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SYROS

 

HISTORY AND CIVILIZATION

Syros is the largest island of the Cyclades in terms of population, with about 20,000 inhabitants. It has a central position in the Cyclades islands, with an area of 84 square kilometers. The island has rich geography, with many hills and shallow valleys, and its coasts form a number of safe bays. Besides the densely built main town formed by Hermoupolis and Anos Syros on the East coast, there is a number of settlements scattered all over the island. In the sites of Chalandriani and Kastri, vestiges of the early Cycladic civilization (2700 BC 2200 BC about), known as Civilization of Syros Keros have been discovered. In the following centuries, the island came gradually under the influence of the Phoenicians, the Minoans, and later of the Mycenaeans. In ancient times the philosopher Ferekides, one of the forerunners of the pre-Socratic thought and also Pythagoras instructor, lived on the island. During the Persian wars, Syros was subjugated to the Persians and afterwards it became a member of the first Athenian alliance. The island became an autonomous state, with a parliament and municipality; however, it paid tribute to the Athenians.

Picture of Syros

In the Roman years the capital of Syros was situated in the area of contemporary Hermoupolis. At the end of ancient times, the barbaric raids and the plague of piracy, which had scourged the area of the Aegean for many centuries, led Syros to decline. In the Byzantine years Syros constituted together with the rest of the Cycladic islands, part of the Aegean Dominion. After the overthrow of the Byzantium by the Francs in 1204, Syros came under  Venetian domination and was included in the Ducat of the Aegean. Meanwhile Ano Syros was inhabited. During the Latin period, the majority of the local community accepted the Catholic Dogma, but it maintained the use of the Greek language. During the almost three and a half centuries of existence of the Ducat of the Aegean, Syros had a singular feudal regime. In the middle of the 16th century, the Ottoman fleet occupied the island and the Ducat fell apart. However the negotiations of the local authorities with the Ottoman Empire led to the offer of substantial privileges to the Cycladic islands, such as, the reduction of taxation and religious freedom. 

At the same time, following an agreement between France and the Ottoman authorities, the Catholics came under the protection of the French, a privilege that was maintained for centuries. After the second half of the 17th century, a period of economic recovery of the Aegean area began, which reached its height during the transition from the 18th to the 19th century, while the special regime of the islands allowed the development of local self-government. The decline of piracy since the beginning of the 19th century had as a result the gradual liberation of the sea routes of the Eastern Mediterranean. Due to its crucial geographical position, to the support of Western powers, and to the reinforced local government, Syros became known as a maritime way-point. Moreover, the special social, religious, and institutional conditions prevailing on the island, led the Syrians to the maintenance of a neutrality at the beginning of the Greek Revolution in 1821. As a result, Syros became a secure shelter during the Revolution, and attracted many Greek refugees from Asia Minor, Chios, Psara, Kasos, and other places. The newcomers, mainly mariners and tradesmen, gave a new dynamism to the island, which, together with its demographic and economic development, was transformed into an administrative and cultural center. 

 

Ermoupoli's Town Hall

With the foundation of the Greek State and the return to peace and tranquility, Syros became known as a cross-roads in the Aegean and as an international commercial center linking Western Europe and the Mediterranean sea to the East. Since 1830, the commerce of fabrics, silk, leather and iron developed in Syros, and at the same time a powerful banking system was created. Until about 1860, Syros was the most important commercial harbor in Greece. Together with commerce, small industry, shipping, construction and public works were also developed. The prosperity of Hermoupolis was connected with an important development of social and cultural life. The evolutionary cycle was completed with the creation of the first industrial units during the decade of 1860-1870. Then followed a period of decline, as sailing gave way to steam, the importance of the geographical situation of the island was reduced, and Piraeus harbor finally took the predominant position in Greece. 

Beginning at the end of the 19th century and for several decades, a temporary economic recovery took place, due to the development of cotton industry. However, decline and unemployment prevailed. The second world war dealt a serious blow to Syros, and economic decline was intensified during the postwar decades. However, already since the eighties, along with the generalized economic recovery and the rise of the living standards in Greece, elements of improvement appeared, with tourism as its central axis. At the same time, the reopening of the shipyards, as well as a number of other activities, indicate that Syros is on an upward trend, while at the same time show the need for economic diversification, and the pursuit of new alliances.