The best picture for anyone who comes for the first time in Corfu is from the ship which, as if deliberately, comes in a slow pace to give you the opportunity to take a good look of the great medie
Built on a hill accessible by land only from the west, Kastro is a city-fortress. To accommodate as many as possible, space management has been done with maximum economy. There are no squares or courtyards, but there are balconies, houses whose rooms communicate through air corridors, arcades, cobbled streets passing through the rooftops…
Kastro was fortunate to retain its medieval character and is rightly considered the No. 1 attraction of the island.
It is inhabited since antiquity. Under the houses of today, archaeologists place the ancient capital of Sifnos, named Asty by Herodotus. The Citadel of Kastro has been excavated - it is situated at the highest point of the village. The finds of the excavations, along with exhibits from the rest of Sifnos, are to be seen in the Archaeological Museum.
It remained the capital until the end of Ottoman rule, when its inhabitants began to leave it gradually and settle in Apollonia, Artemonas and surrounding villages. The main cause of decline, architect Anastassia Tzakou writes in her doctoral thesis “Principal settlements of Sifnos”, was dowry! «Local residents, generally very proud of their origin from this ancient capital with rich history and noble tradition, do not easily leave Kastro, committed to the traditions. However, over time marriages between Kastro residents and women from the main villages, which attract the largest population of the island from the late Ottoman rule onwards, grew in numbers. According to the customs of Sifnos, the married couple settled in the family home of the bride given as a dowry. So, over the years many Kastro residents were gradually forced to move to the central villages when married».
Despite the cramped space, Kastro is not lagging behind the rest of Sifnos in number of churches. Panagia Eleoussa, in the centre of town, is the metropolis. It was built on the ruins of an older basilica and renovated in 1635. Nearby is situated Theoskepasti (date on the lintel, 1631). The last and largest plank needed to finish its roof was mysteriously found near the sea. Also, the Assumption of Virgin Mary (date on the lintel, 1593), St. Nicholas, Fraggantonis (St. Anthony of the Catholics) with two conical domes… The most beautiful, however, is the chapel of Eftamartiron (7 martyrs), built east of the village on a rock in sea connected to the mainland by a strip of land.
The relatively few restaurants and bars of Kastro, almost all on the side of the village overlooking the small port of Seralia, blend perfectly with the landscape. The peripheral pedestrian street encircles the village, communicating with its interior through five Loggias (arches). Typical of many houses and churches at Kastro is the marble lintels with blazons and dates of construction-renovation. Even more typical, however, is the abundance of ancient objects (columns, sarcophagi, marble bowls, and giant clay vessels) that are “exposed” on the streets and facades.
During the Turkish rule Kastro was called Seralia, name deriving from the high mansions (“seraglios”) present in the centre of the village. When the name changed into Kastro, the name Seralia was given to the port, which until then was called Gialos. For swimming, except Seralia, ideal are the rocks in front of the chapel of Eftamartiron and the rocks at Kipi, beneath Panagia Poulati, where leads a path of exceptional beauty.
Kastro, in the countless centuries of its life, has been a centre of circulation of people and cultural goods, which has left its imprint on its residents up to today. While people on the rest of the island speak with a heavy island accent, at Kastro they speak like singing. It is said that locals are the best singers…
It is at 3.5 km from Apollonia. From the street just outside Kastro one can see the cemetery with the twin churches of St. Stephen and St. John. It is at this point that was housed from 1687 until 1834 the School of the Holy Sepulchre, the most historical school of the island, where Nikolaos Chrysoghelos has taught.
The ravine following the road and ending up at Seralia is that of the torrent Erkies. Some beautiful dovecotes are built on its banks, while the reeds and oleanders that surround it host large concentrations of populations of the butterfly Callimorpha quadripunctata. There were probably once here numerous plum trees, which in local dialect are called erkies. A marble statue of Pan has been found in the bed of the torrent. Archaeologists believe that the ancient capital of Sifnos extended until Erkies and Seralia, without excluding the possibility that its centre was located here.
The first image the visitor takes from Kastro is that of three windmills in a row, invisible all the way from Apollonia, which appear unexpectedly on the last turn. This is the best prologue to what will follow…
It is a rocky coast where few persons can fit, in a magical place with greenery and running water, under the church of Panagia Poulatis.
Kato Petali is so called because it is built in the perimeter of a low hill - in Sifnos rocky hills are called petalia.
Shortly before the square of Artemonas, to the right of the asphalt road, is a pedestrian street leading to Agios Loukas (Ai-Loukas in the local dialect).