Brief history of
Syros in Greek is:
Σύρος in which
and ς is the letter sigma, pronounced like the s in sister;
Υ υ is the letter upsilon, pronounced
like an umlaut or the first e in sewer
Ρ ρ is the letter Rho,
pronounced like a rolling Scottish r
Ο ο is omicron, pronounced like o in ostrich
Note the stress accent over the [vowel of the] first syllable. So it sounds
something like SEW-rrros. (In passing, I wonder whether the letter Y is used in
the English names Syros, Syra, Kyklades, Cyclades
because it looks like the upper case upsilon.)
Syros is the most central island and the administrative
capital of the Cyclades (or Kyklades) group of islands, south-east of Athens in the Aegean Sea.
Until 1204 AD the Cyclades were part of the Byzantine Empire,
the Greek-speaking Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople.
The Byzantine Empire was founded in 330 AD by the Emperor Constantine I when he
moved the imperial capital from Rome to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople.
Christianity became the preferred (though not the only permitted) religion.
In 1204 Venice persuaded the
leaders of the Fourth Crusade to attack and destroy their commercial rival, Byzantium or Constantinople.
Constantinople was retaken in 1261 and the
Empire survived, but in a much weakened and unstable condition. By the treaty
of partition that followed the conquest of Constantinople, the Cyclades were
awarded to Venice.
But Venice had no wish to subdue and administer
these outlandish places itself, so the Doge’s nephew Marco Sanudo was allowed
to govern all of the Cyclades as his personal
fiefdom. He introduced junior members of his family to rule in Syra. Under
their rule the Cyclades became Catholic,
although most of the inhabitants were ethnic Greeks. He founded the Cathedral
of St. George in the town of Ano Syros,
built on a hill overlooking the main bay.
The whole of the Aegean fell to the Turkish Ottoman in the
15th century (Constantinople fell in 1453) but the Cyclades
were allowed a surprising amount of religious freedom. Syros has a very
different history and character from the rest of the Cyclades.
Most of the islands reverted to Greek Orthodox after the Turks routed the
Byzantines but Syra remained almost entirely Catholic until Greece became
independent in 1821. They retained the Greek language. The population of the
island was only 500 at the end of the 15th century
The Capuchin monks built a convent and a church on Syros in the 17th century. Marco Sanudo and
his descendants didn’t protect their citizens from piracy, so the monks
appealed to Louis XIII for protection. He responded and the French flag was
flown from the convent buildings. As a result of French protection the
population of the island grew to several thousand by 1700. A high proportion
were Catholic descendants of the original Venetian or Genoese settlers. They
built their homes around the medieval acropolis of Ano Syros. The much smaller
number of Greek Orthodox citizens built their homes on the second, lower hill
of Vrondado (near Anastasi), also overlooking the
bay. As your ferry enters the port, you will see the hill of Ano Syros on your
left and that of Vrondado on the right. Here is a nice view of these two
Until 1800, these were the only inhabited areas. Before
then, there was no proper harbour, only a wide bay sheltered from the east by a
long natural breakwater. When the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire broke out in 1821, there were about 5000
Catholics on the island, and hardly any Orthodox. They didn’t join the War
because they were already in effect (if not in fact) independent of Turkey, being
still protected by the French. However, they did give refuge to Christian Greeks
from Chios and Psara (two islands just off the west coast of Turkey, near Izmir),
Crete, Rhodes, Smyrna (present-day Izmir), Spetses,
Psara, Aivali, Kydonia, Kassos, Asia Minor and other parts of Greece. In
1981, about 40-45% of the island’s population of 20,000 were Catholic.
the foundation of the Greek
State the Catholic
population of the island were Hellenized and changed their Latin family names
to Greek. The family name Vuccino to Voutsinos, Russo to Roussos, Vacondio to
Vakondios, Daleggio to Dalezios, Salsa to Salsapoulos, Freri to Freris just to
mention a few. However, there was no problem of integration between the old
residents of Syros, mostly Roman Catholics and
the newly arrived refugees, mostly Greek Orthodox. The island returned 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. In 1824 the first Orthodox
Church Metamorphosis and the largest Greek Sanatorium was constructed.
I believe the refugees were mostly Orthodox, not Catholic,
so they would have had Greek, not Latin, names. The refugees, particularly the
Chians, were great traders and businessmen. Most were mariners and tradesmen. Recognizing
the absence of a port, they established the fine new city of Hermoupolis (Ermoupolis) on the
When the War of Independence ended, most of the refugees
returned home. However, the Chians remained because Chios remained part of Turkey for
another 90 years. Hermoupolis rapidly became the first free port zone of
Greece. It was the largest Greek port for most of the 19th century,
much bigger than Piraeus, the port of Athens,
and was the biggest shipyard in the eastern Mediterranean.
In a part of the town called Vaporia former steamer captains built their
elegant homes; it has a very French atmosphere.
Today, there are 103 churches and chapels on Syros, divided as follows:
The Catholics of Syros are not of Frankish (i.e. Latin)
origin, but are natives who converted progressively to Catholicism between the
14th and 18th centuries.
Birth records were recorded in the City Hall of Ano Syros
for the period 1880 to 1931, after which were recorded at Hermoupolis.
“The Companion Guide to the Greek Islands”,
Ernle Bradford, 6th edition, 1998
do you belong? Catholic and Orthodox name in Syros (Greece)”
by Olga Sapkidis, chapter 5 (pages 73-88) in the book “Name and Social
Structure – Examples from Southeast Europe”,
Edited by Paul H Stahl, East European Monographs, No. DVI, Boulder, 1998. ISBN 0-88033-404-5.