7. Naxos: The Island of Dionysos

The first visit to Naxos

VC visited Naxos twice during his trip to the Aegean.

On his first trip in 1927 he admired the beauty of the Portara, however, he was not quite so impressed with Naxos town and its people:

I find by the sea sordidness only redeemed by the ancient and natural loveliness of its environment . . . Yet as I sit here in the shade of the tamarisks before a dirty kapheion, waiting amidst all kinds of common people loafing about, and soiled Inns, and neglected houses, I feel discouraged, almost inclined to cancel my programme of further travel in Greece. But once more the freshness of the morning and the beauty of the sea console me. A small white chapel on a rock stands half immersed in the waves, its cross like a beacon against the sky. There are sailing ships at anchor by the pier and blue waters lapping . . . are these enough to bring a man half-way across the world? Yet the sunlight and the sea induce me to stay.

Today, this part of Naxos town is the centre of tourist activity with excellent restaurants, smart bars and tourist shops. The original shoreline has now been extended to form the seafront promenade and more quays have been added over the years.

Naxos Town in the 1930s
Naxos Town in the 1930s
Naxos in the early 1900s
Naxos in the early 1900s
Panagia Myrtidiotissa Naxos
Panagia Myrtidiotissa – “A small white chapel on a rock stands half immersed in the waves, its cross like a beacon against the sky”

The Portara

AT Naxos I look upon the simple beauty of the Temple of Dionysos; its one surviving portal cut against a clear blue sky.

VC is describing what is now known as the Portara, on the former islet of To Palati, which is connected to the main island of Naxos by a causeway. It was the entrance to a temple thought to have been built around 530BC as a dedication to Dionysos. It’s now considered to have been a temple to Apollo rather than Dionysos.

The Portara
The Portara
The Portara, Chora and the Kastro of Naxos
The Portara, Chora and the Kastro of Naxos

The islet of To Palati was reachable only by boat at the time of VC’s visit. The causeway was built later linking it to the main island of Naxos.

The people from their hovels and their huts on the shore still, with a just appreciation, call it Palati, The Palace.

The Causeway seen from To Palati
The Causeway seen from To Palati

Chalkis

Chalkis, or Halki as it’s also known today, is a charming village a short drive or bus ride from Naxos Town. Its quaint streets are lined with shops and cafes and feature many outstanding neoclassical mansions, underlining the village’s past importance as a commercial centre and former capital of Naxos. Of course, one place you must visit is the Vallindras Distillery in the heart of the village, the former home of VC’s friend, Markos Vallindras, where VC was afforded great hospitality.

The purpose of VC’s first visit to Chalkis was primarily to climb to the top of Mount Zea, the highest mountain in Naxos, today known as Mount Zas. He needed to hire a mule in Naxos town to take him to Chalkis from where he could hire another mule to take him to the summit. The muleteers of Naxos town lived up to his already poor opinion of the urban Naxiotes:

My purpose is to go to Zea the summit of the island, and to this end I must have a mule. There is one at last forthcoming with the help of the Captain of Gensdarmerie, to whom I have an introduction from his Colonel at Syra; then a tattered saddle; and matters are somewhat advanced, when the owner of the mule strikes for a fee of 300 drachmae to the Tragoea. I know it is too much and offer him a hundred. Without a word, he takes off the saddle — for which a separate negotiation has been necessary — flings it violently upon the ground, and walks off. The small Café world looks on. It is accustomed to such dramas.

Help came in the form of modern technology that VC hardly expected to find in the Greek islands of the 1920s and it cost him less than a tenth of the extortionate price demanded by the muleteer:

. . . a man coming up to me says, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, “The motor is ready to leave for Chalkis, if you care to use it.” An astonishing change of fortune. There, actually, is the car as well as a road upon which it can travel! The fare for a passage is twenty-five drachmae

VC finally reached the picturesquely-located town of Chalkis

. . . [the beauty of the scenes from the car journey] bring me to the white houses of Chalkis shining on the slope of a hill. The massive form of Zea rises above this world.

Halki with Mount Zas towering above
Halki (Chalkis) with Mount Zas (Zea) towering above

VC meets the demarchos, or mayor, of Chalkis who has been informed in advance of his visit.

I stop at a Café, and drink the inevitable Uzo, and a cup of coffee and a white liqueur with a whiff of citron in it. It leaves a clean taste in the mouth unlike our syrupy varieties; and there is a picture of Bacchus sailing across the Aegean on the label . Then comes along the Demarchos who has sent word to say that he will entertain me at lunch.

