Giardini Naxos is a well-famous seaside resort on the landward side of the lungomare, a long road running alongside the shore from Capo Schiṣ north-west to Taormina. For a long time, the “garden town” merely served as a sheltered anchorage for nearby Taormina. The epithet originates from the cotton and sugar-cane plantations which, through the centuries, were replaced by citrus orchards. This for a longtime provided the best source of income until, in the 1950s, the place developed into an important holiday resort, thanks partly to the attraction of nearby Taormina, which provides a splendid backdrop.
Access to the site is from Via Stracina, the continuation of Via Naxos, or, during opening hours, via the museum in Via Schiṣ.
The Archaic settlement, dating from the 7th-6th century BC, was replaced in the 4th century by a new urban scheme that was laid out on a rigidly geometrical grid pattern, possibly as a result of a reconstruction prompted by Hieron of Syracuse. The new city followed the same boundaries as the earlier; all but the old city walls and the temenos (or sacred precinct) were removed and replaced by a regular orthogonal street plan, as advocated by the 5th century BC architect urban planner Hippodamus of Miletus, with three plateiai (principal avenues – decumani in Latin: A, B, C, oriented on an east-west axis) intersected at right angles by an indeterminate number of stenopoi (minor roads or cardini). From Via Stracina, the road skirts the outer walls of the ancient city which, pierced by four gateways, are built with polygonal blocks of lava stone. These incorporate the older walls of the temenos (late 7th- early 6th centuries BC) which enclose what now are the ruins of a large temple. Heaps of stones, many of which from sacred altars, are scattered all across the site. Nearby sit two kilns: the larger rectangular chamber would have been used for firing architectural elements in terracotta, while the smaller round one served in the production of vases and votive objects.
Skirt around the kilns and leave the sacred precinct by its northern entrance (or propylaeum – traces of which are still visible) to emerge onto plateia B. Follow this broad avenue some distance while surveying the way in which the separate units or blocks are disposed into the greater 5th century BC urban scheme; the crossroads are marked with identical quadrangular stones, which, possibly, once served as bases to altars. At stenopos 6, turn left towards the museum; on the left, level with stenopos 11, are the remains of a small temple from the 7th century BC.
Museo Archeologico – Via Schiṣ. Situated along a Bourbon fortification, the museum houses the relics from the excavations at the area. On the ground floor is pottery which testifies to the existence of settlements from Neolithic to the Bronze Age. A fragment of a bowl inscribed with Stentinello-style decoration (4th-3rd millennium BC) and other ceramics bearing Cassibile designs (1st millennium BC) are particularly interesting. A fabulous range of broken cymae (decorative roof ornaments) painted with animated elements in different colours and drip-mouldings for channelling rain water, possibly from Temple B (early 6th century BC), are displayed on the ground and first floors. Also on the upper level are arranged various examples of votive objects for hanging on the wall in the shape of a female breast or face, antefixes (decorative end-pieces) with silenus masks – testifying to the cult of Dionysus, and a fine altar reconstituted in 1990 (with one fragment retrieved from Heidelberg). Among the other exhibits to look out for are the lovely figurine of a veiled goddess (probably Hera) dated as 5th century BC and a collection of objects from a surgeon’s tomb including small ointment jars, a strigil, a specillum – used by doctors to examine wounds, and a beautiful glass dish probably imported from Egypt or Mesopotamia. There is also a fine 4th century BC Thracian bronze helmet and a miniature bust of Athena (5th-6th century AD) used as a weight for scales. Inside the keep are displayed various objects found at sea; anchor shafts, amphorae and grindstones.
Naxos was founded around 734 BC by Chalcidian colonizers led by Theocles, at Capo Schiṣ, a promontory formed originally as a consequence of a great lava flow. It is the oldest Greek colony in Sicily or so it is commonly claimed. It derives its name from the Cycladic island where, according to legend, Dionysus met and then married Ariadne, after she was abandoned by Theseus. In 729 BC, Theocles founded the two colonies of Catane and Leontinoi, that lie further south.
Since the 5th century BC, Naxos was a major objective for aspiring empire-builders, notably Hippocrates of Gela and, later, Hieron of Syracuse who, in 476, evicted the inhabitants of Naxos and deported them to Leontinoi. Eventually, the support offered by Naxos to the Athenian expedition against Syracuse (415 BC) led to the demise of the city; in 403 BC Dionysus the Great razed it to the ground leaving the few survived exiles to found Tauromenion, what is now the enchanting Taormina.