The Aegean Islands and Coasts: Battlegrounds of Pirates and Invaders
From the 7th century AD until the fall of Constantinople, the islands and coastal regions of the Aegean Sea endured numerous hardships at the hands of Arab invaders, known as Saracens. These raiders, originating from Africa, Asia, and Crete, ravaged and plundered everything and everyone in their path. The remnants of their presence can still be discovered in various island locations, particularly in the Cyclades.
Among these pirates, many were knights who, after growing tired of piracy or falling in love with noble ladies on different islands, chose to abandon their seafaring ways and settle down. Noteworthy individuals include Marquis Fleury, Temerikout, Crevelie, and Raymond de Montenay.
The Terror of Barbarossa: In 1537, the notorious pirate Barbarossa, also known as Redbeard, arrived at the port of Naxos with 70 galleys. He was a fearsome pirate captain whom the Sultan entrusted with commanding the Turkish fleet in the Aegean. He became a source of terror for the islanders, and any resistance resulted in complete destruction and devastation. Barbarossa dispatched a messenger to the duke’s palace, demanding surrender if he wished to save his people and family. The Duke of Naxos was compelled to negotiate a surrender.
Islander Strategies and Hideouts: The inhabitants of villages and settlements were typically forewarned through signals sent by lookouts, allowing them to seek refuge until the danger had passed. They often sought shelter in nearby castles or caves, such as the Cave of Zas, Kaloritsa, and others. During those years, both young and old carried slingshots, and in the event of a pirate attack, they would ascend to high vantage points and pelt the invaders with stones, impeding their progress and eliminating the element of surprise. Meanwhile, women and children sought safety in their hiding places.
Naxos’ castles, serving as defenses against pirates, boast tales of bravery. These fortresses, like the Upper Castle and Apalirou Castle, provided sanctuary for the islanders during turbulent times. Rich in history, these structures symbolize the resilience of the island, infusing an aura of mystery and fascination into the historical significance of the era.
The local population devised strategies to resist and protect themselves, utilizing signals, fortresses, and a resolute determination to defend their homes. The echoes of this tumultuous period still resonate in the stories, names, and legends passed down through generations, linking present-day residents of Naxos to their vibrant cultural heritage. Exploring the remnants of these castles and delving into the local lore offers an immersive experience, enabling visitors to delve into the captivating history of Naxos and witness the enduring impact of its eventful past.