Bacchus sailing across the Aegean
Bacchus sailing across the Aegean – a trademark of the Kitron from the Vallindras Distillery

We go up to his house . . . The food consists of a Pilaff, of eggs in butter, some excellent fish, and loquats from his trees, preceded by the liqueur I have already tasted, and washed down with an excellent brown wine of the flavour of old port. Cigarettes with coffee served in little gold cups complete this hospitable meal; and now comes a surprise. Marco Vallindras is the maker and inventor of the citron-flavoured liqueur.

Markos Vallindras' house
Markos Vallindras’ house

This meeting between the demarch, Markos Vallindras, and VC forms the start of a deep friendship between the two men.

After resting at Vallindras’ house after a satisfying lunch, VC visits a Notary, one of the so-called Baronakki (little barons),whom he met while drinking in the café earlier in the day.

I pay a visit to the Notary in his feudal Kastro . . . The Kastro is of three storeys and embellished with false battlements. A coat of arms carved in marble is displayed over the outer gate

The Tower of Gratsia
The Tower of Gratsia
The Gratsia coat of arms above the gate
The Gratsia coat of arms above the gate

Ascent of Zea

On his first visit to Naxos, VC and his new friend, the mayor, Markos Vallindras, ride up into the hills above Chalkis and climb to the summit of Mount Zas.

On the morning of the 28th of May, I set out at an early hour with Vallindras to climb to its summit. Traversing the olive groves of the Tragoea, and a new stone bridge over the bed of the river, where a pair of villages cluster on its slopes

Mount Zas
Mount Zas – “Three thousand two hundred and ninety feet in height, it rises proudly above this island world”

Across a deep gorge falling to the sea a hill of white stone that looks like marble, stands, crowned at its almost inaccessible summit with a chapel to the Virgin, cut like a medallion against the sky

Zoodochos Pigi - the spring of the Life-giving Virgin
Zoodochos Pigi – the church of the Spring of the Life-giving Virgin
Riding up the Hills
VC and Markos Vallindras on their ride to the summit of Mount Zas

The second visit to Naxos

On his second visit, a year later in 1928, VC heads directly for the village of Chalkis and meets up again with Markos Vallindras.

I walk up the village street as in a place familiar to me, and meet Vallindras; the little man unchanged in form and manner and exactly as I left him

VC stays a number of days in Chalkis spending his time with Markos Vallindras.

The Castle of Angelo Sanudo

After arriving in Chalkis and lunching with Markos Vallindras, they climb together to the Castle of Angelo Sanudo, Apano Kastro, a short distance from the village of Chalkis.

After lunch we walk up to Apano-Kastro, the Venetian Castle, whose battlements surround an isolated pinnacle, set in the midst of a world of boulders that look as if they had been flung here by some demoniac artillery

Apano Kastro
Apano Kastro

We reach the summit of this eyrie after a stiff climb, and from there look down upon the wide and troubled valley descending and winding on its way to the fertile plains by the sea and the white Castle of Naxos on its hill.

View from Apanokastro
“the wide and troubled valley descending and winding on its way to the fertile plains by the sea”

Apeiranthos

VC and Vallindras leave Chalkis together early one morning to ride to the mountain village of Apeiranthos.

I looked down upon the sunlit slopes of the Island where they fall to the Eastern sea, and the small Emery harbour of Moutsounas

Moutsouna
En-route they see the emery harbour of Moutsounas on the coast
Approaching Apeiranthos on the road from Chalkis
Approaching Apeiranthos on the road from Chalkis

Lower down [in the village of Apeiranthos] is the parish church . . . The cemetery beside it, like so much of Apeiranthos, is beautifully situated under the spreading boughs of an old oak tree, but is sadly neglected; the skulls and bones of the forefathers of the village lying scattered about amidst the marble headstones.

The parish church in Apeiranthos
The parish church in Apeiranthos

Thankfully, the cemetery has now been cleaned up and there is no sign of the skulls and bones seen by VC.At the entrance to the parish church is a memorial plaque commemorating the birth in Apeiranthos of the Prime Minister Petros Protopapadakis who was executed with other members of his government in 1922 following the catastrophic war against Turkey which culminated in the burning of the Greek city of Smyrna.

Memorial plaque to Petros Protopapadaikis
Here in Apeiranthos
was born and grew up
Prime Minister
P. E. Protopapadakis
1859-1922

In the main street there is a flagged terrace overlooking the valley, under the shade of an acacia, where the lads and lasses dance on Sunday afternoons.

