1. Geography - Environment
The beautiful island of Paros lies in the middle of the Cyclades. It is the third island in size and its coastline forms small and large bays with sandy beaches. Contrary to the mountainous mass of Profitis Elias that rises in the centre of the island at 770 m altitude, the outer region is flat, with cultivated areas. All this variety of terrain gives the island great environmental interest. The trees that grow on the island are the pine of the sea, pine, poplar, citrus trees and a great variety of bushes and shrubs. Many shrubs are aromatic. An important plant, known since antiquity, is the crocus (crocus salivus) or saffron.
Many areas of Paros are wetlands of particular importance for the flora and fauna of the island. The wild birds of Paros are of great interest as they are represented by more than 300 species. Many migratory and endemic birds find refuge in the wetlands, among which certain rare ones, such as the hedge-sparrow (prunella modularis) and the Aegean seagull (larus audouinii).
Paros presents a great variety of sea habitats that play host to numerous and important marine animals. The most important mammal is the Mediterranean seal (Monachus monachus).
On the west side of Paros, is the Psychopania location, an area of extreme natural beauties, as innumerable colourful butterflies of the species panaxia quadripunctaria find refuge.
The soil of Paros consists of transformed rock, mainly marbles, schist and a small quantity of emery. The Parian marble is found in great deposits.
2. 1. Prehistory
Paros was settled at the beginning of the Late Neolithic period, but the first important traces of habitation on the island are dated in the Early Bronze Age (3200-2000 BC), as is testified by the settlements and the cemeteries that have been discovered. Most sites are found in coastal areas, as in Dryos, Kambos, Pyrgos, Plastiras, and in Paroikia, at the locations Dilio and Kastro (under Agios Konstantinos church). The island seems to have been inhabited by Minoans as well, evident by its older names Minois and Minoa. During the last two centuries of the Bronze Age (1200-1000 BC), a very important fortified settlement developed in Koukounaries, in Naousa bay.
2. 2. Antiquity
Paros, the name that the island has to this day, according to mythology, was given after its settler, Paros, who arrived here from Arcadia. In the beginning of the first millennium BC Ionian tribes arrived from Attica, laying the foundation for the development of Paros into an important power in the Aegean. During the Archaic and Classical period Paros was indeed a considerable economic force and a great artistic centre. The prosperity of the island during antiquity was based on trade, the foundation of colonies and the exploitation of the local marble. The most important colony of Paros was Thasos, established in 680 BC. Other known colonies were Galipsos, Aisymi, Strymi, Parion in the Dardanelles and Faros in the Adriatic Sea.
During the Persian wars (490-479 BC) the island was used as a Persian naval base. Then, after the 1st and the 2nd , founded in 478 and 377 BC respectively, it passed under the Athenian domination, and later under Macedonian and from 140 BC Roman rule.
Archilochus, the first lyric poet of Antiquity, lived on Paros. This was also the birthplace of Agorakritos and Scopas, two of the most brilliant sculptors of the Classical period.
2. 3. Byzantine Period – Modern Times
The Early Byzantine period in Paros is represented by few churches only, as there are no settlements or important buildings. During the Byzantine era, from the 7th to 12th century, Paros flourished in certain periods due to its geographical position and its privileges, but there were also periods of unrest, even desolation caused by piratical, Slav and Arab raids, and finally earthquakes. In 1207 with the establishment of the Duchy of the Aegean, the island passed successively into the suzerainty of powerful venetian families such as the Crispi, the Sommaripa and the Venieri. After 1260 three castles were constructed, at the Naousa port, in Kefalos and in Paroikia. In 1537, however, Paros was conquered by the Ottoman fleet under Hayreddin Barbarossa, after the siege of the Kefalos castle. In 1566, the Ottomans ceded Paros with other Cycladic islands to the Jewish diplomat and adminstrator Joseph Nasi. In 1579, the island came under immediate Ottoman rule and was directly incroporated in Ottoman provincial administration.
In the next centuries Paros was found in the middle of the Ottoman-Venetian war. It was the time when Paroikia was completely destroyed. A century later, during the Russian - Ottoman war (1768-1774) Naousa became the base of Russian fleet. Moreover, the pirates often took advantage of the gaps in power left behind by the conflicts of the big forces of the time at the expense of the Parian people. Their permanent bases of operations were the strait between Paros and Antiparos, as well as Naousa.
