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An Unsung Haven in the Heart of Cyclades

John Donne once wrote 'No man is an island'. Although the English poet's profound writings are always a source for deep contemplation, in a lot of ways, islands are like men. Like all living organisms they are composed of different parts, they evolve and form their own identity. Some follow the path of modernity while others stubbornly refuse to change. Then there are a select few, so comfortable with what they are, that carve their own path utterly unencumbered by the need to please everyone. This is a story about such an island.

In the heart of the Cycladic complex and just a breath away from the cosmopolitan Mykonos, stands Syros, a place where time flows a little differently and the locals are the epitome of philoxenia. Strolling down the streets of Ermoupoli (city of Hermes) this becomes instantly apparent as the unique architectural blend of classicism and Genoese styles lends the town an aroma of the mid-19th century. Two-storey stone houses with wooden floors and cornices opening up to large terraces or balconies dressed with marble facades can be found all over and have given credence to the term Syriot Neoclassical Architecture. The city prides itself with being the capital of Cyclades and playing an instrumental role in the economic growth of modern Greece being both an industrial center and an important trade station during a critical point in the country's history. The first shipyard of modern Greece was founded on the island in the 19th century and seafaring has been an integral part of its identity ever since. Even today, the Vaporia district (Steamboat district) is one of the main attractions on Syros, as the district is decorated by beautiful old mansions belonging to retired ship captains.

 

The capital might have only been founded in the past 200 years, but the history of Syros as a settlement goes back 5 millennia, to the Early Bronze Age of the Cycladic civilization. A surviving testament to the ingenuity of Syriots is the site of the fortified town of Kastri, a hill-top settlement dating back to 2800 BC and featuring one of the earliest appearances of a potter's wheel. Today, the remains of Kastri are impressive and well worth a trip to the north part of the island, as just a bit further you will also find the cemetery of Chalandriani, which is believed to have been created by the Kastrian settlers as the final resting place of their compatriots. On the West part of the island, the few remains of Ancient Gallisos, another prehistoric settlement still stands. However, the most captivating site on Syros is perhaps the bay of Grammata (Letters), where sailors used to moor their ships during antiquity to wait out the storms. Ancient prayers and letters were smoothly carved on the cliffs of the bay, creating a thought-provoking and somber sight.

 

Unlike most regions in Greece, almost half the population of Syros is Catholic, which means that both Greek Orthodox churches and Catholic cathedrals coexist on the island. The most prominent are the Church of the Dormition which features an icon by the famous El Greco (Dominikos Theotokopoulos) and the Cathedral of Saint George in the old town (Ano Syros). In this medieval part one can also find the beautiful Catholic Monastery of Capuchins. The coexistence of different faiths is a testament to the tolerance and easy-going nature of inhabitants which extends to those fortunate enough to visit Syros. Whether you are walking down the narrow paths of the old town, admiring the view of the Town Hall which was impeccably designed by Ernst Ziller or simply relaxing in a fish tavern near the harbor, you can expect a local to casually strike up a conversation or offer information about which of the many beaches on the island you should pay a visit to.

Due to its position in the Aegean, Syros is surrounded by clear blue waters and mostly sandy beaches. Some are organized, like Posidonia, Galissas and Megas Gialos, but if you wish to take the road-less-traveled, you are sure to find secluded places if you take the hiking trails along the south coast, away from the island's main settlements. Can you think of a better way to cool off during a hot Greek summer day?

Reading about it is one thing, but if you want to experience all that Syros has to offer in person, take a look at our offers below.

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