The Churches of Apollonia & Ano Petali

In 1836, Apolloni­a succeeded Kastro as the island’s capital, and today supplies most of the practical needs of the visitor. A small Museum of Folklore, which opens daily (in theory from Easter–Oct, but in practice only in the higher season), can be visited in the small Plateia Heroon just before the main road junction. It is a well-displayed and heterogeneous collection of island memorabilia: agricultural tools and weaponry, a variety of the island’s traditional unglazed pottery, archival photographs and pictures, and a display of some fine textiles and elaborately decorative embroideries. The traditional Siphnian women’s costume and head-dress is particularly beautiful and there are some good examples on view. The simple kafeneion directly across the square from the museum can also be, in a different way, a living folklore museum, early in the morning.
   From just above the square, the gently serpentine calle which climbs to the south from a point near the main road-junction constitutes the heart of Apolloni­a, and is lined with a number of elegant 18th century houses, another traditional cafe and a succession of interesting churches (see plan opposite), nearly all of which have the characteristic of being entered from the south side—a common architectural trade-mark on Siphnos. Many have flat roofs, internally raftered with cypress beams supporting schist tiles above. A beautiful example of this is the first church on the left at the beginning of the street, the church of the Nativity of Christ, dating from 1587. Further up, on the opposite side is the early 18th century church of the Timios Stavros, set in a courtyard, with, just beyond it, the church of the Taxiarches of 1650, whose exterior is embellished with inset coloured faience dishes on the north side and with a 16th century Iznik tile in blue and green, high up on the south side. Further up the street on the opposite (left side) is the 18th century church of Aghios Athanasios: it has a beautiful vaulted interior supported on a central column and roofed with schist plaques. The two shallow apses projecting on the opposite side of the street, belong to Aghios Sostis, or ‘Aghios Sozon’, which constitutes the most interesting ensemble of all—a late 16th century building restored in 1768 by a Venetian patron who has left his coat of arms above the elaborately carved marble doorway. The door gives onto a paved court on the north side, dominated by a magnificent cypress tree. The interior walls are partially covered with 18th century wall-paintings—highly coloured and densely articulated with decorative elements. From this point, the steeper southern sector of the street is dominated by the bulk of the 19th century church of Aghios Spyridon, founded originally in 1700, but then rebuilt in 1897. It possesses a beautiful icon of the life of St Spyridon (right side) dating from the founding of the original church.
   From near to the main road-junction of Stavri­ again— this time heading north into Ano Petali—a narrow pedestrian street leads uphill towards the modern church of Aghios Ioannis at the top. The first church on the right is dedicated principally to the Panaghia ‘Ouranofora’ (‘Bearer of the Heavens’) or ‘Ouranophotia’ (‘Light of the Heavens’)—a title which has pagan resonances and corroborates the belief that it may be built on the base of an ancient temple of Apollo. The original 16th century church was restored in its present form in 1767, and the dedication was changed from St George alone, to the Panaghia and St George, which explains the carved marble half-moon plaque over the door figuring both the Virgin and St George. The dignified marble door frame is beautifully complemented by the carved marble ledge higher up, which is supported by a finely wrought run of moulded arches sitting on protruding volutes. This is an interesting architectural evolution: the ledge which, in terms of functional design, should be the support of the belfry, has here become a separate decorative element with no structural purpose. The space below it is decorated with ceramic plates of different kinds, displayed as ‘trophies’. Another trophy—an ancient, fluted column stump— stands in the forecourt to the south side. The wide and luminous interior is decorated with 18th century wall paintings, well-preserved in places.
   By following the street further up past the churches of the Taxiarchis and of Aghios Ioannis, you come, after a short dip through a small ravine, into Artemonas in a seamless continuity of habitation.

Siphnos or Siphnos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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