Characteristic Greek scenery, neighborhoods, architectural details, emblematic faces, charming customs: 270 special moments, 270 individual clicks from an equal number of instaphotographers transport viewers to every corner of Greece, aiming to show off the country’s timeless charm and identity. These are works which feature in the #My_Greece: Villages photography exhibition, which developed from an open competition organized in the summer of 2019 by the team at Greek Instagramers Events, which promotes Greece through photographic projects on social media.
The works, selected from 4,500 entries, were first exhibited at the 35th Thessaloniki Philoxenia, Greece’s largest international tourism fair, in November 2019. Covid-19 interrupted plans for a tour of the exhibition around Greece, but this has been rescheduled for the current year, under the auspices of the Greece 2021 Committee as part of the bicentennial celebrations of the Greek Revolution. At the same time, Bell Books plans to publish a 180-page catalog, with all proceeds going to the Mazi gia to Paidi (Together for Children) group of charities.
Giorgos Vegardos – Kalyvakia, Karditsa
A kid wearing a tie is pictured checking out a rusty old bicycle, of the type seen regularly in the Greek countryside. It has been abandoned in the backyard of a house in the village of Kalyvakia, located around 20 kilometers from the town of Karditsa.
Its 140 inhabitants are true Karagounides (as the traditional population of the area is known), mostly farmers, and village life remains simple, like in the old days. This is the way of life that Giorgos Vegardos wanted to convey to his children, who are growing up in Athens. Nostalgia drove him to take this picture, as the abandoned house is where a childhood friend of his grew up, and where they used to play. “In this very spot, many years ago, another child rode this bike into the village streets with his friends, to fill them with children’s voices and laugher,” he muses.
Varsamia Zangogianni – Gorgopotamos, Fthiotida
Eleni is a neighbor of the photographer Varsamia Zangogianni, and every year in Holy Week she whitewashes the walls around her home, as do all the ladies of Gorgopotamos in Fthiotida and all the villages in Greece, as a whitewashed wall is a sign of good housekeeping. “Since childhood I remember the grandmothers, then their daughters and daughters-in-law whitewashing the yards and the walls. It had nothing to do with being rich or poor, having a large house or a small cottage. They were all good housewives, and that had to be shown off,” the photographer says.
Gorgopotamos is located 9 kilometers outside the town of Lamia, in the foothills of Mt Iti, and thanks to the waters of the Gorgopotamos River, the village is choked in plane trees, making it a cool resting stop for visitors to the area. At Easter, Gorgopotamos natives return to the village, and along with the 400 permanent inhabitants they parade the Epitaphios (the bier representing Christ’s tomb) around the village on Good Friday – that is why all houses should be freshly whitewashed and sparkling white, according to tradition.
Laced with history
Elentina Manataki – Gavalochori, Hania
The women of Gavalochori near Hania still make bobbin lace, an ancient technique where thread, wound on small sticks (kopaneli), is braided and twisted entirely by hand. Young girls are still keen to learn the technique, as their mothers and grandmothers continue to practice it, unlike other areas of Crete where it has been abandoned – they have even founded a women’s cooperative to promote it.
“There is no design to follow. The embroiderer creates her own design, either by memorizing another design she has already created, or embroidering freestyle. The word “kopanaki” describes the rhythmical sound made by the sticks,” says photographer Elentina Manataki, who has roots in the village and often watches the women at work. You will find them easily enough yourself, walking around the traditional village with its pretty houses, full kafeneios, and the beautiful Historical and Folklore Museum, where you can learn other exciting stories about the place.
Vassilis Mantas – Amorgos
The little donkey almost seems to be striking a pose against the backdrop of whitewashed walls of the Panaghia Hozoviotissa monastery. This island composition that embodies Greece was taken by photographer Vassilis Mantas on the island of Amorgos. The photographer himself wanted to capture the architectural features of the monastery as much as the immediacy of the animal’s posture, which he thought to be almost human.
Perhaps the space inspires all of this: Hozoviotissa monastery, located just 2 kilometers from beautiful Hora, the capital of Amorgos, is one of Greece’s most popular pilgrimages. Built in the 11th century on a cliff face, it gazes into the endless blue of the Aegean sea. Beneath it is the beach of Aghia Anna, which was the location for Luc Besson’s film The Big Blue.
Freedom and hope
Polyxeni Myladie Stoumbou – Batsi, Andros
Blue and white. A Greek island, the Greek flag, Greece. During the Metaxas era, whitewashing was made compulsory on the islands, initially for reasons of hygiene, later for order and uniformity, replacing the traditional motley colors of Cycladic settlements. So it was at Batsi, a seaside village on the island of Andros, which becomes a popular holiday destination in the summer, thanks to a beautiful beach with tamarisk trees, tavernas and bars.
On March 25, when this photo was taken, the village was quiet, following the morning celebrations of the anniversary of the Greek Revolution. Photographer Polyxeni Myladie Stoumbou was taking a stroll with some friends. The breezy girl dressed in red who broke the absolute harmony of colors for a few moments seemed to symbolize the freedom and hope of childhood. A perfect match for the spirit of the day.
Amalia Tsakiri – Kastro, Boeotia
The flat expanses of land either side of the Athens-Lamia national highway usually passes by at great speed when driving along in a car. Most of the land is fields, cultivated by local farmers. Agriculture, which once defined the Greek countryside, continues to define a way of life: early mornings, long workdays outdoors, tending to the fields.
On one of her usual commutes from Lamia to Athens, photographer Amalia Tsakiri’s gaze settled on a particular field, which she had noticed before. This time she noticed two women working stooped over a series of pipes, probably for irrigation. This was near Kastro, at Orchomenos, a farming village of 800 souls. She turned off the highway and stood watching them for a while. One of the women approached the pipes and began to inspect them, possibly wondering how much more work she had left to do. This was the shot: “In the soft colors of sundown, her body posture, the way she observed the pipes in the field, spoke of the hardships of daily life on the land,” the photographer says.
Architecture and nature
Drosoula Tsoumani – Papigo, Ioannina
Built in the shadow of the impressive stone castles of Astraka, Mikro and Megalo Papigo are easily the best-known villages in the Zagori region. Cobbled streets, village squares shaded by plane trees, characteristic churches and houses in the unique local style, built of stone with slate roofs. Most of the 48 villages making up the Zagori region were built in the 18th and 19th centuries by the famous Epirote master builders, and are in themselves a lesson in architecture.
Visitors here are charmed, whatever the season. The beauty of Tymfi and the Vikos and Voidomatis rivers is constantly transforming throughout the year: from snow in winter, to the wildflowers in spring, the verdant gorges in summer and the turning leaves in autumn – captured in Drosoula Tsoumani’s photo. This is the season for enjoying all-day treks and outdoor activities, and seeking warmth and hospitality in one of the wonderful inns or tavernas. Papigo is the most developed village in the area, and its 300 permanent inhabitants work mostly in tourism.
Prayer for rain
Christos Zorbas – Poliani, Messinia
In many villages in Greece it is customary to parade church icons at different times of the year. However, this photograph taken by Christos Zorbas does not show a customary procession, but an exceptional ritual – a prayer for rain.
This unusual prayer took place a few years ago in Poliani, a tiny farming village with fewer than 100 inhabitants in Messinia, which is proud of its Byzantine churches and of its sons who were among the leaders of the 1821 Revolution: Papaflessas and Anagnostaras. After a prolonged drought, and fearing the loss of their harvest, on the day of Aghia Mavra (May 3), they carried the icons out of the churches and into the fields to pray. This used to be more common across Greece around Easter. While it has become less frequent, it seems that the ancient custom is revived when things get tough.