A History of Wine in Ancient Greece

wine Ancient Greece
Hercules is offered wine in this depiction of a scene from his Twelve Labors. Public Domain

The recorded history of wine in Ancient Greece begins around the 15th century BC while viticulture appears to have existed as early as the Neolithic era, 6,500 years ago.

Ancient Greece is also the place where modern wine culture began, as wine consumption stopped being solely a sacred act, as it had been when priests and rulers controlled the vineyards.

By the early Bronze Age, vineyard cultivation of grapes was widespread in ancient Greece, and by the time of the rise of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, wine was part of everyday life, for consumption and/or production.

By that time in Greek society, wine was an economically important business.

Wine and commerce in ancient Greece

There was substantial interaction between the Mycenaean and Minoan cultures, based mainly on commerce.

Around 1200 BC, people from northern Greece invaded the southern Mycenaean area, which was a monarchy.

wine Ancient Greece
Golden goblet from the Mycenaean period. Public Domain

The war devastated the Mycenaean lands, generating thousands of poor refugee families who escaped to fortified cities for protection.

In order to consolidate their powers, the invaders gave more privileges to the common people, thus undermining the power of monarchs and aristocrats.

The new, democratic city-states were slowly created over time with the common people having more freedoms and opportunities.

Gradually, the common people started cultivating plots of land, with vineyards and olive groves being the most plentiful and lucrative.

People could thus own vineyards, cultivate them, and trade and drink their own wine. A new class of merchants, albeit a small one, was born.

At the same time, more and more people in ancient Greece began to drink wine for pleasure rather than as a sacred ritual.

Colonization and trade expansion

The Greek city-states then began to establish colonies throughout the Mediterranean. The settlers, already experienced in vine cultivation, brought grapevines with them and were able to better cultivate already-existing vineyards.

Moving west, Sicily and southern Italy were the first colonies established by ancient Greeks. Greeks even called the southern part of the Italian Peninsula Oenotria (“the land of vines”).

Other Greeks settled in Massalia (Marseille) in southern France while others moved east all the way to the shores of the Black Sea.

The colonies provided more opportunities for wine merchants. The Greeks could now introduce their wines as far as the western part of France and to the Black Sea in the east.

Athens was a large and lucrative market for wine, as the climate in the Attica region was ideal for vines, and production was substantial. Wine from Attica was traded in all the lands along the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Other areas famous for wine in ancient Greece were the islands of Santorini and Thasos. This is especially true in Santorini, where the rich volcanic soil produced exceptional grapes. Ancient Greeks were very particular about the origin of their wines.

Major trading partners for wine in ancient Greece were Crimea, Egypt, Scythia, and Etruria among others, as the Greeks traded their knowledge of viticulture and winemaking.

Indicative of the lucrative trade of wine from Greece is a shipwreck discovered off the coast of southern France that held nearly 10,000 amphorae containing almost 300,000 liters (79,000 US gallons) of Greek wine.

Diluted wine

The wine in ancient Greece was unlike what we know today. It was not left undiluted but was mixed with water in precise proportions in a vessel called a krater.

In certain seaside areas or islands, such as Santorini, Greeks used to mix wine with salt water as a preservative and for the taste it imparted. Honey was sometimes added to sweeten the wine.

The mixing of water and wine was for the drinker to enable him or herself to maintain composure and self-control, traits that were highly valued in ancient Greek society.

In fact, ancient Greeks seemed to believe that only barbarians—in most cases that simply meant non-Greeks—drank unmixed wine, got drunk and behaved like…barbarians.

Modern wine culture begins in Greece

Along with their wine, Greeks had exported their way of life, including vine-growing, winemaking, and enjoying wine, to almost every port in the Mediterranean basin.

Socrates praised wine in the following quote:

“Wine moistens and tempers the spirit and lulls the cares of the mind to rest. It revives our joys and is oil to the dying flame of life.”

Plato also praised the fruit of the vine:

“What is better adapted than the festive use of wine in the first place to test, and in the second place to train, the character of a man, if care be taken in the use of it? What is there cheaper or more innocent?

The ubiquitousness of the word “symposium” in ancient Greece, which literally means “drinking with others”—meant that ancient Greeks loved to get together, eat, drink, and converse during and after the meal.

wine Ancient Greece
Plato’s Symposium, by Anselm Feuerbach (1829-1880). Public Domain

It was a favorite pastime for well-to-do ancient Greeks to eat, drink, discuss, and, occasionally, philosophize, at these symposia.

