“These people were the wealthiest of the islanders – richer than a great many of the mainlanders.” Siphnos was rich in Antiquity first because of its gold and silver mines; it was relatively prosperous from sea commerce in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern period, when the attractive Kastro was developed over the site of the ancient city; and today its beauty has found favour with a richer and more sophisticated kind of tourism and settler. One peculiarities of Siphnos is its numerous ancient, circular watch-towers, which were constructed all over the island to protect its agricultural and valuable metal production.
There is some evidence tha the gold and silver deposits of Siphnos were worked in prehistory, especially in the area of Aghios Sostis (northwest coast), where there was a Mycenaean presence on the ridge above at Aghios Nikitas. The main Mycenaean centre was on the acropolis of Aghios Andreas, which had been inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC: on the same site there are remains of Geometric and Classical constructions which were later built within the Mycenaean enceinte. It was in the Archaic period that the mining of precious metals brought the island preeminent wealth, as the quality of its silver coins and, above all, the rich treasury built by the Siphnians at Delphi in 526 BC with a tithe on the profits of the mining, amply attest. The lodes were not long in being exhausted, however, and the island's fall from wealth was famous in antiquity. Pausanias (Descrip. X, 11) implies that the islanders' deceit in reneging on the tithe promised to Apollo at Delphi angered the god into flooding their mines; but scientific evidence shows that the mines were worked out some time before they were flooded, and that their exhaustion may have been the cause of the drying up of the tithe to Apollo. The period of affluence was long enough to permit the islanders to create fine, marble fortifications for their acropolis, which are still visible at Kastro: Herodotus mentions an agora and prytaneion in marble. Siphnos participated in the battles of Salamis and Plataea against the Persians in 480 and 479 BC, and the island was assessed to pay a substantial tribute within the Delian League. In 153 BC, the island was attacked and devastated by forces from Crete.
After the capture of Constantinople, the island was taken by Doge Dandolo's nephew, Marco Sanudo, in 1207 and included in his 17 islands of the Duchy of the Archipelago. It was recovered briefly by the renegade admiral Licario for Byzantium in 1279, but was then annexed in 1307 by Gianuli da Corogna, a Knight Hospitaller of St. John from Corunna in Spain, as his name implies. Da Corogna left the Order of the Hopsitallers and governed the island as his personal domain, building a residence in the acropolis of the ancient city. In the 15th century the title passed to the Bolognese Gozzadini family who held the island, together with Kythnos, until 1617 when it finally fell to the Turks. In 1646 Siphnos gained important privileges from the Ottoman Sultan, Ibrahim, and it is thanks to this that so many churches on the island were rebuilt and restored in the 17th century. Siphnos was liberated from Turkish rule in April 1821 and joined the Greek State.
Ancient Siphnos was at the site of Kastro below; and of the other two cities, mentioned by Stephanus of Byzantium – Minoa and Apollonia – neither is of certain location, although the latter must lie somewhere beneath today's Apollonía. The town in antiquity must have taken its name from the cults of Apollo Enagros and Apollo Pythios which are recorded on the island by Hesychius. Kastro occupies the summit of a promontory above a narrow harbour, looking across to Antiparos and Paros. It is hard to imagine that the tiny harbour of Serália to the south, was one of the places of shipment for the wealth in gold and silver which Siphnos possessed in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Seralia now has the form given it in Mediaeval times. The small church on the waterfront displays ancient column and capital fragments in its porch and a doorstep made from an ancient stele.
The approach road to Kastro cuts through the enceinte of 4th century BC, Hellenistic walls (best seen in between the Seralia and Kastro roads), whose long slabs of a dark-green schist are now very eroded. This was a later, outer enceinte; the inner enceinte of Archaic walls are visible higher up on the seaward side, and are constructed in a quite different manner.
The habitation of *Kastro is concentrated in the elliptical form given it by the perimeter of the mediaeval fortified area. Partly using the existing remains of the ancient fortifications (east), and partly creating its own, new defensive wall (west), the Kastro represents a unique and intriguing example of mediaeval town-planning, combining moderate military defensibility and habitation in the same design. The exterior aspect of the settlement has since been altered by the addition of external balconies and windows which were originally absent. The mediaeval houses inside the Kastro had windows and entrances only on to the inside of the area, and the walls would have presented a solid façade externally, with only five narrow, well-defended points of entrance. The maximisation of space in the interior is by unusual, split-level public spaces and passageways beneath bridges connecting higher areas. Kastro was created in its present form in the 14th century by the dynasty founded by a member of the Hospitaller Order, ‘Gianuli da Corogna', or John of Corunna, who imposed his rule here from 1307.
