As tourism to Athens finally appears to be picking up after several years, it is becoming all the more apparent how backward the Greek capital is in selling itself. And, no, I don’t mean in terms of promoting Athens as a destination and advertising campaigns, areas where there has been some progress in recent years. I’m talking mainly about souvenirs, a huge market for all countries that rely on tourism and one which Athens seems to have overlooked almost entirely, or even looked down on, as it remains stuck back in the day when a Greek souvenir meant a plastic doll dressed as a presidential guard in a foustanella skirt.
An effort launched a few years ago by the City of Athens to introduce a new philosophy with innovate products signed by one of the country’s most prestigious design firms, K2, headed by Yiannis Kouroudis, did manage to shake things up quite a bit, but a stroll in the old quarter of Plaka proves that there is still a very long way to go.
In this sense, the Only in Athens project, a joint initiative between architectural firm Point Supreme and the Blanco team headed by poet Stathis Kefalouros, is making some headway by presenting alternative souvenirs for Athens.
The idea started in 2009 when Constantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou of Point Supreme started experimenting with ideas based on the concept of Athens, creating a line of stamps, posters and other items. Meanwhile, Blanco was doing its own thing to promote Athens life with the photography exhibition “Athens Will Surprise You.”
“We met around that time and decided to do something together; that’s how Only in Athens came about,” Pantazis told Kathimerini recently.
The Only in Athens campaign is different to anything we’ve seen before in the Greek capital and is inspired by the characteristics that make the city unique, both in a good and a bad way.
“Foreign visitors to Athens are instantly aware that the sights of the modern city stand apart and are almost exotic. They comment on them, laugh about them, ask questions and ultimately remember them well. Even if some of its traits make their lives difficult, they don’t get exasperated because they don’t have to live here and everything that happens is part of the adventure of travel. The new souvenirs are inspired by these paradoxes and will remind them of Greece and Athens in particular once they get back home,” explains Pantazis.
Pantazis is right when he says that Europeans are especially curious about what is going on in Athens right now.
“All the things that seem to happen only in Athens today, combined with the classical tradition, have created a new identity for the city. And that is exactly what we want to represent with our Only in Athens products, which, for example, include an Athenian apartment building,” says the designer.
The Only in Athens products – mostly T-shirts and other cloth items stamped with emblematic images – went on display at a store in Athens in March and will be on sale at the next Meet Market bazaar this weekend (April 12-13) at the Technopolis complex in Gazi. The creators hope that their products will soon become more broadly available at major tourists hubs such as Plaka, the islands and Athens Airport.
“The tablecloth that depicts Athens as an island and which is the first we created for the series will hopefully finds its way onto tables at tavernas in Athens and along the city’s southern coast,” says Pantazis.
For Greek Orthodox Christians Easter is the major religious holiday, and holy week takes on an especially colorful significance, religiously and socially. The rites of Easter in Greece contain a number of features that predate Christianity, like rites of spring, but have been assimilated into the Christian celebrations.
Holy Week is characterized by a deeper sense of spirituality than any other week of the year that bring together Greeks in churches to celebrate the Holy Passion, culminating in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday.
In general, on Holy Thursday, women and children adorn the Epitaphios, the funerary bier of Christ, with flowers, and all parishes vie with each other about which is most beautifully adorned. On Friday the congregation parades the Epitaphios in a funerary procession through the streets conducting the relevant liturgy as they go along.
On Saturday,on the occasion of the proclamation that “Christ has Risen” fireworks are launched, shotguns are fired in the air and generally there is much mayhem as kisses are exchanged between family, friends, and strangers, and the Holy Light is passed to light all candles.
The celebrations for those that have not experienced them before become a cherished memory, and although there is the underlying tow of the Holy Passion, every place in Greece has its own characteristic celebratory customs. Some places though are guaranteed to offer more colorful customs, and some are guaranteed to be a blast.
Vrontados on the island of Chios promises to enthrall those that love fireworks and rockets. On the night of the Resurrection (Saturday after midnight) the locals at two different parishes in Vrontados, bombard each others’ churches, situated on opposing hilltops, with thousands of homemade rockets, turning day into night. Occasionally some mishaps take place.
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By Lily Baggott
I lay in my bed fit for an American Girl doll, drifting off to sleep as the boat plowed through the Aegean waves. Nine hours later we arrived on the wonderful island of Crete.
The weekend was jam-packed. In three days I visited the sites of the first European civilizations, saw the first Greek law code, and stood at the epicenter of the Cretan revolt against the Ottomans. I saw a potter recreate ancient trickery, and I swam in the Libyan sea. I indulged in shopping and stuffed my face with snails.
All of Greece is rich in history. But there was something special about Crete. Inhabited for thousands of years, the island remains vibrant today. In the little seaside villages and larger port towns we visited, there were always good food, friendly people, and natural beauty to be found. The small inland village of potters, Margarites, took the idea of community to an extreme. Our trip to the Arkadi Monastery was enlightening; I learned about modern Greek history and the war for independence, and our group received well wishes for the Easter holiday from a sweet old woman.
The temperature is increasing, the clouds are clearing, and the flowers are blooming here in Greece. It seems that all I want to do is post pictures because I’ve given up on trying to express what I’m seeing in words. It’s also probably because my time seems to be slipping away—only 8 more weeks?! So, here are several snapshots from this weekend. Enjoy!
Reconstructed entrance at the Palace of Knossos.
Demonstration of trickery, Margarites.
Rachel and me, Plaka. In the background is a former leper colony.
Fried shrimp in Plaka!
Lily Baggott is a Government and Classics undergraduate student at Wesleyan University and is studying with CYA for Spring ‘14!
The Getty Museum has announced that it is voluntarily returning a 12th-century Byzantine illuminated New Testament to a monastery in Greece after learning that the item had been illegally removed from the Monastery of Dionysiou more than 50 years ago. Officials at the Getty said in a release on Monday that the museum acquired the manuscript in 1983 as part of a “large, well-documented” collection.
The manuscript is currently at the Getty Center in Brentwood as part of the exhibition “Heaven and Earth: Byzantine Illumination at the Cultural Crossroad.” It has been featured in 14 exhibitions at the Getty, and was loaned to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1997 for its exhibition “The Glory of Byzantium.”
The Getty said it conducted research into the manuscript with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports over the last six weeks. “Based on new information that came to light through this process, the museum decided that the right course of action was to return the manuscript to the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou from which it disappeared over 50 years ago,” said Timothy Potts, director of Getty Museum, in a statement.
The Getty said the research yielded a 1960 monastery record indicating that the book had been illegally removed. The museum said the report of its disappearance had never been made public, nor had information about the theft been made available to the Getty, to law enforcement officials or to any databases of stolen art.
In 2011, the Getty signed a memorandum of understanding with Greece under which both parties agreed to deter the illicit traffic in antiquities. The agreement also provided for cultural exchanges and joint scientific research.
The agreement stems in part from the museum’s past troubles with Greece and Italy over looted antiquities. The disputes centered in large part on former Getty antiquities curator Marion True, who was accused of purchasing illegally excavated items.
The Getty said the New Testament manuscript will be returned to Greece after the “Heaven and Earth” exhibition closes in June 22. The Getty Villa will host the companion exhibition “Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections” beginning Wednesday and running until Aug. 25.