Such convivial get-togethers have been illustrated on many types of Greek vases and sculptures. Examples of discussions that took place in symposia can be found in Plato’s Symposium and Xenophon’s Symposium.

Usually, symposia were hosted by aristocratic men for their peers. They would relax in recliners called klinai and drink from terracotta or, depending on how rich the host was, from bronze, silver, even gold, cups.

Wine was also used for medicinal purposes in ancient Greece. The great  physician Hippocrates prescribed different wines depending on the disease.

Ancient Greeks also had a god of wine, the mischievous Dionysus. The god of the grape harvest, winemaking, fertility, orchards, fruit, vegetation, insanity, and ritual madness, he was also the god of religious ecstasy and festivity; overall, it was he who embodied the colorful, vibrant life of ancient Greece.



Five Ancient Greek Herbs and How We Use Them Today

ancient greek herbs
Ancient Greek herbs. Credit: Rainer Zenz/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Greece is known today for its herbs that are used in teas and homeopathic remedies. But did you know that there are many herbs that the ancient Greeks used that are still popular in Greece today?

The five herbs below were gathered for their vast range of medicinal, superstitious, and culinary attributes thousands of years ago in ancient Greece, and they are still used today.

Herbs can be found growing wild all across Greece, with their scents perfuming the air, and they are particularly well-suited to the country’s mountain slopes and green fields.

Ancient Greek herbs used today

Oregano (Rigani)

Besides being one of the most popular herbs for Greek cuisine in modern times, back in ancient Greece, this herb was thought to bring good luck and good health as well as symbolize joy.

Greeks would plant oregano around their houses in hopes of warding off evil spirits. Also, it is said that ancient Greeks would wear a wreath of oregano on their head during sleep to encourage interesting dreams!

Dill (Anithos)

Dill is used in many Greek dishes, including salads and the famous Greek spinach pie known as “spanakopita.”

However, in ancient Greece, it was used for its medicinal properties such as healing wounds, burns, and helping promote sleep when placed over the eyes before bed.

Mint (Menta)

According to Greek myth, this herb gets its name from Minthe, the water nymph for whom Hades, the God of the Underworld, developed a fondness. When his wife, Persephone, learned that Hades was interested in Minthe, she turned her into an herb.

Mint is used today, as it was in ancient times, for tea which is believed to aid in indigestion, nerve disorders, dizziness, sore throats, coughs, headaches, and insomnia.

Sideritis, Greek Mountain tea (Tsai tou Vounou)

This homeopathic herbal tea is used throughout Greece to ease symptoms of illnesses, such as the common cold and sore throats among other things. Sideritis is commonly known as “Tsai tou Vounou,” and its name is derived from the word iron, (Sideron).

Back in ancient Greece, it was used to heal wounds caused by iron arrows and swords. Hippocrates often prescribed it as a tonic.

Basil (Vassilikos)

Basil comes from the Greek word “Vasilias,” meaning king.

The popular herb is said to have first grown on the original cross of Christ. In ancient times, basil was placed in the hands of the dead to guide them safely to the afterlife and ensure that the gates of heaven opened for them.

Basil was also commonly hung on doors,= to bring good luck and wealth. Nowadays, it is used in many Greek dishes, something which ironically only started in the last century.

Additionally, many Greeks have basil plants in their gardens, as they keep mosquitos away.

Vienna’s “Little Greece” and the First Newspaper in Greek

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Vienna's "Little Greece"
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Vienna’s “Little Greece”. Credit: afagen/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When we consider key communities of the Greek diaspora, Vienna rarely comes to mind. However, if we are to consider historically significant communities for modern Hellenism, the Austrian capital should certainly be on the shortlist with its own Greek enclave, Little Greece.

Like other Greek communities in the former Austrian Empire, the Greeks’ large-scale migration to the seat of Hapsburg power followed the wars between the Austrian and Ottoman Empires.

After the Ottomans’ two failed attempts to capture Vienna, the Austrians, at the head of a multinational European force, pushed the Ottoman Turks southward and eastward to the gates of Belgrade, which today is the capital of Serbia.

Greek merchants set up shop in Vienna’s Little Greece

After the Treaty of Passarowitz, signed in 1717, the borders stabilized. There was a push to reopen commerce and reconstruct a vast area devastated by decades of war.

Along with fixing the boundaries between the two empires, another key provision of the agreement was that Ottoman and Austrian subjects had the right to engage in commerce in the territory of the other.

However, the Austrians lacked knowledge of the Ottoman Empire, and the Turks themselves disdained commerce.

