Continuing on from last time, here’s the next thrilling instalment of my Greek Island hopping fieldwork adventure. Having been left abandoned on the shores of Mykonos in the last episode, I was soon back on the road (/the sea). Next stop: more of the Northern Cyclades.
Andros is the northern-most of the Cycladic islands, the second largest, and also the greenest (enough with the superlatives, already). Its verdant wildlife and mountainous landscape are a paradise for walking-enthusiasts, and a number of official hiking trails connect the various parts of the island. Boats arrive into Gavrio port, a short and pleasant bus journey through the hills away from the main town of Chora. Of course, I headed straight for the main archaeological museum of the island at the end of the town — and it is certainly worth a visit! The collection contains the material from the excavations at Zagora and Palaiopolis (see more below) — my favourite item from the museum was a Roman period ‘fountain’, which could certainly rival the Brussels Manneken Pis…The contemporary art museum (split across two opposite buildings) is also good fun. Photographs were not permitted inside, so you will just have to go for yourself!
But the real joy of visiting Andros is to hike off-road and see the numerous archaeological remains by the coast. A half-hour bus/taxi ride from Gavrio to the abandoned church of Agia Triadha gets you a 2km downhill stroll away from Zagora, the ancient settlement of Andros founded some time around the tenth century B.C. To the untrained eye, the site of Zagora might just look like a pile of abandoned rocks (no information panels on site to help you out — make sure you visit the museum at Chora first!) But this is one of the few pieces of evidence we have for domestic structures during this time period. And, so, Zagora is an important type-site for any enthusiast of Greek history. Particularly impressive is the ‘temple’ structure, a building which lies within the walls of the town, pressed up against other houses. A 25km hike back to Gavrio takes you past the island’s old city of Palaiopolis and its museum; and also past the temple of Dionysus at Ypsili. The latter, sadly, remains closed since the Greek financial crisis. At the Palaiopolis museum, there’s a signposted 3km circular detour which takes you down past the remains of the old city, and down onto the beach. The views and sea-breeze alone make this a worthy detour, but also look down to see a ground littered with broken ceramics and marble.
Επόμενη στάση: Naxos. According to the myth, Theseus abandoned princess Ariadne here. He left in the night and sailed back to Athens, returning from Crete where he had slain the half-man-half-bull minotaur. It wasn’t an unhappy ending, though, and Ariadne got rescued by the god Dionysus. A temple from the sixth century B.C. marks this spot at Palatia, and this is the postcard-perfect view you’ll see on the headland as you take the ferry into port. A bit further out of town (definitely walkable) is the sanctuary of Dionysus at Yria, whose remains are just as impressive but not as well frequented by tourists. Back in the town and winding up through the narrow medieval and Venetian street network, one can reach the ‘kastro’: the fortified castle of the main town. On its slopes sits the archaeological museum. The collection houses a number of quite remarkable Naxian marble sculptures, some of them of a style rarely seen off the island. There is also a significant collection of (quite large) eighth and seventh century pottery. Just be careful — they’re balanced precariously on open shelves, and you are not allowed to leave any bulky backpacks at reception! Tread lightly…
Naxos is another island perfect for the aspiring goat. Mountain trails and hiking routes run throughout all parts of the island, all of them well signposted. Going east from the main town takes you past the remains of a Roman aqueduct, and then all the way over to the ancient marble quarries. Naxos was famous for its export of marble from as early as the seventh century B.C., and it is quite impressive to see the extent to which the trade is still industrialised today. Diverting from the road, one enters what I can only call ‘Wonderland’: a leafy grove of twisting pathways, punctuated regularly by an eclectic yet friendly array of signposts. Provided that you don’t get lost, you’ll come across two ‘unfinished’ kouroi statues: giant marble figures of naked male youths. One of these I recorded with a 3d scan — and I am very happy to share the model if you zip me a message! On the road back to the town centre, I enjoyed typical Greek hospitality. No fewer than five cars/taxis/buses stopped to ask me whether I wanted a lift back. Clearly the adventure rucksack, hiking boots, and goat legs didn’t give away strongly enough that I was a man on a mission…
Like Naxos, Paros was famous in antiquity for its high quality marble and, like Naxos, you can visit the ancient quarries at the cost of a short hike into the hills. The scale of ancient mining was certainly on-par-with-if-not-greater-than Naxos, and the site is impressive indeed to look at (albeit with sparse signage to guide you). Paroikia, the main centre of Paros, is well endowed with archaeological remains — brown tourism signs are on just about every street corner! If you can tear yourself away from them for long enough, the archaeological museum is right by the port and has an artful collection of marbles, and Parian pottery vessels. Further up the hill (now behind a modern housing development…), the temple of Delian Apollo boasts not insignificant remains, and it also has commanding views of much of the rest of the island. Taking the coast road down from the sanctuary, one can make it to the headland and start searching for the well hidden ‘Cave of Archilochus’. I am still unsure why this cave is named after the seventh century Parian poet (there is no textual tradition which puts him here), but that’s not to distract from the west-facing-sunset-ready views inside this mermaids’ lagoon. Beyond lie the small island of Antiparos and the even smaller island of Despotiko — where archaeological fieldwork is on-going in order to uncover the remains of the ancient sanctuary.
I’m heading back to Athens for the next few days in order to rest up. But stay tuned, as in just over a week I’ll be back island hopping for more archaeological adventures. Next time, I’ll be moving out of the Cyclades to snake my way down the islands which border the Turkish coast — and I start up at Lesbos…