School of History, Classics & Archaeology  
The University of Edinburgh School of History & Classics

School of History, Classics and Archaeology
Unlocking Historic Landscapes in the Eastern Mediterranean


Naxos Case Study



Historical Introduction

The island of Naxos has been celebrated since antiquity for its varied landscapes and its fertility. The largest island amongst the archipelago of the Cyclades (429 km2), it is set apart by its high mountains and extensive olive groves. In the late 17th the population was estimated at 6000, with one main town at Naxia  clustered around the Frankish castle of Kastro (Slot 1982: 31) today Chora, and itself located on the main classical city. Little is known from the historical sources before the Venetian conquest in 1206. There are a significant number of early Christian basilicas, both on the coast and in the interior valleys of the island attesting some prosperity in late antiquity. From the mid-7th century the archipelago became threatened by the operations of the Arab fleet, more especially after 821 when the island of Crete was captured by the Andalus Arabs and a new base was established at Chandax (mod. Heraklion) (Pryor and Jeffreys 2006). The impact of their raids is difficult to estimate, since across the island and especially in the valleys of the interior there is a remarkable corpus of early medieval painted churches (Vionis et al. forthcoming). The precise chronology of these buildings remains a matter of debate amongst archaeologists and art historians but many display features of aniconic decoration suggesting a date before the 10th century. For an understanding of the historic landscapes of the island many of these buildings are set amongst the current groves and terraces which are the main focus of our study. It is also in this period when the great mountain fortress of Apalyrou was built and the island remained an important staging point for the Byzantine fleet until the recapture of Crete in 964.


After the fall of Constantinople in 1204 the island came under the rule of the Venetians from 1207. Chora became the new capital of the island and the Duchy of the Archipelago, with another refuge fortress at Apano Kastro in the north of the island. It remains unclear how far the new Catholic Venetian lords replaced the former Byzantine estate holders, but as with much of Frankish Greece a new feudal structure was imposed which persisted beyond the end of Venetian rule in 1566. The population remained predominantly Orthodox and it is estimated that unlike other Cycladic islands, Latins only represented 5% of the total (Slot 1982:32). The Ottoman conquest of the islands began in 1537, although Naxos only came under direct rule after 1579. In the succeeding centuries the Aegean islands were the focus for continuing conflicts between the Ottomans and Venetians, resulting in major wars and local piracy with potential impact on both settlement and land-use (Rackham and Moody 1996: 197-200). The detailed registers which survive in the archives of Venice, Istanbul and on the islands themselves ensure a richer historical documentation than is available from our comparative study area in Thrace, resulting in a number of important studies (esp. Slot 1982 and Kasdali 1999). From an historical perspective the insular landscape can be expected to reveal greater demographic continuity with a potential time-depth extending back for at least a millennium.



Historic Landscapes


The farming landscape of Naxos is an enclosed landscape. Traditional boundaries are built from dry stone walls, though in places mortared walls, fences, hedges and banks are also used (fig. 1). Virtually all the fields are enclosed, and much of the rough grazing ground is divided up by long pasture boundaries. How long the landscape here has been an enclosed landscape is not totally clear. Whilst some boundaries appear to be vey ancient – particularly the outer boundaries of field systems – the majority probably date to the post-medieval period. Comparing the air photographs taken in the 1940s by the RAF and the modern IKONOS satellite imagery shows that the enclosure pattern visible today was very largely already established in the 1940s, and there have been only relatively minor changes since that time.


Figure 1
Fig. 1. Dry stone field wall topped with thorns as an extra barrier at Ag. Mamas Triti (17 August 2007)


With the exception of olives – and even here there is potential for confusion with fruit orchards or other trees – it is usually not possible to identify specific crops through the sources used for this project. In addition to this, intercropping or polycropping was and remains common on Naxos: the custom of planting more than one crop in the same field (e.g. fruit trees and arable crops or vegetables). For these reasons, the HLC types do not generally refer to the type of crop under cultivation, but instead to the form of the fields in which they are grown.


The HLC ‘types’ we have used to map the landscape of Naxos are described on the HLC Types page.



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