The name “Sifnos” for the island stems from Sifnus, son of the Attican hero Sounius, or, according to a different version, to the epithet “sifnos”, which means void, or hollow, and points to the existence of multiple tunnels, which are the result of intensive mining activity.
From the various tombs and foundations of villages discovered by the archaeologist Christos Tountas, mainly at coastal areas of the island, it can be surmised that the first inhabitants settled the island during the second half of the third millennium B.C. The first inhabitants of the island were the Pelasgians, followed by the Carians, the Leleges, and then the Phoenicians. According to mythology, these people were cast out by Minos, the king of Crete, who installed his sons as kings of the Cyclades.
From the findings at the Citadel of Agios Andreas, it can be seen that the island had a golden age and was the centre of proto-Cycladic civilization during the third millennium BCE, while according to tradition, after the Trojan War, Ionians colonized Sifnos, led by Alkenor. After the new inhabitants arrived, a new age began, during which, according to Herodotus, the “asty” was founded on the eastern side of the island, where today’s Kastro lies.
Sifnos has been one of the richest islands of the Cyclades, thanks to its gold mines, silver mines, and the development of the ceramic arts. The existence of such wealth can be verified by the research and excavations as well as by the minting of coinage around 600 B.C. and the rebuilding, in 525 B.C. of the well known "Treasury of the Sifnians” in Delphi, an Ionian building with a rich architectural decoration, and particular aesthetic and artistic value. During the same period, one of the three cities on the island, Sifnos, built an agora and a prytaneum of Parian marble.
During the Persian wars, Sifnos took part in the battle of Salamis with one penteconter, and later became a member of the 1st and 2nd Athenian League.
Due to the negative developments in the broader area over the next years, Sifnos gradually lost the wealth of Ancient period, while during the Hellenistic period and in the years that followed the Roman conquest the island lost a lot of its population due to systematic pirate raids, the same with every other island in the Aegean Sea.
Information on Sifnos during the Byzantine period is extremely limited: during the first Byzantine period Sifnos belonged to the Eparchy of Achaia of the Eastern Illyrian and participated in the small Cycladic fleet; while during the mid-Byzantine period, its commercial standing increased. Moreover, during the times of the iconomachy, many spiritual people and clerics found refuge in Sifnos, thus aiding in its spiritual uplifting.
After the 1204 Crusade, Sifnos was integrated into the Duchy of Naxos, founded in 1207 by Markos Sanoudos. In 1269 it was again conquered by the Byzantines, while in 1307 it was claimed by Giannoulis Da Corogna, who declared himself an independent ruler. Da Corogna fortified the island and the town with a stronghold, to stand up to the dukes of Naxos who would claim the island. In 1964 Sifnos came under the power of the Gozzadini family and remained so until 1566, when the Turks conquered the Cyclades and gave command over the island to Joseph Nasi. However, the Gozzadini remained on the island until 1617, subject to the Sultan and with a shadowy jurisdiction.
With the favourable conditions under the rule of the Sultans over the next years, the island saw great economic and spiritual development.
The economy of Sifnos was mostly based on agriculture and animal farming, less on trade, and was significant, as proven by the existence on the island of consulates from France, England, and Holland.
The renowned School of the Holy Sepulchre was founded in Sifnos in 1687, known as “The School of the Archipelagos”, where great teachers, such as Emmanuel Trochanis and Nikolaos Chrisogelos, taught. The school was attended by more than fifty Sifnians that later went on to excel in the hierarchy of the church, assuming prominent positions within it.
At the same time, the conditions in Sifnos permitted the development of the institution of communal government, mainly with the Public’s General Assembly.
Sifnos participated in the revolution of 1821 and in the liberation with an expeditionary force organized by Nikolaos Chrisogelos, active mainly in Peloponnesus.
After the revolution, Sifnos excelled in every area, but mainly in knowledge, with great scientists, writers and scholars (Ioannis Gryparis, Nikolaos Dekavalas, Konstantinos Dialismas, Iakovos Dragatsis, Aristos Kabanis, Apostolos Makrakis, Aristomenis Provelegios, Theodosis Sperantsas, Antonios Zilimon, Georgios Maridakis, and others).
Sifnos was under Italian rule from 1941 to 1944.
During the 19th and the early 20th century, many Sifnians were Members of Parliament, such as Aristomenis Provelegios, Antonios Prezanis, doctor-general Georgios Koulouris, and others, while Konstantinos Provelegios was Minister of Justice, then Finances, and later of the Interior.
Panagia tou mpali
Profitis IliasThe numerous churches and monasteries of Sifnos are closely related to the history, the architectural tradition and the religious – social life of the island.
