South loop of the island
(Livadi = 0.0km for distances in the text) The barren and dramatic south coast of the island has a chain of coves and sandy bays, and is the area most exploited for iron. From Livadakia, just south of the port, a road climbs round the southern slopes of the hills to Vaghia and the protected bay of Koutalas (7.5km), which is bordered by a couple of long sandy beaches. The slopes and rocks on its east and west sides are perforated with mining galleries which mostly follow an existing natural breach in the rock. The rock itself is coloured with strong veins of magenta-black mineral deposit, and contrasting white outcrops of marble and quartz. Iron and copper ore have been mined here from Antiquity through until the last century. On the summit of the hill to the north of the centre of the inlet, are the ruins of the castle of Gria (‘the old lady’), evidence that the bay—then known as ‘Porto Catena’—was a centre of habitation and of continued mining activity under Venetian domination. The first Venetian adventurer to exploit the mines commercially since Antiquity was Ermolao Minotto in the late 14th century, and this fortress may well be his construction. The remnants are meagre and extend across the saddle between the two rocky outcrops at the summit of the hill and the ledge above the large grotto in the southwest corner.
Further west beyond Koutalas Bay extends the long Akrotiri, or ‘Kiklopas’, peninsula whose geological con formation made it the choice area for the richest and most intensive mining. Three hundred metres north of the main road junction (13.5km) above Koutalas, a track leads southwest to the grimly rebuilt monastery of the Evangelistria Akrotiriani (after 2km), 400m beyond which stands the Hellenistic watchtower of Psaros, visible to the left of the track. The tower has an imposing rectangular base measuring c. 7.5 x 7.5m. The method of construction is not with the usual, shorter, thicker blocks, but with precise rows of elongated schist slabs, often almost 2m in length; although they are now eroded, these were carefully drafted when new. The entrance threshold-block on the south side, with indentations for the door fitments is well preserved. The tower was well sited to monitor movement of the mining activity and transport in the bay below.
Megalo Chorio (14km) is now only a scattered community of a few houses to the right of the main road as it descends to the bay of Megalo Livadi. The epithet ‘megalo’ (‘great’) in these two names is a reference to their importance as (respectively) the settlement for the miners and principal loading port during the heyday of the mining period: today they are scarcely inhabited and have little that is conspicuously ‘megalo’. Megalo Livadi (15.5km) is dominated by the building of the Spiliazeza Mine Company headquarters—a long, ruined, neoclassical mansion built in the early 1880s, with symmetrical pedimented wings and a double stair-sweep framed by venerable palm-trees. The shingle beach is attractive, although the deep clefts and perforations in the headlands, the darkly coloured rocks with different ores, and the abandoned loading pontoons give the bay an inescapably somber atmosphere. This is compounded by a small monument at the north end of the shore commemorating a tragic moment in the mine’s history (see below).
The mines and the protest of 1916
The first official industrial mining permit was granted as early as 1867. In 1880 it was purchased by a French mining company in Lavrion, which formed the ‘Societe des Mines de Seriphos et de Spiliazeza’ for the exploitation of the mines on Seriphos. From 1886 the company was put under the management of the German metallurgist, Emil Graumann, who was responsible for the construction of most of the major infra structure. The employment which the mine afforded attracted an influx of immigrant workers from other islands and from the mainland. At their height, at the turn of the century, the mines were exporting 160,000 tons of iron-ore per year. This came at a high human cost: unrealistic demands were made on the miners, working hours increased exaggeratedly, and conditions deteriorated: safety was poor and there were a number of fatal accidents in the mine shafts.
In the summer of 1916, at the request of the mine workers, Konstantinos Speras, a prominent anar chist and pioneer of the trade union movement in Greece with experience of organising workers’ resistance in other places, returned to his native Seriphos to aid the workers and to establish a local union for them based on a radical constitution. He became the spokesman for the mine-workers’ grievances. After it became clear that a visit from a ministerial official from Athens and the workers’ appeals in the press both in Syros and in Athens were going to bear no fruit, the workers went on strike on 7 August, demanding a maximum eight-hour day in addition to improved wages and safety provisions. The stand taken was an early and important landmark in labour relations in Greece.
The management, now under Graumann’s son Georg, requested the Greek authorities—with whom its relations were close—to intervene, and on 20 Au gust a warship with a detachment of gendarmes arrived on the island. The lieutenant in charge, Chrysanthos Xanthos, gave the strikers five minutes to disperse and, when they refused to move, ordered his men to open fire, killing four miners. In the ensuing scuffle Xanthos and another officer were lynched and killed. The monument on the north side of the bay of Megalo Livadi commemorates these events and the four miners who died.
Speras was imprisoned for two years after the event, and much later, after acrimonious political disagreements with fellow political activists, he was murdered near Athens by Communist-inspired partisans in 1943. The mines continued to operate with marginally improved conditions. By the 1920s women were also being employed for surface jobs, such as breaking and sorting the ores. Demand dropped considerably after the Second World War, and the mines faced tough competition. They were finally decommissioned in 1963. The last Graumann, Emil Jnr., served as a German officer in Crete during the War and died in Germany in 1975 in an accident.
About 400–500m along the south side of the bay, natural hot springs rise amid the remains of the former bath houses of the mining era which are still visible above the shore.
Returning again to the road-junction south of Megalo Chorio: the north branch of the road passes (14km) the conspicuous Hellenistic ‘White Tower’ (‘Aspropyrgos’), surprising for its brilliant white stone in a landscape of dark rock. The marble was quarried from a natural vein on the ridge of the hill. In spite of destabilisation by earth quakes, the cylindrical tower survives to over 4.5m on the east side, and preserves part of its finely constructed door-frame on the south side. The masonry shows many refinements typical of late 5th century bc construction— the customary drafting of the blocks, but also an almost imperceptible, progressive enlargement of the diameter of the two lowest courses, more for optical effect than anything else. Some of the fallen blocks are incorporated in the outbuildings of the chapel of Aghios Charalambos beside the tower.
Although the harbours are partially hid den from view, the greater extent of the interior of the southeast corner of the island is visible from the tower. The road continues to climb from the White Tower into the island’s empty centre, once well-treed until it was significantly deforested in the Middle Ages. A junction at 17km leads north into the upland plateau of Sklavogiannis, from which ravines descend steeply to shores hemmed by rocky promontories (Avesalos and Karavas Bays). The land is dotted with dovecotes. A kilometre and a half from the junction is the isolated church of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos, whose inscribed-cross plan with dome may date originally from the 14th century: it is decorated with wall-paintings of the 17th century in not very good condition. Almost 2km further, the church of Aghia Thekla is built over the base of an ancient tower which surmounted its conical panoramic peak. The tower was in clear communication with a second Hellenistic tower, whose large base in gneiss and marble survives beside some farm buildings on the final neck of the promontory of Kephala—visible 1.5km to the north (40 minutes by foot). This western side of the island was one of the earliest settled areas, with evidence of an Early Cycladic presence (3rd millennium bc) on the Kephala peninsula: deposits of scoriae in the area suggest that there was metallurgic activity here at this early stage on Seriphos. To the west of Aghia Thekla the track ends beside the 18th century church of the Panaghia Liomandra. About 80m to the southwest of the church, the corner of a prehistoric construction in large, roughly rectangular blocks can be seen: the site awaits exploration.
The continuation of the main road east from the Sklavogiannis junction returns to Livadi in 10km, via Chora (5km).
Seriphos or Serifos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.