Naxos, the Old Town


After two very beautiful and busy days of moving around the island, I feel a cold coming on. Is my body and immune system really this vulnerable? I thought at first that the longer I traveled, the tougher I’d become, but that doesn’t seem to be holding true. Or maybe that’s the case for one’s digestive and intestinal systems in Asia, where local bacteria move in and, if one is lucky, aid in digestion rather than wreck it. At least my minor health annoyances, save for the knee injury, have been above the belt.

The wind has kicked up from the north and gusts around 20-30 mph all day. I stay close to the hotel and enjoy my splendid room looking at town to the west, and to the north at the blue Aegean now flecked with whitecaps. I abscond with breakfast items (bread, cheese, ham, fruit, sometimes even a bit of cake or quiche–all in great variety and all delicious) so have no shortage of food during the day.

I finally visit some of the old city’s  back alleys, little courtyards, and churches–both Orthodox and Catholic. The latter is here because Venice controlled these islands for a century or so, and its local overlords fortified themselves in towers, with churches providing spiritual protection from the “heretics” of Orthodox Christianity.

ImageAn archaeological museum spread over two floors of a Venetian-built castle has very early pottery (3000+ years old), grave goods, even “Cycladic Figurines” that may or may not be fertility divinities despite their fairly featureless bodies and blank faces. A bit haunting to look at them and imagine the kind of power they were supposed to embody.


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This whole town of Hora/Chora–now so picturesque and photogenic– is built around the dream of defense and protection. “We’ll be safe if we leave no space between houses for attackers to access; our walls and a maze-like network of streets will save us!”

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Who knows if the design worked for local threats like pirates and bandits, but it certainly did not deter all those navies, armies, empires and regimes that targeted Naxos. Its olive groves, marble quarries, and meager agriculture have contributed to millennia of forced compliance by one dominating regime after another. Imagine being ruled by Ottoman Turks for 350 years (15th to 19th centuries) or Persians for 400 (3rd to 1st c. BCE). This history reminds me of how recent the cultural identity of “Greece” actually is. A national holiday celebrating its independence will take place on the 25th, and I’ll be here to see it.


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