From a historical point of view, the Sifnians made the best of the privileges granted to them by the Turk sultans, regarding the free expression of their Christian faith. Therefore, in 1646, the Archdiocese of Sifnos has been founded, including Sifnos and the islands of Amorgos, Anafi, Astypalaia, Irakleia, Ios, Mykonos, Serifos, Sikinos and Folegandros.
Later, the Sifnians used to donate their assets to churches or monasteries and to take on various responsibilities towards them, with the organization of rites (mainly feasts).
A solid proof of the religious tradition of the Sifnians is the number of churches and monasteries existing on the island. This number is the highest in comparison to any other island of the Cyclades, relative to the size of the island, and it is said that “…in Sifnos there are over 360 churches, one for every day of the year”.
Many of the churches and the monasteries of Sifnos are of high architectural and religious interest and they have been designated as historical monuments. The ecclesiastic committees and the “management committees” look to the maintenance of the churches and monasteries, even if they are situated in areas that are not accessible by vehicles, with remarkable reliability and by offering – in many cases – voluntary work.
There are eight parish churches in Sifnos: the parish church of Saint Spyridon in Apollonia, which is also the Cathedral of the island, the parish church of the Virgin Mary of Kochi (Panagia tis Kochis) in Artemonas, the parish church of the Taxiarchs in Agios Loukas, the parish church of Saint John the Prodromos, in Pano Petali, the parish church of the Life-giving Spring (Zoodochos Pigi) in Kato Petali, the parish church of the Virgin Mary the Merciful (Panagia Eleousa) in Kastro, the parish church of Saint Nicholas in Exabela and the parish church of Saint George in Katavati.
Even though there aren’t any active monasteries on the island nowadays, Sifnos' monasteries are still of an exceptional historical and religious value:
The monastery of Vrissiani in Exabela is one of the biggest monasteries of the island, which was built in the 17thcentury and which is consecrated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This monastery houses the Ecclesiastic Art Museum, which contains copies of old editions, a gospel dating from 1796, reliquaries, cherubim banners, holy utensils, vestments, icons, a cope of exceptional art, etc.
The monastery of the Prophet Elias the High (Prophitis Ilias Apsilos), situated high on the top of the homonymous and highest mountain of Sifnos (at an altitude of about 700 meters), which was built on the ruins of an ancient citadel. To the right of the monastery there is the small church of Saint Eliseus.
The monastery of Saint John Chrysostom in Kato Petali: It is a historical monastery of Sifnos situated to the east of the village, which, according to the tradition, housed the first Greek school of the island (possibly in 1650). Since 1835, the monastery housed the famous School of the Holy Sepulcher.
The monastery of the Virgin Mary of the Mountain (Panagia tou Vounou), situated 500 meters from the road leading from Apollonia to Vathi, with an exceptional architectural beauty and a wonderful view of the village, the beach of Platis Gialos and the small island of Kipriani. The church is of three hypostases – consecrated to the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, to the Saints Constantine and Helen and to Saint Nicholas – and it was built in the beginning of the 19th century.
The Monastery of the Virgin Mary of Firogia (16th century), which is situated a bit after the southern exit of the village of Katavati, on the way to Vathi, on the crossroads with the circular road of Apollonia. It probably owes its name to the red color of the soil in the area. In the past, the monks of Saint Elias the High (Aï Nigias Apsilos) used to live here during the winter. The monastery was restored in 1978 by the Hellenic Society for the protection of the Environment and the Cultural Heritage and the project of its restoration was rewarded with the special prize of Europa Nostra.
In Sifnos there are many churches with a dominating presence, thanks to the “adjacency" of their white color with the Aegean Sea, the most important of which are: The church of the Virgin Mary of Chrissopigi, the patron saint of Sifnos, the history of which is joined with a series of religious traditions and legends, and which is a reference point not only for the Sifnians but for all orthodox Greeks. The church of the Virgin Mary Poulati, a private church, built in 1870, on the eastern side of Sifnos, under Artemonas, the church of the Seven Martyrs (or Eftamartyros), built “in” the sea and under the hill of Kastro, the church of the Cross of Faros (at the homonymous village) and the church of Saint Sostis, at the old silver mines of Sifnos, which are believed to be the most ancient silver mines in the world.
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In Katavati: the church of the Virgin Mary the «Angelochtisti” (: built by angels), a three-aisled church, with a connoid cupola and icons painted on its walls, which according to the tradition was built and officiated by Angels. Next to it, there is the church of Saint Eleftherios. Other churches of Katavati are: the church of Evangelistria, of the Forty Saints, of Saint George, of Christ, of Saint George Apelaïtis, of the Prophet Elias the Low, of Saint John the Merciful (Eleïmon). In the southern edge of the village, there is the picturesque church of the Virgin Mary of Koukkia (Myrtidiotissa 1614).
