After being welcomed by the spirits of Ariadne and Dionysos to their blissful island, Thor and I set off to find the giant Kouros statues abandoned in the countryside near ancient marble quarries.
NOTE: Since my 4-month backpacking trip around Greece too many years ago, I had been longing to return to this magical land of myth, history, and dramatic landscapes. I recently made a fabulous 3-week return trip there, to research additional settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT. My first post in the new series, on September 30, gives an overview of my rambles with my husband Thor from Athens to the islands of Rhodes, Santorini, and Naxos, and finally a pilgrimage to the ancient center of the world at Delphi.
The Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea were named for the Greek term kyklos, or circle, because they circle around the sacred island of Delos. Like the other islands in the group, Naxos presents a rugged, rocky landscape dramatically thrusting out of the luminous blue sea. The islands were settled around 3000 BC, the start of the Cycladic culture, later influenced by the influx of Minoans. Naxos islanders were among the first to use the abundant white marble to sculpt their distinctive figurines that have inspired modern artists like Picasso and Modigliani.
The figurines, usually of abstract female forms, have been found at temple sites and in graves, sometimes broken in sacrifice. In the Athens Archaeological Museums, we saw some of the rare male figurines as well:
The large kouros statues (see top photo), found throughout the region, seem to have had an Egyptian influence in the early styles, which progressed over the years to a more naturalistic presentation, as explained in this museum plaque:
Our quest to find the giant kouroi apparently left in place in the Naxos countryside after the carver decided they weren’t worthy, or they were damaged, started with renting a Jeep at “Mama Auto.” The kindly matron of the local rental shop made sure to quiz Thor about how far we planned to drive, so he wouldn’t buy too much gas. Then, after circling around the labyrinth of one-way lanes in Naxos Town, we finally found the road out and stopped to fill up the tank at a station. The young woman there spoke basic English, as many Greeks do, and she also quizzed Thor about what sites we were intending to visit. “How far you go?” Thor said, “I don’t know. Just give me thirty euros worth.” She responded, “Oh, no, that’s too much. Maybe twenty.” Thor: “Probably better get thirty.” Gal: “No, no, we split the difference. Twenty-five.” Now that’s our type of negotiation!
So after our visit to the nearby Temple of Dionysos (see last week, #17), off we headed into the dry, rocky hills to get lost and eventually find the kouroi. I am a confirmed NeoLuddite and have resisted acquiring devices to get addicted to, so we had no GPS. When we have time to wander, Thor and I actually prefer the time-honored tradition of following a map, getting lost, and having to stop for chats with various helpful locals. Most of the highland villagers, we discovered, did not know English, so we had amusing encounters with the very sweet and helpful locals via lots of sign language. Thor captured this prototypical interaction with the owner of a roadside taverna:
After a bit more looping around dirt roads in the rugged countryside following the above gentleman’s advice, we stopped again to query a village matron. Jabbing a finger at the map, she admonished, “Glinadi, ohi! Galanadi, neh!” (Glinadi, no! Galanadi, yes!) Silly Yanks. We eventually made our way along some very steep and rutted, rocky dirt roads that made us glad the only rental car available had been the Jeep, then found a parking area to walk to the two nearby kouroi. We then realized that there was a tour bus parked in an adjacent lot connected to a paved road….
As you can see below, the local farmers and herders make use of all the rocks to build fences and animal huts. In the middle background is what I believe is an ancient marble quarry (the statues were carved nearby in situ before being transported). In the far distance on the left is a modern quarry hacked out of the mountainside. Marble remains a major component of Greek buildings today.
At last! We found the first roughed-out kouros lying on his back in a private garden that allowed access. This guy is 26 feet tall.
It was a blistering hot day, but we left the shade to hike up a rocky trail to see the brother kouros where he had been abandoned by the carver as flawed. This one measures 18 feet tall, with feet added (the parts were separated, perhaps in a transport accident). You can see that the carver was following the usual pattern with the left foot forward.
The September heat and drought had leached the landscape of color and shriveled most of the foliage, but brave blossoms still poked out of the dirt and rocks:
Retracing our steps down the trail to a sort of oasis of green along the course of a seasonal stream, we gratefully followed a path under arching tall olive and plane trees and entered through the Gate to Paradise:
We didn’t catch the name of the Paradise Cafe owner, but delighted in her funky outdoor cafe with table and benches made from scavenged chunks of marble beneath ancient olive trees. We were Very happy when she served us cold beers, along with some delicious olives and tomatoes from her own little Garden of Eden. She also sold honey from her bee hives.
The Paradise Cafe inspired me to include it in my novel-in-progress, along with other Naxos locations, so stay tuned.
Taking another highland route after our refreshing stop, Thor and I passed closer to the marble quarry….
…and some of my favorite playful goats climbing over the boulders.
The only thing left to complete our delightful ramble was a salute to the island of Ariadne and Dionysos, and a refreshing swim in that glorious sea. Chairete! Rejoice!
Next week: Naxos Town and more rambles around the island.
You will now find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from a research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com