The “Giants” of Naxos

“The Giants”?  What are you talking about?  What are these giants?  First, I’ll explain a little about Naxos.  For those of you not familiar with the Greek islands, Naxos is a beautiful island.  It is the largest island in the Cycladic group, a little south of its famous neighbour, Mykonos.  The “Cyclades” (pronounced ‘kik-ladthes’, from the Greek word ‘kyklos’, meaning circle, as the group of islands were situated roughly in a circle around the sacred island of Delos).  In fact, the main symbol of the island of Naxos is the “Portara”, or doorway, a massive marble door-frame situated on a small peninsula or islet of Palatia at the north end of Naxos . . . a doorway facing towards that sacred island of Delos, believed to be the birthplace of Apollo. The structure is about six metres high and three and a half metres wide, built of four separate columns, each weighing about twenty tons.

Diana & I standing near the Naxos Portara
Diana & I standing near the Naxos Portara

Meanwhile, back to the ‘giants’ . . . the giants I’m talking about are actually called ‘kouros’, meaning ‘man’.  They are large marble statues of a standing man, carved larger than life.  Many existing examples of these are now in museums in different locations in Greece.  The Greeks seem to have a thing about carving these statues, there are so many, usually straight up-right stance, almost at attention.  It seems like they began to carve them larger and larger, until they could not even move them from their ‘birthplace’ or quarry or the side of a mountain where there was a large enough piece of marble.

On Naxos, there is even one lying in somebody’s garden, unfinished.  I’m sure it wasn’t a garden when they worked on it.

Our favourite is just off the road above the fishing village of Apollonas on the north end of Naxos.  It is just lying there, still ‘attached’ to the mountain, a huge slab of marble.  As you can see from the photo, as it lies there, the feet are sticking up, taller than my wife Diana. They started carving larger and larger statues, and if they cracked or broke before they were finished, they just left them, and I suppose moved on to another.

Kouros - Diana & I standing at each end of this giant.  Look how big the foot is compared to Diana
Kouros – Diana & I standing at each end of this giant.  Look how big the foot is compared to Diana

All this begs the questions . . . what do you do with it if you could cut it off the mountain in one piece . . . how do you move it . . . and where would you put it?

This particular statue, or ‘kouros’, is called the ‘Kouros of Apollonas’.  Sometimes it is referred to as the ‘Colossus of Dionysos’, as some believed it was made as a tribute to the Greek god Dionysos.  It is almost eleven metres (thirty-six feet) long, estimated to weigh about eighty tonnes, so not a small project!

 As I said, Naxos is a lovely Greek island, full of interesting archeological sites, many lovely villages, a great waterfront area in the main town, filled with tavernas, restaurants and an abundance of wonderful accommodation.  There is a very cheap public transport (bus), as well as lots of rental agencies for cars or ‘quads’ to run around the island.  It even has a small airport, with service into and out of Athens.

While we’re on Naxos, another thing that is unique to this island is a special liqueur called ‘Kitro’.  There are firms on the island that make a liqueur from the lemons, or a mixture of the leaves and the lemons, but the ‘real stuff’ is made from a distillation from the leaves of the lemon tree.

Lemon cultivation started on Naxos back in the 17th century, and in 1896 a gentleman by the name of Markos Vallindros started a distillery in the village of Khalki to produce a liqueur from the citron tree leaves.  This product has become synonymous with Naxos, and is sold everywhere on the island.  We found and tried a couple of varieties, some stronger or smoother than others, but very nice.  We brought some home, and it is an interesting treat to give to our guests to try, as we relate more stories about Naxos.

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