PrehistoryAccording to findings in the areas of Chalandriani and Castri, Syros has been inhabited since prehistoric years (3rd millennium B.C.). In Chalandriani, in particular, more than 600 tombs were found, while in Castri, a fortified residential area was discovered, with important civic and commercial activity. Also, certain findings prove the existence of metal work-shops and certify the relation of Syros with Asia Minor’s coast (coast of Mikra Asia), during that time. Researchers have also found more traces of civilization in other parts of the island.
During the 2nd millennium B.C., Syros seems to have been ruled successively by Minoan Crete, Mykines and the Finikes, and at the beginning of the 1st millennium by Iones. Greek poet Homer, at his poem “Odyssey”, refers to Syros as “Syrii, close to Delos”.
Traces of residential areas of the 7th century B.C., were found in Agia Pakou’s hill in Galissas and to the west of Hermoupolis. During 6th century B.C., when Syros was under the rule of Samos, a naturalist philosopher was born, Ferekidis, who later moved to Samos and taught Pithagoras. Ferekidis is considered the inventor of the first solar watch (iliotropio). Two caves of the island, one at the eastern side (Rihopos), and one at Alithini, are named after him. Also, traces of agricultural areas in different parts of the island, are dated from the 6th to the 3rd century B.C.
Classical – Hellenistic PeriodDuring the time that the classical world was flourishing, Syros had a role of subsidiary importance. However, Syros was included to the alliance of Athens. The island had its independence, its own parliament and legislative body, but had to pay submission taxes to Athens. After the battle at Heronia(338B.C.), Cyclades were subdued to Macedonia.
Syros “recovery” takes place during the Hellenistic period. Ancient remains from a temple, probably dedicated to Kavirous, were found in Alithini. A similar temple is also found in Galissas, while other remains in the northern side of the island (Grammata), suggest the existence of a temple dedicated to Asclipios.
Roman-Byzantine PeriodDuring the roman period (184B.C.-324A.D.), Syros’ capital city was where Hermoupolis is today. The remains of the capital and Syros’ coins attest growth and development. The circulation of copper coins is traced on the island since the 3rd century B.C., while the existence of silver coins during the 2nd century, is also very interesting.
During the Byzantine period, the threat of piracy resulted to people abandoning small and unprotected islands, like Syros. However, findings prove that the island was not totally abandoned. During Byzantine years, people of Cyclades became christians. In 1204, Venetians took control of the Aegean, and the first important village was created, Ano Syros. The residents became catholics, but they preserved the greek language. A small orthodox parish was retained, that of Saint Nikolas “the poor”.
Ottoman PeriodThe situation remained the same up to 1579, when Hairedin Barbarossa invaded the island. Sultan Murat, though, agreed with the rulers of Syros , to give them some privileges , like lower taxes and religious freedom. These would change the future of the island. Monks from the Order of Capuchin (1635) and Jesuits (1744) were settled in Syros , during the next centuries.
After the plague hit Syros in 1728 , a period of economical recovery had begun , that peaked during the 18th – 19th centuries. In 1779, Syros and Andros were assigned from sultan Abdul Hamit A to his niece, Sach Soultana, and she, in her turn, gave the administration of the islands to the people and their elected commissioners.
Between 1750 and 1820, the island’s population was doubled, from 2000 to 4000. They mostly lived in Ano Syros. Piracy was downsized end the commercial activity at the port was increased. At the same time, a number of people got involved in the commerce of wine and seafaring.
Greek Revolution – The Creation Of HermoupolisWhen Greek revolution started in 1821, the people of Syros remained neutral. But the destruction of Chios in 1822 and the prosecution of Greeks in Samos, Smirni(=Izmir, Smyrna), Aivali, Rhodes, Psara and Kasos, led to a huge migrant wave towards Syros. The refugees found safety to Syros, because the island had privileges and one big and safe from weather port.
During that time, some wealthy people of Syros built their homes, where Hermoupolis is today. The refugees settled in tents and wooden houses. Also, in 1824 they built their first church (Metamorphosis of Sotiros) and more villages (Vrontado, Psariana, Idreika).
Soon, a miracle was created in Ano Syros: a city full of life and beautiful buildings. By the end of 1825, 1700 houses were built. In the meantime the port’s traffic was increasing.
The Huge Growth Of HermoupolisBy 1828, Hermoupolis, with over 14000 residents, was the biggest city in the country and had become the greatest industrial and commercial center of free Greece. In 1850, the population rose to 20.000 and in 1889 to 22.000.
The shipyard of Syros helped rebuild the Greek ships after the war. The craft of processing leather was expanding to the Balkan states and Turkey. In 1860, Syros was considered the most significant port of Greece.
At the same time, citizens of Hermoupolis, wealthy and sophisticated, gave a unique cultural growth to the city. Ten public and eight private schools were famous for their high educational level. The 1st high school of Hermoupolis, with Neofitos Vamvas as the first head- master, was built thanks to the donations of the richest people of the island in 1833, while in 1864 the Apollon theatre started to host important plays, from Greek and foreign theatrical teams.
Some of the things proving the cultural flourishing of Hermoupolis were the trade associations, the unions, the coffee-houses with music, the 3-4 newspapers ( the first one, “the Greek Bee”, was published in 1831).
The Occupation Of Greece (Katochi)With the beginning of the 20th century, and the growing of Athens and Piraeus, a lot of industrialists, traders and bankers of Syros, left for Athens and the importance of Syros’ port was diminished. But the most significant period for Hermoupolis decay, was “katochi”(the occupation of Greece), due to low agricultural production and less trade. The Italian army attacked Syros in May of 1941, while in September of 1943 the Germans took control of the island. During the winter of 1941-42, thousands of people died in Syros from famine and brutality. At the end of the war, the ”Neorio” shipyard, the customs and other buildings were bombarded.
New Economic ProsperityDuring the first years after the war, people of Hermoupolis and Syros were working mostly as farmers and fixing small boats. The shipyard, with more than a thousand employees, helped a large part of the population to survive in Syros.
From 1951 to 1971 most of the factories were closed and by 1990 the art of making fabrics and textiles, was nowhere to be seen on the island. However, after 1990, a lot o f tourists of high cultural and economical level, were visiting the island and considered it a city-museum, because of the hundreds private and public neoclassical buildings. Small villages like Galissas, Finikas, Posidonia, Kini, Agathopes were also developed.
Syros TodayNowadays, Syros is flourishing economically, due to a lot of factors like tourism, the Neorio shipyard, high agricultural production (greenhouses mostly), the existence of University and public services in Hermoupolis.
There is life in Hermoupolis during the entire year and almost all the shops are open during winter.