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Carnival on the island of Naxos: Koudounatoi, Kordelatoi and other adventures

Picture this: a tapestry interwoven with ancient Greek traditions, local customs, the unmistakable Cycladic ambiance, Aegean hues, boundless revelry, and a feast for the senses. The Naxos Carnival, dubbed the "Dionysian Carnival," orchestrates an authentic celebration across the island during the days of Apokries.


Carnival on the island of Naxos, Greece: a unique odyssey.


In Naxos Town, a spectacular Dionysian spectacle unfolds, drawing inspiration from ancient Greece. Think Dionysian games, satyrs, maenads, dramatized myths, torchlight processions, traditional music, dance, and an abundance of wine against the backdrop of the mesmerizing Aegean. Yet, the island's vibrant Carnival spirit extends beyond Naxos Town, permeating the villages with their own traditions and unique customs.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Men dressed as Kordelatoi at Filoti village



Koudounatoi Carnival in Apeiranthos Village, Naxos


In the heart of eastern Naxos, a mesmerizing spectacle unfolds every year on the Sunday of Tyrophagi, drawing both locals and visitors into the age-old tradition of the Koudounatoi. Apeiranthos, the renowned mountain village, provides the perfect stage for this ancient Carnival celebration.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
The Koudounatoi of Apeiranthos village



Discovering Apeiranthos


Nestled in the picturesque landscape of Naxos, Apeiranthos sets the backdrop for the Koudounatoi Carnival. As a curious wanderer, my journey begins with meticulous planning, aiming to unravel the essence of the custom, its origins, and the rituals that define it.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
A girl running around the alleys of Apeiranthos



A Prelude to the Spectacle


The festivities kick off at three in the afternoon, and as I explore the village, a two-story house with a small backyard becomes the heart of preparation. Here, the bell bearers and their entourage gear up for the event, offering a warm welcome to curious onlookers.


Amidst the arma of freshly baked bread, I meet the homeowner. The hospitality extended includes local wine, cheese, olives, and casserole beef. It's a delightful introduction to the rich culture that permeates Apeiranthos.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Preparations before the custom of Koudounatoi



The Koudounatoi Unveiled


As the anticipated hour approaches, the Koudounati emerge, men adorned in the distinctive "ampadeli" cape. Numerous bells, fastened to a rope around their waists, create a symphony of sound. In their hands, they hold the "somba," a sturdy dry branch of a fig tree symbolizing fertility and the Dionysian phallus.



Behind the Scenes of Dressing


Witnessing the meticulous process of dressing reveals a blend of jests, offerings, and skilled techniques to secure the bells snugly on their bodies. The profound love of the locals for their tradition becomes evident, and the preparation takes place at the village's highest point.



A Symphony of Characters


Carnival participants, including a mock bride and groom, sponsors, and a little donkey laden with dowries, gather for the grand descent towards the square. Drums, pipes, and violins accompany their noisy journey, creating a captivating atmosphere.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Music during the custom of Koudounatoi



Ancient Legacy Shrouded in Mystery


The roots of this event are deeply embedded in the past, shrouded in darkness and magic. References to pirates, ancient Greek Dionysian origins, and semi-mad shepherds add layers of mystique, forming a tapestry of tradition that captivates the imagination.



Rhythmic Revelry


Winding through alleys, the Koudounati initiate a ritualistic dance, their bells creating a symphony to the beat of bagpipes and drums. The strenuous dance, accompanied by traditional Naxian music, is a testament to the weight of the bells.



Dance of Interruptions


The dance is not a solo act; it intertwines with groups of grown-ups, children, and characters surrounding the mock wedding. Interruptions by the Koudounati add an unpredictable twist to the festivities, creating a dynamic spectacle in the heart of the village.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
The Koudounatoi of Apeiranthos on Naxos



A Ritual's End


Lasting approximately a few hours, the custom transforms the central square into a bustling hub. As the energetic dance concludes, the Koudounati pay homage to the departed at the village's graveyard, marking the poignant end to the event.



Sunset and Farewells


As the sun dips below the horizon, the Koudounati disperse, concluding the Carnival tradition. The village square, once teeming with life, returns to tranquility, echoing the ageless spirit of Apeiranthos.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Koudounatos at the local cemetery





The Elixir of Naxos: Unraveling the Mystique of Kitro Liqueur


In the heart of Naxos, an island steeped in history and tradition, lies a secret elixir that has captivated connoisseurs for centuries. Kitro of Naxos, a Greek liqueur born from the fragrant leaves of the Citrus medica tree, weaves a tale that intertwines agriculture, commerce, and the artistry of distillation. I have had the fortune of meeting the owner of the distillery who kindly provided a tour of the facilities.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
A vintage poster for Kitron Naxou


A Storied Heritage: Citrus Medica in Naxos


For at least three centuries, the cultivation of Citrus medica and the trade of its precious fruit flourished on Naxos. The fruit, carefully preserved in seawater enhanced with extra salt, was a pivotal element in the island's rural economy. Yet, it was the leaves of the citrus tree that held a special allure, used to impart their delicate and distinctive aroma to the local grape-based spirit, known as "kitrorako."


