Naxos, the centre of the Cylades
Naxos is the perfect Greek island with something for everybody, situated in the centre of the Cyclades it is perfect for island hopping. This beautiful island is the largest of the Cyclades and is also the greenest and very mountainous in the interior. Many people say it resembles Crete more than a Cyclades island. It has the highest mountain in the Cyclades (mount Zas) which is just over 1000 metres high as well as many natural springs that keep the island so green. Naxos also has some of the best huge sandy beaches you will find in the Cyclades as well as the best mountain scenery.
The population of Naxos is around 16,000, Naxos town has 6,500. Although tourism is important to the island, its main industry is actually agriculture; the citrus fruits in Naxos are quite famous.
History of Naxos
According to the ancient Greek myths, Naxos was where the God Zeus grew up in a cave on Mount Zas. There was even a temple built in his honour on the mountain where they believed the cave was. The god Dionysus was also supposed to have been born on Naxos, he loved the island so much that he made it green and fertile. It is Naxos where Theseus abandoned Ariadne who would later marry Dionysus on Naxos.
Cycladic Civilization to colanization
Naxos played a major part in the Cycladic civilization over 5000 years ago, not much is known about the civilization other that the small figurines of the same name, you can see many of these at the Archaeological museum in Athens. During ancient times Naxos founded many colonies including Naxos in Sicily. Naxos was also famous for its marble and statues, the famous lions on Delos were actually made on Naxos.
The rest of the history of Naxos is similar to the other Cyclades islands, occupied by the Athenians, Spartans, Macedonians, Romans, Venetians and finally the Turks. The Venetians left the biggest mark on the island both architecturally and culturally. Naxos town still has the remains of a great Venetian castle and medieval town and the descendents of the Venetians make up the islands large Catholic community.
Naxos town (chora)
Naxos town is the largest town on the island and has always been the capital in ancient times it was called Calliopolis ('Good town'). The town is easy to explore as it isn't that large and so everywhere can be visited on foot. The old town is full of narrow winding medieval streets and is very pleasant, while down at the harbour it is more like your traditional Greek island waterfront with the restaurants and cafes.
Temple of Apollo
The most famous sight of Naxos town is the Portara originally it was a temple dedicated to the god Apollo. Construction on the temple started in the 6th century BC but was never completed as Naxos went to war with the island of Samos. All that remains of the temple is the main gate, it is on a tiny island (Paltia) connected to the mainland by a thin causeway, it can be seen from throughout Chora. Portara is one of the first things you see when you arrive at Naxos by sea. The Portara is now the emblem of Naxos.
The Venetian Castle of Chora
The Venetian castle of Naxos (chora) is in the old part of the town. It is a pentagonal shape and is the best preserved of its kind in Greece. The castle was built after the Venetians conquered Naxos and the Cyclades under the leadership of Maro Sanudo. Naxos became the capital of the Duchy of the Cyclades and so the castle was built and was used for all kinds of functions from military to administrative as well as being homes to many Venetians. Many of the descendants of the original Venetians still live in the castle area. At the south-western gate of the castle is the 'Barozzi house' which still belongs to the same family, the Barozzi's were one of the founding families of Venice.
The original old town of Naxos was built around the castle and all the streets lead to it. The castle is a pentagonal shape with three gates and circuit wall of towers, although parts of the walls have home built to them. The main building is four floors high, there are also the ruins of much of the medieval town to see. Near the north-western gate is the Glezos tower which is commonly known as the Krispi town after the coat of arms of the Krispi family which is on the tower. The Krispi tower is very well preserved and great to see. In the main square of the castle is the Catholic Cathedral, many of the descendants of the Venetians are still Catholic. The castle is also home to the Archaeological Museum that displays many artefacts from early Cycladic artefacts like small marble figurines to early Christian icons. There is also the Venetian mansions to look around some still occupied by the descendants of the original Venetians. The Byzantine museum is also in the area.
Around Naxos island
Byzantine churches of Naxos
Naxos has an abundance of beautiful Byzantine churches, even by Greek standards, some of the best to see are; The Panagia Drossiani which is from the 7th century and is about 20km (15 miles) East of Chora (Naxos town) and contains some of the oldest frescoes on the island; The Panagia Protothronos from the 11th century this about 15km (10miles) from Chora; Agios Mamas is a 9th century church about 8km from Chora, there are excellent views from the church also; Agios Nikolaos a 13th century church in the village of Sangri south of Chora. The village also has a medieval castle to see as well.
Temple of Demeter
The Temple of Demeter is near the village of Sangri and was built in the 6th century BC, unfortunately a Christian church was built on it during the 6th century AD. Luckily recently archaeologists have discovered most of the pieces of the temple buried or used in the church and have rebuilt the temple on the same spot.
Fortified towers of Naxos (Pyrgi)
Naxos is famous for its towers some are Venetian but others are from ancient times. The Venetian towers were built from local rock and left un-plastered to blend into the countryside. The best Venetian towers to see are the Bellonia tower, near the village of Galanado, the Gratsia and Markopoliti, in Tragea, and Fragopoulos, in the village Kourounohori. The Venetian towers were used as both a defence against pirates and as homes.
Near the village of Halki is the tower of Himmaros, this one dates back to the 5th century BC and like the Venetian towers this also was as a defence and lookout for pirates.
Kouros of Naxos
Famous marble statues of Naxos
In the villages of Melanes and Apollonas are the famous Kouros' of Naxos, these huge larger than life statues of young men. It is thought that these statues were going to be used as pillars to hold up a roof in a building, but after the sculptors found faults in the marble they dumped the statues, all of the kouros' are incomplete. The island was famous for it sculptures during ancient times, the Lions of Delos were actually made in Naxos.
Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades islands and probably has the most scenic countryside and travelling around Naxos is a must for any visitor. As well as having plenty of sights to see the villages of Naxos are well worth a visit the three main ones are Apiranthos, Chalki and Filoti.
Naxos has some of the best beaches in Greece and lots of them. The south-west of Naxos is basically one huge line of beach with lots of sand dunes. At the main town of Chora there are a number of beaches, St George being the most popular as it has very shallow water, great for kids.
In the north of the island there are the beaches of Apollonas, Amitis and Abram, there are many more but these are the most popular. The East of Naxos there are the beaches of Lionas and Moutsouna.
These beaches are just a few of the many great beaches in Naxos, it is best to explore the coastline yourself and find one you like as Naxos is perfect for beach holidays with every type of beach you imagine.
Naxos - Information
Naxos is in the centre of the Cyclades islands and is the hub of all the ferries in the region, perfect for island hopping.
Location - Naxos is in the centre of the Cyclades next to Paros.
Travelling to Naxos:Naxos doesn't have an internaional airport, but you can fly there from Athens. The usual way of reaching Naxos is to fly to either Santorini or Mykonos and take a ferry to Naxos.
Mykonos is closer but the flights and ferries don't match, but with Sanorini the ferries are arranged with the flights and so you will probably arrive at Naxos earlier. One thing with Santorini is that the airport and ferry port are on opposite sides of the island so you will need to take a bus or taxi. You can also take ferries to Naxos from Piraeus in Athens.
Tips:Naxos has everything if you look for it, from nightlife to historical sight seeing. If you are are not sure what type of holiday you want or you want a bit of it all, then Naxos is perfect. Remember to take into account traveling time to Naxos as it doesn't have an international airport.