The flagged terrace of the main steet
The flagged terrace where the lads and lasses dance on Sunday afternoons

On his return to Chalkis that evening, VC is invited to attend an anniversary service to commemorate the relief of Constantinople in 626 AD, held in the church built by Vallindras’ father.

VC finally says goodbye to Chalkis, and to his friend Markos Vallindras, to explore further afield in Naxos.

A Ride Across the Island

I left Chalkis to ride across the island from South to North, to the old harbour and the marble quarries of Apollonos.

We came into a land of shepherds, into the music of tinkling bells and the humming of innumerable bees. Across the valley there was a causeway, made by Protopapadaikis, Finance Minister of Greece, but left incomplete on his sudden death at the hands of his countrymen.

Petros Protopapadakis
The statue of Petros Protopapadakis by the harbour in Naxos Chora

Keramoti

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Koronos (Bothros}

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Koronidha (Komi/Komiaki)

VC’s ride finally brought him to the village still known locally as Komiaki, although most maps call it by the name of Koronidha

I came to Komi, where under the shade of a plane tree I found the Papa . . . and he took me into his church and pointed out to me its merits. There was a flagged court about the plane tree, with seats like those of an amphitheatre for the village folk to sit on after the service was over.

The plane tree under which VC met the Papa
“under the shade of a plane tree I found the Papa”
The church
The church
The church bells
“He showed his kindness by ringing his bells as I rode away”

Apollonas (Apollonos)

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The Monastery of Phaneromene

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The Ursuline Nuns

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The Sanctuary of the Dukes

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VC’s travels in Naxos

Join the adventure

Join the adventure – become a contributor to this website and help us track down further information and photographs related to VC’s travels in the Cyclades. You can use this website to create a blog post describing your findings and you can upload photographs attached to the blog post.

Research and contribute to this websitePrehistoric figurines

In the valley of Drymalea . . . there have been found figurines of a prehistoric age similar to those found in Egypt in mummy cases

Can you find where these figurines are now? Details and, hopefully, a photograph can be uploaded to a blog post.

Research and contribute to this websiteThe Church of St. George at Chalkis

at Chalkis in the church of St. George an inscription is exposed which tells of the Feasts of Serapis, and the occupation of Naxos by the people of Rhodes.

Can you track down this inscription, photograph it and upload it with any interesting facts to a blog post?

Research and contribute to this websiteThe Marble Bridge at Chalkis

The road comes suddenly to an end, the new marble bridge that is to carry it, as yet unfinished.

VC saw this bridge on his first visit to Naxos when he took the motor taxi from Chora to Chalkis. The bridge is probably still there. Can anybody find exactly where it is located. Photographs, GPS coordinates and other information to a blog post please.

Research and contribute to this websiteMarkos Vallindras’ silver icon of Christ

The meal being over and his wine having done its business, he invites me to take a siesta in his house . . . The room I occupy, like the rest of his house, is of a scrupulous neatness and order . . . Upon a bracket on the wall there is a silver ikon of Christ.

One wonders whether the Vallindras family still have this icon. Can you track down this icon, photograph it and upload the picture to a blog post?

Research and contribute to this websiteThe inscription ‘Horos Dios Melosios’ on the rock on Mount Zas

We reach the base of the summit of Zea where all cultivation ends. It is the land of the shepherds: Horos Dios Melosios; consecrated to Zeus the protector of their flocks.

Here, VC quotes an inscription on a rock on the track to the summit of Mount Zas which Greek scholars believe indicates that the place was dedicated to the god Zeus as protector of shepherds and their flocks (the word Melosios is derived from mela, meaning ‘sheep’ in ancient Greek). If you’re climbing to the summit, please take a photograph and upload it as a blog post.

Research and contribute to this websiteThe shrine of St. John the Illuminator

. . . after a steep ascent, we reached the narrow watershed that divides the Eastern from the Western half of the island; Zea upon one side of us, Phanari upon the other . . Upon this spectacular edge there stands the shrine of St. John the Illuminator

On his visit to Apeiranthos, VC describes this mountain ridge with views to both sides of the island. Can you provide a blog post with the GPS coordinates for this spot and pictures of the shrine if possible.

Research and contribute to this websiteThe black wooden cross in the churchyard at Apeiranthos

. . . some hard fighting took place in the course of which thirty men women and children were killed. A black wooden cross in the churchyard and these bespattered walls still bear witness to that tragedy.

Can you provide a blog post with pictures of the cross in the churchyard?

