The Sicilian Expedition Travel Journal – Day 9

13th May 2015

Mazzaro #sicily

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Thank the Lord for Tripadvisor, or more specifically, Vagabonda on the Sicily forums of Tripadvisor. In the Trip Prep stages of this holiday Vagabonda proved to be a wealth of helpful advice and information. Today makes no difference.

I want to leave Taormina for Syracuse, but before I do I want to descend the mountain and visit Giardini-Naxos. As a backpacker, this is not going to be easy without a left luggage office at Giardini-Naxos train station. Luckily, Vagabonda has come up trumps again and pointed me towards the B&B Sottocoperta across the road from the station who are very happy to take my luggage for the entire day for only 5 euro. As I’ve decided to trek to Naxos Archaeological Park from the stations at the other end of the bay on a swelteringly hot day, I’m glad of it.

Still, the walk is along the coast and there is little more pleasant than being next to the sea.

I’m here a little before the tourists descend for beach season, which I’m informed turns this quiet little fishing town into a thriving destination. At the moment the karaoke bars etc are still shuttered up, which I have to admit is how I like Giardini Naxos.

The first hint to the historical importance of this little town comes in the form of a statue along the promenade.

Thucles the Chalcidian

Thucles the Chalcidian

Thucydides records that the first Greeks to send colonists to Sicily were from Chalcis in Euboea. Their leader, Thucles, chose a spur of volcanic rock as the site of his colony and founded Naxos in 734 BC. He’d soon also found Leontini and Catania, both becoming more important than Naxos would ever be. Still, Naxos was remembered by all Greeks in Sicily as an important site, and all sacred journeys back to Greece (such as competitors travelling to the Olympics,) would depart from here after leaving a sacrifice at the altar of Apollo Archegetes.

The Naxians backed the Athenian forces during the Sicilian Expedition. This turned out to be a mistake and the town was razed by Dionysius I of Syracuse in retribution. The Naxos never truly recovered and Tauromenion (Taorminia,) up on the nearby mountain became the dominant settlement.

Consequently there are no grand temples or dazzling mosaics to be seen in the Naxos Archaeological Park. It’s nearly deserted compared to the more glamourous Taormina theatre or the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. I doubt it ever sees hordes of coaches and buses like Piazza Armerina. However, the Naxos site has a quiet dignity all of her own, the tranquility here being a welcome refreshment if you prefer to visit your archaeological sites in peace.

These buildings date back to the late 8thC BC

These buildings date back to the late 8thC BC

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The parallel walls suggest a granary or storeroom in one of the oldest houses in Naxos

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Houses developed into large insula blocks alongside wide avenues, each house with a courtyard

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An ancient avenue looking towards Etna

There is a sanctuary to be seen at Naxos, although it is unlikely to be the one dedicated to Apollo. Archaeologists have tentatively suggested the shrine and temple are instead dedicated to Aphrodite as ancient sources mention a famous temple to her in Naxos.

A propylon (gate) leads into the walled sanctuary

A propylon (gate) leads into the walled sanctuary

Early 6thC altar

Early 6thC altar

The scant remains of Temple B, thought to be dedicated to Aphrodite

The scant remains of Temple B, thought to be dedicated to Aphrodite

There is little to no shade and no water fountains in the archaeological park and for yet another day of my trip I was feeling inexplicably sluggish and tired. Halfway through the walk back up the bay to the train station, I sit down for a meal at one of the many beachside restaurants. Not one to normally photograph my food, (and usually only then to send to my mother,) this tomato and basil rose was too cute to pass up. Thank you, restaurateur, for perking me up!

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Bag retrieved, it’s time for a two hour train journey to Siracusa…

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