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Wednesday, April 04, 2007


"The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece
Where burning Sappho loved and sung..."
George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron 1788-1824 "Beppo" 1818 st . 86 (song, st. 1)

There's a legend about the abandoned Temple of Apollo, Naxos' famous landmark, that when Istanbul is returned to Greece the temple door will miraculously appear. The incompleted temple that marks the entrance to Naxos' harbour is just one of the many "abandoned" things you'll see on this island, including the gigantic marble Kouros (7th C. BC) at the old marble quarry. In fact, it was on this island that Theseus abandoned Ariadne after she helped him escape from the Cretan labyrinth. Dionysus 'rescued' her and spirited her away. He's the island's favorite deity, the god of wine and ecstacy, and ever since Naxian wine has been considered a good remedy for a broken heart.

I've been to Naxos twice before, both times solo camping, once at St. George's Beach and the second time at Plaka Beach. The second time I went there I was invited to visit with the infamous Hollywoods, a couple of Americans who were part of the Plaka Dirty Corner gang of the '80's. They had bought a bar there called Picasso's Bar and were rebuilding an old house in one of the villages. (I wonder if they are still there. I'll watch out for them lounging around St. George's Beach. )

Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades Island, and the most fertile, producing some of the best potatoes a well as olives, grapes figs, citrus and corn. It was an important Byzantine centre and was once occupied by Venetians so there's a distinctive Venetian influence in the architecture of the old town, Hora.

On my last visit there, I took a round-the-island tour and want to do it again this time. One thing that struck me then were the numbers of abandoned villages, some abandoned due to pirate raids during the Byzantine period and others since the Turkish occupation in the 1500s. There are also scores of stone watch towers along the coast and a 'secret school' where children were taught their Greek heritage and language during the Turkish occupation when it was forbidden. There are many picturesque villages on the island too. The village of Apuranthos is said to be one of the loveliest villages in the Cyclades. There's lots to see and do on Naxos, and the beaches there are fabulous. I've always intended to write about it but never did, so this time its definitely a travel journalists's adventure for me.

Naxos historical notes: Evidently Lord Byron visited here early in his travels to Greece and was very impressed. The ancient Naxans were Ionians of Athenian stock. The Persians sacked the island in 490 BC. The Naxiots sent four ships to form the Greek fleet at Salamis (against the Persians) and were the first of the allied states to come under Athenian rule (471 BC). Naxos was seized by Venetian Marco Sanudi, in 1207. His dynasty ruled the island for 360 years until Naxos fell to the Turks in 1566.

AMORGOS (Amorgoss)
This island is just a short ferry trip off the northern coast of Naxos. I've always intended to visit it so this time I'll go there. (There is a convention for Culture and Tourism there this month which I am obvioulsy unable to attend, but I've been in touch with one of the women tourism organizers and she is looking forward to meeting me. So hopefully I'll be shown around in style.) One of the places I want to visit is the extrordinary monastery perched on a cliff-side. And the island is said to be excellent for walking.

The port of Katapolo occupies a large bay in the most verdant area of the island. There's some Minoan ruins here as well as a Mycanaean cemetary. The islands well-reserved Cycladic village, Hora (also known as Amorgos) is located above the shore at about 400 m. There's an archaeological museum there. Amorgos has yielded many Cycladic finds, some of which are in the National Museum in Athens.

The Monastery Moni Hozoviotissis is a major feature on the island with spectacular scenery. The dazzling white building clings to a cliff face above the east coast of the island. The monastery houses another one of those "miraculous" icons that Greece is noted for. This one was found in the sea below the monastery. You can walk down to the monastery from Hora on an old stepped path.

The film "The Big Blue" was partly filmed on this island and there's a pub named after it that glows blue neon at night.

The other port on the island is Aegiali, once an old hippie hang-out in the '70s with a good stretch of beach. There's another pebbled beach at Agia Anna with a stunning setting. The villages of Tholaria and Langada (near Aegiali) are the most picturesque villages, worth a visit.

Just 25 m. SE of Amorgos is ASTIPALAIA another island once occupied by the Venetians and this has influenced the dialect spoken by the people there. This small island has an interesting history and is said to be the only Cycladic island without snakes. There's the remains of a Venetian castle there. I'm going to check this one of for a day-trip.

Amorgos History notes:
In antiquity there were three cities: Aigiali, Minoa and Arkesene, all on the north coast. The island was the home of the poet Simonides (556-467 BC) who beat the famous poet/orator Aeschylus in a competition for the best elegy on the fallen at Marathon.

"Go tell the Spartans, thou who passes by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie."
Simondides 556-468 BC frag 92
Inscription on the memorial to the fallen Spartans at Thermopylae


Anonymous said...

how much is airfare to greece? do you travel to britain first and then get a chep flight to the islands? gnossos? interesting stuff.

Wynn Bexton said...

It depends on where you are flying from and which airlines and when (high season is more).Often I fly via London and have taken cheap flights from there after a stop-over. This time we are flying via Venice and return from Athens. Taking the ferry from Venice to Greece. If you want to go places like the islands you go from Pireaus by ferry or, for long ferry trips you could fly from Athens but then you miss the islands. Knossos, which is on Crete, is quite a long over-night ferry trip but very pleasant. Our ferry trip from Venice to Igoumenitsa is overnight down the Dalmation Coast.