Guided Tour in Ancient NasΔημοσιεύθηκε: Δεκέμβριος 6, 2010
Guided Tour in Ancient Nas
«Here in the crack of time
Here in the crack of time
I am hiding to ripen…»
Many years ago when there was only a small cafe with a grill in Nas, my father, who was a historian, gave us a tour round the archaeological site. «The penteconter sailed in from out there. They tied the ropes here. It was a temple up there. Priests came to bless the boat. The captain stepped out with gifts and a slaughtered animal for the sacrifice.
Today my daughter is at the age I was when in Nas there was only a small cafe with a grill. We went for a swim in the summer and she asked: «There is something about the place. Though there’s nothing much to see. There’s something about it. What?»
I am explaining to her. I am tour-guiding her -and you too.
The location and its use – the temple and the cult
In ancient times at the mouth of the river Chalares there was a long narrow bay, like a fjord, indented-in the steep and rough northwestern coast of Ikaria. Neolithic men and women who lived in the mountains, descended to hunt and catch fish there. Later in the Bronze Age, the Karians arrived from the East in their fast boats. They were proud warriors and seamen who shared the Aegean with the other Prohellenes -the Cycladians and the Cretans. The Karians were probably the first who used Nas as a port -to attack and loot ships- and also founded there a place of worship.
The Karians were displaced around 700 BC by Greeks who came from Miletus in Asia Minor. With them they bring goats and sheep, grapevines, olive trees, improved grain seeds and new gods. Apollo (or Asclepius) for Therma, Dionysus for Oenoe and Artemis for Nas. The virgin huntress Artemis, protectress of nature, mistress of the winds, to who sailors prayed in the gales of the Etesians. The Milesians could not have made a better choice.
The tiny port at the mouth of the Chalares was for the Ionian sailors the last stop for food and rest (and a last prayer) before sailing off in the dangerous Icarian Sea to reach Delos, the commercial and religious center of the ancient Aegean. The slopes of the gorge and the mountains provided game, gift from the goddess, the villagers brought food and wine, while the river and the sources supplied them with plenty of fresh water. However, despite the frequent passage of ships, Nas never developed into a «polis» but remained a small community structured around a holly site. The temple -rather small (9,70 x 3,75 m) and of unknown architectural style- was built in the late 6th century with marble shipped from Petrokopio in Fournoi isles. The site was swampy, so first they raised a strong platform and there upon they founded the temple. In front of the platform they built a wall to protect the foundations from the water, which also served as a pier and dock.
The statue of the goddess was a «xoanon», chiseled on a single log, painted, dressed and decorated like a «sacred doll”. In the late 19th century linguist Hatzidakis, while visiting western Ikaria to record the archaic idiom still spoken there, accidentally discovers a ceramic shard with the inscription «TAUROPOL”, providing thus evidence that the temple of the Ikarian Artemis was a «Tauropolion»-one of the many that existed in ancient Greece.
The Tauropolion was a ceremony during which the priest of the goddess was bathed in the blood of a sacrificial bull while the animal was slaughtered. Originating from the ritualistic purifications performed by the archaic hunters for the killing of their prey, Tauropolion (or Taurobolium) became a particularly popular ceremony in the Hellenistic and Roman era. The Temple of the Icarian Artemis, known since classical times, along with the idyllic scenery round it, became then an attraction for the people who lived in the over-crowded cities of that time. They would set up hunting trips from Samos and Ephesus. They would climb the wooded slopes of Chalares with local hunters as guides. They would attend ceremonies still performed there «like in the good old good times.»
Yet it wasn’t idyllic all the time. During the revolution of Aristonicus (133-130 BC) that shook Asia Minor and the eastern Aegean, rebellious slaves, persecuted by the Romans, seem to have taken refuge in Nas. Whether as result of battle or bombardment with catapults from ships, the temple suffered major damage. The Roman general, however, hastened to repair it, and the notables and priests proclaimed him a benefactor and honored him with a statue.
The end of the harbor
In the Byzantine period, the temple may have served as living quarters for the crews of light cruisers stationed in the harbor. The stone pier that now appears along the lagoon is from that time. In conjunction with the watchtowers on the hilltops, Nas may have had some importance in the wars against the Saracens of Crete who had also taken the Cyclades.