In Apollonia: The church of the Virgin Mary the “Ouraniofora” or “Geraniofora” (who holds geraniums), the churches of Sotiras, of the Cross, of the Taxiarch, of Saint Athanasius, of Christ, of Saint Sozontas, of Saint Anthony, of Saint Nicholas (in Pigi), of the Virgin Mary of Barou, and in the wider area of Apollonia, the churches of Saint Barbara, of the Saint Apostles, of the Unfading Rose, of the Holy Trinity, of Saint Artemius (which housed the first school of mutual instruction and the first “Scholarcheio” (: a 3-form school for children aged 10-13) of the free Sifnos), the old convent of Saint John the Theologian (in Mongou).
In Artemonas: The churches of the Virgin Mary of the Sand, o the Virgin Mary of Bali, of Saint Peter, of Saint Spyridon and of Saint Anne.
In Agios Loukas: the churches of Saint Constantine, of Saint Luke, of Saint George ”Afentis”, of the Virgin Mary of the Basins (Panagia ta Gournia), which owes its name to the basins of the river, where the housewives used to wash their clothes. In this church - which has two hypostases, since it is consecrated to Virgin Mary and to Saint Nicholas – there are frescos created by the Sifnian monk Agapios the “Secondary", the most important of which is the fresco of the Circle of Life.
In Ano Petali: the churches of Saint John the Theologian (Theologaki), of Saint Tryphon, of Saint Paraskevi, of Saint George of Patsana, and of Saint Antipas (monastery dependency of the Mount Athos, which housed during the Greek Revolution the first preparatory school of Sifnos, founded by Nikolaos Chryssogelos).
In Kastro: the churches of Theoskepasti, of Saint Nicholas, of Saint Catherine, of the Assumption of Mary, of Saint John Prodromos, of Saint John the Theologian, of the Taxiarchs, of Saint George of the Coast (“Gialos”) of Seragia etc. The plethora of churches of the village of Kastro is proved by the toponym "Of Many Churches". On the right side of the entrance of the village, there are two churches: the church of Saint Stephen and of Saint John the "Kalivitis", which housed from 1687 to 1835 the famous School of the Saint Sepulcher, also known as the “Educational facility of the Archipelago”.
In Kato Petali: the churches of Saint Nikitas, of Saint Sostis, of Saint George, of Saint Paraskevi, of the Virgin Mary of the Stairs (“Skalakia”).
The church of Saint Symeon and of Saint Nilias (or Elias) of Troulaki (or the “Low” to distinguish it from the “High”) that dominate over the bay of Kamares, the church of Saint Andrew on the hill of the Ancient Citadel and of Saint Nikitas in Selladi, the church having two hypostases of Saint Polycarp at the picturesque bay of Cheronissos, the two-aisled church of the Taxiarchs in Vathi, the church of the Hoy Unmercenaries in Agia Marina, in Kamares, and on the road of Apollonia, the church of the Virgin Mary of Toso Nero, the church of the Virgin Mary of Kitriani or Kipriani, on the island of Kipriani, outside Platis Gialos, which dates back to the end of the 10th-11th century, the country church of Saint Charalampus on the path that connects Glipho and Chrissopigi, the churches of Saint Sophia and of Saint George the "Karavostatis" in Platis Gialos, are only a few of the churches which are worth visiting, not only for religious reasons but also to admire the many and different images of Sifnos.
It is also worth taking a walk in the "Natura" area of Sifnos, in order to visit churches of unique beauty and simplicity, such as the monastery of the Taxiarch of "Skafi", the country church of Saint Eustatius, the church of Saint Marina and of Saint Constantine in Flampouro, the churches of the Virgin Mary of the Sun, of Saint John of “Mavro Chorio”, of Saint Nicholas “t’Aerina” or Saint Catherine the”Kapfari” and of Saint Polycarp in Kalamitsi.
In Sifnos there are 13 villages and beaches that are inhabited all year round and most of their buildings follow the tradition. Thecentralvillagesoftheislandaredesignatedandprotectedas “areasofoutstandingnaturalbeauty” since 1962.
The basic characteristics of the sifnian architecture are: the white houses, the flat roofs (in order to collect the valuable rainwater in cisterns), the “flaros” (earthen chimney covers on the rooftops), the paved yards and the paths with their white joints, the windmills, the dovecotes, the countless monasteries and country churches and of course the dry walls (forming terraces) all over the island. The dry walls are used to keep the earth and the rainwater in the fields, to separate the properties and they are the result of the hard work of thousands of people for centuries.
The villages of Sifnos are characterized by multiformity. The town planning at the area of Kastro for example (which has been inhabited uninterruptedly from the ancient times until today) is totally different from the town planning of the other villages of the island, since its character is purely defensive. Despite the years that have passed, it still maintains its medieval character unchangeable.
Nowadays, students from the America and from Europe come to admire and to study the Cycladic and bioclimatic architecture in Sifnos.