kastro– already from the Middle Byzantine period to be protected from Arabs and pirate raids.

3. 3. Post-Byzantine Monuments of Naxos

During Frankish rule, Marco Sanudo built the Castle of Chora on the hilltop; these days the castle encloses one of the twelve old fortified towers, the Tower of Crispi (now Tower of Glezos and future Byzantine Museum), the old gates of the Castle, Trani Porta and Paraporta, as well as the former Jesuit Commercial School, where N. Kazantzakis was briefly a pupil, home to the Archaeological Museum of Naxos, with findings from all the known Prehistoric and Historical sites of the island. The acropolis complex also includes the mazy building complex of the School and Monastery of the Ursulines, the seat of the Catholic Diocese and the Catholic Cathedral, the Monastery of the Franciscans and the Tower of Sanudo, where Marco Sanudo, the Duke of the Aegean, probably lived. The picture of the Venetian buildings is completed by the ruined mansion of the Order of the Jesuits (17th c.), on the outskirts of Melanes.

4. Architecture in Chora – Traditional Architecture

The Castle of Chora is one of the most typical examples of fortified medieval settlement in the Cyclades. The towers and the way the wall perimeter is formed by the subsequent external walls of the houses are the Castle’s distinctive features that created the safe nucleus of the acropolis, where mainly the Catholic community of Naxos was housed. The rest of the town (Burgo) outside the Castle, formerly consisted of the quarters where the Christians, the Jewish and the Armenian merchants, as well as Cretan immigrants (quarter of Nio Chorio) lived. The external walls of each quarter’s houses form a fortification wall in this part of the town, but in the Castle as well.

The last part of the medieval Chora was the Market, the par excellence public space where commercial transactions as well as social associations took place. The central long and narrow commercial road played a central role.

The houses of the Chora, settlements and mountain villages are of two types: vernacular houses and mansions. Vernacular houses with narrow or wide façades have a large room, a kitchen, a living room and smaller bedrooms. Arches (voltoi) help the division of the house into separate parts and the increase of the useful space for everyday needs.

The vernacular houses of Chora have two floors; the ground floor (katoi) houses the storeroom, the toilet and the kitchen, while the first floor (anoi) has the living room and the bedrooms. Access to the first floor is through external stairs, while access to the ground floor is directly from the street. As for mansions, their most important feature is the sizeable, central part, used as a living room, as well as the peripheral bedrooms and the rooms for everyday activities. Their lower part functioned as a fortification.

The paved, long and narrow streets as well as the open or covered yards of the houses are the main public areas that help people communicate by means of flat or arched shelters (stegasta) and common stairs between the houses, thus making it difficult to distinguish between the public and the private area.

5. The Country of Naxos – The Example of Apeiranthos

Mountainous Naxos gives most of the information about the way of living of the island’s traditional communities. Apeiranthos (t’ Aperathou) is famous for the use of marble and stone as building materials, following all the above architectural patterns (popular houses, mansions and stegasta). One of the most common occupations of the women in this area is weaving, while the loom (krevataria) is the most essential part of the woman’s household and its products are highly popular.

In the Archaeological Museum of Apeiranthos there are findings mainly from the Early Cycladic period, such as the rock engravings depicting everyday activities of the people from Korfi t’ Aroniou. The Folklore Museum, with traditional textiles and tools, the Museum of Natural History, comprising collections from local fauna and an aquarium, the Geological Museum, created by Manolis Glezos, with 2,000 rare exhibits, as well as the libraries of Nikos Glezos and Petros Protopapadakis make up an exceptionally active local community, which has recently proceeded to alternative ways of managing the natural water resources of the island. Moreover, Apeiranthos is associated with the operation of emery mines situated between Apeiranthos and Koronos, as well as the mines in the gulfs of Liona and Moutsouna. The cable system of transport from the mines to the bay of Moutsouna, the loading point, from 1925 until 1979, has been preserved despite recent exploitation. These days minerals are transported by road.

6. Traditional Occupations - Popular Culture

The particularly fertile soil of Naxos is suitable for agriculture and stock breeding, producing high-quality dairy products, while apiculture and viniculture complete people’s occupations. Worth mentioning is the musical tradition of Naxos, as several musicians and instrument manufacturers come from the island. The island’s festivities, most famous being the celebration of the patron St Nikodemos the Agioreitis on 14 July, are always embellished with musical and dance events. In addition, songs and poems often recited by female weavers is a feature that differentiates Naxos from the neighbouring islands.

(Konstantinos Tsonos)
(Transl. Georgios Velentzas)

7. Emery

Emery is a mineral used as a metal, glass, wood or rock scraper and abrasive, and as nonskid material for floors and streets.

Naxian emery has been one of the most significant Greek minerals for a long time. Naxos is actually the only region in Europe producing emery. Naxos’s emery deposits are located at the northeastern mountainous part of the island, around villages Apeiranthos and Koronos. Emery was already known since antiquity, as attested by findings (emery stones) from central Naxos. Up to the 1821 Greek War of Independence, emery was under community control and its trade flourished.

Since 1852, Naxos’s emery mines belonged to the Greek state, which granted the residents of villages Apeiranthos, Koronos and Skado the privilege of exploiting emery on condition that they delivered it exclusively to the state. Emery miners extracted emery, building 50-250m. deep galleries. In 1913-1914 more than 1000 workers (approximately 500 of them underground) worked at Naxos’s national emery mines.

That unusual relation between the state and emery miners, the competition created by the emery of Asia Minor (since 1847), the invention of artificial emery (1890), and the high cost of extracting and transporting the mineral led Naxian emery to decline. Nowadays, emery production is very small.

(Maria Mavroeidi)
(Transl. Onoufrios Dovletis)




Entry's identity



empty press image to open photo library empty
 Open Audiovisual Gallery