Largest and most fertile of the Cyclades islands, Naxos is one of the more beautiful islands in the Aegean and one that attracts thousands of tourists each summer.
Signs of ancient, Byzantine and Venetian history abound throughout the island, and the capital town, also called Naxos, has fine examples of both Cycladic and Venetian architecture.
For years it was popular among writers and artists. Lord Byron visited the island during his youth. It was a place which he never forgot, one whish he often described during his years of success and disillusionment, and the “dream island” to wish he often expressed the hope that he would return.
Its charming 41 villages and green valleys are sandwiched in between rugged mountains.
The highest mountain on the island, and all of Cyclades, is Mt Zas (Zeus) at 3,200 feet.
Economically Naxos is the most important of Cyclades Island. A great deal of farming takes place in its rich valleys, the cultivation of lemon trees being particularly important.
With a population of 18,000, Naxos is know for producing cherries, preserves of fresh fruits, cheese, olives, grapes, different kinds of nuts, potatoes, pomegranates, wine, a special liquer made from lemon tree leaves and called kitron, oil, corn, figs, lemons, orange and vegetables.
The potatoes have been “the best in Europe” and the wine of Naxos is quite good. Kitron is not aperitif. The acidity of the lemon and the sweetness of the sugar are admirably counterbalanced.
The island is 18 miles long and 12 miles wide and is well known for its sparkling sandy beaches, a clear blue sea and monuments representing a history of more than 6,000 years.
The interior of the island is one of few places in Cyclades where the folded valleys are remote enough from the sea to have a distinct life of their own. It is possible in Naxos to feel that one has lost contact with the sea.
Between the northern and southern mountain ridges, a graceful valley leads through to the village of Apiranthos.
The first thing one sees when entering the port of Naxos is the lonely lintel from from the Temple of Apollo, begun in 522 B.C. but never finished, perhaps because it was too large. It is the most symbolic landmark in the town.
A very picturesque port, Naxos town features a Venetian touch blending in nicely with Cycladic architecture. Its whitewashed walkways, tunnels and arches beg to be explored by the visitor.
To see Naxos of the past, don’t forget to visit the small archeological museum in town with its various Cycladic sculptures, pottery of various period and fragment of kouros statues, mosaics from the roman period, various jewelry and coins.
Don’t expect to find in Naxos the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Mykonos, Santorini or Rhodes. The island is best suited for those who seek a quiet vacation. There are enough activities to pursue on the island, for all tastes, but the visitor seeking an escape from the noise and hoopla found on other popular Aegean island will find his peace of mind on Naxos.
The first inhabitants of Naxos were probably Thracian, later supplanted by the karians, whose early leader gave his name to the island.
Beside the present town of Naxos, inhabited from 3000 B.C., are the sea-eroded remains of a Cycladic town at Crotta, and at Kastraki there is a Cycladic acropolis by the Mycenaean fort.
Homer, the famous Greek poet, mentions the island with the name (or Zeus) and other ancient writers by others names.
In mythology, Theseus and the Cretan princess Ariadne stopped off at Naxos on their way to Athens, after the destruction of the Minotaur.
Then, for some unknown reason, Theseus deserted the girl who had as sited him so greatly and left for Athens with the other Athenians.
Ancient writers had many and varied explanations for the hero’s behaviour. One was that he had fallen in love with another woman, Aegle, a second that he was fearful of his reception in Athens if he arrived with the daughter of their ancient enemy, King Minos, for bride.
This myth supposedly demonstrates the rice of late Cycladic culture after the fall of Crete. Which itself eventually gave way to the lonian and Athenian.
As for pour Ariadne, she later married the god of wine, Dionysos, who happened to be on Naxos at the time, teaching the Naxians how to make wine.
In honor of Dionysos and his bride Ariadne the islands held large festivals in spring and even today the Naxos inhabitants organize wine festivals.
After the passing of the Thracians, Naxos was inhabited by the phenicians and the Cretans.
The greatest enemies of powerful ancient Naxos were the Miletians from Asia Minor.
Many battles were fought between the two rivals at the fort call Delion, of which a few vestiges remain by Naxos town.
It was here that the Naxian heroin Polykrite fled when her island was besieged by these enemies, only to find the gate of the fortress already closed. One of the Miletian leaders
Found her there and fell so mush in love with her that he agreed to help her people, informing her of all the movements of his armies.
Thus the Naxians were able to make a sudden and vicious attack on the Miletians.
However, in the confusion of the battle, Polykrite’s lover, turned traitor for the sake, also perished, and the girl died in sorrow a great heroine.
Naxos was one of the first islands to work in marble, later producing in the Archaic period the lions of Delos and huge Kouros statues. Two of these were left in the quarries because they were flawed.