When in Syros, one must-do activity is to climb the steps to the old Latin town of Ano Syros, or, Upper Syros. The upper town is a charming maze of small streets and alleys topped by the church of Agios Giorgios. VC describes the amazing views from the from the town and the church. However, surprisingly, one vista he doesn’t mention is that across the ravine to the small cluster of white buildings around the church and former monastery of Agia Paraskevi, with its ‘melon-shaped dome’, which he chanced upon on his ride to the highest point in the island, the summit of Mount Pyrgos.
From Agios Giorgios church, and from the map, it looks as though an old cobbled monopati goes from the road at the foot of the upper town and climbs its way up and over to Agia Paraskevi. I was determined to get there this time. I’d wanted to visit a few weeks before but the weather had not been good enough. I was staying in the lower town at the Diogenis so, to avoid having to first climb to Ano Syros the next day, I decided to do it the lazy way and take the bus to the village of Alithini. It’s then just an easy 10-minute walk to the church – a little over 1km.
The hillside grew wild and stern above the inhabited cities, and Pyrgos the summit was still afar off when we came to a white gateway, and through this were carried into a place made beautiful by the hand of man; called Hagia Paraskévi.
The church and it’s surrounds truly are beautiful, immaculately maintained and a veritable oasis on the otherwise barren hillside. The ‘hand of man’ was still beautifying it as more work was being carried out on its ‘melon-shaped dome’ while we were there. I took lots of photographs, some of which can be seen on the main Syros page.
The late Archbishop Methodios had a residence here which is still in the possession of his family. But the place looks like a monastery, and is all but uninhabited.
The house was certainly inhabited when I visited. I could hear the sounds of people enjoying themselves inside the house where, over a century before, a presumably sober Methodios would have spent many a restful day.
There was everything just as VC had described it: ‘the centre of its wide court of blue and grey marble’; ‘the chapel with a melon-shaped dome and cross above it’; and ‘an open Loggia with stone seats that disclosed through its columns a view of the city and the sea below’. It’s no longer a monastery but the church is still in use and, I found out later, is popular for weddings – what a perfect way to start married life together.
there is a crypt entered by a marble door, and a cloister open to the sea and laid with a black and white pebbled floor
I found the crypt, almost like a small chapel, with a tomb at one end. On the same level as the crypt are well-maintained gardens with fruit trees and I have to confess to ‘stealing’ two fallen apricots which would probably have rotted had they been left on the ground. I put them in my rucksack and they were delicious later on in the day as I walked down to the seaside village of Kini.
When VC visited, the church was locked, but on my visit I was lucky to be able to feast my eyes upon the beauty of the inside, denied to VC.
Just as I had finished my visit and was sitting under the shade of the loggia, the owners of the happy voices I’d heard earlier appeared from the house. They were all very stylishly dressed and extremely sociable. I learned a little later that one charming couple, Mr. and Mrs. Martinos, were the owners of the entire place, including the church and Methodios’ house. They seemed surprised at my knowledge of the history of the church so I ‘treated’ them to a reading from VC’s book. “It really is a perfect picture of the place,” Mrs. Martinos said, and then from her husband came the real surprise. “Of course,” he said, “you know that Methodios is buried in the crypt.” This was an incredible discovery and, after the couple and their guests had left, I revisited the crypt to ensure I’d not missed anything.
Another surprise followed. I’d noticed Mr. Martinos talking to one of the staff and gesturing toward me. Shortly afterwards, a couple appeared from the house and offered me coffee. The coffee arrived with delicious biscuits, ice-cold water and an enormous bowl of fruit: melon and apricots, which I suspect were produce from the gardens. Such hospitality and kindness to strangers – some things in Greece never change!
That evening, back at the Diogenis, the girls were keen to know about my visit to Agia Paraskevi. A few weeks before, they’d been kind enough to telephone for me to check when the church would be open to visitors. “Athanasios Martinos is a very successful businessman and does a lot for the community,” Laura told me. “He’s known in Syros for being a very kind man.” I think I’d already discovered that earlier in the day!