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Greek Twins Turn Family Home to Skiathos Museum

Manesi twins Skiathos House
Twin sisters Fotini and Marena Manesi have transformed the home they grew up into a museum. Credit: Facebook/Skiathiatikospiti

Fotini and Marena Manesi are serious about preserving their heritage. The twin sisters have turned their family home, into the Skiathos House museum.

The sisters have dedicated a great deal of both time and resources as well as having the support of the extended family to preserve the family’s heirlooms that date back to the 19th century in Skiathos House museum.  The twins spoke to the Greek language news outlet Athens Voice recently about their efforts.

Twins Raised In Mansion Now Skiathos House Museum

The Manesi sisters, born and raised in the mansion, want to share its history with the world.  Skiathos House museum offers a window into life on the island during the last century, highlighting its cultural heritage. Skiathos House museum is based on the idea that the descendants themselves tell the story of their ancestors in the house in which five generations of the family lived.

dowry letters Skiathos House
Letters and family records on yellowed paper are part of the heirlooms on display in Skiathos House museum. Credit: Image courtesy of Skiathiatiko Spiti

A two-story house made from stone in 1910 sits in the center of a quiet street in the center of Skiathos’ Chora. As you cross the threshold of Skiathos House museum, a chestnut dining table is positioned centrally below a chandelier dating from 1883.

Ascending the wooden staircase the visitor will find the family’s loom positioned prominently. The loom was a tool used daily by the family of weavers to create the family wardrobe, dating back five generations.

Twin sisters, Fotini and Marena Manesis, at 27 years old, decided to create an “open house” for the public in order to share their family’s heritage through Skiathos House museum.

Skiathos House Museum: Living Among Memories

According to Fotini Manesi, “Ever since we can remember, we have lived among the memories and stories of the ancestors of the mansion, bequeathed from generation to generation along with the items within the house. Each generation held the objects of the previous as a sign of respect. Four years ago we decided to ‘open’ our house to the public by creating an open house in Skiathos.”

Guided tours are conducted at the Skiathos House museum by the sisters in an experiential way. The are enriched with information, coming from the technical expertise each sister possesses.

Objects are  organized and placed based on Marena’s architectural and museology knowledge, which she studied formally at university.  Fotini offers the narrative based on her studies in education. The transformation of their house into an “exhibit” took about a year and a half.

One of the rooms of the Skiathos House museum is dedicated to photographs dating across the past 150 years. Photograph settings show images of Skiathos and the States, as several family members immigrated to Newport, RI.

Skiathos House museum bedroom
The bedroom and formal fashion of the Skiathos House museum. Credit: Image courtesy of Skiathiatiko Spiti

In another room, four wooden chests, hold documents and dowries recorded from the late 1800s, handwritten texts and watermarks, which are visible when the paper is held up to the light.

Handmade Heirlooms Adorn Skiathos House Museum

In yet another room, there is a large iron bed and the wooden “bride’s chest” in which the bride kept her dowries.  The wooden chest, filled with the bride’s treasures, rests on hand loomed Skiathos rugs that complete the Skiathos House museum interior design. In the courtyard, there are large urns, the mill’s  millstone, as well as many agricultural tools of that time.

“It is a difficult process that requires a lot of time, as each object is treated as a separate ‘soul’ entity. The objects – heirlooms of our family, personify our ancestors, so their maintenance is characterized by a delicate treatment,” according to Marena Manesi.

Architect Aris Konstantinidis said that buildings are a “container of life. You are born there, you grow up there, you grow old there, you live there, you evolve there and you die there,” according to Manesi.

“Skiathos House museum contains four generations that lived before us and each of them filled the container with memories and stories. We find ourselves blessed, as we possess the ‘container’ and it is our responsibility to deliver it to the next successors in its entirety,” Marena Manesi stated.

There is an ancient amphora from 200 B.C. that adorns the home’s entry. The relic was discovered by male members of the family when they explored an ancient wreck of a merchant ship. According to the Ephorate of Antiquities of Magnesia the ship was built in Rhodes in 200 B.C.

One of the most important heirlooms of the family, however, is the lithograph of the second king of Greece, George I, with his wife Olga.  The building owes its salvation to the lithograph of the Hellenic Royals.

The Manesis twins relayed the story that “On August 23, 1944, German troops bombed the village from the ships. The Germans broke into our house, broke down the door and went inside to loot it. However, seeing the lithograph of the royal couple above the fireplace in the hall, they bowed with reverence.”

lithograph of Royal couple, George I, Olga
The royal couple George I and Olga, in lithograph, that literally saved the Skiathos House museum from destruction. Credit: Image courtesy of Skiathos House museum

The German invaders left without causing the slightest damage to the Skiathos House museum, out of respect to the German origins of King George I, on his maternal side. The lithograph, along with an Ikonta camera, circa 1933, which the Germans left behind, are among the family heirlooms on display, as reminders of World War II, one of the bloodiest and most destructive periods in modern history.

The two sisters tell this story during every tour of the mansion of Skiathos House museum. They embellish their narratives with the experiences of previous generations in order to move it forward to another space. But every tour in the museum of Skiathos House is different. “Our narrative in the space was structured based on the notes that had been recorded for each heirloom, mainly by the grandmothers of the family,” according to Fotini.

Skiathos House Museum Predominant With Women

The recordings of women are predominant, as they were the main residents of the home. The family’s males were mostly away at sea or shipboard as the majority had professions with naval ties. Details of costumes and weavers, recipes, correspondence and notes of their life events are shared with the Skiathos House museum visitors. Each tour is adapted to the individuals. To book a tour of this home turned museum phone +30 6973 221 138, +30 24270 21334 or email skiathitikospiti@gmail.com

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