Livadi & Chora

The bay of Livadi—focus of all the island’s communications—is a deep and well-protected inlet with imposing hills to the west and north, and a long headland to the east. The modern port occupies the western side of the bay and stretches inland in a chain of conspicuously leafy gardens and allotments. The upper border of the bay is in fact a fertile alluvial area watered by the run-off from the steep mountains which form a confluence in the main Nochta torrent. In Antiquity this area would likely have been a damp alluvial marsh for most of the year; this perhaps explains the island’s adoption of the symbol of a frog on its coinage as early as the 6th century BC. The story (recounted above) of Perseus being kept from rest by the constant sound of frogs and asking his father, Zeus, to silence them is hard to explain in relation to the arid Cycladic landscape we see today: we need to imagine what this area must have been like several thousand years ago when the island was considerably more forested. The plain here would have provided the food for the city of Ancient Seriphos which occupied the dominating site of the modern settlement of Chora.
   The view of Chora (4.5km by road), which occupies the north and south slopes of a sharp volcanic cap at a height of 250m to the north of the bay, is one of the most picturesque in the Cyclades. It is a pleasant 50 minute climb by foot from Livadi, best not undertaken in the middle of the day. From the first sharp bend in the main road a stepped, stone path leads directly up, continually re-encountering the road which crosses its path several times. At the start of the ascent is the church of Aghios Isi­doros, built beside a spring of ferrous water.
   The original settlement of Ancient Seriphos appears to have been the only city on the island in Antiquity. Uninterrupted occupation on the same site has meant that virtually nothing of it remains to be seen, although several travellers in the 18th and 19th centuries report see broken columns and statuary in the vicinity of the castle at the summit. There are vestiges of Roman walls and mosaic on the southeast slope of the hill, and ancient fragments and stelai can be found immured in buildings in the upper area of the village, as well as in the mediaeval walls near the summit. The Kastro occupies what was the acropolis of the ancient town; all that remain are stretches of the walls along both the north and south sides, built by the Venetian, Pietro Giustiniani, in the 13th century. The churches which crown the summit were all built or restored in recent times—Christos sto Kastro (1895), Aghia Barbara (1890) and at the summit, Aghios Ioannis Theologos (1928), believed to stand near the panoramic site of the former temple to Athena.
   Below the Kastro and to the west is the intimate * main square of Chora—a small, theatrical space, paved in marble and bordered on the south side by the rounded forms of the 18th century church of Aghios Athanasios in white and blue complemented by the rectangular, neoclassical symmetry of the balustraded Demarcheion (1907), in yellow and red. The square has the size and proportions of an outdoor ‘salotto’, and the presence of several cafes completes the impression. It is one of the most delightful squares in the Cyclades. The interior of Aghios Athanasios is adorned with a finely carved wooden iconstasis of the late 18th century. Steps lead down from the square to the west, past the former water-fountain of Chora, to the main road, beside which is the small Archaeological Collection (open June–Oct daily 8.30–3, except Mon; otherwise by arrangement with the guardian, Ms. Galaniou, who can be contacted through the Demarcheion).

This is a small collection (still in the process of being organised) of largely Hellenistic and Roman statuary fragments found in around the Kastro area. Two unusual cylindrical funerary urns in marble, bearing inscriptions are of particular interest. All the marble used was from Paros and Naxos , since Seriphos has little stone of its own of sculptural quality. The small case of obsidian pieces and artefacts is witness to the prehistoric presence on the island and on Seriphopoula, the islet to the northeast. There is some interesting didactic material on the cult of Perseus.

Due west of Chora, clearly visible in the narrow fold of the mountain below, are the old wash-houses of the town: these consist of a wide-arched loggia, backed by the large block of the cistern which collected and stored the combined down-flow from the peaks at its narrowest point. The main spring-water source (still barely functioning) for the town was at the upper exit of Kato-Chora, where the stone fount-head is still preserved.
   Leaving from beside the windmills above Chora and cutting clearly from right to left across the rocky face of the mountain, can be seen the line of the old kalderimi or stone path joining Chora with Megalo Chorio and Panaghi­a. Theodore Bent describes climbing up here and being shown ‘a long ancient inscription cut on the smooth rock, very difficult of access’, which had been dis covered in 1881, and which read: ‘ΠΕΝΤΕ ΑΠ’ΕΜΟΥ ΠΕΝΤΕ ΑΠΟ ΣΟΥ ΘΗΣΑΥΡΟΝ ΟΡΥΤΕ’ (‘Five for me; five for you; dig up the treasure’). Its significance still re mains a riddle: perhaps it was this that incited the rapacious Venetian adventurer-aristocrat, Niccoli² Adoldo (d. 1432), to have the islanders thrown from the height of the kastro—according to tradition—because they would not reveal where their treasure was hidden. Beyond this inscription, Bent was shown ‘a magnetic mine, where the earth sticks to the point of your knife‘¦ [with] traces of ancient buildings’ near the spot.

The beautifully constructed paved mule-tracks, or kalderimi, are plentiful on Seriphos and make exploring the island on foot a pleasure. There are three principal routes leading out from Chora; one due north to Kendarchos (2hrs) and the monastery of the Taxiarches (under 3hrs); one west to the area of Megalo Chorio and the White Tower (3hrs); and one south to Livadi (40–50 mins). In some stretches they coincide with new roads.

Seriphos or Serifos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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