Until one day, probably after the 11th century, due partly to the silting of the river and partly to the gradual elevation of the sea floor, the «fjord» of Nas began to close. The pier became too high, while the harbor became too shallow, filling up with stones, silt and sand. However, it seems that in the so-called «Age of Aphaneia» (15th-16th century), the current beach hadn’t formed yet and Nas could still be used as an anchorage. Those were times of piracy, so the Ikarians, in order to prevent Nas from becoming a pirate den, dropped rocks and tree trunks and blocked the entrance of the port. Now, the port was also the outlet of the river to the sea, so as the little bay was closing, the river flooded the area during the winter. It was probably during a tremendous flash flood that the waters knocked down the southern (internal) corner of the pier. The river must have swept across the platform and shaken the temple from the foundations. Oral tradition preserved the memory of such violent floods which occurred after the people of Raches deforested the slopes of the gorge to make charcoal in the 19th century.
The end of the temple
The same oral tradition, however, said that despite the floods, the temple was in good condition (“with columns, statues and walls over a man’s height”) until the 1840s. German archaeologist Ludwig Ross who was investigating antiquities in the Aegean, visited Ikaria in 1842. He had read the ancient authors and he was hoping to find a temple. There was none on the southern side, so he decided to travel to the northern part. But a meltemi gale prevented him from making the round of the island by boat. He was advised to cross the mountain Atheras on foot, but again he could not find pack animals. What bad luck!
If Ross had been to Mesariá or Raches, he would surely have learned about the temple of Nas. He would have visited the site and given us a full and accurate description. Ross’s presence would perhaps have even managed to prevent the damage done to the temple only a few years after his visit. The villagers of Raches, while building the church of Christ, facing a lack of lime and probably encouraged by ignorant, fanatic clergymen, demolished the temple. They got what marble parts they needed for the church and melted the rest in a limekiln. The worst loss was the statues. Later settlers from Asia Minor were shocked to hear about the incident. They asked the locals why they hadn’t at least spared the statues. The locals replied that the leaders of the destruction were saying: «You do not see how they look at you? On whichever side you go, they look at you. They are demons!«
The details of the crime were unveiled to Leon Politis a century later. In 1938 in Nas this famous Greek archaeologist found no temple, not even ruins, except the limekiln and piles of burnt chips of marble. Despite his disappointment, however, Politis conducted an exemplary excavation. In a few days he digs, he identifies, he dates and collects findings. And finally confirms that Nas was the site of the temple of the Icarian Artemis mentioned by ancient sources. He was planning to return, so he left the findings of the excavation in Raches. This never happened because of the war that broke out few years later. Some of the findings were stolen by the Italians during the occupation, however, the most important ones were saved and are now exhibited in the museum of Kampos. This beautiful small museum, built with little money from America and lots of personal work by the residents, washed perhaps part of the shame for demolishing the temple of Nas.
Are there still antiquities?
If there is anything, it will be in the sea. But what shape will it be in? I was a kid in Armenistis in the summer of 1967 when, after a big storm, word spread from nearby Nas that a statue was seen in the bottom of the small bay. An American archaeologist who was on holiday in Raches, was told about the discovery. He was excited and he took up to organize the haul. Eventually the divers hoisted into the boat the headless statue of an Ionian Kore in the typical robe with the beautiful folds. The Kore can be seen now in the Museum of Campos, more or less looking the same as on the day of the haul: hopelessly eroded by the sea and the friction with gravel and sand. Based on this, my father believed that if anything else was found in the bottom of Nas, would be in a similar condition, that is, almost shapeless.
The archaeological importance of Nas
Tourists wonder. An archaeological site without antiquities? Not even a fragment, a column or a column capital? Seen from above the pier of the old harbor is no different from the dry stone walls of the terraces, and the blocks of brown stone on which the temple once stood, look like steps to nowhere –without meaning. There is nothing to see, yet the tourists climb down to the site and most of them return quite satisfied. Why?
It is the landscape. Which, thanks to the timely proclamation of the archaeological zone, remained almost intact, with no buildings, no roads, looking much like it was in ancient times. It is the canyon, wild and precipitous, and the bay, wild too, yet one feels something of the warm welcome the Karians felt thousands of years ago and they chose to settle. The landscape that inspired the Ionians to dedicate to a great goddess who they honored with a temple. The archaeological importance of Nas lies in the morphological characteristics, the very ones the ancients, with their unmistakable judgment, detected and utilized in the best of ways. The magic and the sanctity of the site wasn’t due to the temple. On the contrary, the temple was a subsequence of the magic and the sanctity of the site. Thereat, even though the temple vanished, even though the statues melted, the magic and the sanctity remained. Nas is an «ancient landscape» surviving in our day.