Shortly after the outbreak of the 1821 Greek War of Independence and the destruction of Chios, thousands of people sought refuge at the port of Syros, the present-day capital of the Cycladic islands.
Within a few decades, that barren shore, with little more than a taverna and a rudimentary anchorage, grew into one of the most beautiful cities in Greece, Ermoupoli, and a magnet for notables and successful businessmen from every corner of the land.
They came from Psaras, Macedonia, Crete, the Peloponnese and, later, from Asia Minor, breaking new ground in the textile industry and shipping, and becoming, within the span of a generation, proud Syriotes who endowed their city with grand public buildings.
Today, Ermoupoli is no longer the metropolis it was once was, but it has maintained those architectural traits that give it its very particular identity.
Shipowner Antonis Komninos has never forgotten his Syriot roots or the custom of patronage that helped develop the island, and thanks to the foundation named after his grandfather, the people of Syros have been treated to numerous art shows and theatrical performances over the years.
More recently, the shipowner breathed new life into the island’s neglected Cyclades Gallery, with a radical floor-to-ceiling overhaul.
For the next couple of days, the gallery is hosting the first-ever public showing of Komninos’ passion project, a “Philhellenic” collection of 19th century art that he has been painstakingly amassing for some 30 years. The show will be traveling to Athens in the fall for a run at the Benaki Museum.
From work by German painters Peter von Hess (1792-1871) and Christian Perlberg (1806-1884), among others, to Bavarian soldier and philhellene Karl Krazeisen (1794-1878), who created a book of portraits of all the great heroes of the Greek War of Independence he met in person when he came to fight on their side, the people of Syros and their visitors are being treated to a visual panorama of 1821, which is complemented by emblematic paintings by local artist Theodoros Vryzakis (1819-1878) and Italian painter Francesco Pige (1822-1862).
Apart from Athenian landscapes, portraits and historic scenes, the show also includes related memorabilia such as watches, weapons and jewelry.
What makes it particularly special, however, is the fact that it also includes contemporary work by artist Yassonas Megoulas (aka Cacao Rocks), by photographer Vangelis Kyris and by Bulgarian embroidery artist Anatoli Georgiev. These additions enliven the dialogue between past and present and bring vibrancy to Syros’ old custom office, which is now home to the Cyclades Gallery.
The exhibition has been set up by art historian Fani-Maria Tsigakou – who specializes in this period – and Ifigenia Botzaki, on behalf of the foundation.
Cyclades Gallery, 3 Papadam, Ermoupoli, tel 22810.809.18; open Tuesday & Thursday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6.30-10 p.m., and Wednesday 6.30-8 p.m.