Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades islands and, many would say, the most attractive. Its landscape is as delightful as it is varied. Mountains rise dramatically from sea level to over three thousand feet, the highest, needless to say, being Mt Zeus. The verdant coastal plain abounds in orange, lemon and olive groves; there are fig trees in plenty, vineyards and tidy fields of cereals and vegetables. Sun and fertile soil have been the basis of the island’s prosperous agriculture for centuries and also account for the island’s occupation in times past by the Venetians and Ottoman Turks. In classical times, the Naxians were wealthy enough to found their own colony on Sicily. We catch a glimpse of this golden age on the islet of Palatia as we cruise into port: the marble doorway of the unfinished Temple of Apollo that, had it been completed, would have been the largest temple ever constructed by the ancient Greeks. Herodotus wrote of Naxos that “it excelled all other islands in prosperity”.
It was the fate of Ariadne that gave Naxos lasting fame. The daughter of Minos, she helped Theseus, son of the Athenian king, outwit the Minotaur in his labyrinthine lair on Crete. The couple subsequently married and Theseus set sail with his bride to return to his home city of Athens calling in at Naxos on the way. Inexplicably, he there abandoned the bride who had so recently saved his life and her fate has inspired all manner of creative talent ever since, not least composers from Haydn to Strauss. The island has even given its name to a popular record label! The story doesn’t end there. Seeing his son approaching his home port but without the white sail raised that had been the agreed signal that he was safe and sound, King Aegeus leapt to his death from the cliffs into the sea that has borne his name ever since.
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