Kastro is one of the “must see” villages of Sifnos with its stunning views over the Aegean Sea and neighbouring Cyclades islands. Kastro which means castle has been inhabited since antiquity and is built on an ancient acropolis, the “asty” that is mentioned by Herodotus, it is like an open museum, maintaining all its character and atmosphere.
The medieval wall of Kastro is comprised of the 2 or 3 storied dwellings where the “common people” used to live, while inside this perimeter and a little higher would live the aristocracy, being better protected from pirate raids and pillagers. Space was always limited in Kastro so the dwellings were built on top of one another, even the streets and the square in the Kastro are above the roofs of one storey homes that are now mainly used as storerooms. Visitors to Kastro today still have to enter the village through the old entrance arcades, the “lodges”, which in earlier times were secured and protected by war towers.
Kastro was the capital of Sifnos during the ancient, medieval and the more recent period until 1836, it was also the seat of the Archdiocese of Sifnos (1646-1859) as well as the Bishopric of Sifnomilou (Sifnos & Milos) (1797-1852). The bishops residence was in the top of Acropolis in an area currently known as “despotika”
At the entrance to Kastro are two churches in one of the most picturesque of settings, Saint Stefanou and right next to it, Saint Ioannis, where from 1687 to 1835 was the eminent school of Saint Tafou.
There are a lot of sights to be seen around Kastro but be sure to have the following on your agenda:
- A walk in peripheral footpath
- The picturesque chapel “of Eftamartiros” (Seven Martyrs)
- A visit to the Archaeological Museum
- The churches, Virgin Mary Eleousa (1653),
- Virgin Mary “Kimisis” (1593), with floorings of popular art, and ancient altar.
- Saint Nikolaos (1566) and
- Saint Ioannis the Theologian (1617)
Finally, a visit to Kastro would not complete without a walk down to Seralia, the ancient port and pebble beach at the base of the Hill.
Apollonia also known locally as Stavri, has been the capital of Sifnos since 1836, the seat of the “Municipality of Sifnos” (1836-1914), “Community of Apollonia” (1914-1998) and seat of the modern “Municipality of Sifnos” since October 1998. Occupying the the centre of Sifnos and built amphitheatrically on three hills it is widely considered as one of the most picturesque Hora’s (main towns) in the Cyclades.
The name Apollonia is derived from ancient times and can be translated as “Town dedicated to the worship of the God Apollo”. Stavri, meaning cross, can be traced back to 1677. There are a few explanations as to why this more popular name came about, most likely, is the fact that Apollonia is the “crossroads” of the island, the central point from which all the other areas can be reached. It can also be said that all roads lead to Apollonia!
As you stroll along its narrow, white-washed and paved alleyways, you will find many interesting and noteworthy sights including the church of Agios Spiridon and the Folklore Museum in the pleasant, tree lined, central square. There are also many nice shops and bars on the main Sterno (footpath) which runs up behind the central square.
One of the main attractions of Sifnos as a holiday destination are the many footpaths that cover the island and Apollonia is the best starting point for several good walks. Remembering that all roads lead to Apollonia it’s good to know that the island has an excellent bus service to get you back to town if you prefer a more relaxing return journey after a particularly long walk.
Being the geographic, administrative and commercial centre of the island it follows that in Apollonia you will find the municipal office of information, the islands 3 banks, the post office, the police station, travel & ticket agencies, the regional surgery, pharmacies and a wide range of tavernas, bars, coffee shops, gift shops, bakeries etc.
Artemonas is located one and a half kilometres to the north of Apollonia and has been described as a true jewel of Sifnos. It’s mansion houses are neoclassical in design and around every corner you will find gardens and courtyards filled with flowers.
High above Artemonas, on the top of a hill, stands a row of windmills, unfortunately only two are in good condition today. It’s worth talking the time to see the windmills because the view from here is truly panoramic, stretching out over the neighbouring islands, the majestic Kastro, and across the central villages to as far as Kamares.
Artemonas is known as the birthplace of the noted schoolmaster and national hero of the revolution, Nikolaos Chryogelou (1780-1857) who was also the first minister of education after the liberation of Greece. Another famous son of Artemonas is the poet and scholar Ioannis Grypari (1870-1942).
Churches of note in the village are:
- The Virgin Mary Koghi, with its interesting architecture.
- The Virgin Mary of Sand or Samos (built in 1788) with its seldom seen depiction of the the Virgin Mary without the divine infant.
