Prophitis Elias, Aghios Andreas & Vathy
(Main junction in Apollonia = 0.0km for distances in text)
By contrast with the north, the south of the island is quite densely inhabited to the eastern side, while on the west-ern side rise the rocky massifs of Mounts Prophiis Elias and Platia Rachi. These form geographically, ecologically, and historically two quite distinct zones.
Southwest Siphnos: prophitis Elias, Aghios Andreas & Vathy
From Apollonia it is possible to climb to the monastery of Prophiis Elias on the island’s highest summit (682m) in a little over 90 minutes. (A well-made path, at times paved and walled, leaves from the south loop of the ‘ring road’ of Apollonia, 200m north of the junction for Vathi. The path approaches the monastery from the south side of the mountain ridge, climbing steeply at times. There is little shade.) The mid-17th century structure, built like a for tress, surrounds a large, domed catholicon, whose walls rise literally from the highest rock outcrop on the island. The interior has a pleasing templon in carved stone, articulated with thin pilasters. To the west along the ridge and down the northwest slope of the mountain were a number of the island’s ancient mines of silver and lead; the seaward slopes of the massif are scattered with the remnants of over a dozen ancient watchtowers. Deep in the valley to the southeast of the mountain, reached by a path to the south at the foot of the descent, is the picturesque abandoned monastery of the Taxiarches ‘at Skafi’.
The road for Vathi which branches off southwards from the south loop of the Apollonia ringroad, passes immediately below the hill of Aghios Andreas; the 19th century church of Aghios Andreas is visible on its summit. (800m from the junction, a footpath is signed from the road; the site is a 20-min climb up the east side of the hill.) On the summit, to the west of the church, extend the remains of a * Mycenaean acropolis, in a dominating position over looking the whole cultivable plateau of the island. This is an important site that has only recently been systematically excavated: much of the interest lies in the variety of different fortifications visible.
The site is best viewed at first from below the south side of the impressive ring of outer, 12th century bc walls. Visible are the regular indentations in the enceinte, typical of walls such as these which are constructed so as to form a lowerbase in stone—here about 3–4 m high—to be surmounted by higher fortifications in mud-brick above: the indentation may have accommodated the vertical posts which buttressed the sections of mud-brick wall above, strengthening each segment as if with a frame. Visible also is the conspicuous platform of natural limestone protruding in front of the walls: this is where the material for the walls has been quarried, so that all cutting and constructing happened on site with no need to transport material. The main entrance through the walls was in the southeast corner, but it is more instructive at first to enter by the subsidiary entrance in the southwest. Once inside, you see that the walls in fact consist of a double ring—the one seen from outside, and another, older ring with bastions immediately inside it. This is most clearly seen just to the right of the south entrance, where the shape of a protruding bastion of the inner walls is also visible. Other bastions can be seen to the left. The inner walls date from the 13th century bc and are constructed with the characteristic ‘Cyclopean’ boulders of that period; the outer walls are of a century later and are constructed in smaller blocks of hewn stone. These two distinct kinds of masonry are different again from the clear rectangular stone-work dating from the Classical Age which can be seen directly ahead— evidence that the site continued to be inhabited into historic times. The space between the two Mycenaean walls has filledwith collapsed masonry, but originally it would have constituted a defensive ditch and an effective trap for any attacker. There were eight square bastions in total to strengthen the inner enceinte; the one in the northwest corner, at what was the most vulnerable point, was substantially enlarged in the second campaign of building and protrudes as a large trapezoid bastion from the outer walls. What historical events or dreadful threat caused this flurry of defensive building in the 13th and 12th centuries bc can only be imagined.
the acropolis Progressing further inside from the south entrance, you en ter what was a street with houses to either side, some with constructed hearths (to right), others with large threshold blocks which have been beautifully fashioned; these date mostly from the Archaic and Classical periods. The remains of original Mycenaean houses have been uncovered in the middle of the west side, just inside the walls; whereas to the north, again just inside the walls, are the remains of Geometric period buildings of the 8th century bc. At the high est, northeast corner are the foundations of buildings of a larger and different type, which may indicate a place of cult. Just to its south, below the modern custodian’s hut, is a large water-cistern, part cut from the rock, part constructed.
This variety of periods suggests that the acropolis, though abandoned in the 12th century bc, was re-inhabited in Geometric times, from the 8th century bc onwards, and continued to be inhabited through to Hellenistic times. This may have been the city of Minoa, cited by Stephanus of Byzantium as one of the three cities of Siphnos.
In the valley, c. 400m southeast of the acropolis, 100m south of the church of Aghia Marina and to the east of the asphalt road (accessible more easily by path from the Platis Gialos road, opposite the church of Aghios Thomas) is the base of the Hellenistic tower of Kade (4km), which is a particularly fine example for the meticulousness of its construction with large beveled interlocking trapezoidal blocks. The tower dates from the 4th century bc, and stands to about 2.5m in height. It cannot have served as a long-distance watch-tower, but as protection and refuge for the fertile area of fields in the valley below.
Passing springs at the church of the Taxiarchis Merisinis (6.2km), the road continues southwest across the interior of the island, until it descends in a couple of panoramic sweeps to the bay of Vathi—a naturally protected elliptical cove with a long and gently sloping sandy beach, framed by hills and headlands. The small fish village, grouped around the attractive twin-domed church of the Taxiarchis, built on the edge of the shore, was until recently only accessible by boat. It has inevitably been transformed by the building of the asphalt road, a luxury hotel and a rising number of holiday homes, but it remains nonetheless a tranquil place of scenic beauty.
Siphnos or Siphnos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.