The administrative capital of the Cyclades looks nothing like a Cycladic island. Yet, it is precisely that quality that makes this middle-class community afloat on the archipelago so alluring.
Its neoclassical buildings, genuine architectural gems, were built in the better part of the mid-19th century by seamen, merchants, and shipping magnates hailing from Chios, Psarra, and Smyrna. They lend the island a special aura, reminding us of its heyday when commerce and industry were thriving. Still, despite the fact that those two sectors are now in decline, Syros has a population of approximately 25,000 and bustles with life year round, summer and winter.
ROAMING THE ALLEYS OF HERMOUPOLIS
Hermoupolis is by no means a small city and exploring it on foot may prove tiring. Yet, its stunning vistas and images are such that any walking fatigue that you may be feeling vanishes. Our stroll begins in the area of Nissaki (where there’s plenty of free parking space). From the Port Authority building (the Cycladic Art Gallery is right behind it), we may choose to go down the commercial street lined with shops and continue straight to the Casino and Panagia Psarianon, the Greek Orthodox church of the Assumption where El Greco’s original masterpiece of the Assumption is on display. Alternatively, we may follow the promenade with its cafés and hole-in-the-wall bars, and head towards Miaouli Square and the iconic City Hall building (photos), designed by Ziller. The street along the square’s right side will take us to the Apollon Theater via Tsiropina Square. If we keep walking, we’ll reach the magnificent church of Aghios Nikolaos with its marble Ionic columns and find ourselves in the area of Vaporia.
Known as “the ship owners’ district”, Vaporia with its imposing mansions and old stately homes of the wealthy, is the island’s most expensive and perhaps most enticing area. If your steps lead you down to Asteria Beach, you will enjoy from down there an unobstructed view of Vaporia and discover that this fabulous neighborhood appears as if built literally on water.
Our next destination is the hill of Ano Syros. I recommend you either drive or, even better, take the bus as the road is hard to handle and –obviously- on a steep incline. The medieval settlement’s narrow alleys will remind you that you are indeed on an island: Ano Syros looks exactly like any other “Chora” [main town] of any other Cycladic island. Do make the extra effort to reach the top of the hill to visit the Church of San Tzortzis (it’s the left one of the two hills you see as your ferry approaches the island). The bird’s eye view from up there will reward you for the hard time you have had hiking. What’s more, this Catholic church’s beauty is such that you’ll feel it was worth your hiking effort.
VILLAGES AND BEACHES
The arid soil, the fishing villages, and the villages in Syros’ heartland are all classic Cycladic vistas brimming with the fragrance emanating from fennel and thyme shrubs. Syros is not the typical Cycladic island of white-and-blue houses. Still, if you drive to Posidonia (also known as Delagrazia) you will have a great time looking at the village’s impressive mansions, ornate castle houses, and luxury villas.
If truth be told, Syros’, damp, “kindergarten sandbox” beaches are not much to rave about, but let’s not be ungrateful: you can still relax on the beach and enjoy your time in the water. Beaches such as that at Agathopes, Galissas, Vari, Kini, Lotos, and Mega Gialos may not offer sensational vistas but they are easy to reach and sandy through and through. If you’re looking for alternative beaches, try Komito, Delfini (where there is a beach bar), or the tiny beach of Kokkina at Finikas. If you find the idea of sand getting inside your swimsuit or between your toes annoying, then the ideal place for you is the stone-built platform at Asteria Beach in Hermoupolis. Its well-appointed outdoor bar and the unparalleled view of the Vaporia district will make it worth your while. For those who are fans of hiking, the secluded northern beaches of Lia, Varvarousa, and Grammata are the ideal choice. If you’re not big on walking, try reaching those beaches by boat starting at Kini.
Every year, Syros attracts more and more cultural activities. Here is a partial list:
Syros International Film Festival SIFF, Hermoupolis Industrial Museum, Kini Sea Museum, Kyveli Institute, Loukoumi Festival, Accordion Festival, International Animation Festival and Eye’s Walk Festival.
This past July, Syros proudly played hostess for the first time to one of the most innovative and interesting events ever: the Eye’s Walk Festival. We are eager to see it turn into an annual tradition! During the festival, four 3D installations & projection mappings on the walls of four neoclassical buildings in Hermoupolis surprised onlookers and jolted the senses. It is an innovative project linking the Cyclades to Video Art, painting, cinema, architecture, and Experience Design (XD).
There are also plenty of other fascinating events, a number of which take place at the dazzling Apollon Theater.