Research and contribute to this websiteThe remnants of the Venetian Castle at Apeiranthos

The village contains the remnants of a Venetian Castle, with a coat of arms displaying a monkey holding up a crown inscribed in marble over its gate, as well as other traces of a stronghold meant to dominate this end of the island.

Can you provide a blog post with pictures of the castle and the coat-of-arms?

Research and contribute to this websiteThe Theotokis family home at Apeiranthos

Several battlemented houses survive from the same period; one the home of the Theotokis family . . . It was now little more than an empty shell; yet from its windows . . . I looked out upon scenes of a primal beauty.

Can you provide a blog post with pictures of the house and a description of its location and its current state?

Research and contribute to this websiteThe Venetian chapel at Apeiranthos

Below the castle there is a Venetian chapel which must have served the purpose of its lord, converted now into an Orthodox church, and a bell lying neglected in a corner with an inscription on it saying that it was made in Italy in the year 1580.

Can you provide a blog post with pictures of the house and a description of its location and its current state?

Research and contribute to this websiteThe mountain cave at Apeiranthos

In a cave in the mountain rock upon which the castle stands, the people say the first man who came to Apeiranthos was buried. It is a mysterious-looking place, to which the tale they tell of it possibly furnishes a clue.

Can you provide a blog post with pictures of the house and a description of its location and its current state?

Research and contribute to this websiteThe marble tempelon in the parish church of Apeiranthos

Lower down is the parish church, remarkable for its marble tempelon and pulpit; the latter new, the former a century old, of great solidity and some beauty of design. It is attributed to a man of Tenos, where such marble-carving is still a trade; and it bears the date 1817.

Can you provide a blog post with pictures of the marble tempelon and the pulpit of the parish church of Apeiranthos?

Research and contribute to this websiteThe church built by Vallindras’ father

I attended an Anniversary Service for the relief of Constantinople . . . This church, too big for so small a place and still incomplete, was built by Vallindras’ father, who took upon himself the burden of its debt

On their return from visiting Apeiranthos, Vallindras invited VC to the anniversary service. Can anybody find the name of this church and upload photographs as a blog post. Also, photographs of any inscriptions in the church mentioning the Vallindras family would be welcome.

Research and contribute to this websiteThe Mediaeval Church on the road to Moni

I was on the road to Moni, when the Agogiates suddenly deflecting my mule from the road, I found myself on a rough track, covered with wild flowers in profusion. A mediaeval church green with lichen and ivy, stood alone under the boughs of an oak tree

I would be good if you could upload to a blog post a photograph of this church, its name, its GPS location and any walking directions or other information of interest.

Research and contribute to this websiteThe remains of the Marble Causeway between Halki and Moni

Across the valley there was a causeway, made by Protopapadaikis, Finance Minister of Greece, but left incomplete on his sudden death at the hands of his countrymen

Maybe the walkers and trekkers visiting Naxos could find any remains of this causeway and upload photographs, GPS coordinates and any other information to a blog post.

Research and contribute to this websiteThe Marble Pulpit of the church in Komiaki

I came to Komi, where under the shade of a plane tree I found the Papa, his white head under a velvet cap, supervising the carving of his new marble pulpit.

The church is, more often than not, closed. Maybe you can find the keeper of the church key, photograph the pulpit and upload it to a blog post together with your story of how, and from whom, you obtained the key.

Research and contribute to this websiteAn Italian Garden

It grew warm again as I rode upon my way, when my eyes fell upon a scene almost incredible in this barren and thirsty world. Out of a ravine of the bare hills there rose up what looked like a visionary garden of tall cypresses, at the foot of a castle that stood transfigured and shimmering in the sun.

VC describes this after leaving the Monastery of Faneromeni on his way back to Naxos Chora after his ‘ride across the island’. Do you know where this is? Perhaps you could upload photographs, GPS coordinates and any other information to a blog post.

Research and contribute to this websiteAn Italian Garden

The following morning I went to call on Madame Benedict Sommaripa . . . Like the rest of the Latin families she lives on the hill . . . The streets climb up to it through arched gateways that were once barred and narrow ways between high walls . . . The coats of arms of noble families, their heraldic escutcheons cut in marble that has turned from its crystalline whiteness to amber, are to be seen over their poverty-stricken homes. At one of these, in somewhat better state, I stopped to climb an outer staircase of marble that leads to a door high above the street. The door was in need of a coat of paint, and it was opened by the lady herself.

Madame Sommaripa lived in the upper part of the Chora. Can you find this house today? Perhaps you could upload photographs, GPS coordinates and any other information to a blog post.