On the 24th of April 1821 Panagiotis Dimitrakopoulos, a member of the Society of Friends (Filiki Etaireia), declared the Greek Revolution on Paros. Manto Mavrogenous (1796-1840), a heroine of the Greek War of Independence, died on the island. With the foundation of the Greek nation-state in 1830, Paros, as the rest of the Cyclades, was included in its territory.
During World War II Paros was initially submitted to the Italian Administration, in 1941, as the Greek territories were occupied by the Axis forces. After the capitulation of Italy in 1943 the island was incorporated in the German administration until its liberation in 1944. Parian people contributed greatly in World War II. The Resistance had installed a secret base in Antiparos, from which many fighters escaped to the Middle East on submarines and boats.
The people of Paros exploited every parameter of the local climate, landscape and geography. Fishing and trade were among their first activities. The main source of wealth for the island has always been, from Antiquity to modern era, the famous Parian marble.
During all the periods that the island was inhabited, wheat, barley, grapevines and olive trees were cultivated. In the beginning of the18th century Paros is described by foreign travellers as a prosperous island with its agriculture and commerce of wine, cheese, barley, and cotton.
The expulsion of the Greek-Orthodox of Asia Minor in 1922 influenced the economy of the island when many Greek families came to Paros as refugees, renewing the local agriculture. Unfortunately, the German occupation stopped the economic and cultural development of the island. In the 1950’s migration to Athens, Europe and America started. Agriculture and livestock-farming were neglected, thus the island's economy and Paros in general declined.
Nowadays, only the production of barley is substantial. Fishing is also one of the few sources of income on the island and the fishing fleet of Paros is one of the largest in Greece. In the wine factories of Paros white and red wines from local grapes are produced. The best known is the dry red variety that is declared a Wine with Appelation of Superior Quality.
In the recent years Paros has developed into a great tourist destination and the Parians are occupied mainly in hotel and other tourist enterprises.
4. The Parian Marble
4. 1. The "Parian Stone" and the Development of Sculpture
Paros owes its great prosperity in Antiquity to the systematic exctraction and exploitation of the Parian marble, which began in the 7th century BC and continued without interruption until 1881.
The "Paria lithos" (Parian stone), as the ancients called it, was of unique quality: white, clear, almost translucent, fine-grained with a crystalline texture. The ancients referred to the local marble by different names, such as lychnitis, lychneos, lychnias or lychneus. These characterizations were given most probably due to its lucidity and luminosity or due to the fact that oil lamps (lychnoi) were used to light the dark galleries in the quarries.
Due to its exceptional features the Parian marble was the perfect raw material for the ancient sculpture and architecture. The first marble works of art were the Cycladic figurines and vases. In Historical years, the Parians did not limit themselves in the trade of marble, which ensured wealth and power. Paros developed into a great artistic centre with eminent sculptors and particular tradition. Some of the greatest sculptors of the Classical period, namely Agorakritos, Skopas, Aristion, Arkesilaos and Thrasymedes came from Paros. Their famous works embellished the most important monuments of Antiquity, such as the Parthenon of Athens and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, while some of the most beautiful statues of ancient Greek art were made of Parian marble: Nike (Victory) of Paionios, Hermes of Praxiteles, Nike (Victory) of Samothrace, Aphrodite of Milos.
4. 2. The Marble Quarries at Marathi
At the site Marathi, 5 kilometres northeast of Paroikia, the ancient marble quarry is located. The galleries are a total 190m. long and extend deeply under the surface. From the three entrances to the quarries, the most interesting is the southern one. On the left side of the entrance there is a Hellenistic relief, dedicated to the Nymphs, with the inscription: "ΑΔΑΜΑΣ ΟΔΡΥΣΗΣ ΝΥΜΦΑΙΣ", due to which the quarry was named "Quarry of the Nymphs". Parts of the fragmentarily preserved relief portray different persons taking part in a ceremony or celebration. To this day, support columns, steps and retaining walls on the sides of the galleries, made of scrap marble left during the quarrying are preserved, dated to the ancient times.
The commercial exploitation of the marble, after a long pause in the Byzantine period, blossomed again during the Frankish occupation. The Duke of Paros, Crussino Sommaripa, exported the marble to Chios and other parts of Greece, even to Venice in Italy. After the Greek War of Independence, foreign companies undertook the exploitation of the quarries. A French company managed the quarry from 1844 to 1877 and since 1878 the Belgian Marble Company took over. The latter must have had grandiose plans, as installations were built in Marathi, a railroad was constructed for transporting the marble to Paroikia port, and money was printed for the payroll of the employees and the transactions of the company. Unfortunately, this was only a short economic flash for Paros, as few years later the company stopped operation due to economic problems. Since 1881 the Hellenic Paros Marble Co. undertook the exploitation of the quarries. Nowadays, the area is a monument of industrial archaeology, organised as a visiting site. The quarrying of the marble continues at other locations on Paros but the quantity is limited.
