The Island of Paros

According to the Greek National Tourist Organization, Paros is located at the heart of the island complex of Cyclades and is one of the most popular holiday destinations due to its exceptional natural beauty, vast sandy beaches, crystal-blue waters and impressive landscapes. The island has 12,800 inhabitants. It is a cosmopolitan resort with a well-developed tourist infrastructure. Paros was an administrative and trading center of the Aegean Sea and also the apple of discord for many conquerors (Romans, Byzantines, Franks, Venetians and Turks) that left their mark on the island. Paros was very prosperous during some periods, as indicate the ruins of archaeological sites and the remarkable historical monuments, which are scattered on the island. During the ancient times Paros was famous for its marble, which decorated remarkable monuments. Some of the most eminent sculptors, painters and ancient Greek poets come from Paros. In 1207 Paros formed part of the Duchy of the Aegean and was passed over to the Turks in 1537. []

Paros is a major Greek island in the southern Aegean. It is approximately 64 square miles in area. The capital of Paros is Parikia which is also its major port. The highes point in Paros is Mt. Marpissa at 724 meters or 2,375 ft.

Paros is found nearby and to the west of Naxos, from which it is separated by a channel of only about 8 kilometers or approximately 5 miles. Each of these islands is visible from the other and can be easily visited from the other.

Historically, Paros was known for its fine white marble, which gave rise to the term "Parian" to describe marble or china of similar qualities. Today, abandoned marble quarries and mines can be found on the island, but Paros is primarily known as a popular tourist spot. To the west of Paros lies its smaller sister island Antiparos. At its narrowest, the channel between the two islands is less than 2 kilometers wide. A car-carrying shuttle-ferry operates all day to and from Pounda, 3 miles south of Parikia. In addition a dozen smaller islets surround Paros.

Paros has numerous beaches including Chrissí Aktí or Golden Beach near Drios on the east coast, at Pounda, Logaras, Piso Livadi, Naoussa Bay, Parikia and Agia Irini. The constant strong wind in the strait between Paros and Naxos makes it a favoured windsurfing location.

In 1537, Paros was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and remained under the Ottoman Empire until the Greek War of Independence (1821–1829). Under the Treaty of Constantinople (1832), Paros became part of the newly independent Kingdom of Greece, the first time the Parians had been ruled by fellow Greeks for over six centuries. At this time, Paros became the home of a heroine of the nationalist movement, Manto Mavrogenous, who had both financed and fought in the war for independence. Her house, near Ekatontapiliani church, is today a historical monument.

The capital, Parikia, situated on a bay on the north-west side of the island, occupies the site of the ancient capital Paros. Parikía harbour is a major hub for Aegean islands ferries and catamarans, with several sailings each day for Piraeus, the port of Athens, Heraklion, the capital of Crete, and other islands such as Naxos, Ios, Santorini, and Mykonos.

In Parikia town, houses are built and decorated in the traditional Cycladic style, with flat roofs, whitewash walls and blue-painted doors and window frames and shutters. Shadowed by luxuriant vines, and surrounded by gardens of oranges and pomegranates, the houses give the town a picturesque aspect. On a rock beside the sea are the remains of a medieval castle, built almost entirely of the marble remains of an ancient temple.

In Parikia's main square is the town's principal church, the Panagia Ekatontapiliani, literally meaning "church of the hundred doors". Its oldest features almost certainly predate the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire in 391 AD. It is said to have been founded by the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (ruled 306–337 AD), Saint Helen, during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There are two adjoining chapels, one of very early form, and also a baptistery with a cruciform font. On the north side of the island is the bay of Naoussa which provides a safe and spacious harbour. Another good harbour is that of Drios on the south-east side.

The three villages of Dragoulas, Mármara and Tsipidos, situated on an open plain on the eastern side of the island, and rich in remains of antiquity, probably occupy the site of an ancient town. They are known together as the "villages of Kephalos" after the steep and lofty hill of Kephalos. On this hilltop stands the abandoned monastery of Agios Antonios (St. Anthony). Around it are the ruins of a medieval castle which belonged in the late Middle Ages to the Venetian noble family of the Venieri. They gallantly but vainly defended it against the Turkish admiral Barbarossa in 1537.

Parian marble, which is white and translucent, with a coarse grain and a very beautiful texture, was the chief source of wealth for the island. The celebrated marble quarries lie on the northern side of the mountain anciently known as Marathi (afterwards Capresso), a little below a former convent of St Mina. The marble, which was exported from the 6th century B.C. onwards, was used by Praxiteles and other great Greek sculptors. It was obtained by means of subterranean quarries driven horizontally or at a descending angle into the rock. Several of these tunnels are still to be seen. At the entrance to one of them is a bas-relief dedicated to Pan and the nymphs. Several attempts to work the marble have been made in modern times, but it has not been exported in any great quantities. The major part of the remaining white marble is now state-owned and is only used for archaeological restorations.

According to the official Paros website, t hough there is evidence of navigation in the Aegean as early as 9,000 B.C., the first evidence of systematic communities in the Aegean Islands dates from the Neolithic Period (6,800 – 3,200 B.C.). The first evidence of community life on Paros was discovered on the small island of “Saliagko” (between Paros and Antiparos) one of the most ancient settlements in Aegean Prehistory.

