Syros, or Syra, sits in the heart of the Aegean—opposite Dilos, Tinos, and Mykonos—and beats in tune with both east and west. Homer writes of this in The Odyssey; the island was settled by the Pelasgians and Phoenicians, pillaged by the Saracens and Venetians, loved by the French and the Turks, built by the Chiotes, and inhabited by refugees from Asia Minor. The hills—Anastasi, with its largely Orthodox residents from Vrontades on Chios, and Panosyra, with its largely Catholic population—and the city of Ermoupolis with its neoclassical architecture dominate the landscape. Ermoupolis cradled the 1821 liberation struggle and became capital of the Cyclades two years after the arrival of King Othon from Bavaria. It was also home to Greece’s first urban class as well as to the first strike by Greek labor; the first modern Gymnasium (school) was founded here and the first shipyard too. The rebetika icon Markos Vamvakaris was born on the island and the statesman Eleftherios Venizelos was educated here. Syros’s history is full of dualities: quadrilles danced in salons and the zeibeiko in dives, soirees in salons and pig-slaying at farmhouses, Orthodox and Catholic communicants. Refugees from Chios and Asia Minor introduced fragrant loukoumia, chewy halvadopita, lemon blossoms, the addition of pistachios to spoon sweets, hams, custards using sweet Visanto wine, and bouchees de dame. The Capuchin monks introduced pharaoh’s figs and prickly pears. Settlers from Asia Minor enriched local cuisine with spices from the East and sweet sauces for pulses, vegetables, and fish. Local cuisine featured pork simmered with quince; stuffed tomatoes and peppers with a mixture of rice, pine nuts, and black raisins; meat stewed with caramelized sun-dried tomatoes; cod simmered in the oven with onions, Swiss chard, garlic, tomatoes, and raisins; and thick bean soup with carrots, celery, and lard bits called sisyra. During the traditional slaying of the family pig, the animal’s blood was boiled with finely chopped onions and raisins, then fried with mint and spices to make aimaties.

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