5. Archaeological Sites and Monuments
5. 1. The Mycenaean Acropolis at Koukounaries
In the last Mycenaean period, after 1200 BC, an important settlement was founded on the hill Koukounaries in Naousa bay. The settlement included a palace and it was fortified by a "Cyclopean" wall. Koukounaries was destroyed by fire following an attack and a siege and it was abandoned. Part of the settlement was inhabited again for a short period of time in 1100 BC. A new city flourished during the Geometric period (10th-8th cent. BC) and a temple dedicated to goddess Athena was built.
5. 2. The Ancient City of Paros
The low hill, where the traditional settlement of Paroikia is built, was first inhabited during the 3rd millennium BC. After a period of desolation, it was again inhabited after 2000 BC up to the Geometric period (1000-700 BC). The advantageous position of the settlement on the top of the hill and the port, well protected from weather conditions, were the decisive factors for its continuous occupation during Antiquity, resulting to superimposed habitation phases.
During the Archaic (7th - 6th cent. BC) and Classical period (5th – 4th cent. BC) the city expanded in the wider Paroikia area. Modern excavations have clarified the topography of the ancient city to a certain degree. The boundaries are known as the ancient city walls are still preserved, including watchtowers and the gate of the East walls. The city was built according to a city plan with specified residence areas and a district of workshops. A sculpture workshop and a pottery workshop with kilns have been revealed in a nearby location called Tholos. The hill of the Kastro (castle) was transformed into a religious and administration centre, as temples and other public buildings were constructed in the same place. The most important was the temple of Athena, made of marble, on top of which the Byzantine temple of Agios Konstantinos (St Constantine) was built. The existence of a theatre (in an unknown location), the in Krios and the temples in the wider region provide a picture of a thriving city.
Excavations have revealed up to date the sanctuaries of Pythios Apollo and Asclepius, the shrines of Zeus Hypatos, Aphrodite and Eileithyia to the north, Archilochion at Elitas, and the temples of Apollo and Artemis at Dilio. Dilio (Delion), a hill with a breathtaking view of Paroikia and of Delos, is located on the north side of the bay. It had been a cult place since the 3rd millennium BC. In the Geometric years (9th – 8th cent. BC) a sanctuary for Delios Apollo was founded, while in the 5th cent. BC a large marble temple dedicated to Artemis was built above an earlier Archaic temple.
The ruins of two Classical sanctuaries of the 4th century BC are located south of Paroikia: of Asclepius and of Pythios Apollo. The open-air sanctuary of Asclepius was established near a water spring. On a higher plateau, in the same period, the sanctuary of Pythios Apollo was built. The sanctuaries were destroyed in the end of the Hellenistic period, when their parts were built in a defensive wall.
During the Hellenistic and Roman period the economic, cultural and artistic development of the island continued. There was a Roman on the location where the Byzantine church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani was later constructed. Moreover, luxurious residences with mosaics have been excavated.
The official ancient cemetery of Paroikia is very significant. It lies near the modern port. It had been in continuous use from the 8th cent. BC until the 3rd cent. BC. The most interesting feature is a common grave dated to the 8th cent. BC, that is a polyandrium to honour 35 men, probably warriors. In the Classical period, the burial customs defined that the bodies of the dead were placed in marble urns, after being cremated. During the Late Hellenistic and Roman period, the dead were buried in marble , placed on high pedestals and were accompanied by luxurious burial offerings.
The picture of the ancient city and the port of Paros is continuously enriched as new elements are revealed due to rescue excavations. However, a complete revelation is impossible, as the modern town developed over the ancient without topographical change.
5. 3. The Venetian Castle at Paroikia
On Paroikia hill, on the place where in the previous centuries ancient temples and public buildings had been erected, the Venetians built their first castle for the protection of the settlement in 1260. The architectural parts of the ancient temples – such as , column and stones- were easily available building material for the Venetian castle. After the Venetians left the island, the Greeks of the surrounding area moved inside the walls for greater safety from enemy attacks. The houses they built followed the course of the defensive wall, while later new residential zones were created outside the enclosure.
