Sifnos, Greece

Sep 25, 2017 - Sea Cloud

We motored into the tranquil Kamáres Bay of Sifnos at 7:00 a.m. There was a cool soft breeze and the temperature was about 70 F. In antiquity, Sifnos was famous for its rich gold and silver mines. A legend says the prosperous islanders gave a gift of a solid golden egg annually to Apollo’s sanctuary at Delphi. One year they cheated and substituted a gilded rock. Apollo cursed them by flooding the mines and from that point on the island was known as Sifnos, meaning, “empty.” The legend provides a story to account for the end of the gold veins. The Roman historian Pliny reports that before Apollo’s curse, the island was called Akis.

Ashore in Kamáres we boarded coaches for our first stop the beautiful Castro. Along the way we saw the dovecotes built by the early Venetian inhabitants who considered the birds a delicacy. We walked through the labyrinthine lanes of the Castro admiring the architecture and the fanciful chimney pots. These villages had no plan but grew organically. I noticed a home that used an ancient Ionian column as a support column. There is no defensive wall in the Castro and so the inhabitants built their homes with their rear facing outwards and since there were no windows or doors it effectively served as a continuous wall.

Many of us climbed down to the majestically sited Church of the Seven Martyrs situated on a rocky headland taking the full brunt of the sea. Its brilliant white and blue dome against the cerulean sea was breathtaking. Of course, we had to climb back up! There were some great pottery shops in Kamáres and a number of us made purchases. Our final destination in this tranquil harbor was the beach. It was soft sand, and the water temperature was perfect. I think most of us took advantage of an invigorating swim before getting a tender back to Sea Cloud.

Sailors went to their stations at 2:00 p.m. and we were at full sail by 2:15 p.m. Imagine: we were sailing a 2,500-ton vessel at 5 knots -- and all that I could hear was the wind in the rigging.  It is not stretching credulity too much to imagine our ancient ancestors sailing these very waters having a similar experience.  The seas flattened out and so at 3:30 p.m. John announced that we could board Zodiacs and have a photo opportunity to motor around Sea Cloud while she was under sail.

At 5:00 p.m. I gave a lecture on the Venetian Empire in the Cyclades. Tonight we were treated to a fabulous Greek barbeque on the Lido Deck under the stars. Judging by the buzz of conversation and laughter, it was a smashing hit.

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About the Author

Tom Heffernan


Tom, a native of New York City, who has had a life-long passion for travel and exploration, is the Kenneth Curry Professor of Humanities at the University of Tennessee and the founding Director of the university’s Humanities Center. His areas of interest are anthropology of religions and historical linguistics.

About the Photographer

Erika Skogg

National Geographic Photographer

Erika Skogg is a photographer, educator, and National Geographic Explorer with experience documenting cultural stories from the United States to Morocco, Greenland, Iceland, Colombia, and beyond. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Erika’s photographic research and storytelling ideas are driven by the desire to immerse, understand, and visually preserve the region’s local Nordic culture, and in 2018, Erika received a National Geographic Early Career Grant for her project “Scandinavian American.” Erika travels to Scandinavia regularly in search of the cultural connections to our emigrant history and promote an interest in one’s own genealogy to foster a respect for the continued immigration of today.

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