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Naxos History

Naxos through centuries

A place in history

Naxos stands out for its age-old history which goes back into the mists of time. Located in the center of the Cyclades island group, it was one of the oldest hubs of civilization– not just in Greece but in Europe as a whole.

Naxos Culture

The human presence on Naxos spans thousands of years, endowing the island with a rich cultural mosaic of various periods and influences. 

Geographical position

Due to its geographical position, Naxos has been a center of communication and exchanges among the inhabitants of neighboring islands, but also among different races and ethnicities. 

Cycladic Civilization

Naxos flourished during the period of the Cycladic Civilization, between 3000 and 2000 BC, thanks to trade, seafaring and its mineral wealth, notably marble and emery.

Naxos has a long and fascinating history that stretches back thousands of years. The island’s strategic location in the Aegean Sea made it a crossroads for various civilizations and contributed to its rich historical heritage.

The earliest known settlers on Naxos were the Cycladic people, who inhabited the island around 4,000 BC. They left behind impressive artifacts, including the famous Cycladic figurines that are now housed in museums around the world.

During the Archaic and Classical periods, Naxos flourished as a prosperous city-state. It established colonies in other parts of the Aegean and Black Sea, including the island of Sicily, where it founded the city of Naxos. The island itself became a hub of trade and a center for agriculture, producing wheat, olives, grapes, and marble. The Temple of Apollo, with its colossal marble gate, the Portara, was constructed during this period but was never completed.

In the 6th century BC, Naxos came under the control of the powerful Persian Empire. However, during the Greco-Persian Wars in the early 5th century BC, the island joined other Greek city-states in a successful rebellion against Persian rule.

In the following centuries, Naxos became a prize sought after by various powers, including the Athenians, Spartans, and Macedonians. It was also ruled by the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria. In the 2nd century BC, Naxos fell under the control of the Romans, becoming a part of the Roman Empire.

During the Byzantine period, Naxos was an important administrative center. The island was influenced by Christianity, and numerous churches and monasteries were constructed. Byzantine rule continued until the 13th century when Naxos came under the control of the Venetians. The Venetians built the Castle of Naxos, a fortified citadel in the capital, which still stands as a testament to this era.

In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire conquered Naxos, and the island remained under Ottoman rule for almost four centuries. The local population endured hardships during this time, including pirate raids and the decline of trade. The Ottoman period ended in 1821 when Naxos, along with the rest of Greece, fought for independence in the Greek War of Independence.

Since gaining independence, Naxos has gradually developed into a popular tourist destination while still preserving its historical and cultural heritage. Today, the island welcomes visitors from around the world who come to explore its ancient ruins, relax on its beautiful beaches, and experience the unique charm of its villages and traditions.

“If heaven was on earth, it would be here”

nikos kazantzakis

profound Greek Author

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Naxos in myth and legend

In ancient Greek mythology, Naxos played a significant role.

It was believed to be the childhood home of the god Zeus, and according to legend, Zeus was raised in a cave on the slopes of Mount Zas, the highest peak on the island.

Additionally, the island is associated with the myth of Theseus and Ariadne. Theseus, a hero from Athens, abandoned Ariadne on Naxos after slaying the Minotaur in the labyrinth of Crete.

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The Temple of Apollo or Portara

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Portara, a huge marble gate and the single remaining part of an unfinished temple of Apollo of 530 BC, is Naxos’s emblem and main landmark. Standing on the islet of Palatia, at the entrance to Naxos harbor, it comprises four marble parts weighing about 20 tons each.

Its construction was initiated by the tyrant Lygdamis in the 6th century BC, according to the specifications of the temples of Olympic Zeus in Athens and of the goddess Hera on Samos. It measured 59m in length and 28m in width, and its entrance was on the western side – an unusual feature for an Ionian-style temple.

The monumental gate seen today, which led from the vestibule to the main part of the temple, lies amidst traces of its foundations and those of a peripheral colonnade that was never completed.

The islet of Palatia has been associated with the worship of Ariadne –a Cretan princess- and Dionysus, the god of wine and merriment. Because, according to mythology, Dionysus abducted the princess at the beachside of Palatia, the islet is considered the place where Dionysian festivities were first held.


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A tour in Kastro

There are few places in Greece where one may go back in time and get a feeling of what a medieval town was like with architectural structure and details still intact. The fortified citadel of Naxos, or Kastro, is one of these. The conversion of many mansions within its bounds into museums and the maintenance of others by their owners make Kastro a veritable medieval museum with a unique atmosphere.

"They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
Andy Warhol