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Syros - a Greek Island

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Ermoupoli and Ano Syros in Greece

Syros is an island in Greece, one of the group of islands known as the Cyclades. It is located 40km west of the well known island of Mykonos and 150km southeast of Athens.

Syros is about 17km from north to south and about 10km in an east-west direction. The northern half of the island is very mountainous and is almost uninhabited. The southern half, while still mountainous, has many villages. The biggest of these are around the coast. On the middle of the east side of the island is the only city, Ermoupoli, which is a major port and is the administrative capital of the whole Cyclades group of islands.

The island has a population of about 20,000, with most of the people living in the city of Ermoupoli.


The name Ermoupoli means 'City of Hermes'. It was founded during the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman rulers in the early 19th Century. At that time the village of Ano Syros was the biggest village on the island. Ano Syros is on a hill about a kilometre from the coast. Ermoupoli was built at the foot of the hill, right on the seashore. It became a major port - goods were brought from all over Greece to Ermoupoli and then sent on to other destinations. With a small population on the island, very few of these goods in transit were intended for the island itself. Ermoupoli developed big shipyards where ships could be built and repaired.

When Greece became independent, Ermoupoli was an important city and the biggest port in the newly formed country. It was proposed as the capital of Greece, but lost out to Nafplio. It was felt that since Ermoupoli is only accessible to the rest of the country by sea, communications would be disrupted during stormy weather, cutting off the capital from the rest of the country. Nafplio itself passed on the honour of being capital to Athens a few years later.

The Sights of the City

Ermoupoli is a lovely city to wander around. The old centre of the city is clustered around the harbour - the marble-paved main street (known as Petrou Protopapadaki at the east end and Stamatiou Proiou at the west end) is where most of the good shops are, and behind it is the impressive Miaoulis Square, named after the revolutionary leader, Andreas Miaoulis. There's a statue of him on the south side of the square. The square is surrounded by elegant bars and restaurants, but one entire side is dominated by the City Hall, a huge building which is the administrative centre for all the Cyclades islands.

There are a number of impressive Greek Orthodox churches within Ermoupoli itself, the most important being the Metamorphosis at the top of the hill, with its blue dome, and the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas with its two towers and also with a blue dome. The Apollon Theatre is modelled on La Scala in Milan in a much reduced form. There's an outdoor cinema just off Miaoulis Square, and a small archaeological museum under the City Hall.

For the most part, though, a trip to Ermoupoli is not about seeing individual buildings; rather, it is about absorbing the atmosphere, wandering through the markets, having a coffee or an alcoholic drink in one of the bars, eating in the harbour beside the luxury yachts, or treating yourself to a frozen yoghurt, one of Greece's most popular pastimes for young people.

The port of Ermoupoli no longer is a hub of trade, so the 19th-Century warehouses at the south end of the city are mainly abandoned and in ruins. The shipyards, however, are still important, and you can often see large ships berthed offshore, waiting to come in for refitting or repair. The port also has a thriving traffic in ferries, bringing tourists to and from the island.

Ano Syros

Ano Syros street view

Historically, the population of Syros was Roman Catholic rather than Greek Orthodox. When Greece became independent from the Ottoman Empire, there was much movement of population and many Orthodox Greeks came to the island. Now the population is about 53% Orthodox and 47% Roman Catholic. The biggest village of the island was Ano Syros which is on a very steep hill just behind Ermoupoli. It is now a part of the city. At the top of the hill stands a Roman Catholic monastery, and there are a few Roman Catholic churches in the village. It is a typical Greek village with winding, narrow streets, white-painted houses, and fabulous views out over the sea due to the steepness of the hill. A visit to Ano Syros is a must for anyone coming to the island; you might consider getting a taxi to the top of the hill and walking down, as the climb up is quite exhausting.

One very famous resident of Ano Syros is commemorated with a statue and a plaque at the Katoga O Lilis restaurant - Markos Vamvakaris (1905–1972) was one of the most influential rebetika players. Rebetika is the Greek blues, a style of music popular in the early 20th Century with the poor and unemployed inhabitants of the slums of Athens. It relies on instruments such as the bouzouki, and like the blues its songs talk about the misery of life. Vamvakaris was so influential that he is referred to among rebetiko players simply as 'Markos', although it is a very common name.

Travelling Around Syros

Syros has an efficient bus service which operates from Ermoupoli in a loop around the southern part of the island, visiting all the coastal villages except Kini. The bus station in Ermoupoli is on the sea front beside where the big ferry boats pull in. Generally the buses leave once an hour in each direction around the loop and the full loop takes about 50 minutes. At time of writing (2014) the fare varies from €1.70 to €1.80 for a journey. You should check the timetable which is posted in the window of the kiosk at the bus station, as certain buses are cancelled in off-peak times. Buses to Kini are less frequent and operate on a separate schedule.

Taxis are available and are very cheap. They can get to just about any part of the island in approximately 15 minutes. If you want to get to the airport you will need to hire a taxi.

The Coastal Villages

Syros has many coastal villages in the southern half. These are mainly residential with tourist hotels. They have tavernas and bars for the tourists but little in the line of amenities such as shops, etc. You'll be lucky to get more than a mini-market there. Among these are:

  • Azolimnos - a very pleasant beach with good swimming
  • Vari - an enclosed, very shallow bay safe for swimming
  • Mega Yialos
  • Poseidonia
  • Finikas
  • Galissas - an amazing enclosed bay, beautiful for swimming
  • Kini

All of these are accessible by bus from Ermoupoli.


In the 3rd Millennium BC, the Cyclades islands were much more heavily populated than they are now. They were occupied by an Early Bronze Age people who are now known as the 'Cycladic Civilisation'. Not much is known about them; for example, we have no idea what language they spoke, as they did not use writing. The Cycladic people had a very distinctive artistic style: they made small statues of humans which they buried with their dead. These were of polished white stone in a very plain style, usually with very few features - they might have a nose but no eyes or mouth. Sometimes the figures were engaged in some activity such as playing a harp or drinking from a cup, but usually they were just lying down with their arms folded across their stomach. These simple and elegant statues have been an inspiration to many modern sculptors, including Henry Moore.

One important find on Syros is the remains of a Cycladic settlement in the northern, mountainous part of the island. This is close to the hamlet of Chalandriani and is sometimes known by that name, or sometimes as Kastri ('castle'). It dates from 2600–2300 BC. It has been excavated and the findings are on display in one room of the Archaeological Museum in Ermoupoli. The museum also has rooms with Classical Greek and Roman findings.

Getting to Syros

There are three ways to Syros. The port is a busy one and there are ferries to it every day from Piraeus (the Port of Athens) as well as from some other islands such as Naxos and Mykonos. The ferry journey from Athens is about four hours.

Syros airport is about ten minutes by taxi south of Ermoupoli. There is one flight a day to Athens, which takes about 30 minutes.

Some people arrive on Syros by yacht. There are many companies offering sailing holidays around the Aegean, and Syros is a good destination because you can berth your yacht in the harbour literally within metres of the main bars and restaurants.

Whichever way you arrive, we hope you have an interesting and relaxing stay on this beautiful island.

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