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“Portara” and the Temple of Apollo

“Portara” (meaning “the huge door” in Greek) is situated very close to the town of Naxos (Chora) on the small islet of Palatia, which is connected with the rest of the island with a narrow and low strip of land. What we see today is the gate between the antechamber and the nave of an ancient temple. The temple is dated in the 6th century b.C. and its construction is owed to Lygdamis, the tyrant of Naxos, who aspired to construct a temple of equal, if not higher, value and size to the temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, constructed by the tyrant Peisistratus and the temple of Hera at Samos, constructed by the tyrant Poycrates. However, due to the fall of tyranny on the island, the temple never finished.

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This archaic temple was of Ionian style, some 59 meters long and 28 meters wide. Its entrance was at the West, a feature quite unusual in the epoch. The temple replaced the earlier open air sanctuary of the Geometric times, which was only a simple open air shrine. What remains today from this grandiose temple is only the foundations, the base of the shrine and the huge gate, called “Portara” by the locals because of its dimensions (it is some 6 meters high and more than 3,5 meters wide). The gate had been constructed of four huge pieces of local marble, each weighing several tons. It is thanks to the size and the weight of the material used, that the gate survived the Venetians, who could not use it for constructing the Castle at Chora, as they did with the rest parts of the temple.

In front of the temple, just before the gate there were possibly 4 or 5 steps, elevated above the level of the floor, a feature that scholars connect with a ritual in honor of Apollo Delios. Also, when the invaders from Miletus and Erythraea attacked the island, they used the islet of Palatia as their military base.

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During the 5th or 6th century A.D. the temple was transformed to a Christian basilica which continued to be in use until the period of the Venetian domination, when it had been totally destroyed and the material was used by the Venetians for the construction of other buildings, mainly of the Castle at Chora. During all this period a settlement, pretty developed for the epoch, was established in the area around the church; the settlement survived until the collapse of the church. As the sea level has been elevated since antiquity, the coastline of the ancient times is now invisible. Thus, in so far as we know today, in antiquity the actual islet of Palatia was a low hill opposite the actual Kastro, with a plain connecting them.

The islet of Palatia is linked with the mythic hero Theseus who, according to mythology, had abandoned Ariadne, the princess of Crete and daughter of king Minos, in this very place. Mythology also states that it is here that Dionysus, the god of wine, saw Ariadne, fell in love with her and kidnapped her in order to take her as his wife. This theme, the kidnapping of Ariadne, has inspired a lot of artists worldwide: painters, sculptors, musicians, authors and poets created works with this theme, a fact that made Naxos famous all over the world. Finally, we should notice that is exactly on this islet that was celebrated for the first time the feast in honor of Dionysys, the so-called “Dionysia”.
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