A walk around Kastro of Naxos.

Maria Tsakoniati
Sightseeings, Unique Travel Routes
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It’s early afternoon in August. A cool breeze teases the summer heat. I arm myself with the camera and make my way up to Kastro, Naxos’s medieval citadel.

I have walked this route thousands of times since I was a kid, taken thousands of photos in the picturesque alleyways.

Each and every time it feels like traveling back into the centuries, like living in the era when the Venetian nobility, followed by their subordinates treaded Kastro’s alleys, cut-off from the poor folk outside it.

Eight centuries ago, Venetian diplomat and military man Marco Sanudo made this place the seat of the Duchy of the Aegean Sea. He built Kastro on the ruins of the ancient acropolis, using what the pirates had left behind them after frequent raids in the previous centuries.

I stand in front of one of Kastro’s three gates, Trani Porta, on the northern side.  I imagine the heavy wooden door opening for an official reception of dignitaries. I note the vertical carving on the gate which served as a measure of length during Venetian times, and conjure the scene of traders arranging their textiles, waiting for the custom of aristocratic ladies.

I enter the citadel, with the Della Rocca Barozzi tower house on the right. It is now the lively Venetian and Folklore Museum. Inside, my eye wanders around the old furniture and the modern paintings  -on show for a few days. I look outside the window and see the majestic, infinite expanse of the horizon. I feel strange –serene and agitated at the same time. The place exudes a strong scent of the past, filling me with emotions and images...

I look at the surrounding mansions, with the enclosed courtyards and the coats of arms on the lintels, and I feel envious of those lucky enough to live inside this vibrant Museum. Each niche and nook hides secrets and legends. The Kastro of Naxos is the only one that is inhabited by Catholic descendants of the Venetians –a citadel full of life and deep roots in history.

I make my way to the central square and enter the Catholic Cathedral. The medieval building with the marble floor hosts headstones with coats of arms of the most prominent Catholic families that lived on the island in the last five centuries.

I feel fully serene and devout –in a way that is so different but also so much the same as I would in an Orthodox chapel. It’s through the soul that we see –not through the eyes...

I start strolling uphill to the Archaeological Museum and mentally travel back to the time when the Jesuits founded there the Commercial School.

Nikos Kazantzakis, considered one of modern Greece’s most prominent writers and philosophers, and best known abroad for his “Zorba the Greek,” attended the school as a teenager for a year in 1898.

After 300 years in operation, the highly prestigious and widely famed establishment finally closed down in 1927, but left an indelible mark on the social and religious education of the region.

A short distance away, I see the open doors of the former Ursuline School. As I ascend the stairs to the main chamber, I feel lucky and proud that my home island is adorned with such a gem.

Memories from the years of innocence invade the mind: I recall the few remaining nuns –strict yet tender- teaching us foreign languages, and, a few years later, the dilapidated classrooms hosting an entire generation of high-school students.

After recent restoration work, the Ursuline school now stands firmly in the present, fully retaining the prestige and fragrance of its 270 years.

I notice that the offices of the Naxos Historical Archive, on the first floor, are closed.  I awaken from my hours-long journey into the past, and realize that the sun is setting, silently but spectacularly, filling the sky with heavenly colors.

I start on the way back, tired but full of pictures from the present and past, full of memories and emotions from a wonderful era that I will narrate to those to follow...

I know I will soon be back. The Kastro of Naxos stands witness to the fact that people may depart but History never does...


About the Author

Maria Tsakoniati

She lives with her husband and daughter in Naxos island, where she comes from. She studied Political Science at Athens Law School and Journalism at Antena T.V, where she got her honors. Today she is writting articles for local newspapers and magazines and she deals with photography for over 10 years. She is a member of "Naxos Photo Art" and has participated in many exhibitions and cultural fiestas. Many of her photographs have been published at "Photographer" magazine. Check her out at: www.naxos.gr, www.facebook.com/naxosislandgreece

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