1. Setting

Serifos is located in the western Cyclades, between Kythnos and Sifnos. There is a ship connection with the three ports of Athens (Piraeus, Lavrio, Rafina) as well as with the rest of the Cycladic islands. Its ground is rocky and one of the most arid amongst Cycladic ones. It is semi-mountainous, with Troulos being its highest top (585 m). Its shores form leeward creeks, mostly on the south coast, and it has short sandy beaches (Koutalas, Livadi, Psili Ammos). Its subsoil is reach in iron ore, which was extracted and processed both in Antiquity and Later times (1880-1912).

2. History

According to myth, Serifos is connected to Perseus. The oracle of Delphi had warned king of Argos Acrisius that his grandson would kill him and take over Argos. Therefore, he cast his daughter Danae and her newborn son Perseus adrift at sea in a chest. It was on this island that the chest came ashore, and king of Serifos Polydectes’s brother Dictys found it. There are traces of habitation from the Protocycladic Period (3rd millennium B.C.) to the Mycenaean Period (1400-1200 B.C.), while Aeolians from Thessaly and Ions from Attica (7th century B.C.) are referred to as its first habitants during historical times. Serifos joined the Greek forces against the Persians, and later on, it joined the 1st Athenian League, accepting thus the city’s hegemony. In 377 B.C., it joined the 2nd Athenian League. Then, it was taken over by the Macedonians (363 B.C.) and by the Ptolemies from the kingdom of Egypt (306 B.C.), until the Macedonians recaptured it (266 B.C.). In 146 B.C., the Romans took Serifos over –as well as the rest of Greece– and destroyed it because of the Greek coalition with king of Pontus Mithridates IV against them. That was the beginning of a long period of decline, during which Serifos became a place for exiles.

Little is known about Byzantine Serifos, which Marco Sanudo (1207) integrated into the Duchy of the Aegean during the Frankish Rule and granted half of it to the Gisi family to administer (1207-1334). Then it became the apple of discord for many families (the Bragadoni, the Minoti, the Adoldi, the Micheli or Picheli and the Giustiniani) up to Hayreddin Barbarossa’s catastrophic incursion (1537). Then, Serifos became a tributary to the sultan, until it was finally integrated into the Ottoman state (1566), and it was granted to Jewish merchant Joseph Naci to administer. Russia took it over during the Orlof Revolution (1770-1774), but the Ottoman finally took it back after signing the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca. Many of its residents fought against the Ottoman during the 1821 Greek Revolution. Soon after 1830 and the incorporation of Serifos in the Greek State, some of its residents started migrating to Egypt and other regions of the Ottoman Empire and were influenced by Syros’s economic and cultural development. In 1941, Serifos was originally under Italian administration, since Greece was under the dominion of the Axis Powers. After Italy capitulated in 1943, Serifos came under German administration until it was liberated in 1944.

3. Archaeological sites and monuments

Its Chora is built like an amphitheater on the steep slopes of the rocky hill at the Livadi cove and comprises of two sections: Pano (“Upper”) and Kato (“Lower”) Chora. The surface of the land defined the way it was built. It is a paragon of mediaeval fortified city, with a particularly dense layout, narrow labyrinthine paved streets and two-storey or three-storey houses with a narrow façade. It has few public spaces (the Pano Chora Piazza), which were created after the settlement grew up outside the Castle core. At the Piazza, there is the neo-classical town hall of Serifos, in which one can also see the Archaeological Museum with findings (inscriptions, pottery and other findings related to Serifos’s history) from Classical and Roman times. The Folklore Museum at Kato Chora houses later artifacts of the residents’ day-to-day life, as well as works of folk art (land cultivation, stock farming, household stuff). In the area around Koutalas and Megalo Livadi, there are industrial traces of the settlements built for the recent (1880-1950) exploitation of the mines (loading ramps, workers’ lodgings). We must also mention the monastery of the Dormition of the Virgin (10th century), since refugees from the Peloponnese and the surrounding islands hid in its cells during the 1821 revolution. Nowadays, the monastery is famed for its 3-day feast during the celebration of the Dormition of the Virgin (August 15), when food is offered and men “fight” with each other using wooden sticks over conquering the most beautiful woman. The 17th century Taxiarches monastery (9 km away from Chora) should also be mentioned. That school owned many Venetian estates and defined the island’s economic life. Extant still are traces of frescoes by Emmanuel Scordilis, beautiful carved-in-wood decoration, ecclesiastical devotional vessels and manuscripts, as well as a codex (1754) describing the island’s settlements.

