The Museums

On returning to Plateia Brooke, the Archaeological Museum is below the square, down the steps to the east. (Open 8.30–3; closed Mon.) This is a small well-displayed collection whose principal importance lies in the rare artefacts it houses from the Geometric period (11th–8th centuries bc), which give life and substance to the few, unadorned archaeological sites that exist from this period.

There are a number of very early objects, going back to the 3rd and 2nd millennia bc, from both Palamari and the Kastro area. A couple of these pieces show, through a common pattern of design, trading connections with Troy during this early period: the double-chalice (no. 893), which is a type of object known much later to Homer; and the grey, pointed vase (no. 754) in Case 1. There is a fine, late Bronze Age vase decorated with a shallow, high-prowed ship (no. 77) in Case 2, which gives a fascinating glimpse of the craft that may have populated the seas in Mycenaean times. From the Geometric period are jewellery, stone artefacts, a number of very fine vases and a variety of other household items (braziers, etc.) in pottery. Especially worthy of note is the circular * ritual object (also of the Geometric period), found in a grave in the Magazia area, which comprises eight ducks in a circle, with two snakeswinding over them and devouring a dove. In combining symbols of the air (birds) and of the darkest earth (serpents) into an integrated arrangement of striking design, the piece shows the imaginative richness of this early world. Many designs from this period imitate woven, basket-work (no. 172, case 7). On other objects the perfect geometric forms are accomplished with the aid of a compass-pair, or by pin-and string drawing: some of the pots (e.g. no. 214, case 4) still bear the pin-hole made at the centre of the concentric de signs. The beautiful jewellery contained in the last cases is mostly of the late Geometric and early Archaic periods— the 8th and 7th centuries bc: there is a very fine round gold ornament (no. 1025, case 9), which has four swastika de signs (sun symbols) embossed in it—three face clockwise, one anti-clockwise; and a rare 8th century * diadem in electrum, beautifully embossed with designs of warriors and shields, found in an aristocratic grave at Chorapha, to the north of the Kastro hill. The small sculpture display from Classical times includes a sensitively carved fragment of a 5th century bc grave stele: unusually, it has been re carved in Roman times with a funeral banquet scene on its reverse side.
   The corner room of the museum is dedicated to a reconstruction of the interior of a Skyriot town house (see pp. 105–107). Here the small seating-furniture is intricately carved, and the boulmes screen has motifs with cockerels and the double-headed eagle of Byzantium. Some exquisite embroideries and textiles are also exhibited. Below Plateia Brooke, 30m beyond and to the north, the street ends in a terrace above the impressive semicircular remains of the ‘Palaiopyrgos’, or northern bastion of the late Classical enceinte of the acropolis. Between the two, to the east, is the Manos Faltaits Museum (open daily March–Nov 9–2, 6–8) whose rich variety of displays should not be missed.

This is a private collection dedicated both to Skyrian traditions and artefacts, and to the life, family and paintings of Manos Faltai―ts. The family was one of the island’s wealthiest, and the unusual name is a ‘Russian-isation’, adopted by the painter’s great-grandfather who worked and traded at the time in Odessa, of the family’s Greek name. The lower store-rooms of this spacious house are an exhibition area for many of the artist’s paintings. Manos Faltai―ts had a number of whimsical stylistic qualities in common with Marc Cha gall, but there are strong Byzantine overtones in his work; he mainly uses a Fauvist colour-range. The upper part of the house exhibits furniture, textiles (some exquisite nuptial embroideries, composed of designs with ancient symbolism), costumes, implements and wood-work, which are well presented and explained: they illustrate how the particularity of Skyrian workmanship arises from a very particular synthesis of Ottoman, Venetian and Byzantine influences. There are examples of decorated Skyrian pottery—amongst them the jugs which were left unglazed to allow water inside to remain cooler, and which were placed in baskets of thyme so as to impart a fresh odour to the water. The most memo rable exhibit is perhaps the extraordinary goat-costume, used in the pre-Lenten festivities and dances on Skyros: this example weighs nearly 60kg.


How ancient the Goat Dance may be and how much it has changed in form with time is difficult to establish, but it is a striking example of how ancient pagan practices have survived intact in isolated corners of the Greek world such as Skyros. In Antiquity the is land was famed for its goats which are mentioned by Pindar (early 5th century bc), by Strabo (1st century bc) and by the philosopher-gourmand, Athenaeus of Naucratis (2nd century ad). The Goat Dance celebrates the importance that both goat and goatherd have always had on the island: a goatherd with large flocks possessed considerable wealth and a very particular status in society. During the carnival period the young men of the island dress in an all-covering costume of goat-skin hung with bells, and with a goat-head mask, and participate in a noisy dance along with other allegorical figures, such as young men who are dressed—as Achilles had been, in the court of Lycomedes—in women’s clothing. The goat figure is called the ‘geros’, from the Greek word for strong and sturdy—an attribute the young men need to posses, given that the costume can weigh as much as 60kg. On the last day of the festivities they remove the costume and dance once again, freed of its terrible weight: the symbolic significance of this gesture is appropriate to the last day of carnival, when the encumbrance of earthly needs should be set aside for the period of Lenten penitence.

Skyros Island is part of the Sporades Island Group, Greece.

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