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Naxos Town

Portara of NaxosThere are not many islands where their most famous archaeological site is the first thing you see when you arrive by ferry. This is the Portara, the doorway to the ancient Temple to Apollo which was built in 522 BC by the Tyrant Lygdamis and never finished, which sits on a small island in the harbor and is connected by a long causeway. They say if you stand in the doorway and make a wish you can feel the force as the energy of Apollo begins working to make your wish come true. Actually the only reason they believe that this was a Temple to Apollo is because it happens to face Delos, which is the island of Apollo and since they don't have much to go by it is a possibility though it would not be the first temple that was attributed to the wrong God if it turns out that it was actually a Temple to Dionysious who was the most popular God on Naxos at that time. At the time it was being build Lygdamis intended to make it the largest and most glorious temple in Greece. Unfortunately he was overthrown before it was completed. Had it been finished, Naxos would probably be one of the most important archaeological destinations in Greece with a temple that might have been one of the wonders of the ancient world. After the rise of Christianity the building was used as a church but it was dismantled during the Venetian period and its blocks used for other building projects most notably the Kastro above the port of Naxos. They might have used the doorway too but it was too heavy so rather than deal with it they just left it for the later inhabitants, visitors, historians and archaeologists to wonder about. I guess we can be thankful for that at least.

Naxos town and KastroAbove the whitewashed houses of the town is the Kastro (castle) that was built by Venetian Emperor, Markos Sanoudos II in 1207 and was the seat of power in the Cyclades for 300 years. Within the castles inner walls are a number of Venetian residences, a 13th Century Catholic Cathedral, and the French School where Nikos Kazantzakis, Greece's greatest modern writer who wrote among other things, Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ, studied. The building is now the Archaeological Museum which contains some fine examples of white marble figurines and ceramics. The castle has been continually inhabited since it was built and during the summer hosts concerts and exhibitions which are advertised around the town by posters and brochures. The Kastro originally had several towers of which one remains, called the Glezos Tower which was restored in 1968 after being donated to the National Archaeology Ministry by its owner Petros Glezos.

Naxos town from Portara The area called The Bourgos is where the Greeks lived when the Venetians controlled the town and its winding streets are full of restaurants and shops. The northern part of Naxos is called Grotta and has a pebble beach which is not used much since the northern winds make it pretty rough and difficult for anyone but the best swimmers, body surfers and wind surfers. However when there is no wind and it is calm it can be very pleasant. There is an archaeological site here that is open to the public. The southern part of Naxos town is Agios Georgios Beach which is very popular and has a number of hotels, cafes, restaurants and bars. The harbor itself is a lively area of cafes, restaurants, travel agencies and shops. There are banks where you can change travelers checks and when they are closed the travel agencies also have exchange services. Generally speaking the town is busy and upon arriving may seem confusing. But if you find somewhere to sit, relax and get your bearings, the chaos within that seems to mirror your surroundings will dissipate and you can begin to enjoy yourself.

Naxos townNaxos town is the kind of place that does not close down in the winter. It is a commercial center of an island that does not depend only on tourism. It has a year-round population of Greeks and foreigners. Naxos has a good bus system and taxis so if you enjoy nightlife, restaurants, cafes and shopping but like to spend your days on the beach staying here is an option. Naxos is one of the most enjoyable port towns in the Cyclades, in my opinion second only to Hermoupolis, Syros, which is the capital.

Be sure you check out the Venetian Museum of Naxos in the Kastro, where year round, especially during the summer, they host important cultural activities, such as classical music concerts, local and traditional violin concerts, art exhibitions or folkloric events, in the tower’s cellar, and also in the yard on the side of the tower, which has a spectacular view, overlooking the harbour and the sea. The museum is open from 10am to 11pm and contains furniture and household articles from the past centuries.

See my Naxos Town photo album

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