- Read the chapter online
- View the interactive map of the Bents’ journeys in Serifos
- Arrival in Serifos
- Journey to the north of Serifos
- Journey to the west of Serifos
- Captain George
- Join the adventure
Arrival in Serifos – Sunday 2nd December 1883
The Bents arrived at Livadhi around 1 in the afternoon after a rough, 4-hour passage from Syros on board the Ydra, which Mabel describes as a ‘Filthy little ship, full of people and cargo.’ Her first impressions were of a ‘Very pretty island – full of bays’ and she found ‘The inhabitants seemed very friendly.’
“EVERYONE landing at Seriphos must naturally think of those frogs which Pliny tells us were always silent here, and it was a disappointment to me when I heard them croaking gaily on the little plain down by the harbour.”
** Photo of the frogs
“Seriphos is an island with lovely outlines; the town is built on a conical, escarped hill, just above the harbour, with caves and rocks all over it . . . Modern white houses are now clinging like mussels to these rocks, and the summit is crowned with the remains of a mediaeval castle.”
** Photo of the chora
“The village of Livadhi, by the harbour, is small but tidy, and we there partook of refreshments in a clean fisherman’s cottage off a table rudely carved with all sorts of fish designs … The tiny plain down by the harbour is a pattern of fertility. There is a well in each field; pomegranates, figs, and almond trees abound; another feature peculiar to Seriphos at once caught the eye: every proprietor has his grave in his own field, built like a little shrine, and if he sells his field special provision in the articles of sale have to be made for the non-disturbance of ancestral bones.”
*** Photo of the port The village of Livadhi, by the harbour, is small but tidy
*** Photo of the plain
**** Photo of wells
*** Photo of a tomb (maybe in the adventure section)
The church of St. Isodoros
We climbed up the steep ascent to the town on foot … Captain George pointing out each object of interest we passed. ‘This is the Church of St. Isidoros, where is a spring of warm water, reckoned excellent for the health where a yearly panegyris (a festival) is held . . . Come in and have a glass of water; there is iron in it.’ So Captain George rambled on. I followed him in, drank some exquisite water
The church of St. Tryphon
‘Here is the Church of St. Tryphon,’ said Captain George, ‘the protector of agriculture.’
The summit of the hill, and the castle crowning it, were at length reached, and here the schoolmaster showed us a niche in which, he said, once stood a statue of a king of Seriphos, which the English had taken away. I asked for further particulars about this, to me, unknown royal house of Seriphos, but the schoolmaster’s genius for invention would lead him no further. He had not the face to tell me that it was a statue of King Polydectes.
Over the gateway to the castle was a coat of arms, and 1433 over it; so I felt convinced that the schoolmaster alluded to a statue of one of the Latin dukes who ruled in Seriphos.
Of all towns in the Greek Islands, Seriphos will remain fixed in my mind as the most filthy. The main street is a sewer into which all the offal is thrown; and it is tenanted by countless pigs — for each householder has liberty to keep three. What the nuisance must have been when the number was unlimited I cannot think. Furthermore this street is like a ladder of rocks, and the pigs in their movements are as nimble as goats, most dangerous to the peace of mind of the pedestrian. Sometimes the street is not two feet wide, sometimes it is expanded to six feet, but always an inch deep in mire, often more.
The church of St. Athanasius
The Church of St. Athanasius was worth seeing, being round with two little apses . It has a lovely iconostasis , commonly called tempelon , or screen, before the sanctuary , carved in wood, with vine tendrils, and festoons, and niches for twenty eikons , or sacred pictures, along the top.
Journey to the north of Serifos – Monday 3rd December 1883
The Monastery of the Archangels
The church at Panagia
While describing their journey to the Monastery of the Archangels, Theodore talks about the wines of Serifos and the traditions surrounding the planting and the harvesting of the grapes. He describes the church at the place called Panagia as being the focal point for some of these traditions although it’s unclear whether he visited the village or is merely relating what he’d been told.
In connection with the planting of vineyards they have quite a Bacchic festival in Seriphos . . . At a spot called Panagia, before the Virgin’s Church, the white standard is set up, and the Seriphiotes enjoy a dance that evening in which the vineyard-planters join.
Journey to the west of Serifos – Tuesday 4th December 1883
The draught mills
The magnet mines
The White Tower
The ancient tower known as the White Tower (Aspros Pyrgos or Aspropyrgos) is built high on the rocky ridge of the line of hills delimiting Koutalas Bay on the northwest. It is a fortified structure that stood alone in the Serifos countryside, dominating the southwest part of island, the richest in metal ores.
