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From below Ano Petali, a road descends past the attractive village of Kato Petali, and down a gorge which is steeply terraced to either side and scattered with chapels, watermills and a number of beautiful dovecotes, some of which constitute the upper floors of dwellings. Below lies Kastro (2.5km) which occupies the summit of a promontory above a narrow harbour, looking across to Antiparos and Paros. This is the site of Ancient Siphnos—more overlooked and cramped than the sites of Ancient Naxos , Seriphos, Thera or Ios . It is hard to imagine that the tiny harbour of Seralia to the south, was one of the places of shipment for the wealth in gold and silver which Siphnos possessed in the 6th and 5th centuries bc, and it is curious that, of the island’s 50 watchtowers, none is positioned in proximity to this harbour or with an eye to its protection. Seralia now has the form given it in mediaeval times. The small church on the waterfront displays ancient column and capital fragments in its porch and a doorstep made from an ancient stele.
The approach road to Kastro cuts through the enceinte of 4th century BC, Hellenistic walls (best seen in between the Seralia and Kastro roads), whose long slabs of a dark green schist are now very eroded. This was a later, outer enceinte; the inner enceinte of Archaic walls are visible higher up on the seaward side, and are constructed in a quite different manner. The habitation of * Kastro is concentrated in the elliptical form given it by the perimeter of the mediaeval fortified area.
Partly using the existing remains of the ancient fortifications (east), and partly creating its own new defensive wall (west), the Kastro represents a unique and intriguing example of mediaeval town-planning, combining moderate military defensibility and habitation in the same design. The exterior aspect of the settlement has since been altered by the addition of external balconies and windows which were originally absent. The mediaeval houses inside the Kastro had windows and entrances only on to the inside of the area, and the walls would have presented a solid façade externally, with only five narrow, well-defended points of entrance. The maximisation of space in the interior is by unusual, split level public spaces and passageways beneath bridges connecting higher areas. Kastro was created in its present form in the 14th century by the dynasty founded by a member of the Hospitaller Order, ‘Gianuli da Corogna’, or John of Corunna, who imposed his rule here from 1307.
Making a roughly anti-clockwise tour of the hill, the main monuments are as follows:
* The first important church encountered is that of the Koimisis tis Theotokou, with a belfry and carved door-frame, dating from 1593. Outside and to the right of its (south) entrance, the tomb-slab of a ship’s captain, Ioannis Speranzas, who died in 1806, sits on top of the sarcophagus and functions as a table on feast days. The interior is roofed in cypress and pine, and the floor paved with local stone interspersed with pebble inlay. A large pagan altar, with carved bucrania and garlands, stands in the sanctuary. Along the north wall, the icons from the former (17th century) iconostasis have been displayed: the central icon of the Virgin and Child is finely executed.
* Set down below the street, and surmounted by a typical four-square belfry, supported on an arcaded ledge and with ‘serifed’ finials, is the façade of the church of Aghii Demetrios and Ekaterini, rebuilt in its present form in 1653; the interior has two aisles for the separate dedications. Just above its north side, beside the street, is a truncated Hellenistic or Roman sarcophagus whose swags of fruit, including pomegranates (symbols of renewed life) and carved ribbons, are still legible in spite of erosion.
* The church of the Taxiarches displays further ancient spolia, although heavily plastered over. The interior, entered by two doorways on the south side, has a good example of the characteristic wooden-beam roof. * Beyond the church of the Taxiarches a narrow en trance leads up into the inner enceinte of the Kastro. The atmosphere changes and the area feels enclosed, with all available space put to good use. There are a great many ancient spolia to be seen, incorporated with the usual insouciance into the mediaeval structures: beyond the late 16th century church of Aghios Nikolaos, on entering the long main thoroughfare of Kastro, a modern balcony on the right is supported by an assemblage of disparate ancient elements composed of a fluted column fragment, a well-defined ionic capital and a sundry base element.
* In the open area in front of the church of Aghios Ioannis is the memorial to the Siphnian, George S. Maridakis (1890–1979), an eminent professor of international law, Justice Minister in 1952 and President of the Athens Academy. Here the limited space iseniously used: the square is raised above storage areas beneath, forming to one side a sunken pathway under bridges which give access into the houses opposite.
