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Ermoupolis, the capital of Syros island September 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Greece Islands Aegean.
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Once a force in architecture and industry, Ermoupolis retains its neoclassical charm
Syros’s capital evolved from a deserted stretch of coast into Greece’s main 19th century port

  Bavarian and Italian architects built villas in Ermoupolis between 1840 and 1860. Their work is still much in evidence.

Ermoupolis in Syros, when viewed from an arriving ferry, presents one of the most purely neoclassical images in Greece’s urban geography.

As one explores the streets leading up the town’s two hills, it is hard to imagine that in 1821, when the Greek War of Independence began, this was an “uninhabited, deserted stretch of coast” inhabited only by “unsuspecting frogs” and a place that not even the island’s fishermen would visit.

Ermoupolis peaked shortly after being settled and soon became an industrial and commercial 19th century metropolis. Syros took a neutral stance during the War of Independence, firstly because it had no quarrel with the Turks, who had granted the island a self-governing status, and secondly because that was the advice of the island’s French patrons.

Protected from the effects of the war, Syros’s port became a haven for refugees from Smyrna and other parts of Asia Minor, from the Peloponnese and the islands of Samos, Crete, Rhodes and especially from Chios, Kasos, Hydra and Psara.

The refugees lived in tents and wooden shacks as they believed that their stay was temporary. Very soon, however, enterprising Chiots and Kasiots entered into business and the town began to be built, each group of refugees forming a district, hence their names: Psariana, Hydraika, Vrontado, Egripiotika.

The oldest is Ano Syra, the medieval town built around AD 1200 around the church of Aghios Georgios at the top of the hill.

After 1830 the situation settled and the town’s inhabitants became prominent in the transit trade of the eastern Mediterranean, in the textile, tanning, iron, shipping, banking construction and shipbuilding industries. In 1869, Syra was Greece’s main commercial port. The entire community was dedicated to the god Hermes, after whom the port was named. It was the metropolis of the “second chance,” a miniature New York of its time.

Prosperity brought culture, art, opera, clubs and architecture. For the new urban class, the dream was to acquire one of the new neoclassical houses being built based on a town plan designed by Wilhelm von Weiler in 1937. According to reports by Andreas Syngros, the locals would scrimp on everything else, including food, in order to invest in luxuries and an imposing home in the latest European architectural style.

Famous Bavarian and Italian architects worked feverishly from 1940 to 1960, the period when the town took on the shape seen today.

The neoclassical style employed was either Athenian, French or German, with a narrow facade, no courtyards, thick walls built of large stones, timber floors, marble rectangular balconies, decorative iron railings, and stone work carved by stonemasons from Tinos and Andros.

A wooden staircase leads straight to the upper floor where the reception rooms were situated, with ceilings painted by Italian artists. The ground floor, if not occupied by a commercial establishment, was where the dining room, kitchen and family sitting room were found.

The inward-looking and very private homes were somewhat foreign to the maritime, Mediterranean temperament of sociability. Walking out of one of these houses and heading up to Ano Syra, one has the sense of entering another world. European introversion gives way to a Cycladic landscape, an open sky, and simple cubist architecture.

A tour of the town as it is today begins in the port. There you can see the Customs House at Nisaki and the Lighthouse, a monument built in 1934 and whose light, according to legend, could be seen as far away as Smyrna.

There are also buildings along the waterfront, including the historic old hotels such as the Aktaion, the Hermes and the Kymata.

At the heart of the town is the 19th century Miaoulis Square, with Ernst Ziller’s imposing town hall.

Further on are the districts of Metamorphosis and Vrontado and the mansions of the wealthy Chiots, then Vaporia, with its view of the sea.

The families of Vaporia – the Rallises, the Rodokanakises, the Mavrokordatoses – trace their origins to Byzantium. Some hailed from the island of Chios but others were aristocrats from Hydra, Roumeli, Smyrna and Psara.

The town’s heyday lasted little more than a decade or perhaps a generation at best. The rich industrialists soon abandoned Ermoupolis for Athens and the capitals of Europe.

The administrative center of the southern Aegean, Syros today retains its self-sufficiency and nurtures a budding economy that is not entirely dependent on tourism, unlike the area’s other islands.

Top things to do and see in Ermoupolis > While visiting in the capital of Syros:

– Check out one of Greece’s oldest bookshops, the Stathopoulos Bookstore at 5 Proiou Street. It’s been in the same family since 1912.

Nineta’s Confectionery for homemade soumada (almond liqueur) and sour cherry cordial, to the music of Manos Hadjidakis underneath the bougainvillea.

– Try some ouzo and appetizers at the Apollon.

– Go Italian and order pasta at the Dolce Vita and follow it up with ice cream at the Daidadi in the port.

– Try Korres’s loukoumia.

– Pay a visit to Mykoniatis’s traditional cafe opposite the cemetery.

– Watch the sunset as you try traditional dishes at Plakostroto in the lovely, half-deserted village of San Michalis.

– Stay at Apollon guest house at 8 Apollonos Street (tel 22810 81387), once the home of King Otto.

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Books > Photographing Patras in black and white September 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life Greek.
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“A sideways glance” of the city by Panayiotis Sotiropoulos

Patras as seen by a native son in “Patras Photographic: Profile of a Vanishing City” a handsome volume just out from Potamos.

The latest of several illustrated volumes dedicated to Patras and published this year while the city was Cultural Capital of Europe, “Patras: Photographic Profile of a Vanishing City” is an intimate portrait of a place and its people.

