The island of Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades in extension, famous and coveted since ancient times for its wealth and its white marble, with quarries exploited until today (only those of crystalline marble).
As it happens in Egyptian quarries, where obelisks remain, or in those of Rapa Nui, with half-finished moai, in those of Naxos we can find ancient statues that never reached the function for which they were intended and that today are a picturesque part of the landscape.
The main ancient quarries of the island are in the north, on the hill of Agios Ioannis near the village of Apollonas, and in the region of Melanes. The modern ones are in the central part, around Kinidaros.
In one of the quarries near Apollonas we find the Colossus of Dionysus, a statue 10.7 meters high and weighing 80 tons, unfinished and lying on the ground. It is a kouros, a type of sculpture characteristic of the 8th-6th centuries BC, representing a young man.
Like most kouroi, it was long considered a representation of Apollo. In 1932 Wilhelm von Massow identified it as a sculpture of Dionysus, hence the popular name Colossus of Dionysus. In reality, as we said, it is a kouros and its official name is Kouros of Apollonas.
Being unfinished, the carving is very rough, although the body as well as the head, beard, ears and the beginning of the hair are easily recognizable. The arms are still in the form of rudimentary rectangles and the feet, which rest on a base half a meter high, are barely delimited.
The marble with which it is made, that of the quarry where it lies, has a more grayish color and stripes that indicate a higher level of impurity than that of other parts of the island.
It is not well known why it was abandoned. It is true that it has cracks, already noted by Schaubert in a sketch of 1835 for a bronze engraving, but it is not known if they occurred at the time of the carving or if they are later.
Tourist guides in the area include various explanations, such as that the owner could not pay for the statue, or that the cracks made them desist from moving forward with its creation. None can be proven. The consensus of archaeologists is that it must have been too heavy to transport.
Holes can be seen in the kouros, the result of working with bronze chisels, picks and hammers, which must have been smoothed and concealed with finer chisels at a later stage.
In the locality of Melanes there are two other equally unfinished but smaller kouroi.
The first is 4.7 meters tall and the second is 5.5 meters tall, weighing 5 and 7 tons respectively. The smaller one is in a local garden, while the other remains in the nearby quarry.
The one in the garden has no feet and the lower right leg is broken. It also has numerous chisel marks all over its surface. The experts’ theory is that this kouroi was broken when it was being transported, and so it was left abandoned.
The other, which is also called kouros of Potamia or kouros of Faranga is situated on a marble outcrop about 300 meters high. It has broken legs, with the feet apart and placed on a recent concrete base.
Its face is missing and it is lying on its back, probably in the same place away from the rock from which it was cut, where it was dropped as soon as transport began. Most likely it was broken when the transport was started, and for that reason it was also abandoned.
Today Naxos marble is still used on the island, mainly for door and window frames and lintels, sculptures and decorative motifs. About 5,000 cubic meters of the purest marble are exported annually to other countries.
This article was first published on our Spanish Edition on January 29, 2019. Puedes leer la versión en español en El Coloso de Dionisos y los kuroi de Flerio, estatuas griegas del siglo VI a.C. que permanecen inacabadas en las canteras de Naxos