* To the sides of the winding street ahead, both be fore and after the museum building, are two further carved marble sarcophagi, both of later Roman date: one, substantially cut away, with figures at the corners; the other decorated only with abstract designs. These appear to have been moved from the valley be low Kastro where they were to be seen when James Theodore Bent visited in the late 19th century. Further fragments are strewn along the street as far as the church of the Panaghia Theoskepasti (1631).
To the right-hand side of the street, on the upper floor of a building, is the island’s Archaeological Museum (open daily 8.30–3, except Mon). The collection has long been dependent principally on gifts and legacies, and has con sequently been unable to do full justice to the island’s rich archaeological heritage; but there are plans to enlarge it so as to accommodate finds from the acropolis of Aghios Andreas.
Amongst the finest exhibits are an Early Cycladic marble vase, with four ‘handles’ or lugs which may have served either for suspending it or for the securing of its lid; and a central case containing small finds, dating from the 7th century bc—a finely carved lion’s head, a decorated cotyle, or two-handled cup, and sundry seals and other objects in bone. The marble pieces are mostly fragmentary grave stelai and architectural elements, with the notable exception of a beautiful, but eroded, 6th century bc head of a Kouros in Parian marble. There are some fine marble funerary urns; and a large collection of coins, including gold Byzantine hyperpera, but—sadly—none of the fine silver staters which Siphnos produced in early Antiquity.
Further to the northwest, before the churches of Christos tou Kastrou and the Aghia Triada, large sections of the inner enceinte or * acropolis walls of the ancient city come into view. These may have been begun as early as 510–500 bc. The material from which they are made is of particular interest: viewing them from the seaward side, layers of white marble, on pink marble, on grey schist are visible. They have been altered substantially when they were consolidated and the Venetian fortress walls were built on top; but the lowest courses remain largely untouched. The colour and fineness of the marble is remarkable for fortification work, and it brings to mind Herodotus’s comment that ‘the prytaneion and the agora in Siphnos had recently been adorned with Parian marble’ at a time when the ‘Siphnians were at the height of their prosperity’ (Hist. III, 57). He points out that this marked the fulfillment of a Delphic prophecy which predicted the end of the island’s preeminent prosperity.
The summit of the hill is marked by the church of the Panaghia Eleousa which was restored in 1635 and embellished at that time with a marble door frame and lunette and a number of important and beautiful icons in its interior. It stands on the site of the temple of an ancient, female divinity—probably Artemis. Its fabric includes ancient spolia: the foot of the wrought-iron rails, just in front of the door and to the left, has been fixed in a piece of decorative Classical frieze. To the west a large pithos is propped against the wall to one side of the street, and an immured chamfered mediaeval column and capital bear an inscription in Gothic lettering which is barely legible; it would appear that this were the ‘octagonal column’ mentioned by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, the French official sent in 1700 to collect intelligence on the state of the Ottoman Empire, which he said bore the date 1365 and the name, ‘Jandoly de Coronia’ (John, or ‘Gianuli’, of Corunna): it was also seen by Bent in 1882.
The esplanade of the ancient acropolis beyond has been excavated beneath the ruins of the da Corogna stronghold. At the lowest level explored so far, it has revealed a settlement of the Late Geometric period (8th century bc) with one-room dwellings built of schists, some with storage pithoi and raised benches. These simple structures would have had a wooden roof supported on a central post. Higher up the slope near the church of the Eleousa stood the 7th century bc temple already mentioned, dedicated possibly to Artemis. This was later replaced by another temple in marble at the end of the 6th century bc, at the time that the building of the acropolis walls was undertaken.
The pathway which runs round the exterior of Kastro on the north side offers good views of the ancient walls, and of the open channel between Siphnos and Antiparos. Below, picturesquely perched on a rock by the shore, is the chapel of the Epta Martyres (seven virgin saints, martyred in Amisus in the 4th century under the Emperor Maximian). To the north, along the coast, can be seen the attractive 19th century church of the Panaghia Poulati, which can be reached by a 30-minute walk along the coast from below Kastro.
Siphnos or Siphnos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.