You know you’re in the heart of the Cyclades when you’re in Ermoupoli, the port-town of Syros, because the grandness of the Town Hall announces that this is the administrative capital of Greece’s best-known island chain. Only that everything around you – the neoclassical architecture, multi-coloured mansion houses and cosmopolitan aura – is nothing like the whitewashed spectacle of other Cycladic islands.
Instead, Ermoupoli tells a different story that is unique to Syros. It was founded by settlers from nearby islands (such as Chios, Samos and Kasos), as well as various cities of Asia Minor, who fled here during the 1821 revolution against the Turks, when Syros was under the protection of the French.
Through the enterprise of the new residents, Syros flourished and by the middle of the 19th century became a commercial, industrial and shipping centre – second only in importance and population to Athens. It was named after Hermes, the god of merchants and messengers, and as its riches grew so did its thriving artistic and cultural scenes. Even today, it has a population of 12,000, giving it a year-round vibrancy.
You’ll love wandering around Ermoupoli. The proposed route takes in all the historical and cultural landmarks whilst introducing you to the town’s unique vibe.
Gallery of the Cyclades
Start your walk in the port of Ermoupoli in one of the converted 1830s warehouses, built so that cargo could be unloaded directly onto land. You’re here to visit the Gallery of the Cyclades, which also has a small theatre, but the atmosphere created by the brick-built warehouse – one of the town’s earliest constructions – is part of the experience.
On an island that’s alive all year round, it’s only right that you head to the political, social and cultural heart of Syros. Miaouli Square (north of the port) is the beating heart of Ermoupoli – and not just because it’s the island’s administrative hub. As well as palm trees, cafes and shops, there is a music stage with a depiction of Apollo and the muses. Taking its name from revolutionary hero Andreas Miaoulis, the square was originally situated by the sea. It was given its distinctive paved centre in 1868, with marble from neighbouring Tinos.
The Town Hall
Dominating Miaouli Square is the Town Hall, hands down the grandest building on the island. Designed by German architect (and Greek national) Ernst Ziller in the late 19th century, it is an architectural blend that includes Ionic and Tuscan elements. It has different heights (3-storey facing the square and 2-storey around the back) and there’s a 15m monumental staircase leading to the front door. You’re able to admire the foyer, internal courtyards and some painting and sculptures. Elsewhere, the building houses the local law courts, land registry and other municipal and public services.
The Archaeological Museum
Also within the Town Hall, but with its own entrance around the back, is the Archaeological Museum. Founded in 1834, it is one of the oldest museums in Greece, with artefacts going back to the 3rd millennium BC and other treasures, such as an Egyptian statuette from 730BC and Cycladic figurines and vases.
No building demonstrates the cultural blossoming of Syros more than the Apollo Theatre, constructed in the 1860s by Italian architect Pietro Sampo. It was modelled, in part, on the Scala di Milano, with four layers of boxes and an elaborate ceiling fresco adding a sense of opulence to the intimate main hall. Artistic and cultural events are staged here, including the Aegean Festival.
Heading northeast, you reach Ermoupouli’s magnificent main church, known locally as Agios Nikolaos of the Rich. Built in the mid-19th century with donations from ship owners, merchants and benefactors living abroad, its frescoes and icons were the work of the finest hagiographers of the region. Its centrepiece icon of St Nicholas was silver-plated in Moscow in 1852. You’ll marvel at the detail of the intricate pulpit and iconostasis.
The most prestigious district of Ermoupoli, Vaporia is the residential legacy of Syros’ glory years. It is characterised by high-ceiling captains’ mansions, with woodcut doors, wooden floors and marble balconies overlooking the sea – giving an impression that the buildings are floating. Hence the name of the district, meaning boat. This is Syros at its most alluring, with a small beach and cafes. So make sure you stop for a coffee and give yourself time to soak up the atmosphere.
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From the airport:
- By car, taxi or bus: 4.2km (12mins)
- By car or taxi: 10.3km (20mins)
Ermoupoli is connected by ferry to Piraeus and Rafina (eastern Attica), other Cycladic islands (Naxos, Mykonos, Tinos, Folegandros etc) and even North Aegean islands such as Chios.
- You can visit Ermoupoli all year round but April-October are the best months to visit, when the majority of archaeological sites and stores are open.
- Easter is a particularly special time on Syros because of the island’s Orthodox and Catholic traditions.
- The Syros Festival is an annual favourite, with musical and theatrical performances, exhibitions of prominent artists and various cultural events.
- Opening times and tickets for museums and theatres:
Note: Opening times for all venues may be shortened during winter months.
The proposed walking tour can be covered in half a day, but it’s worth dedicating a whole day to Ermoupoli to enjoy the food and the nightlife.