Sifnos - A treasure of cultural and historical heritage

Sifnos - A treasure of cultural and historical heritage

Sifnos belongs to the western Cyclades. It has an area of 74 sq. kms and is 75 n. miles away for Piraeus. Its 2,000 permanent residents are farmers, stock-breeders and fishermen, but their main occupations are pottery, the merchant navy and tourism. Sifnos is known today as a holiday destination because of its natural beauty, the intellectuality, hospitality and politeness of its inhabitants, the 55 ancient towers, whitewashed traditional setdements, numerous picturesque churches and their respective local festivals, historical monasteries, dovecotes and the bustling or secret beaches. At the same time, the contribution of Sifnians to science, art and literature has been significant. It has been said that “if in antiquity the riches of Sifnos were measured in gold and silver, in the last two centuries they have been measured in intellectuality”. Let us not forget that it is the home of the Greek poets A. Proveleggios, A. Prokos, S. Sperantsa and many others. Finally, Sifnos is faithful to its traditions and maintains customs such as “panigyras”, “o horos tou kyr Voria” (the dance of old man North), “lolopanigyros”, etc.

A short tour of the island will bring us to its picturesque villages. Kamares is the largest coastal village and has been the island’s port since the end of the 19th century. The monasteries of Prophitis (Prophet) Elias of Troullaki and Agios Symeon are located to the left of the port, on the peaks of the mounbtains bearing the same names. The developing neighbourhood of Agia Marina or Pera Panta is at the foot of the mountain, with the central settlement opposite it. Apollonia or Stavri has been the capital of Sifnos since 1836, seat of the Commune of Sifnos from 1914 and the seat of the Municipality of Sifnos since October 1998. It is in the center of the island, built amphitheatrically on three hills. There are many sights to see as we walk through its cobbled streets. Katavati is further south and built higher up than Apollonia, and the chain of Sifnos’ main habitations ends with Exampela, southeast of Apollonia. It is the home of Nikolaos Tselementes, the well-known cookery and pastry chef and author.

Besides, Sifnos is famous even today for its delicious cuisine, with “rovythades”, “mastello”, macaroons and “melopites”. The male monastery of Panagia Vryssiani is located just outside Exampela. The footpath and road to Vathy, a beautiful and quiet settlement of potters on the island’s western coast, starts in Katavati. Platys Gialos is the island’s busiest beach, and is considered one of the largest in the Cyclades. Here, even today, visitors can find the products of Sifnian pottery and observe how they are made. The monastery of “Panagia tou Vounou” (Virgin Mary of the Mountain), built in 1813, dominates the landscape from the top of the hill above the beach. The uninhabited is¬land of Kypriani or Kitriani, with the church of Panagia Kypriani is located at the mouth of the bay. Faros is in the SE part of Sifnos. It is considered the island’s safest bay and was the official port in 1833. It is a quiet fishing village, with picturesque consecutive sandy beaches: Fassolou, Faros and Glyfo. The rocky islet of Chryssopigi is at the entrance to the port, and the monastery of Panagia Chryssopigi, patroness of the island, is built on it. Every year there is a great feast here on the day of the Ascension. Kastro has been inhabited since ancient times, and is built over an ancient acropolis, the “asty” (city) mentioned by Herodotus. It is a veritable open-air museum. It used to be the capital of Sifnos in antiquity but also in Medieval and contemporary times up to 1836, and seat of the Archdiocese of Sifnos (1646 - 1859). Visitors can enter the Kastro (Fortress) through the old entrances-galleries, the “loggias”, which used to be secured and protected by turrets. Gialos or Seralia is located at the foot of the hill. Artemonas was the seat of the Commune of Artemonas from 1914 to 1998. It is located 1.5 kms north of Apollonia. It is the true gem of Sifnos, with neoclassical mansions, gardens and courtyards full of flowers. At the top of the hill, two of the old windmills have been preserved. From here there is a panoramic view of Sifnos. In Artemonas we find traditional bakeries, and pastry and pottery workshops. There are two villages named Petali; Kato (Lower) Petali and Epano (Upper) Petali, indicating their difference in altitude. Finally, Herronissos, which belongs to the district of Artemonas, is a small traditional fishing village with a small beach, famous for its pottery, located on the northern side of the island. The recent opening of a road to the village has given the area a new lease of life.

