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‘These people were the wealthiest of the islanders—richer than a great many of the mainlanders.’ In these words of the ‘Suda’, the lexicon compiled anonymously in the distant world of 10th century Byzantium, the fame of the Siphnians lived on. Siphnos was rich in Antiquity because of its natural deposits of gold and silver; it was relatively prosperous from sea commerce in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern period, when the attractive Kastro was developed over the site of the ancient city; and today its beauty has found favour with a richer and more sophisticated kind of tourism and settler. Still prosperous, populous, well watered and well cared for, Siphnos has a quite different feel and appearance from its immediate neighbours. Its buildings and churches and gardens are immaculately kept; but the pride in appearance which is so conspicuous on Siphnos goes deeper, however, and has underpinned a care in managing the overall development of the island. There are few of the rashes of uncontrolled building, unfinished constructions and unattractive developments which have scarred some of the other Cycladic islands; and there is a well-maintained balance between areas of quite dense habitation and cultivation, and the deep, empty valleys of the north and west whose most populous inhabitants are birds of prey and wild-flowers.
One of the peculiarities of Siphnos is the number of fine, circular watch-towers, which were constructed all over the island in Antiquity to protect its agricultural and valuable metal production. Over a quarter of the total number of ancient towers documented in the Aegean are to be found on Siphnos alone—many in good condition and easily seen, such as the ‘Black Tower’ in Exambela or the ‘White Tower’ above Platis Gialos Bay: they stretch from Cheronisos in the north to Pharos in the south of the island. In spite of the presence of precious metal-ores, it still remains hard to explain why there was the need to build quite so many towers on one small island. Long before their advent, the island had also been watched over by at least two Mycenaean citadels, indicating the island’s importance in that period, for probably the same reasons. The larger of these, on the summit of Aghios Andreas in the centre of the island, was inhabited continuously for many centuries after, and constitutes one of the most interesting archaeological sites in the Western Cyclades.
Siphnos is a delight to the eye above all. It may have fewer specific monuments of great historic importance, but it furnishes more abiding images than many of its neighbours: the stately villages of elegant 17th century churches and well-maintained neoclassical mansions; the rural valleys, full of dovecotes and chapels, watched over by both ancient towers and more recent monasteries from every summit; the chapels built improbably on rocks projecting into the sea; the ancient columns and sarcophagi that adorn the alleyways of Kastro; and the intimate creek of Cheronisos set amidst the mountains and open vistas of northern Siphnos—all have a particularity that stays in the mind’s eye. For some, the sandy beaches of Vathy, Platis Gialos and Apokofto alone are worth the journey to Siphnos. Though small and less well-known than many islands, Siphnos has a variety of appeal which rewards a visit on any number of accounts.
Siphnos or Siphnos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.