Neoclassical elegance and island-style simplicity in an enticing… two for one package. Two different, but equally charming, neighbouring towns stand hand in hand under the Aegean sun, right in the center of the Cyclades islands.
As the ferryboat maneuvers to dock in the harbor, Ermoupolis is an impressive sight. The eye travels from the waterfront to its magnificent neoclassical buildings and upwards over the “Anastasi” (‘Resurrection’) quarter to the whitewashed medieval neighbourhoods of Ano Syra crowning the top of the hill. Welcome to Syros!
History at a glance
The first inhabitants of the island are thought to be the Phoenicians, followed later by the Ionians from Athens. In historical times Syros was conquered by the Macedonians and then by the Romans. It later passed into the hands of the Venetians and in 1207 became part of the Duchy of Naxos under Marco Sanoudo. At the beginning of the 17th century the majority of the island’s residents were Catholic and were under the protection of France. During the uprising of 1821 Ermoupolis became a haven for refugees, and after the liberation from the Turks made its mark as the first industrial city in Greece.
Walks in Ermoupolis
The imposing Ermoupolis Town Hall, a work of German architect Ernst Ziller (1886), is situated in the spacious central Miaoulis Square. Most of the best restored mansion houses are to be found in Vaporia quarter. The newer neoclassical buildings are close to the harbor, designed by famous European architects such as Erlacher Weiler, and Sampo.
Among the outstanding churches is that of Agios Nikolaos, with its arched windows. On Proiou Street in the church of the Assumption of Mary there is an icon of the Virgin Mary which is an original work of art by Doménikos Theotokópoulos (El Greco), the famous Greek painter( 16th-17th century).
The old “Hellas Club” building, designed by the Italian architect Pietro Sampo, is situated next to the Town Hall and now houses the Ermoupolis Cultural Center. Behind the square is the remarkable Apollon Theatre (1864), also designed by Sampo. It is also known as the “Little Scala di Milano’ – its interior is a miniature replica of the original. Within walking distance there is the Gymnasium High School, the work of the Bavarian architect Joseph Erlacher, which opened in 1834.
The Vamvakari Museum (+30 22813 60914) and the Museum of Traditional Trades (+30 22813 60914) are in Ano Syros. The Industrial Museum in Ermoupolis (+30 22810 81243) is an interesting collection dedicated to the industrial history of the island.
Getting to know Ano Syros
The road from the harbor brings us to the church of Saint Georges, the Catholic diocese in Ano Syros offering superb views over Ermoupolis and the harbor.
From here the medieval Cycladic settlement, with its tightly structured street layout, seems to be tumbling down the ridge of the hill. Along the main alleyway “Piazza”, attention is drawn to the small shops, old workshops and the bustle of commercial exchange. In these narrow backstreets of Ano Syros, the great composer and singer of ‘rembetika’ folk songs, Markos Vamvakaris, was born in 1905. You can learn more about his life in the Vamvakari Museum.
A tour of the island
The arterial road that starts from the harbor passes through the famous holiday resorts of Galissas, Finikas, Delagratsia (Posidonia) in the south of Syros, with their organized beaches.
It follows the coast right round the island, ending up at the quay again. The second main road takes a northern direction tracing an inland itinerary across the main body of the island and ending in the village of Kampos, 18 kilometers further. There is also another route worth taking that leads to the coastal village Kini, (8 km) with its magnificent beach and wonderful sunset.
Easter in Syros
Syros has the largest Catholic community in Greece. Here, Greek Orthodox and Catholics celebrate Easter together in a meaningful way. On Good Friday the two portable Holy Sepulchres carried separately from the Catholic and Orthodox churches, meet in the Miaoulis Square before the Town Hall, in the presence of local dignitaries and the crowds of people gathered there.
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Copyright photo: Theo Athanasiadis / Views Of Greece
Copyright text: Germaine Alexakis/ Views Of Greece
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