Making a roughly anti-clockwise tour of the hill, the main monuments are as follows: the Koimisis tis Theotokou church with a belfry and carved door-frame, dating from 1593. Outside and to the right of its (south) entrance, the tomb-slab of a ship's captain, Ioannis Speranzas, who died in 1806, sits on top of the sarcophagus and functions as a table on feast days. The interior is roofed in cypress and pine, and the floor paved with local stone interspersed with pebble inlay. A large pagan altar with carved bucrania and garlands, stands in the sanctuary. Set down below the street, and surmounted by a typical four-square belfry, supported on an arcaded ledge and with ‘serifed' finials, is the façade of the church of Aghii Demetrios and Ekaterini, rebuilt in its present form in 1653; the interior has two aisles for the separate dedications. Just above its north side, beside the street, is a truncated, Hellenistic or Roman sarcophagus, whose swags of fruit, including pomegranates (symbols of renewed life) and carved ribbons are still legible in spite of erosion. The church of the Taxiarches displays further ancient spolia, although heavily plastered over. The interior, entered by two doorways on the south side, has a good example of the characteristic wooden-beam roof. Beyond the church of the Taxiarches a narrow entrance leads up into the inner enceinte of the Kastro. There are a great many ancient spolia to be seen, incorporated into the mediaeval structures: beyond the late 16th century church of Aghios Nikólaos, on entering the long, main thoroughfare of Kastro, a modern balcony on the right is supported by an assemblage of disparate ancient elements composed of a fluted column fragment, a well-defined ionic capital and a sundry base element. To the sides of the winding street ahead, both before and after the museum building, are two further carved marble sarcophagi, both of later Roman date: one, substantially cut away, with figures at the corners; the other decorated only with abstract designs. These appear to have been moved from the valley below Kastro where they were to be seen when James Theodore Bent visited in the late 19th century. Further fragments are strewn along the street as far as the church of the Panaghia Theoskepastí (1631).
Further to the northwest, before the churches of Christos tou Kastrou and the Aghia Triada, large sections of the inner enceinte or *acropolis walls of the ancient city come into view. These may have been begun as early as 510-500 BC. The material from which they are made is of particular interest: viewing them from the seaward side, layers of white marble, on pink marble, on grey schist are visible. They have been altered substantially when they were consolidated and the Venetian fortress walls were built on top; but the lowest courses remain largely untouched. The colour and fineness of the marble is remarkable for fortification work. The summit of the hill is marked by the church of the Panaghia Eleousa which was restored in 1635 and embellished at that time with a marble door frame and lunette and a number of important and beautiful icons in its interior. It stands on the site of the temple of an ancient, female divinity – probably Artemis. Its fabric includes ancient spolia: the foot of the wrought-iron railings just in front of the door and to the left, has been fixed in a piece of decorative, Classical frieze. To the west a large pithos is propped against the wall to one side of the street, and an immured, chamfered mediaeval column and capital bear an inscription in Gothic lettering which is barely legible; it would appear that this were the ‘octagonal column' mentioned by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, the French official sent in 1700 to collect intelligence on the state of the Ottoman Empire, which he said bore the date 1365, and the name, ‘Jandoly de Coronia' (John, or ‘Gianuli', of Corunna).
The esplanade of the ancient acropolis beyond has been excavated beneath the ruins of the da Corogna stronghold. At the lowest level explored so far, it has revealed a settlement of the Late Geometric period (8th century BC) with one-room dwellings built of schists, some with storage pithoi and raised benches. These simple structures would have had a wooden roof supported on a central post. Higher up the slope near the church of the Eleousa, stood the 7th century BC temple already mentioned, dedicated possibly to Artemis. This was later replaced by another temple in marble at the end of the 6th century BC, at the time that the building of the acropolis walls was undertaken. The pathway which runs round the exterior of Kastro on the north side offers good views of the ancient walls, and of the open channel between Siphnos and Antiparos. Below, picturesquely perched on a rock by the shore, is the chapel of the Epta Martyres (seven virgin saints, martyred in Amisus in the 4th century under the Emperor Maximian). To north, along the coast, can be seen the attractive 19th century church of the Panaghia Poulati, which can be reached by a 30 minute walk along the coast from below Kastro.Chronique des Fouilles linkWikidata ID: Q95452882Trismegistos Geo: 2143
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)