St. George’s Cemetery at Hermoupolis, Syros

Vafiadakis Family Monument. 
Photo: Loukia Roussou (2007)
Syros is a rocky island located approximately in the center of the Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean Sea.

After the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, Greeks from various parts of the country, that was under Turkish occupation, were to find refuge on this island, because of the security provided by Austria and France and the protection of the Roman Catholics ensured by a neutral Vatican.

Due to this privilege, many Greeks came here from other parts of the Ottoman Empire, where there were developed Greek communities such as Constantinople, Smyrna and Kydonies.

More specifically, after the destruction of the islands Chios and Psara and the coasts of Asia Minor (1822) many refugees settled on the Syros’ eastern coast; among them there were important merchants, who engaged in commerce with many European cities. The coastal settlement was thus slowly formed and the new town that came into being, in 1824, was named Hermoupolis (T. Ambelas, 1874:496-518).

The first cemetery of Hermoupolis was located behind the church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the old municipal hospital, in the center of the area inhabited by people from Psara island and was, necessarily, transferred to its current position, at the SW end of the town, in 1834. In 1839, when mayor of Hermoupolis was Nicholas Prassakakis, the church of St. George was built in this place. The old cemetery is no longer preserved; Moraitin Square was created in its place. But the new Cemetery was very soon located in the center of the Neapolis district, which was developing at the same time. Thus, since 1857, the actions of the cemetery’s re-transfer began, but these were never completed. (T. Ambelas, 1874, 641; I. Travlos - A.Kokkou, 1980:212)

St. George's Churchyard at Hermoupolis, Syros

Hermoupolis evolved into a major economic, commercial and industrial center during the 19th century. A strong evidence of Hermoupolis’s wealth and affluence is St. George’s churchyard. Most of the monuments belong to important families that played a crucial role both in the Independence Struggle and in the development of the New Hellenic State: such as Mavrogordatos family, Negropontis family, as well as Petrokokkinos, Lagonikos, Galatis, Benakis, Antoniadis, Foustanos, Kouloukountis, Vatis, Petritsis, Proimos, Rodokanakis families. Many facts about their occupation and their life, but also about their death, derive from the inscriptions written on tombstones on the Monuments of these families.

The economic decline of Hermoupolis also caused the interruption of the wealthy activity in the cemetery, resulting in a more modest form in the architecture of the monuments in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The Cemetery

St. George's Cemetery is organized in seven areas. In the separate area E, fifty six magnificent mausoleums, belonging to the most eminent families of Hermoupolis, were erected mainly during the 19th and early 20th century. The architectural styles and sculptural decoration of these monuments offer important elements in Art History.



Krinos Family Monument.
Photo: Kostas Manolis (1985)

Most of these mausoleums were constructed by Greek sculptors and bear the marks of classicism, which greatly influenced Greek art and architecture in the 19th century. Only ten of these monuments bear the signature of the sculptors, which are Taliadouros family, Vitalis family, George Fytalis, Nick Spanos, Marmarinos, Perakis, John Karpakis and Achille Canessa. According to the researchers of Hermoupolis, Travlos – Kokkou (1980:217-219) and Lydakis (1981:289) there are some more monuments, that seem to be crafted by the sculptors G. and I. Vitalis.

On the monuments we can observe a lot of decorative features as well as inscriptions and epigrams, the main source of inspiration of which is provided by the daily activities of the deceased.

Pepy Gavala – Helen Garezou,
The Funerary Sculptures of St. George’s Churchyard at Hermoupolis, Syros, 1994