The island of Paros has had a long line of civilizations vying for control: Turks, Ottomans, Venetians, Romans, Archaic and Classical Greeks have all laid claim to the island at one time, and each of them have made their mark. Through the ages, Paros has adapted to its different rulers, as evidenced in the artifacts and architecture now found on the island.
The Archaelogical Museum
The Archaelogical Museum of Paros holds a collection of the artwork and artifacts focusing on the groups of people who occupied the island from the Neolithic Age through the Roman Empire. Pottery, figurines, statues, sarcophogi, mosaics, and architectural elements fill the halls of this small museum in Parikia, Paros’ capital city.
Aside from the art within, what’s striking about the museum is how casual the experience is. In the Greek wings of The Met in New York City or The Louvre in France, the art is displayed in faux-temples with the design of the room, lighting, and arrangement all specifically chosen to complement the art on display. But here at the very source of the art, the presentation much more informal.
Dusty display cases hold priceless artifacts and the layout of the museum seems to be much more improvised than actually planned specifically for the art. But the creations inside are no less significant, and the museum presents an entirely different experience to viewing similar art in the major museums.
In many cases, visitors can get extremely close to the art. As a bonus, there are no security guards yelling about pictures. Instead, the lackadaisical yet passionate staff strolls through the museum in shorts and tank tops, answering questions from curious visitors. It is the kind of relaxed environment one would expect from a museum on an island paradise.
The Archaelogical Museum is a good place to being understanding who came before on Paros by studying what they left behind. But you don’t have to spend all your time in a museum if you want to experience the rich history of the island…
The Panayia Ekatondapiliani Cathedral has a common nickname – Church of a hundred doors – and after trying to pronounce the actual name, it’s easy to see why. In the historical timeline, where the Archaelogical museum leaves off this church picks up. The first church built on the site dates back 1700 years to the rule of Constantine, The Roman Emperor who sent down the Edict of Milan, protecting Romans from religious persecution and paving the way for the rise of Christianity within the massive empire.
Over time the church has grown and changed as others have renovated, remodeled, and added on to the original church. This has led to a very unique and confusing layout for the church with its several chapels, levels, and wings. The construction materials and architecture of the church reveal its history: late Roman, Medieval, and Byzantine styles are all evident in the building. The Greeks loved to rebuild and repurpose old sites and materials – there are even sculpted figures in the church that come from the Temple of Dionysus that stood on the site prior to construction.
So why is it called the Church of 100 Doors? Well the name is a bit of a misnomer as the church does not have 100 doors (sure, there are plenty of doors in a church built through somewhat spontaneous architecture). It’s not known how the church attained the name, though one theory is that it is a mistranslation of the name ‘Downtown Church’ as the church is located close to the center of Pariki
Perhaps moreso than anywhere else on the island, the fishing village of Naoussa represents what Paros is today – a rapidly changing island embracing its newfound tourism status. Though Paros has been inhabited for over 6000 years, its status as a major vacation destination has only been recognized in the last 30.
Traditionally, Naoussa was a quiet fishing village. Its harbor gives way to a labrynth of traditional white washed cycladic houses accented with colorful flowers. Octopus, the catch of choice in these parts, is hung out to dry on stands lining the harbor. A small church watches over the harbor and fishermen haggle with local restaurants over their prices.
And as news of its simple fishing village charm spread, its popularity with visitors grew. Across from the harbor are a myriad of fashionable bars, fusion restaurants, and trendy nightspots. Hotels have popped up on the outskirts of town and along with yoga retreats and meditation centers. It seems as if Naoussa is on the itineraries of most everyone setting foot on the island of Paros. The town is still adjusting and coming to terms with its newfound popularity. Signs of a simple, traditional Greek fishing life are still evident in the worn nets hanging around the harbor, but it seems as if it’s only a matter of time before the village is the next ‘it’ destination in the Mediterranean.
And as Naoussa goes, so goes Paros.
The island itself is coming to its own as a major destination for visitors to Greece. After the iconic islands of Santorini and Mykonos, Paros is the most visited spit of land in Greece‘s celebrated Cycladic island chain. But this isn’t the first time the island has gone through massive upheavals and had to adapt to new visitors.
And as the Archaeological Museum and the church of 100 doors can attest, Paros has dealt with change before.
John’s Note – My visit to Paros was sponsored in part by Thomson. As always, all opinions are my own.