Three great civilisations emerged during the Bronze Age (3,200 – 1,100 B.C.) within the geographic area which comprises modern day Greece: the Cycladic Civilisation (3,200 – 2,000 B.C.), the Minoan (or “Pre-Cretan”, 2,000 – 1,500 B.C.) and the Mycenaean (1,600 – 1,100 B.C.). Remnants of a Pre-Cycladic settlement were discovered on the “Fortress Hill” above Paroikia and significant finds dating to the same period have been discovered in other areas of the island as well (Kambos, Dryos, Koukounaries, Plastiras, Glyfa and Farangas). During the Minoan dominance of the Aegean, Paros was an important strategic and commercial centre for the Minoan state. At that time the island was primarily populated by emissaries from Crete. According to Myth the leader of the occupation force was called Alkaios, he built the first city in the location of today’s Paroikia and called it “Minoa” (Royal City). With the gradual decline of Minoan Crete the power of the mainland Mycenaean dynasty increased. The remnants of a Mycenaean Acropolis were discovered on the peak above Koukounaries (near Naoussa) as well as on the “Fortress Hill” above Paroikia.

At the turn of the 10th Century B.C. an expedition from Arcadia (Peloponnesus), led by Paro, settled on the Island and named it for their leader. Soon after, Ionian colonists joined the population (from what is now the coast of Asia Minor) and the island evolved into a significant naval power. The export of marble brought the island wealth and their agricultural activities developed as well.

In 680 B.C. a Parian colony was established on the island of Thassos in order to exploit the gold deposits along its shores. The renowned sculpture workshops were created and the 7th century B.C. heralded the bloom of lyric poetry headed by Archilohos (the “Warrior Poet”) considered equal to Homer. To the east a new power was emerging: the Persians.

The Parian oligarchy was called upon by the Persians and a large deployment of the island’s army joined the Persian naval assaults on various Hellenic city-states. With the defeat of the Persians (480 B.C.) the Athenian fleet, led by Themistocles, reached Paros and the island was forced to become a member of the Athenian Alliance. During this period the most famous Parian sculptors, Agorakritos and Skopas, were plying their craft. The city of Paros (in what is today Paroikia) had over 50,000 residents, wonderful homes and temples, a theatre and a stadium. By the end of the Classical Period Paros had become a member of the Macedonian Alliance until the death of Alexander the Great.

From the death of Alexander utill his heirs were subdued by the Roman Empire was a period of conflict and great upheavals for Paros. New kingdoms were striving for control of the Cyclades and for many years Paros fell under the rule of the Ptolemys.

Paros, the other Cycladic Islands, as well as large regions of mainland Greece became extensions of the Roman countryside. Development was halted and Paros became a place of exile.

According to remnants of early Christian churches and gravestones Christianity reached Paros around the 4th century A.D. The first church of The Holy Virgin “Ekatondapyliani” was built at that time under the orders of Saint Helen. From the 10th century onward Paros became an epicentre for pirate raids which were catastrophic to the island.

Paros was inducted to the Aegean Duchy (1207) and was passed down among the fortunes of various Venetian families. The residents of the island were reduced to serfs, working the land for their new masters, while still at the mercy of marauding pirates. Naoussa became a Pirate base and during that period the castle/fortresses of Kefalou (Marpissa), Naoussa and Paroikia were built.

With the siege of the island by the notorious pirate Barbarossa (1537) and the ensuing desertion of the island by its inhabitants the Venetian Occupation drew to a close. The desecrated island was ruled by the Turks from 1560 and during the Russian-Turkish Wars (1770-1777) the port of Naoussa was used as a base by the Russian fleet, from which they could control the Aegean.

Paros played an active role in the Greek Revolution (1821). The Cyclades, Peloponnesus and mainland Greece formed the nucleus of the new Hellenic state. The island was particularly hard hit by the German occupation and at the end of WWII many islanders were forced to immigrate to Piraeus and later abroad to find work. Around 1960 came the dawn of a new period of development for the island and its, now primarily tourism based, economy.

At the 4th km along the Paroikia-Lefkes road you encounter the village of Marathi, a green and fertile locale with white houses and three small churches. Just past the eastern end of the village is where the ancient quarries are located. This is where the famous Parian marble was carved out of the mountain, the main source of the island’s wealth throughout its long history, but particularly during the Classical Age.

The valuable characteristics of Parian marble are its purity and luminosity. It is stone that light can literally pass through, even up to a thickness of 3,5cm (the renown Kararas marble of Italy maintains luminosity up to a thickness of 2,5cm, while the marble of Penteli in Attica only 1,5 by comparison). The marble of Paros has been the material of choice for some of history’s most gifted sculptors: Pheidias, Agorakritos, Praxitelis, and Scopas to name a few. An abundance of ancient art masterpieces were made from Parian marble: the Venus d’ Milo, Hermes by Praxitelis, the “Kores” from the Acropolis in Athens, the Nike and the Temple of Apollo on Delos, the Temple of Apollo and the Treasury of the Sifniotes at Delphi, and the Temple of Zeus in Olympia. It is estimated that 70% of the sculpture that was created in all the regions around the Aegean Sea was made from Parian marble. They called it Lignite because it was mined from passages dug deep into the mountain by lamplight. The tunnels and passages are still intact, as are epigraphs left by the ancient artists and craftsmen, today their exploration is possible via two different entrances. These quarries were already in operation as early as the Pre-Cycladic Period (3200 – 2000 B.C.) and were in use until the end of the 19th century A.D. []

Seaview of Parikia Orthodox Church Harbor
Arched Sea View Island Home Wind Mill
Mediterranean Cafe Courtyard City Side Street
Orthodox Church Seaside Fort Bridge
Parikia Port Alter Orthodox Church
In Bloom New Tourist Shops Church Interior
City Shops Bay View of Hora Hotel Hallway
Orthodox Church Wall Door Sidewalk Cafe
War Monument Old Shutters Island Outpost
Stairwell Mediterranean Church Interior
Orthodox Church Confessional Local Ferry
Orthodox Church Harbor Tree Mosaic
Island Church Village View Anciant Wall
Church Alter