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The Anthropologist

You love learning about different cultures through direct experience. You are deeply and genuinely interested in both the historical and the contemporary way of life of any place that you visit and always want to “get beneath the surface” and see what’s going on off the beaten track. You’re seeking an authentic experience and have little interest in shows put on especially for tourists. It’s important to you to try to speak at least a few words of the local language and you’d be thrilled to have the chance to join in the celebrations at a traditional island festival and learn some of the popular Greek folkdance steps.

In Greece, of course, one of the most difficult questions for someone like you is “Where to begin?” The incredible legacy of Greek history, from the mythological to the archaeological, the philosophical to the theatrical, hardly lends itself to a quick visit. Such immense cultural wealth must be discovered slowly so that it can be savored and fully appreciated. You probably expect to stay for a longer period than the typical holidaymaker, perhaps in Spring or Autumn rather than in the height of the summer tourism season, allowing you to truly get to know and understand the culture and connect with local people.

The rich cultural heritage of Paros is reflected in the many panigyria (local festivals) centered around religious holidays – Greek Orthodoxy being an inseparable dimension of Greek culture – that take place on the island year-round. Christmas and New Year celebrations include bazaars, processions in the village streets singing the traditional “kalanda” and, in recent years, “Christmas Villages” in Paroikia, Naoussa and Marpissa have been set up. These events are followed on 6 January by the Epiphany when priests lead a procession to the shore to bless the sea, the holy cross is thrown into the water and young men dive into the freezing water to retrieve it. In February/March the annual three-week carnival period takes place with costume parties and parades and a lot of Dionysian high jinks, followed by the start of Lent when the Orthodox faithful begin their pre-Easter fast on Clean Monday, customarily a day for picnics and for making and flying kites. Independence Day on 25 March is marked by candle-lit processions and parades by all the schoolchildren of the island, many in traditional national dress.

Easter is the most important holy festival on the Greek Orthodox calendar and Good Friday is celebrated on Paros with the Lenten dish of chickpeas “revithada”, at a community meal in the village of Prodromos and candlelit processions of the epitaphios as well as the unique and spectacular “anaparastaseis” in several villages, a series of dramatic tableaux portraying scenes from the Passion – the last days and events in the life of Christ. Experience the sacred moment at the Ekatontapyliani, the Church of the Hundred Doors and the oldest Byzantine church in Greece, when at midnight on Easter Saturday the congregation light their candles from the holy flame and proclaim that “Christ is Risen”, immediately followed by the loud and joyful ringing of church bells and booming fireworks.

With the arrival of Spring, the island is ablaze with wild flowers, villagers collect mushrooms and snails from the fields and pick wild greens for nutritious plates of “horta”, beekeepers inspect their hives, local farmers are busy planting their crops, and on 1st May the flowers are gathered to be woven into traditional May Day wreaths that will later be burned on the bonfires of Aghios Ioannis Kleidonas on 23 June.

July sees the Festival of Local Parian Products, the Naoussa Feast of Fish & Wine, the Giorgos Konitopoulos Cultural Festival in Alyki, the revival of the custom of Pezotratas in Paroikia and the start of the summer performances of the traditional folkdance groups. Exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photography, concerts of classical, folk and jazz take place all over the island throughout the summer months; ancient and modern, local and international influences combining to create a truly cosmopolitan artistic community. The Festival of the Metamorphosis of the Saviour is celebrated in Marpissa and Alyki on 6 August, and 15 August marks the busiest point of the tourism season and the Festival of the Virgin Mary, with services at the Church of a Hundred Doors, the procession of the holy icon, street markets, live music and dancing and a spectacular firework display. In the same month in Lefkes, the Karavolas Festival takes place, and on 23 August Naoussa hosts the Pirate Festival with an historical reenactment of the raids by the pirates of old on the little fishing port, dancing, live music played on folk instruments, and grilled octopus and local wine offered by the local community. Also in August is the 3-day cultural and experiential festival Routes of Marpissa, where participants follow pathways through the traditional settlement interacting with exhibits and activities around themes of architecture, history, folklore, music, art and the environment. At the end of the month, the Ageranos Cyclos is held in Lefkes with workshops and performances in traditional Greek music and dance.

Such a rich and impressive cultural life is largely due to the presence of numerous active local associations which ensure the continuation of island traditions, support initiatives for the creation of new ones, strive to protect and preserve the natural environment, and promote community engagement; indeed, preparations for some of the largest and most ambitious events require the participation of entire villages! These opportunities for collective activities also contribute significantly to the sense of identity, social solidarity and cohesion in the community.

From May to September, the museums on Paros are open daily; the Folklore Museum of Cycladic Civilization housing the extraordinary hand-crafted replicas of famous Cycladic buildings and ships, the Perantinos Museum featuring the work of Parian sculptor Nikos Perantinos, several folk museums with collections of historical and folklore items, books, manuscripts, photographs, ancient coins, maps and traditional costumes. The Ekatontapyliani Byzantine Museum with holy icons from the 15-18th century and the Archaeological Museum that includes exhibits from the Neolithic up to the Roman period are also of great interest.

As the fierce heat of the summer begins to fade, the grape harvest gets underway, a few farmers still trampling the grapes underfoot in the traditional manner, and later, around the end of October, distilling the must (grape residue) in local stills to make the potent spirit “souma”, a process that is simultaneously a social event with plenty of tasting, locals bringing food to share, and accompanying music and dancing. The olive harvest too, during the months of November and December, is much more than a mere task to be accomplished; often entire families will be involved in the picking and sorting, spreading nets on the ground to catch the falling olives combed from the laden branches and enjoying picnics beneath the trees before taking their harvest to the local presses.

For those who are interested in more than a superficial glimpse of life on a Greek island, Paros has a great deal to offer. As well as the cultural, social, artistic and agricultural aspects, there are numerous important archaeological sites, the ancient quarries at Marathi, the traditional settlement of Paroikia with its noble neoclassical homes and Venetian castle, and a large number of local artisans, skilled potters, weavers and jewelers. There is also a wealth of local literature available on the tradition and culture of the past and of contemporary society.

Paros… so many things to do, to see, to touch and to taste.

Paros – your dream destination!

Links and recommendations:

Panigyria & Festivals


Traditional Farming



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