Kastro & Chora

After passing the spring of Bonama, the road from the port rises steeply to the island’s main settlement (4km from Alopronia), which beetles along a ridge overlook the cliffs of the north coast. The habitation divides into two settlements: Chora or Chorio on the slope to the southwest, and Kastro to the east. The configuration of the settlement is remarkably similar to that on Folegandros: a 300m drop straight to the sea on the north side, a large church overlooking from the hill to the east, and a mediaeval kastro at the heart of the settlement. The effect however is less intimate on Sikinos because of the lack of an obvious ‘centre’, which here is constituted by a loose network of pergola-shaded streets just to the north of the main church of the Pantanassa. Entering Kastro from the saddle between the two communities (i.e. from the south west), a low tunnel-like entrance—the ‘Paraporti’ or postern gate—leads into an open square which was the central area of the mediaeval fortified unit, built during the second half of the 15th century along lines similar to the kastro settlements on Siphnos, Kimolos, Antiparos and Folegandros. The blank, rear walls of the houses formed the exterior enceinte of the kastro, while their façades faced onto the central area. A number of the houses are uninhabited, some are community offices, and a dearth of cafes and eateries in the square leaves what is otherwise an elegant public space somewhat lifeless. At its centre is the church of the Timi­os Stavros, generally referred to as the Panaghia Pantanassa, rebuilt in the 18th century, perhaps on the site of an earlier church. The upper floors of the surrounding buildings show the external signs of noble residences—door and window frames in marble, carved with vine-motifs or embellished with rectangular grooves and cornices. In the southwest corner, on the up per floor above the community offices, is a small Byzantine Museum (open July–mid-Sept 10–1). It includes an interesting photographic display of the principal Byzantine chapels on Sikinos, and a collection of icons from the 17th century and after: these include works by the painter of the Cretan-Venetian school, Antonios Skordilis from Milos as well as beautiful examples of carved and gilded wooden sanctuary-doors, painted with the Annunciation and Apostles.
   To the southwest of Kastro lies Chorio, which blends at its eastern extremity into an area of ruined houses further up the hill. It is separated from Kastro by the main road and the long, symmetrical neoclassical school-building put up in the first decade of the 20th century. Although Chorio, with its steep and narrow alleys, dates from substantially earlier, the main church in its lower area is a luminous building of the 17th century. The only Byzantine church is Aghios Stephanos, which dates from the 14th century and lies outside the village, 10 minutes by foot to the south. There is a small Folklore Museum in Chorio, exhibiting olive-presses, looms, ceramics and other domestic and agricultural artefacts from the island’s recent history.
   Clearly visible from Chorio is the winding path which leads up the mountain east of Kastro to the monastery of the Zoodochos Pigi. About half way up the path is the small, vaulted, stone chapel of the Panaghia Pantochara (currently being built) which is dedicated to the memory of the poet Odysseas Elytis (1911–96), for whom the is lands of the Southern Cyclades and their wide panoramas were a constant source of inspiration. The path ends at the monastery, which is dedicated to the Virgin as the ‘Life-giving Fount’. (Access to the interior is only regularly possible at around 6–6.30 pm every day, when a lady from the village opens up the catholicon to service the oil-lamps.) With a position strongly reminiscent of the church of the Panaghia on Folegandros, the Zoodochos Pigi is built uncompromisingly like a fortress and was designed to provide a last refuge for the islanders when under at tack. Inside, an esplanade with a well precedes the broad façade of the church: to the north a low parapet protects the space from the precipice beyond. The ruined buildings of the monastery, which was abandoned in 1834, surround the catholicon; the staircases, baking ovens and door thresholds are still visible. The interior of the church is relatively plain apart from the highly ornate tombstone of Dionysios Protopsaltis which lies prominently in the middle of the central aisle, carved with floral motifs and the double-headed eagle of Byzantium. Protopsaltis was the benefactor of the monastery when it was founded in 1690.

Sikinos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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