In the middle of the hot days of August, I was sun bathing and enjoying the wonderful beaches of Serifos. My mind was still occupied with things I left behind and my summer book was still unopened in the bottom of my backpack. It was sheer laziness for all us, our movements were specific only splashes and nosedives in the crystal waters in order to avoid sunstroke. Somehow the joy of the sea woke me up with the desire of an exploration. I had read about the abandoned Serifos mines, in Megalo Livadi as a picturesque and unique place. The time was perfect; nearing sunset. With the guidance of a friend who offered to be our guide we arrived in Megalo Livadi where the story begins.
Mines are a significant part of the history of Serifos
Serifos is linked from the ancient times to the mines that exist on the island and which flourished and gave prosperity to the islanders. In the antiquity, slaves used to work in these mines, until they temporarily closed in the Roman Era. In the Venetian Times, the mines reopened and the island prospered again. However, due to the frequent attacks of pirates and the suppression of the Ottomans, the mines had again to be closed for a long time. After the end of the Greek Revolution, in 1830, Serifos reopened its mines, which started operating on a big scale.
The economy of the island boomed but the working conditions in the mines were awful for the laborers. The safety measures were inadequate and many of the workers died in working accidents. The mining activities were controlled by the German company of the Gromans and they exploited the unfortunate mine workers for many years. In 1916 the inhuman working conditions led the workers to revolt. The strike broke out on the 7th of August 1916, when the workers refused to load the minerals on a ship. The leader of the strikers is said to have been Konstantinos Speras. The workers demanded eight-hour work, increase to the day’s wages and the taking of safety measures. Gromman asked the help of the Greek authorities and on the 20th of August a detachment arrived in order to put down the strike. The police officers gave a five-minute notice to the workers to end the strike and then opened fire and killed 4 workers . The workers naturally reacted and, together with their wives and children who were on the spot, attacked the police officers, killed certain among them and it is said to have thrown their bodies in the sea. As a result of the revolt, the working conditions in the mines rather improved, however exploitation of human labour continued until the mines closed in 1963, when the Gromman's heirs found richer mines in South Africa and abandoned the mines of Serifos.
Our visit to the mines was on the 7th of August 2016, 100 years from the day the strike on this place broke out. As I was climbing on the rocks and walking on narrow paths, I was amazed not only by the view but by the hardness of the scenery. I was thinking the toughness of this job and the raw conditions for those workers who had the strength to revolt and to demand eight-hour work even for me…
Lots of the mining galleries are reachable to visitors by the right guidance. Everything starts from the main gallery of a mine at the area of Mikro Livadi, which goes through an entire mountain and ends up to the bay of Koutala - Kalogero (only approached by the sea).
As urban explorers, we rest at one of the traditional taverns on the area where we tasted delicious homemade Greek dishes.
words Sonia Farasopoulou, photos Kiki Kapasakalidou