Historical records attest to the presence of kitrorako in Naxos as early as the 19th century, suggesting its widespread use among viticulturists. Official documents indicate that the production of Kitro of Naxos, the liqueur derived from citrus leaves, commenced at least two centuries ago, with the inaugural export occurring in 1928.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
The owner of the distillery at Kitron Naxou



Timeless Craftsmanship: The Art of Kitro Distillation


Today, Kitro of Naxos stands as a testament to traditional Greek craftsmanship, exclusively produced on the island of Naxos. Securing its place in communal legislation has paved the way for this authentic liqueur to potentially make a mark on the international stage.


The meticulous process of crafting Kitro begins with the harvest of citrus leaves when they reach their full fragrance, typically from October to February. Enduring the biting cold and the sharp thorns of the tree, workers carefully select and clean the leaves, combining them with water and wine spirits in traditional copper stills for a minimum of 12 hours. The distillation process yields 100% citrus distillate.


Depending on the desired quality, a second and third distillation may follow, intensifying the aroma and flavor. Subsequently, the distillate is diluted with water, sugar is added, and natural colors are introduced to distinguish the types of Kitro of Naxos.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
The owner next to a traditional still



The Culmination: Kitro Naxou Unveiled


Kitro of Naxos emerges as a sophisticated and aromatic libation. Upon serving, it releases elegantly sweet citrus notes, tantalizing the senses and transcending into a palate experience. Best enjoyed chilled in a snifter, this elixir is not only a sippable delight but also remarkably approachable, appealing to those who shy away from more potent spirits.


In its variations—ranging from the dry and robust at 36 degrees to the intermediate alcohol content with 33 degrees of sugar and the sweetest, lowest in alcohol at 30 degrees—Kitro of Naxos showcases the diversity within its family.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
The owner of the distillery




The Kordelatoi Phenomenon at the villages of Filoti and Eggares


In the heart of Naxos, a vibrant and timeless custom, known as Kordelatoi, weaves its way through generations, carrying with it the spirit of celebration and community. This age-old tradition, meticulously passed down from one era to the next, stands as a testament to the island's rich cultural tapestry.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Men dressed as Kordelatoi at Eggares


Unraveling the Origins: A Blend of Orthodoxy and Paganism


The Kordelatoi tradition traces its roots back to the years of Venetian rule, embodying a unique blend of Orthodox and pagan influences. The centerpiece of this ritual is the "Bayraki," a robust pole adorned with a colorful scarf symbolizing abundance and joy, crowned by a cross embellished with locally sourced fruits, particularly oranges.


This ritual served as a means of communication among the Orthodox locals, who found themselves suppressed by the Catholic Venetians holding sway over the fertile lands of the Eggares Valley. 



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
At the local café in Eggares




The Dance of Colors: Attire and Symbolism


During the festive Carnival events, the young men would dress elaborately, donning a unique ensemble. Instead of trousers, they wore improvised "fustanellas," crafted from materials found around the village, adorned with lace and embroidered monograms. Beneath the fustanella, they sported the "grandmother's trousers," also embellished with lace, and thick knee-high socks. A colorful vest, adorned with vibrant ribbons (kordeles, thus Kordelatoi) obtained from the dancing "brides," completed the ensemble. A red fez, adorned with a distinctive pin, graced their heads.


The Kordelatoi, exclusively a male tradition, featured the strongest participant as the "Bayraktaris," entrusted with carrying the Bayraki. These Kordelatoi would venture into neighboring villages, leaving the women behind to welcome and care for the Bayraki alongside their own group.


Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Men dressed as Kordelatoi at Eggares



Rituals Beyond Merriment: Cultural Exchange and Guardianship


Beyond the revelry and camaraderie that blossomed among the youth during these festivities, the companions of the Kordelatoi engaged in a unique form of cultural exchange. Laden with various products, they bartered with the inhabitants of the villages they visited. The Bayraktaris, in addition to coordinating the Fustanellades, safeguarded the Bayraki. In case of convergence with another group of Kordelatoi, a ritualistic crossing of Bayrakis and prayers ensued to avert any conflicts.


Interestingly, a monetary offering to another Bayraktaris demanded repayment at double the amount, adding a nuanced economic dimension to the tradition.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Man dressed as Kordelatos at Filoti




The Sanctity of the Fustanella: Peace, Happiness, and Progress


The Kordelatoi, considered a small army, upheld a strict rule - no one was permitted to touch the fustanella. The fustanella was believed to bring peace, happiness, and prosperity to the community. Kordelatoi played a role in the liberation of the people. The triangular-shaped handkerchiefs tied to their vests held a mysterious significance, enveloping the very essence of the Bayraki.


