From Kamares to Apollonia
Kamares, as well as being the attractive port of arrival, is the home of the island’s local ceramic industry. The tradition of pottery is an old one on Siphnos, mentioned and praised in passing by both Theophrastus and Pliny, and although ceramic workshops can be found all over the island the greatest concentration of them is in Kamares. They produce a simple and unsophisticated ware, with often unusual forms, traditionally unglazed, but now with a number of decorations as well—‘drip’ glazes and blue and white concentric rings—whose origins lie in the Byzantine ceramic tradition.
Kamares takes its name from the ‘camere’, or ‘chambers’, of the ancient mines in the cliffs close to the sea: when Theodore Bent visited in 1882, he was shown one with an inscription to the nymphs above its entrance. From the well-protected bay, hemmed by the imposing mountain ridges to north and south, and bordered by a beautiful sandy beach to the east, a road climbs steadily into the interior along a narrowing valley which leads up to the more densely inhabited plateau of eastern Siphnos. The valley sides are terraced and rich in vegetation, in terspersed with occasional dovecotes, houses and chapels. Almost exactly 4km up the road from the harbour-front at Kamares is the wayside church of the Aghii Anargyri— a beautiful assemblage of low architectural forms in a shaded cleft in the hill, built over a sacred spring of water which can be reached down some steps through a breach inside the west corner of the church. The church has a luminous domed interior with a broad arcaded portico along the north side; the ‘serifed’ belfry is surmounted by an ancient marble fragment. Visible directly across the valley to the northeast at this point is the silhouetted pro file of the ‘Kambanario’ ancient tower on the shoulder of the hill opposite. Of the many ancient towers of Siphnos, this is unusual for its conserved decorated doorway: two large voussoirs in grey schist, which frame a white marble keystone, are carved with grooves giving the appearance of a semicircular arch. The overall effect is of something similar to a Cycladic belfry—hence its name, Kambanario (‘bell-tower’). The tower stands to a height of almost 4m and probably dates from the early 5th centuryBC.
The road rises into the heart of the island’s habitation and reaches a T-junction, locally referred to as ‘Stavri’: to the right of you and behind is Apollonia, which merges into Exambela to the south; to the left is Ano Petali, which merges into Artemonas to the north. Together they form a continuous but constantly varying settlement along the central ridge, which looks out eastwards across Kastro on the coast below towards Paros on the horizon. With names like ‘Apollo-nia’ and ‘Artem-onas’, it is tempting to feel that we are in the presence of ancient sanctuaries to the sibling deities. If so, they have left no clearly recognisable traces. Ancient Siphnos was at the site of Kastro below; and of the other two cities, mentioned by Stephanus of Byzantium—Minoa and Apollonia—neither is of certain location, although the latter must lie somewhere beneath today’s Apollonia. The town in Antiquity must have taken its name from the cults of Apollo Enagros and Apollo Pithios which are recorded on the island by Hesychius.
Siphnos or Siphnos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.