The most mountainous of the Western Cyclades, rich in metal ores, and both the landscape and the history of the island have been marked by the extraction of iron. The island's name may even come from the Phoenician word for a foundry, ‘sareph'.
Seriphos is associated with the legend of Perseus and his mother Danae. Zeus, in the form of a shower of golden rain, had procreated a child by Danae in her prison cell where she had been enclosed by her father, King Acrisus of Argos, who feared the fulfillment of an oracle which predicted he would be killed by his grandson. When the child was born he locked Danae and the infant Perseus in a chest and threw them into the sea. The chest washed up on Seriphos and was found by the kindly Dictys—brother of the island's king Polydectes—who undertook to raise the child. Polydectes later fell in love with Danae, and seeking to keep the now adult Perseus out of the picture, sent him off to obtain the dreadful Gorgon's head, a mission from which he was sure he would never return alive. Amply aided by Athena, Perseus succeeded and returned to Seriphos to find his mother and Dictys seeking refuge in a temple from the menacing attentions of Polydectes. Perseus went into the presence of the king and his sceptical courtiers so as to present the Gorgon's Head; taking it out from its protective pouch, it had the customary effect of turning them all to stone. Dictys was placed on the throne of Seriphos, and Danae and Perseus departed for their homeland in Argos. It was after these endeavours that Perseus was prevented from resting by the noise of the frogs of the island, and asked his father, Zeus, to silence them. In Antiquity the ‘silent frogs of Seriphos' were a curiosity that became proverbial. The island's 6th century BC silver coinage bears the design of a frog on the obverse. According to Pausanias (Descrip. II, 18.1) there was an important and long-lasting cult of Perseus on Seriphos.
The inhospitable offshore islet of Seriphopoula has remarkably revealed traces of a human presence in the Late Neolithic period. In the west of Seriphos itself are settlements from the Early Cycladic period. The first settlers in historic times were Aeolians from Thessaly: Herodotus says the island was later colonised by Ionians from Athens. In the 6th century BC the city of Seriphos, on the same site as today's Chora, became prosperous through its metal mining activity, and issued its own coinage. The only substantial archaeological remains visible today are from the late 5th century BC and the Hellenistic period, when a network of towers and forts was erected in the south and west of the island to protect the lucrative metal trade. The island became a Roman possession in 146 BC. The mines continued to be exploited by them, and the island was used as a place of exile: Tacitus (Annals, IV. 21) relates how the outspoken orator, Cassius Severus, was exiled to Seriphos on a charge of lèse-majesté, or ‘maiestas minuta populi Romani', under Augustus, and died there around 35 AD.
After the capture of Constantinople in 1204, the ownership of the island passed into the hands of the Venetian Ghisi and Giustiniani families, although it returned to Byzantine rule between 1276 and 1296 after being re-taken by the Veronese admiral Licario for Byzantium. A treaty in 1303 between Byzantium and Venice returned the island to Venetian possession, after which several names appear as prominent in the late 14th century—Ermolao Minotto, who reopened the mines to commercial activity, and Niccolò Adoldo, a ruthless adventurer supported by Cretan mercenaries, who effectively pillaged the island in 1393. Cristoforo Buondelmonti visited Seriphos in c. 1421 and found the islanders living in fear of pirate attack. In 1537 Khaireddin Barbarossa captured the island for the Ottoman Empire.
In 1829 Seriphos joined the Greek State. The industrial exploitation of the iron mines re-opened with an official licence in 1867. Deteriorating safety and unreasonable demands on the employees led to a strike in 1916—one of the first and bloodiest in the history of Greece's labour movement. The mines closed in 1963.
Chora is a pleasant 50 minute climb by foot from Livádi, best not undertaken in the middle of the day. From the first sharp bend in the main road a stepped, stone path leads directly up, continually re-encountering the road which crosses its path several times. Uninterrupted occupation on the same site has meant that virtually nothing of it remains to be seen, although several travellers in the 18th and 19th centuries report seeing broken columns and statuary in the vicinity of the castle at the summit. There are vestiges of Roman walls and mosaic on the southeast slope of the hill, and ancient fragments and stelai can be found immured in buildings in the upper area of the village, as well as in the mediaeval walls near the summit. The Kastro occupies what was the acropolis of the ancient town; all that remain are stretches of the walls along both the north and south sides, built by the Venetian, Pietro Giustiniani, in the 13th century. The churches which crown the summit were all built or restored in recent times—Christós sto Kastro (1895), Aghia Barbara (1890) and at the summit, Aghios Ioannis Theologos (1928), believed to stand near the panoramic site of the former temple to Athena.Chronique des Fouilles linkWikidata ID: Q217214
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)