The tower is built of local white marble and its foundations are set firmly into the sloping rock. It is circular in plan with an external diameter (at the base) of 8.54 m. Its masonry is particularly well built and the double outer wall, 1.05 m. thick, is built of well-dressed marble ashlars, laid without the use of mortar, in courses whose height diminishes progressively as they rise. The ground floor is preserved to a height of 4.20 m. Based on the building material found fallen inside the tower, scattered around it, set into the walls of nearby buildings and used in drystone walls (over 500 marble blocks), it is estimated that the tower would have been three storeys and approximately 12 m. high. There are no attached annexes and no traces of an enceinte or outbuildings have been found in the immediate environs. The entrance is on the southeast side, while there appear to have been arrow-slits and windows on the upper storeys. The roof was probably flat. Inside and immediately to the right of the entrance is a spiral staircase that led to the upper storeys. The five lowest marble steps are preserved in situ, but the rest of the staircase may have been of wood. On the ground floor, a transverse party wall isolates the stairwell and divides the room in two.
The features of the White Tower – solid construction, prominent position overlooking the surrounding area, visual contact with other towers (Psaropyrgos, Tou Choirou i Trypa) – indicate its defensive character and multiple uses, simultaneous or otherwise, as a watchtower, beacon tower and guardhouse. Its presence in this area – where there is evidence of active mines, at least during the Late Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods – also means that it was connected to their activities and protection.
The White Tower would have been built in the 3rd c. BC, while its final period of use is dated to Late Roman times, specifically the 4th c. AD.
Megalo Livadhi (Porto Catena)
. . .
Theodore and Mabel stayed in the house of the captain of the boat whch was to take them to Serifos:
Captain Georgios Hadgi Nikolas Ibelligeka, into whose hands we fell on landing, was anything but a silent member of society, and before many days were out we had cause to regret his loquacity. Captain George we called him for short — the rest of his name was so very long.
. . . as I scrutinised our new acquaintance I felt I did not like him; he was a little thick-set man with an evil countenance, but sparkling with intelligence. Afterwards I learnt that he was well known in these seas as an expert smuggler, who would have been a pirate if he had lived fifty years ago. He had just got a nice new painted green, and his plan was to offer us hospitality and to persuade us to take his boat at a price which would pay him better than smuggling.
Theodore, in his inimitable style, had not much better to say about Captain George’s wife:
Captain George’s wife was a chattel, and a very uninteresting piece of furniture, too; for he hounded the poor thing about until she looked like a scared mongrel. She waited upon us at meals and never took a part in them. She cooked, she swept, and she slaved whilst the captain made merry with his guests.
However, Mabel was much more complimentary about Mrs George’s culinary talents:
What a night we passed! First we got an excellent dinner about 8 o’clock. Macaroni and some rather too strong cheese, an excellent pair of chickens, salad dressed with oil and lemon juice. Also there were olives, capers, oranges and almonds. The wine was very good. Then coffee. The friend, H Kyria Revinthaki, sat in the room and the host dined with us.
Mabel writes about Captain George as they are waiting to leave Serifos for Sifnos:
Two hours spent hearing of clouds ‘soon coming from every point of the compass – not possible to go today to Siphnos’ . . . At long last, 10 to . . . Wind very favourable for Siphnos. Told at breakfast the boat was quite ready, so we descended to the harbour. Captain Georgios Hadgi Nikolaos Ibelligeka then began telling us a series of lies and threw every difficulty he could for 3 hours. Everyone groaned about 1.30 [in the afternoon] about night coming on and we heard the words ‘winter’, ‘night’, ‘dark’, ‘Boreas’, ‘evening’, ‘calm’, and all other bogies. Then the boat was not ready, the sailcloth bulwarks had to be nailed on, bread fetched, then oil, though when night did come on we sailed without lights. Then water and then an enormous lot of talk of the most gloomy description . . . Well, after constantly affirming that we were not afraid and wished to go, we started at 4.30, with a good breeze, but so mild and warm that we did not care.
The Bents’ journeys in Serifos
Join the adventure
Join the adventure – become a contributor to this website and help us track down further information and photographs related to the Bents’ travels in the Cyclades. You can create your own blog post describing your findings, your adventure, relevant people you met etc. and email it to us together with any relevant photographs. Your blog post will be made available for all visitors to the site to view and comment on. You don’t have to stick to the items below, anything relevant to the Bents, the book and their journeys will all be welcome.
Traces of the old city
The antiquities left in Seriphos do not point to any very great artistic merit in the days of old; a few headless statues here and there, fragments of pillars, and one solitary sculpture of a symposium over a doorway were all the traces that we could see of the city where once dwelt the ‘silent frogs.’