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Unlocking the Mysteries of Naxos Old Town

naxos old town

Naxos stands as the largest island within the Cyclades, nestled in the expansive Aegean Sea. Renowned for its breathtaking beaches, rich historical tapestry, and exquisite local products, it promises an unforgettable experience. Among its most captivating attractions is the Old Town, alternatively known as Chora or Bourgos. Serving as the island’s main port and bustling heart, the Old Town offers a mesmerizing blend of ancient and medieval architectural wonders. Along its quaint streets, you’ll discover charming shops, delightful restaurants, and a plethora of cultural treasures. In this blog post, we’ll embark on a journey through Naxos Old Town, uncovering the best activities and sights, and revealing the secrets of this mesmerizing destination.

The Historical Heart of Naxos: Kastro

At the core of Naxos Old Town lies the Kastro, or castle, a monument that stands as a testament to both the island’s rich history and its remarkable state of preservation. Constructed in the 13th century by the Venetians upon their conquest of the island, the Kastro served as the epicenter of their dominion across the Aegean Sea. This fortress was not just a military stronghold but also the residence of Venetian nobility, leaving an indelible imprint on Naxos’s architecture, culture, and historical narrative.

The Venetian Legacy

Encircled by a formidable wall featuring three gates—of which two, Paraporti (the southern main entrance) and Trani Porta (the northern gate), remain standing—the Kastro embodies the enduring legacy of Venice. Within its walls lie the graceful mansions once home to Venetian families, several now transformed into museums that beckon visitors, such as the Della Rocca Barozzi Tower and the Crispi Tower. The Catholic Cathedral, a medieval treasure with its marble flooring and memorial stones, along with the Capuchin Monastery and its church dedicated to San Antonio di Padua, further highlight the significant influence of Venetian heritage. The Kastro stands as a powerful reminder of the Venetian legacy that significantly shaped Naxos’s identity for centuries.

Wandering Through History

The Kastro offers more than just a glimpse into its Venetian past; it also invites you to explore the ancient and Byzantine histories of Naxos. At its summit lies the Orthodox Church of Panagia Theoskepasti, potentially the citadel’s oldest surviving monument. The Naxos Archaeological Museum, situated in a former school, showcases fascinating exhibits ranging from the late Neolithic Age to the early Christian era, featuring artifacts from Naxos and neighboring islands. The Kastro is truly a place where one can wander through history, unfolding the myriad layers of civilization that have left their mark on Naxos.

Discovering the Portara: A Gateway to the Past

In the heart of Naxos Old Town lies a must-see marvel, the Portara. This grand marble gateway towers on the islet of Palatia, a stone’s throw from the harbor. The Portara serves as the sole survivor of what was to be a temple dedicated to Apollo, rooted in the 6th century BC. It stands as Naxos’ emblem and landmark, encapsulating the island’s storied past and ancient glory.

Mythology and Reality

The mythology and history of Naxos intertwine at the Portara. Legends whisper of Theseus abandoning Ariadne, King Minos of Crete’s daughter, here after he slew the Minotaur with her aid. In a twist of fate, Ariadne found love with Dionysus, the god of wine and joy, who subsequently claimed Naxos as his favored isle. Scholars are divided; some believe the temple was a homage to Dionysus, while others argue it faced Delos, Apollo’s birthplace. The temple’s completion was halted when Lygdamis, the tyrant commissioning it, was overthrown in 506 BC. Constructed from four massive marble blocks, each weighing around 20 tons, the Portara’s imposing structure has weathered centuries, standing tall at 6 meters high and 3.5 meters wide, even as Venetians later plundered the stones for their own constructions.

A Photographer’s Dream at Sunset

The Portara is not merely a historical monument; it is also an enchanting vista for sea and sunset views. Every evening, both visitors and locals are drawn to Palatia islet, captivated by the breathtaking scene of the sun dipping behind the Portara. The contrasting colors and shapes create a mesmerizing spectacle. For photographers, the Portara presents an unparalleled opportunity to capture the raw beauty of nature and the timeless essence of Naxos. It stands as a gateway to the island’s past, whilst opening windows to its present and a glimpse into its future.

The Old Market: A Labyrinth of Wonders

For those yearning to immerse themselves in the rich culture of Naxos, the Old Market is an essential visit. Nestled within the ancient castle walls of Naxos town, this area boasts an array of traditional shops and restaurants. It’s a mesmerizing labyrinth of narrow pathways and hidden alleys, offering a treasure trove of local tastes, crafts, and undiscovered jewels that embody the island’s spirit.

Local Tastes and Crafts

Exploring the Old Market, one of the highlights is indulging in the island’s culinary delights and artisanal products. Here, you’ll encounter shops brimming with honey, wine, cheese, olive oil, herbs, and more, perfect for those looking to savor the flavors of Naxos or find unique souvenirs. The artisan stores are a marvel, displaying handmade jewelry, ceramics, textiles, among other crafts. Recommended stops include:

  • Morfes Ceramic Workshop, for exquisite pottery that combines beauty and function.
  • Argilos, offering high-quality Turkish and Greek towels crafted from bamboo or cotton.
  • Papyrus Jewelry and Used Books, a haven for book lovers and those seeking distinctive jewelry designs.
  • Jubilee, where you’ll find ingenious gifts like handmade candles and stone lamps.

Hidden Gems and Local Favorites

The Old Market transcends shopping; it’s a vibrant center for discovery and leisure. Tucked away are cafés, bars, and restaurants that invite you to unwind and indulge in the famed Greek hospitality and flavors. Recommendations include:

  • To Elliniko, a quaint taverna offering mouthwatering traditional dishes like moussaka and grilled meats.
  • Kitron, a chic bar where you can sample drinks made with the unique citron fruit liqueur.
  • Flisvos, a beachfront café providing breathtaking views of the harbor and Portara, especially at sunset.
  • Nostimon Hellas, renowned for its exceptional Greek and Mediterranean dishes, crafted with fresh, organic ingredients.


Naxos Old Town is a treasure trove of history, culture, and breathtaking beauty, nestled on this incredible island. Immerse yourself in the Kastro, the medieval fortress that stands as a testament to the Venetian influence, boasting the rich ancient and Byzantine legacy of Naxos. Stand in awe before the Portara, the majestic marble gateway that dominates the island’s landscape, serving as Naxos’s iconic symbol and an unparalleled vantage point for the most mesmerizing sunsets. Stroll through the Old Market to unearth local products and handcrafted treasures, along with undiscovered delights and cherished local spots. Naxos Old Town will capture your heart, making you fall deeply in love with the island. If your travels bring you to Naxos, do seize the chance to unravel the enchanting mysteries of Naxos Old Town. It’s an experience you’ll cherish forever.

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