Culture Trip explores why the Cycladic island of Sifnos is a dream destination for ceramicists and ceramic lovers.
Sifnos is a still and tranquil island with a mythic reputation as a haven for potters and ceramicists. One need only step inside the Archaeological Museum in Sifnos, which opened in 2010, to understand why. The museum is a tribute to an ancient craft honed by islanders for thousands of years. It sits in the ancient village of Kastro and offers pottery found in the area that dates from the Geometric period to the Hellenistic period. Terracotta urns and clay figurines provide fascinating insight. There are artefacts from the Acropolis too, allowing visitors to contextualise the influence and style of Sifnos’ makers.
The rich lineage of pottery on Sifnos can be attributed to the clay-based earth and the copious sun which blesses the island throughout the year. When the practices began, potters first worked in the hills to protect themselves from pirates who roved around the Aegean. In the late 1800s, the island’s coastline was lined with potteries as the workshops moved down from the hills to the shore. The makers continued the traditional practices that evolved from centuries ago. Their ceramics were exported across Greece, with much of it reportedly going to Lesvos and Maroussi in Athens.
These workshops produced utility-based ceramics such as cooking pots, water holders, milk jugs and even the tops of chimneys. The terracotta creations continue to be visible everywhere. They are used to serve delicious Sifnos cuisine and still decorate the tops of the iconic white-and-blue houses. Alongside these more purpose-driven items are decorative urns and plates. The outsides are painted traditionally, with simple narratives or patterns.
With such good conditions and a long legacy behind them, it’s no surprise that local makers continue to practice the art of ceramic-making today. Pottery is still a thriving industry in Sifnos with countless workshops and small pottery shops across the island.
It’s easy to explore them too. Visitors arrive at the island via the small port of Agia Marina. It’s a serene and underdeveloped area with a scatter of cafés that line the road and a long sandy beach to one side. Buses leave from the back of the port and take you inland towards the central area of Sifnos, to the village of Apollonia. Here you’ll find plenty of intricate streets and rooftop restaurants that sell delicious plates of feta, honey and sesame, slow-cooked meats baked with oregano and succulent vegetables in fresh salads.
Small shops selling handcrafted designs can be found hidden along the picturesque winding streets of Apollonia, and there are many workshops to visit too. One such spot for those interested in seeing modern Sifnos ceramic practice is Julie Tzanni Ceramics. The designer’s workshop is just outside the main village and offers modern ceramic design as well as contemporary porcelain jewellery inspired by the island.
Venture farther from the centre, and there are hidden gems aplenty. In the village of Kamares, Apostolidis ceramics workshop has continued the family ceramic business, which started in 1800. Visit the workshop for a chance to witness the beautiful traditional craftsmanship for yourself. Afterwards, enjoy a meal in one of the sleepy tavernas on the beach nearby.
There’s also the opportunity to experience the practical side of the craft. Hotel Verina offers pottery classes for guests, ensuring you leave with a unique sense of Sifnos’ creativity in your suitcase.