5. 4. The Venetian Castle at Naousa
The castle at Naousa, also called Kastelli (from the Italian "castello"), despite its small dimensions, was of great importance as it overlooked the entire Naousa bay. It was built in the port during the 15th century by the family of Sommaripa. It consists of jetties, visible under the surface of the sea, which acted as wave breakers, and a wall that leads to a circular tower, built on a rock.
5. 5. The Kefalos Castle
The Kefalos hill with the Venetian castle is found near the village Marpissa. It was the theatre of the last act of Venetian rule, when on 1537, after four days of siege by the Ottomans, the castle was destroyed and the island looted. Today, only the ruins of the castle walls and of the palace are preserved. There lies also the monastery of Agios Antonios (St Anthony), built in the 17th century.
5. 6. The Church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani
The church of Panagia (Virgin Mary) Ekatontapylani or Katapoliani on Paros is one of the oldest monuments of Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture in Greece. The impressive temple is close to the port and dominates the capital of the island, Paroikia. It attracts many visitors, particularly on the celebration of the 15th of August.
Many traditions have survived about the foundation, the name and the architect of the church. According to tradition, the construction was decided by Constantine the Great, who wished to fulfil his mother’s promise. According to the tradition, St Helen, while travelling to Jerusalem to recover the Holy Cross in 326 AD, stopped on Paros due to a sea-storm and prayed on the island. Later, when Justinian was the Byzantine emperor in the 6th century and the imposing church was constructed, the choice of Ignatios as the architect was attributed to the emperor himself, as Ignatios was said to be the master builder of Agia Sophia in Constantinople.
Since the middle of the 16th century the church of Virgin Mary was already mentioned with two names: Katapoliani and Ekatontapyliani. The first one is obviously related to the monumental topography and it reveals the location where the temple is built, near the ancient city. The second one is cited in old texts and documents and derives from the tradition of the existence of hundred gates ("ekato pylai") in the temple.
The temple, in the state preserved today, is a . It dates to the 6th century AD, when Justinian was the emperor of the Byzantine Empire. It was built over an ancient gymnasium, as it is testified by a mosaic floor found in situ (which is now exhibited in the archaeological museum of Paroikia) and by the ancient columns visible in the church floor. Parts of the church dated to the Early Christian period are the and the marble , while in the sanctum there are the altar covered by a and the built , which served the needs of mass in Early Christian years.
Several chapels are found inside and around the church. The oldest is that of Agios Nikolaos (St Nicholas), which must have been built after the 313 AD order of religious tolerance and before 326 AD. Another rare specimen of Byzantine architecture, and unique in the Greek region is the baptistery, a chapel with a built marble font in the shape of the cross.
During the war between Venetians and Ottomans (1645-1669), the Ottomans destroyed Paroikia and pillaged Ekatontapyliani. They looted not only the chandeliers, but also the precious metals and pearls which adorned the icons and the crucifixion on the altar. During the following centuries, different changes took place in the exterior and in the interior appearance of the whole complex, while in the Post-War years it was transformed into a white, island-style monastery. During the 1960’s it was restored to the form it had in the years of the emperor Justinian in the 6th century.
From the painting decoration of Panagia Ekatontapylani, it is worth mentioning the frescoes adorning the church and the surrounding chapels. The earliest are those of Agios Nikolaos chapel, dated to the 7th –8th centuries. The portable icons of Virgin Mary, Christ and the Dormition of Virgin Mary, placed on the iconostasis, are silver-plated, by donation of Nikolaos Mavrogenis, the 18th-cantury Parian prince of the Danubian Pricipalities of Moldova and Wallachia.
6. Museums and Collections
6. 1. The Archaeological Museum of Paros
In the Archaeological Museum of Paros there are on display the rich finds from the excavations on the island, from Prehistory to the Roman period. The museum consists of three rooms, a gallery and an internal courtyard. In the first room and the gallery the impressive collection of sculptures is exhibited, through which the development of Parian sculptural art is presented. There are some extremely significant exhibits, such as the Archaic statue of Gorgo, the relief marble plaques from the Heroon of Archilochos, the oversized statue of Artemis from Dilio, an exceptional funerary relief stele and the marble statue of Nike, a piece of work by a leading Parian sculptor.
The second small room houses a collection of the most important finds from the recent excavations on the island Despotiko, to the south of Antiparos.
In the third room the Prehistoric discoveries from Paros, Antiparos and Saliangos, which are of unique importance, are exhibited. There are also finds from Dilio, from the ancient cemetery, statues, reliefs, and inscriptions. One of the most significant exhibits is the ‘Parian Chronicle’, which is of particular historical interest. It is a large marble plate with an inscription referring to events of Greek history and culture. Three large parts of it survive today, one in the Archaeological Museum of Paros and two in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It was written in 264 BC in the Attic dialect and in his 134 verses important persons, historical facts and natural phenomena of the ancient years are cited, covering a period of 1,318 years.