The most significant site is Chora, the modem capital, where the ancient city Serifos might have been located. Livadi is its seaport. The fortifications of the settlement are defensive, as shown by the extant parts of the Mediaeval Venetian Castle, in which ancient building materials are built-in. An ancient settlement has also been located at Megalo Chorio (that must have been the ancient city’s location), near which there is the circular Hellenistic tower called Aspropyrgos (“White Tower”). At the top of the Kyklopas (“Cyclops”) cape there is another circular tower called Psaropyrgos (“Fish Tower”), from which people oversaw the smooth functioning of the mines and the Megalo Livadi exports port. At its southern end, on the hill at the Koutalas cove, fortification remnants have been unearthed at Kastro tis Grias (“Old woman’s Castle”), as well as a cave with stalactites and stalagmites. Around the Agia Irini Koutala chapel, there are remnants of a paleochristianic basilica. One can use the main asphalted roadway to visit all these sites, save the tower hills, which are accessible through dirt roads.

4. Traditional countryside buildings

Apart from organized settlements, the island is also scattered with various traditional listed buildings connected with the residents’ main activities. These buildings are: 1) the katikies (“residences”) – low single-room buildings with a narrow façade; they were built with local stone and included household spaces, as well as small storerooms for products; farmers used to live there for as long as it took; they were actually independent residences; 2) the wine cellars and the wrings – used for grape processing and storing; located near vineyards, and 3) the kleftokelia (“thief’s cells”) – low refuges with many windows, built near rocks, gullies and inaccessible places for protection from pirate incursions. Cheese-dairies for cheese production and storage, dovecotes for breeding pigeons (Taxiarches monastery), as well as benches, complete the setting created by Serifians in their effort to ensure their survival away from the Chora settlement.

(Konstantinos Tsonos)

5. Mines

There are traces of iron ore extraction activities already since the Antiquity. They carried on through Roman times and the Venetian Rule. Prehistoric forge hearths of clay attesting mineral extracting and processing at early stages have been uncovered at Moutoula (on the northern slope of the Vigla hill), Avessalos and the Kefala peninsula. Circular towers of historical times (e.g. Aspropyrgos at the Koutala cove), as well as other buildings, were possibly connected with activities other than mining and metallurgy.

After a long pause of mining works, Venice took Serifos over re-opening its mines to cover its own needs as a great naval power of that time. Some 14th century excursionists talk of slaves being transferred to underground galleries and of four feuds divided according to metalliferous zones.

After the Ottomans dismantled the Duchy of the Aegean in the 16th century, extractions ceased up to the 1861, when the longest-lived mining settlement on an island was formed at Megalo Livadi and Koutalas.Iron ore extraction began from 1861, and systematically from 1869, by the Hellenic Mining Company, which remained there up to 1875.

After 1880, French company Serifos-Spigliaesa fully exploited the island’s deposits. Greek Andreas Sigros and Italian Giovanni Baptista Serpieri –both of them amongst the top mining businessmen of that time– helped in the company’s management. Viar-Sgoutas-Dufour, a company of Greek-French interests, was the third one to undertake activities on Serifos since 1887.

In 1886, German mineralogist Emil Groman assumed Serifos-Spiliaesa’s management and, virtually, that of all of the island’s mines. The Gromans controlled the island, carrying out at the same time extensive infrastructure works for extracting, carrying and loading ore on ships. The ore was exported in the U.S.A., England, Sweden and Belgium.

After Emil died in 1906, his son George managed the company. Serifos-Spigliaesa gradually took over the rest of the companies.

Workers from Myconos, Paros, Karpathos, Euboea, Amorgos etc. migrated to the island to work in its mines.In 1912, Serifos’s population stood at about 4,400 (2,000 of whom were mine-workers).

In August 1916, miners went on a mass strike. Eight people were killed at Megalo Livadi confronting the police.

From 1933 on, George’s son Emil managed the company. When the war ended, the Gromans were ousted from Serifos after being accused of cooperating with the Germans. In 1951, the company stopped its activities. The mines were shut down in 1965.

The loading ramps at Koutalas and Megalo Livadi, the Command Post at Megalo Livadi, the miners’ residences and the rest of the works with the equipment preserved (machinery, several objects) were declared listed by the Ministry of Culture.

(Maria Mavroeidi)