In conclusion, the Kordelatoi tradition of Naxos stands as a living testament to the island's cultural resilience, blending religious and pagan elements in a tapestry of celebration and community. As the Bayraki continues to weave its way through the ages, the Kordelatoi dance on, preserving a heritage that transcends time.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Koudounatoi & Kordelatoi at Filoti, Naxos




An interesting invitation

Strolling through the quaint village of Ano Potamia alongside a companion, my attention was captured by a man outside a local residence. Upon our approach, he extended a gracious invitation, urging us to enter and partake in their luncheon festivities. This kind of hospitality, not uncommon in the rural landscapes of Greece, was an offer we gladly accepted. The dwelling belonged to the Verikokos local family, and housed a congenial assembly of a few men.


Within the confines of their abode, we partook in a shared repast, engaging in conversations that delved into the intricate affairs of the village. The ambiance was convivial, and the exchange of ideas flowed seamlessly, rendering the day truly memorable.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Inside the house of the family of Verikokos





The Mystical Celebrations of Naxos: Methydotia and Lampadephoria:


In the heart of Naxos, two extraordinary carnival events unfold, captivating both locals and visitors from across the nation and around the globe. Methydotia and Lampadephoria, celebrated on the Friday and Saturday preceding Clean Monday, respectively, stand as iconic cultural spectacles that draw enthusiasts eager not only to witness but actively participate in these festivities.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Lampadephoria festivities at the town of Naxos


Methydotia: A Dionysian Extravaganza

Commencing from the majestic Castle of Naxos on the Carnival Friday, Methydotia immerses participants in the world of Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry. The accompanying music sets the stage for an intense and orgiastic experience, befitting the worship of this deity. Men transform into Satyrs, and women into Maenads, enacting vivid scenes from the life of Dionysus, dancing and engaging visitors in the revelry.


Dionysus, with a cup of wine in hand, inspires and guides participants, creating an atmosphere that authentically mimics a genuine ancient celebration. The festival becomes a living, breathing portrayal of Dionysian nature and the essence of Carnival.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Methydotia festivities at the town of Naxos



Lampadephoria: A Cinematic Creation


On Carnival Saturday, Lampadephoria takes the spotlight, a spectacle born in 1994 through the creative minds of the Naxos Cinematic Club. Participants metamorphose into ethereal beings, adorning their faces with monochromatic masks, draping themselves in white sheets resembling chitons, and carrying lit torches. The procession through the city's narrow streets, culminating at the Temple of Apollo, possesses an otherworldly quality.


The participants' movements take on a mystical aura, their dances wild, and their cries powerful, crafting a spectacular, phantasmagoric display that continues to enchant visitors. It's no wonder that many return to relive this captivating experience.


Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
During Lampadephoria festivities, at the town of Naxos



The Culmination at the Temple of Apollo


Both Methydotia and Lampadephoria culminate at the impressive Temple of Apollo, a fitting finale for these grand celebrations. The journey from the imposing Castle to the breathtaking temple creates a narrative that intertwines the rich history of Naxos with the mystical tales of ancient Greek mythology.


Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Lampadephoria culmination at the Temple of Apollo



Carnival on Naxos: Conclusion


In the heart of Naxos, the Carnival unfolds as a captivating odyssey, weaving together ancient Greek traditions, local customs, and the Cycladic ambiance. The Dionysian Carnival in Naxos Town, with its torchlight processions and dramatized myths, showcases the island's vibrant spirit. Beyond the town, the Koudounatoi Carnival in Apeiranthos reveals an ancient celebration, blending meticulous rituals with a symphony of sound and a dance that echoes through alleys. The island's rich cultural tapestry extends further with the Kordelatoi tradition, a living testament to Naxos' cultural resilience and the blending of religious and pagan elements. From the mystique of Kitro Liqueur to shared luncheon festivities in Ano Potamia and the extraordinary Methydotia and Lampadephoria celebrations, Naxos emerges as a tapestry of celebration, community, and timeless traditions. As the sun sets and the echoes of the Koudounatoi fade, Naxos returns to tranquility, carrying the ageless spirit of Apeiranthos forward, preserving its heritage that transcends time.



Carnival on the Island of Naxos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
Dancing and crowd cheering, during Lampadephoria at the town of Naxos


Love

xx







Frequently Asked Questions



What is the significance of the Dionysian Carnival in Naxos Town?

The Dionysian Carnival in Naxos Town is a unique celebration inspired by ancient Greek traditions. It features Dionysian games, satyrs, maenads, dramatized myths, torchlight processions, traditional music, dance, and an abundance of wine against the backdrop of the mesmerizing Aegean.

What is the Koudounatoi Carnival in Apeiranthos Village, Naxos?

How is Kitro Liqueur of Naxos produced, and what makes it unique?

What is the Kordelatoi tradition, and how does it reflect the cultural tapestry of Naxos?

What are Methydotia and Lampadephoria, and when do they take place in Naxos?



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