Santrorinian Pirgos Village and Castle
PYRGOS VILLAGE AND CASTLE
Medieval Santorini comes to life in this lovely village that was characterized as a “protected monument” in 1995. Pyrgos is 7.5 km east of Fira. Famous for its Venetian casteli (castle) and the Good Friday custom involving thousands of lit tin cans, the village has recently developed into a significant tourist destination outside the Caldera. In order to really appreciate the unique atmosphere of Pyrgos, we suggest that you take a walk along the cobblestone narrow streets and go up to the Casteli to enjoy the unobstructed view over the top.
THE STORY OF “NEW PYRGOS”
If your visit happens to coincide with the arrival of coaches pouring out tourists ready to climb on the medieval castle… too bad! You need peace and quiet to really appreciate the cobblestone paths of Pyrgos, and then go up to the Casteli and enjoy the unobstructed view over the top.
The Casteli of Pyrgos, or New Pyrgos, at the foot of Mesa Vouno (Inner Mountain), was one of the five Castelia built in the 15th century by Venetians (see also the History section).
The fortified settlement impressed travellers of that time, who wrote: “Houses are round-shaped and enclosed by big walls, so it’s easy to mistake them for towers…People here -even small children- are hard working. Women weave or cultivate the fields, while men travel to the island of Chios or Venice”.
The structure of the fortified village looked like the one of Skaros (see the Unknown Santorini section). There was the hub, originally with a tower at its centre, then a church; later a defensive perimeter was formed around it from house walls thick enough to withstand raids. According to records, the original tower was demolished in 1735 to be replaced by the monastery of Aghios Georgios (Saint George).
The sole entrance to the Casteli was bolted at night or in case of danger. The houses had two or three storeys, and ground floors were partly built and partly rock-hewn (see the Architecture section). Alleys among them were very narrow.
As time went by, a neighbourhood the locals called Xeporto (meaning outside the door of the Casteli) was built outside the defensive perimeter. The first Theraic school was founded here and operated until the mid-19th century.
Walking is a great way to explore both the newest part of the village and the medieval hub. Cycladic houses blend harmoniously with the manors and the few surviving old stores. From the top of the Casteli, the view over the interior of the island is exceptional.
Quite a few churches have been built inside the casteli. The largest –and one of the most significant on the island– is Eisodia tis Theotokou (Presentation of the Virgin Mary) dating back to the 17th century, and one of the oldest is Theotokaki (11th century). A rare small icon of Virgin Mary on her bed, with sheets and pillow, is kept in a locked closet on the chancel screen. At the church of Aghia Triada (Holy Trinity), there is an ecclesiastical museum (see the Museums section). Some of the other churches are: Metamorphosi Sotira (Metamorphosis of Jesus), Aghios Ioannis Theologos (Saint John the Theologist), Aghia Theodosia, and the rock-hewn church of Aghios Nikolaos Kisiras (Saint Nicholas) –all built during the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1660, the church of Aghia Ekaterini (Saint Catherine) was built, in 1680, Aghios Georgios (Saint George), and in 1690, Aghios Dimitrios and Taxiarhis Mihail (Archangel Michael).
Pyrgos was damaged by the 1956 earthquake; however, some of its churches –estimated to be 33 in total– have been restored.
Traditional Pyrgos buildings, dating back to 1895, have been refurbished to create "Vanishing Santorini”, an interesting representation of the old Santorini (see also Museums).
The Epitaph (the icon of dead Jesus) procession around Pyrgos on the evening of Good Friday is a ceremony you will never forget. Drop by early to have a cup of coffee or try rakomelo (warm raki with honey) at the coffee houses of the village. When time comes, thousands of tins filled with petrol-soaked tow are lit at the Casteli, and the sight is quite extraordinary. The procession goes through the entire village, and the chants of the priests and the locals chanting hymns are deeply emotive.
For detailed information please visit the official website of the municipality of Thira www.santorini.gr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=66&Itemid=61&lang=en
* Download the iPad application Santorini Pyrgos (https://itunes.apple.com/gr/app/santorini-pyrgos-hd/id545573435?mt=8) from the App Store. The application includes detailed information about the medieval castle and the village and it is financed by all the enterprises based in Pyrgos.
THE MONASTERY OF PROPHET ELIAS
In the years between 1711 and 1724, at an altitude of 567 m. above Pyrgos, the male monastery of Profitis (Prophet) Elias was built. The view from this point is fantastic. Few monks live here, and access to females has been allowed since 1853. Apart from the katholikon (main church), you may also visit a museum exhibiting folk and ecclesiastical artifacts, such as traditional tools and furniture, chalices, crosses, and holy relics. In the evening of Holy Saturday, don’t miss the chance to go up to the monastery: Celebrations are traditional, and electricity is not being used.
The Pyrgos Ecclesiastical Collection
Aghia Triada (Holy Trinity), who once was a katholikon of a small monastery for women, was ruined and, in the early 1970s, only the northern wall and part of the sanctuary still survived.
In 1975, at the initiative of the Residents’ Association of the Theraic Pyrgos, it was restored to house the Pyrgos collection of church relics.
In 1997, the 2nd Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, in cooperation with the Metropolis of Thera and the Community of Pyrgos, organized the exhibition of the collection.
It includes holy icons by Cretan and local painters, wood carvings and metalworks, pottery, embroidered items, vestments, liturgical books, and other ecclesiastical objects dated mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Significant exhibits include the icon of Aghios Georgios (16th c.), the icon of the Holy Communion (created by Emmanuel Skordilis), two more icons by the known painter Victor and a Cretan artist, as well as works of the monk Paissios.
The Cross with the trilobite arms, as well as the small icons with the Virgin Mary and John flanking it, are some of the excellent woodwork specimens. The three pyxes and the Epitaphios complete the woodcarving collection of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Open: April-October, 10:00-16:00
Tel. +30 22860 31812