6. 2. The Ecclesiastical Museum of Ekatontapyliani
The Byzantine collection of Paros is housed on the southwestern side of Ekatontapyliani. It includes icons, wood-carved iconostasis and other artefacts from various monasteries and churches of the island.
Icons from Asia Minor, Rhodes, Macedonia, even Romania, are related to the powerful Mavrogenis family of Paros, who made various donations to the island and Ekatontapyliani in particular. Certain icons are made by talented Cretan religious painters, belonging to the Cretan school of the 15th and 16th centuries. They greatly influenced the Parian painters, evident in the icons of the 17th century, which are included in the collection. Among the oldest and most significant exhibits is a door from the , dated to the Late Byzantine period (beginning of the 15th century), where they the Dormition of Virgin Mary and the Saints are portrayed. Ekatontapyliani’s ciborium and the epitaph with delicate decoration are brilliant examples of religious woodcarving. The Evangelion (Gospel Book) of the collection deserves particular mention, not only for its elaborate decoration but also for his eponymous donor, Nikolaos Mavrogenis. Donations also attributed to the prince of Wallachia are said to be the vestments with representations of the saints.
6. 3. The Collection of Post-Byzantine Icons at Naousa
The collection of post Byzantine icons is housed in the temple of Agios Athanasios at Naousa. The exhibits, made by local workshops, have been gathered mainly from the numerous monasteries of the island and the churches of the region. The collection also includes ecclesiastical vessels, fragments of frescoes, copper engravings and parts of iconostasis.
6.4. Folklore Museums
There are two folklore museums in Naousa: the Naousa folklore collection "Greek local costumes", founded within the framework of the music and dance group "Naoussa Paros", that includes mainly Greek traditional costumes with a special emphasis on Paros, and the historical and folklore museum "Othon Kaparis collection", which displays objects related to the Parians' everyday life from Prehistory until the present day.
7. Traditional and Modern Architecture
The main features of traditional architecture in Paros are the white houses in the settlements, the narrow slate-paved streets, the "katoikies", the windmills, the churches with their domed roofs and the marble belfries.
The houses are separated in two categories, the urban, built in the settlements, and the rural, independent and multifunctional complexes formed by cubic buildings without a strict arrangement, which the local called "katoikies". The climatic conditions dictated the construction of thick walls and small windows. The building materials came from the Cycladic nature, rich in marble and slate slabs. A remarkable feature is the use of ancient marbles, such as columns and bas-reliefs with representations, often built in the walls of the houses.
The settlements developed in areas that were previously inhabited during the Byzantine or the Venetian periods, whether coastal and fortified, such as Naousa and Paroikia, or inland such as Marpissa, Lefkes, Kostos and Prodromos.
In the fortified towns, such as Paroikia, the houses are built densely one close to another. They all consist of a single room, while the utility areas of the household were situated outside, in the narrow streets, due to lack of space. The streets were covered, creating rooms or verandas supported by arches, while the ground floor remained a passage or a communal courtyard.
Most of the houses were two-storied and belonged to two different families. The staircase was exterior with colourful railings, a pattern similarly repeated in the next houses, thus breaking the monotony of the white plastered walls. Different in size and quality of construction are the so-called ‘archondika’ (mansions), affluent residences found in various towns. The most impressive are those in the central streets of Paroikia market, which resemble the neoclassical mansions of mainland Greece.
8. Popular Culture – Popular art
The high cultural level of the island is also reflected to its popular culture. Many traditional feasts and customs are still preserved on Paros. The most important are the music and dance festivities held on important religious celebrations and on local saints’ name days. The Parian people are famous for their abilities on music and dance. The basic dances are the ‘syrtos’ and the ‘balos’. During the Carnival, mainly in the region of Naousa, another dance called ‘ageranos’ is performed along with balos. ‘Ageranos’ is a circular, slow, ritual dance, which is believed to reflect ancient dances. The people of Paros also used to sing many songs, traditional, historical and rhymes, as well as the songs of Klidonas. The most popular traditional instruments are the ‘tsabouna’ (bagpipes) and the ‘toubaki’.
Marble sculpture and carving are the best-developed traditional arts on Paros. Representative specimens are the fountains and the marble decorations in churches and private buildings. Woodcarving was also developed and influenced by marble sculpture.