- The Virgin Mary of Bali and Saint Spiridona, protecting saint of Artemonas, whose feast day is celebrated each year on the 21st of November.
Kamares is the largest seaside village on Sifnos and has been the island’s port since the end of the previous century. As you enter the port, if you look up to the top of the mountain on your left hand side you will see, perched like a couple of eagles nests, the monasteries of Profitis Ilias the Trullakios and of Saint Simeon, both of which keep a watchful vigil over Kamares on the opposite side of the bay and on Agia Marina below.
Kamares bay is like a large horse shoe with the port, shops, taverna’s and main town on the right as you enter the bay. On your left is the smaller but developing settlement of Agia Marina, separating the two sides there is a large golden expanse of sandy beach which is perfect for kids because it takes an age to walk out of your depth and almost never gets any waves to speak of. The people of Sifnos are very proud of the beach because in 2002, for the first time, the beach was awarded a “Blue Flag” by the European Union, recognising the measures taken to ensure the safety of bathers, the cleanliness of the beach and purity of the sea.
It’s worth spending a little time strolling around Kamares, some of the older buildings are:
- The church of Saint Georgiou and Saint Barbara (built 1785, renovated, 1906).
- The Lantern (1896).
- The remains from a furnace and loading area of minerals (1883)
- The old dock (1909)
Platis Yialos beach, is the most popular beach on the island and it is considered to be one of the longest beaches in Cyclades hence the village name which translates as “long flat sandy beach”.
Platis Yialos was once a major centre for pottery workshops and even today, visitors can find pottery products made locally and may get acquainted with the production process usually by just putting your head around an open door and saying hello!
To the North of Platis Yialos, on top of a hill, is the monastery – Virgin Mary of the Mountain (1813) from which there is a stunning view over the whole bay. From the monastery you will also have a birds eye view of the remains of the “White Tower”, the most well known of all the 57 ancient towers of Sifnos. The White Tower stands at the head of the eastern peninsular and it was on this peninsular that the Greek archaeologist, Christos Tsountas, discovered evidence of a prehistoric cemetery.
Just off the coast, and to the south of Platis Yialos, is the uninhabited island of Kipriani or more correctly, Kitriani. The name of the island is a combination of Kitrini (yellow island) and Kipriani which is the name of the only building on the island – the small church, Panagia Kipriani. The church itself was built in 1732 but inside is the oldest ecclesiastical monument in Sifnos which dates back to the 11th century.
Home of the protector of Sifnos
Near the entrance of the port of Faros lies the peninsular of Chrysopigi, a rocky island that is severed from the land and on which stands the island’s protector, the monastery of Chrysopigi, one of the most beautiful and most photographed monasteries in all of the Cycladic islands. Many visitors come to see the famous icon of Zoodochos Pigi or to swim in the crystal blue-green waters that surround the monastery.
Faros is located in the South East corner of Sifnos and is considered to be the safest port of the island, and had been, up until 1883, the islands’ official port.
Faros, means Lighthouse and the village obviously owes its name to the installation of a navigational coastal lantern. The lighthouse today can be found at the entrance of the port, alongside the Monastery of Stavros, an ideal vantage point to admire the views of the neighbouring islands.
Faros is a peaceful fishing village with 3 picturesque sandy beaches: Faros, Glyfo and Fasolou. There are 4 taverna’s in Faros where you are sure to get some nice fresh fish, plus a mini market and coffee shop. Near to the entrance of the port is the rocky outcrop of Chrysopigi, on which is the islands most well known and much photographed church “Panagia Chrysopigi”.
On the west side of the bay, there is a footpath and the 15 minute coastal walk will take you from Faros, past the remains of some workings that were once used for the shipping of ore for processing at Lavrio, along the small sandy Apokofto beach before reaching Chrysopigi.
This once isolated settlement on the northern edge of Sifnos was, until recently, only accessible from the sea by means of the summer excursion boats. Today, there is a new asphalt road and on the way to Heronissos you will come across the agricultural settlements of Trullaki and Diavroucha.
The name Heronissos means a section of the main land area, surrounded by the sea on 3 sides, or if you prefer it in a single word… peninsular! There is also a well known Sifnian song called “My road to Heronissos” and I can just imagine it being composed while walking from Heronissos to Apollonia in the days before the new road was laid, a journey which would have taken most of the day by foot or donkey.
Belonging to broader region of Artemonas, Heronissos today is a quaint and very quiet little fishing village with a couple of tavernas, and one of the popular traditional pottery workshops of Sifnos.