Two ancient citadels: Aghios Nikitas and Prophitis Elias Troulakiou

On the top of the long ridge of mountain west of Aghios Sostis, appositely called ‘Selladi’(‘saddle’), are the re mains of an ancient fortress-acropolis, marked today by the church of Aghios Nikitas. (A small easily missed sign indicates the path up from the main road, from a point level with the church of Aghios Ioannis Chionis (at 4.7km), which lies in the floor of the valley to the south of the road, midway along. Allow at least 50 mins each way.) This is the first of two such fortified, highly panoramic points to either side of this valley: the other is at Prophiis Eli­as Troulaki­ou, clearly visible from here to the southeast. Visibility between the two was obviously important. Aghios Nikitas guards the northern and eastern approaches to the island; Prophiis Eli­as, those from the west. Both sites are marked by a dense quantity of fallen limestone masonry. Neither was an ‘acropolis’ in the sense of a large habitable place of refuge, but rather a fortified complex of buildings for the security of the land and operations around. The humble church of Aghios Nikitas, itself constructed with ancient stones, sits at the southeastern corner of an easily discernible rectangular terrace built, bordered and cornered in ancient masonry which would appear to date from the Late Archaic period. Finds from Mycenaean times in this area, however, suggest a considerably earlier presence on this spot. The massive blocks of the walls of a structure still remain to the north of the hut which stands beside the church, and quantities of fallen and broken blocks lie on all sides. A date in the late 6th century bc for these structures would coincide with the period of maximum exploitation of the silver mines at Aghios Sostis.
   A similar, but less well-defined, Archaic fortification is to be found to the south, on the summit of Prophiis Eli­as Troulaki­ou (450m), overlooking the Bay of Kamares from the edge of a precipice. (At 7km from Artemonas, a dirt-track leads south by the bend below Troulaki; the track climbs for 600m, at which point a final 20-min climb by foot straight up to the right through dwarf pines leads to the summit.) The church and buildings at the top have been restored in recent times, even though the core foundation here is Middle Byzantine. Before reaching them, the path climbs through a remarkable quantity of fallen ancient building material. Viewing it from above, the outline of two quadrilateral corner towers can be made out, to southeast and northeast. They have collapsed both inwards and outwards, but their plan is made visible by short runs and angles of larger cut and laid blocks. The line of the wall on the east side is visible: this and the north side were the only areas that needed fortification because natural scarps protected the fort or acropolis to south and west. The ruins of a later Hellenistic structure, also of defensive and surveying purpose, constructed in ashlar masonry, perches on the vertiginous slope below, at a point about half way along the line between the shore at Kamares Bay and the summit at Aghios Simeon, to the east of here.
   Troulaki (7km)—scarcely a village, just a few houses and a pleasant taverna—is the last settlement before the northern point of the island. The road turns north here and crosses an open rocky upland with ample views to the sea on both sides. Peregrine falcon, as well as other commoner raptors are often seen hunting here, and after dark the Skops owl reveals its presence by its mesmerising repeated bleep.
   The northern tip of the island is surveyed by no few er than six ancient towers, none now surviving to more than a few courses of masonry. Their density underscores the importance of protecting the couple of harbours at Cheronisos and Vrouli­dia which are the first safe land falls on the island for boats coming from the north. Cheronisos (13.5km) is a remarkably protected harbour even in the stormiest conditions, large enough and deep enough to accommodate several craft. Even though there is no spring, a small settlement still survives with a good fish taverna, a cluster of fishermen’s dwellings (a couple of which are older stone houses) and a church, in an at tractive setting around a creek of placid water. Exposed on the summit of the promontory to the north (15 mins by foot) is the small hermitage monastery of Aghios Giorgios, served by a cistern, probably of ancient construction, to its south. Slightly to the east, at the highest point, is the circular outline of the island’s northernmost ancient watchtower standing only to two courses of masonry, between rocks, sea and sky.

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

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