The art of pottery in Sifnos

From the 17th century, our story begins. It is the time when although the economy is agricultural, the island becomes a trade center and its people come in contact with trade. Pottery appears soon after, as a helping supplement to the agricultural income which is not enough due to a number of factors. An increase of sales is then observed in the Eastern ports and, since the 18th century, a flourishing of the potter’s occupation, with the pottery workshops being transferred from the mountainous regions where they were built in the fear of pirates to the coast, where the quality of argil was excellent. It was this kind of argil which makes the Sifnian pottery very resistant to high temperatures. Access to water was much easier due to the springs that emptied into the sea, while the product trading was much easier, time saving and safer as the pottery was loaded from the workshops directly to the kaiques. The oldest coast based workshop opened in Platys Gialos. In 1883, this workshop produced bricks for the Mine Company based in Kamares. Although during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, there is an increase in the pottery production, it is not followed be a rising of the living standards. The oversupply of work and the overproduction create problems to the distribution and trading of products resulting to a crisis. Hence, a seasonal movement begins with small groups or “takimia” traveling during the summer to the surrounding islands of Paros, Naxos and Syros, and returning in the winter to be occupied in agriculture. Soon after the immigration and permanent inauguration away from Sifnos, in Attica, Aegina, Chalkida, Karystos, Pyrgos Ilias and even in Chile, Belgian Congo, Adis Abeba and New York. The biggest community of Sifnian potters was created in Maroussi.

The archaeological site of Agios Andreas

It’s one of the most important archaeological sites of Sifnos and here there was the prehistoric acropolis of the island. In the middle of the acropolis’ east side built in 1701 the church of Agios Andreas (St. Andrew). The area of the acropolis includes exterior cyclopean wall, interior jagged wall and towers. The acropolis is on the top of a hill, known in Sifnos as “Kastro tou Ai - Ntria” (St. Andrew’s castle). The archaeologist Christos Tsountas localized the place in 1899 and the excavations of the period 1970 - 1980, by the archaeologist Varvara Filippaki, revealed the largest part of the acropolis. The Mycenaean wall (12th c. B.C.), which also revealed, is strengthened with eight rectangular towers. During the Geometrical Peri¬od (8th c. B.C.) the wall acquired an¬other one single wall, a big tower and two small gates. Inside the wall brought into light the ruins of five, at least buildings, possibly residences. At least one of them belongs to the Mycenaean Period, while the others seem to use during the 8th c. B.C. Inside the acropolis of Agios Andreas there is also a small but very important archaeological museum

Delicacies from Sifnos

What can one say about the delicacies of Sifnos, the island where Nikolaos Tselementes and many other famous chefs were born. Anything you taste in the restaurants and tavernas of Sifnos will be unique, made with knowledge and a profound love for cookery. What Sifnos is most famous for, however, is its inimitable “revithada”, with chickpeas (revithia), plenty of oil and onions, which are baked overnight in a “skepastaria”, a special clay covered dish, sealed with pastry to keep the flavour in. Don’t forget to try “revithokeftedes” (chickpea patties), “kaparosalata” (caper salad), “magirefti kapari” (cooked capers), and especially “mastello”, the tradi¬tional Easter delicacy of Sifnos, which is now served throughout the year for visitors. It is lamb baked in the oven, in a clay “mastello” pot, with wine, dill and spices. The secret of “mastello” is that the pieces of meat are placed on vine branches, arranged in the bottom of the dish, to form a type of grid. The juices from the meat collect in the bottom, and render an exceptionally tasty pilaf. If you happen to be in Sifnos at Easter, you can also taste the unique “poulia tis Lampris” (Easter birds) made by all the local housewives. These are Easter buns formed into beautiful shapes: people, fishes, flowers, baskets, each one decorated with a red Easter egg. Before you leave the island, don’t forget to buy white “amigdalota” macaroons (made with blanched almonds) or dark macaroons (using almonds with their skins), as well as Sifnian cookies and “bourekia” (miniature stuffed pies).


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