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SYRA, or SYROS (anc. Svpos, perhaps Homeric SU/HTJ), a Greek island in the middle of the Cyclades, which in the 1pth century became the commercial centre of the Archipelago, and is also the residence of the nomarch of the Cyclades and the seat of the central law courts. The' length of the island is about 10 m., the breadth 5, and the area is estimated at 42$ sq. m. The population rose to about 33,700, of whom about 20,500 were in the chief town, Hermoupolis, but that of the town had in 1907 declined again to 18,132. Syra is also a province of the department of the Cyclades (pop. 1907, 31,939). The importance of the island in prehistoric times is attested by considerable remains of early Aegean antiquities. In ancient times it was remarkably fertile, as is to be gathered not only from the Homeric description (Od. xv. 403), which might be of doubtful application, but also from the remains of olive presses and peculiarities in the local nomenclature. The destruction of its forests has led to the loss of all its alluvial soil, and now it is for the most part a brown and barren rock, covered at best with scanty aromatic scrub, pastured by sheep and goats.

Hermopolis (better Hermoupolis), the chief town, is built round the harbour on the east side of the island. It is governed by an active municipality, whose revenue and expenditure have rapidly increased. Among the public buildings are a spacious town-hall in the central square, a club-house, an opera-house and a Greek theatre. Old Syra, on a conical hill behind the port town, is an interesting place, with its old Roman Catholic church of St George's still crowning the summit. This was built by the Capuchins, who in the middle ages chose Syra as the headquarters of a mission in the East. Louis XIII., hearing of the dangers to which the Syra priests were exposed, took the island under his especial protection, and since that time the Roman Catholic bishops of Syra have been elected by the pope. About the beginning of the 19th century the inhabitants of Syra numbered only about 1000; whenever a Turkish vessel appeared they made off to the interior and hid themselves. On the outbreak of the war of Greek independence refugees from Chios, after being scattered throughout Tenos, Spezia, Hydra, etc., and rejected by the people of Ceos, took up their residence at Syra under the protection of the French flag. Altogether about 40,000 had sought this asylum before the freedom of Greece was achieved. The chief city was called Hermoupolis after the name of the ship which brought the earlier settlers. Most of the immigrants elected to stay, and, though they were long kept in alarm by pirates, they continued to prosper. In 1875 1568 sailing ships and 698 steamers (with a total of 740,731 tons) entered and 1588 sailing ships and 700 steamers (with a total of 756,807 tons) cleared this port; in 1883 3379 sailing and 1126 steam vessels (with a total of 1,056,201 tons) entered and 3276 sailing and 1 1 20 steam vessels (with a total of 960,229 tons) cleared. Most of the sailing vessels were Greek and Turkish, and most of the steamers were Austrian, French and Turkish.

But since the energetic development of Peiraeus, Syra has ceased to be the chief commercial entrep6t and distributing centre of this part of the Levant, and consequently its trade has seriously declined. Whereas in 1890 the foreign commerce was valued at I i3 I 3)73> in 1900 it only amounted to 408,350. Coal, textiles and iron and steel goods figure prominently amongst the imports, and emery, leather, lemons, sponges, flour, valonia and iron ore amongst the exports. Syra is the seat of several industries, ship-building, tanneries, flour and cotton mills, rope-walks, factories for confectionery (" Turkish delight"), hats, kerchiefs, furniture, pottery and distilleries. The harbour, which is protected by a breakwater 273 yds. long, has a depth of 25 ft.. diminishing to 12 ft.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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