The photographer, Panayiotis Sotiropoulos, is a native of Patras, and it shows. The black-and-white photographs in this collection, taken over a period of 25 years, reveal a close personal relationship with the city.

Sotiropoulos is an architect who teaches drawing and the effects of environmental factors on historic buildings at the Technical School of Patras University. He taught photography for many years, and has exhibited and published his images.

“Selecting the photos for the book,” he writes in the introduction, “I realize that the quest for your own city is the most difficult, the innermost one.”

The book is not a nostalgia trip, nor a linear account of the city, he explains, but rather “a sideways glance at aspects of the city’s reality.”

Indeed Sotiropoulos rarely goes for the obvious shot, and even when he photographs city landmarks he always has his own slant on them. His image of the Rio-Antirio bridge under construction has nothing of the triumphal that is familiar from news photos. Instead there is an air of mystery to its pylons shown in the half-light, with a vast, dark expanse of sea to one side.

In a shot of passengers on a ferry that appears on the book jacket, the sea is not visible. All we see is the backs of some passengers, and a couple with their heads lowered, caught up in their own worlds.

There is an inwardness to his pictures of people, which are usually not posed, but captured in spontaneous moments, walking the dog, at work, at play.

His beach shots never record the glittering sands and water of summer, but fleeting visual moments – the volleyball net seemingly stranded with its legs in the water, the contrasting texture of rocks and sea at dusk, a wooden pier making striking black shapes against the water.

He photographs fishermen on the job, small specialist stores that have survived modernization, the melancholy grandeur of abandoned industrial buildings, and corners of the city where old meets new in unexpected juxtapositions, some incongruous, some graceful.

Sotiropoulos’s power of observation and skill with the camera take everyday scenes and offer them anew for contemplation in an attractively presented bilingual Greek-English edition competently translated by Judy Yiannakopoulou.

Accompanying the images are poems from an unpublished collection, “Long Walk in Patras” by Christos Tsiamis, translated by Jane Nisselson Assimakopoulos and Karen Emmerich.

A succinct appendix offers helpful historical background and context for the photos, divided into five groups: Anonymous Paths, The Old Ayios Andreas Hospital, The City of Toil, The Harbor Front, Industrial Memories and On the Outskirts of the City.

Anniversary shows of ‘La Bayadere’ September 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Ballet Dance Opera, Hellenic Athens Festival.
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The Royal Ballet of Sweden will appear at the Herod Atticus Theater.

The three performances that Sweden’s Royal Ballet is to give at the Herod Atticus Theater next week are among this autumn’s highlights.

The legendary ballet company, which was founded in 1773, will perform Leon Minkus’s popular ballet “La Bayadere,” choreographed by Natalia Makarova, on September 13, 14 and 15 on the occasion of UNESCO’s 60th birthday. Makarova will be in Athens to attend the shows and meet with her fans.

The ballet, set in India at the time of the maharajahs, tells the dramatic story of a dancer who falls in love with a noble warrior. Makarova based her work on the original choreography by Marius Petipa and added a final act. Talking about her own, poetic version of “La Bayadere,” Makarova said that every time she stages the work she tries to convey the ballet’s spiritual atmosphere to the dancers.

The Athens performances, which are taking place with the support of the Swedish Embassy, will feature leading dancers Marie Lindqvist, Anna Valev, Jan-Erik Wikstrom and Goran Svalberg.

Shows start at 8.30 p.m. at the Herod Atticus Theater, near the Acropolis Metro Station. Tickets cost 15, 30, 45, 65, 75 and 95 euros and they can be purchased at the Hellenic Festival box office, 39 Panepistimiou Street, Athens, tel 210 3272000 and at the theater’s box office.

Fashion > Sprider opens three new retail stores September 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Fashion & Style, Shopping.
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Apparel and shoe retailer Sprider is expanding its retail chain, news reports said.

Sprider, a subsidiary of Haji-Ioannou, is said to be opening three new stores this month. One of the outlets will be located in the Arta, western Greece, and is expected to be opened on 15 September. The other two stores, planned for 21 September, will be located on the Aegean island of Chios.

Sprider, which will have 43 units after the openings, is eyeing an eventual total of 60 megastores in Greece and 20 city stores, reported Greek News Digest in May.

Foreign tourist arrivals rose 8.3% September 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Tourism.
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Foreign tourist arrivals in Greece rose by 8.3 percent in 2005 over the preceding year 2004, according to figures released Wednesday by Greece’s national statistics service (ESYE) regarding the previous year’s numbers.

According to the ESYE figures, arrivals from Europe, which account for 93 percent of the tourist market, rose by 6.5 percent in 2005, with the largest proportion (19 percent) coming from the UK, followed by Germany (15.7 percent), and Italy (7.9 percent).

A substantial increase was also recorded in arrivals from Romania (51.5 percent), Bulgaria (36.3 percent) and Russia (28.1 percent).

With respect to a breakdown of data concerning “travel means” and “point of entry”, the airports with the highest rate of traffic in 2005 were Athens’ Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (AIA), with 24.1 percent, followed by Irakleio Airport (Crete) with 12.8 percent; Rhodes with 7.8 percent and Corfu with 5.6 percent.

In a comparison with 2004, the airports with the largest increase in traffic in 2005 were Mykonos (14.8 percent) and Santorini (10.5 percent), while declines in arrivals were recorded at the airports of Kavala (25.6 percent), Rhodes (77.8 percent) and Patras (Araxos) (49.3 percent).

A 2.6-percent increase was also recorded in passenger arrivals on charter flights in 2005 as opposed to 2004.