Hence, as a practical matter, the opportunity fell on Ottoman minorities—Orthodox Greeks and Serbs, as well as Jews and Armenians—to fill the gap.

As the capital of a large multiethnic state, Vienna was a key center for these “Ottoman” merchants.

The members of the Greek diaspora in Vienna hailed primarily from Macedonia and Epirus, as well as from Thracian cities, such as Constantinople and Philippopolis (the modern Plovdiv, Bulgaria).

Bulk goods, particularly cotton, were the lifeblood of the trade.

Though legend has it that Greeks set up the first coffeehouse in Vienna, Dr. Theophanis Pampas, a local Greek Viennese doctor with an encyclopedic knowledge of the community, informed Greek Reporter this singular honor goes to the Armenians.

The Greek community there, as it did everywhere it set down roots, grew and prospered.

But in typical Greek fashion, factions soon appeared. Some Greeks took Austrian nationality and, in some cases, even entered the Austrian aristocracy.

Others retained Ottoman nationality, which had the benefit of lower taxation but restricted their activities to the mercantile sphere.

Vienna’s “Little Greece” and the first newspaper in Greek

Each faction then founded its own church, both within a hundred meters of the other, in Vienna’s Griechenviertel (Greek Quarter).

These churches remain to this day, and liturgy alternates every Sunday from one church to the next.

Education and literacy in Greek were key endeavors of the Greek community, regardless of faction. The Vienna Greek school is even older than the Greek state itself, having been founded in 1804.

Standing in a church older than the modern Greek state and watching Greek-language instruction classes which have been held continuously since 1804, is an experience never to be forgotten.

Greek appeared in print for first time in Vienna

Aside from the educational efforts that were ongoing since that time, Vienna is where the Greek language first appeared in print in the modern world.

The actual site of the first Greek printing press is gone. Still, within the Greek Quarter, a stately baroque Viennese building houses the second Greek printing press, where Rigas Pheraios, the protomartyr of Greek independence, edited the Greek newspaper Ephimeris.

All Greek publications, particularly those in the diaspora, in a genuine sense descend from this press.

By the time of the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s, the Vienna Greek community was at its peak with about 5,000 members and an increasingly diverse socio-economic structure.

The members of the educated and prosperous community naturally longed for Greece’s liberation from the Ottoman yoke. Still, at the same time, they were conscious that the Austrian Empire, a bundle of nationalities under a relatively benign but absolute autocracy, was violently opposed to and fearful of revolution.

Austrian Greeks, therefore, had to walk a very thin line between joy at Greece’s prospective independence and their personal safety and livelihood in the Austrian Empire.

After all, it was the Austrians who had arrested the Greek revolutionary Rigas Pheraios in the key Austrian port of Trieste and handed him over to the Turks, who strangled him in Belgrade in 1798.

Greek community in Vienna is a shadow of its former self

Greek independence did not result in the large repatriation of Austrian Greeks.

A few returned, but the impoverished little kingdom could offer nothing compared to the vast Austrian Empire.

The inexorable tide of assimilation began to absorb the Greeks into Austria’s ethnic goulash.

Other Greek Austrians began to move to Britain or France or even New Orleans in the United States, where the economies were more dynamic than Austria.

However, a trickle of new immigrants arrived in Austria through the years, which, along with the long-established members’ efforts, kept the community intact.

The two world wars increased pressure on the Greeks to assimilate, particularly during the barbaric Nazi era, but their religious community survived.

After the war, Austria had none of the mass immigration of Greek “Gastarbeiter” or guest workers, like in neighboring Germany. Still, a fair number of Greeks went to Austria, particularly for study, and afterward, they often stayed in the country.

Like Austria itself, Vienna’s Greek community is a shadow of its former size, but it is still prosperous and elegant. Like the “Greektowns” of America, today’s Viennese-Greeks rarely live in the original area where their ancestors settled.

Still, some do have businesses there, and the church and community center, as always, function as the community’s center of gravity.

Greek society in Austria witnessed and participated in key events in the history of Hellenism.

For those of us who are Diaspora Greeks in America or Australia, the remarkable survival of such long-established communities should be a source of pride and hope that our communities, too, will pass the test of time.

Smiling Virgin Mary Fresco at Cappadocia Monastery Puzzles Scientists

Smiling Virgin Monastery
The smiling Mary fresco. Credit: Public Domain

Scientists are debating if a fresco depicting a smiling Virgin Mary in the Gumusler Monastery in Turkey is original or the result of a restoration gone wrong.

Carved into a large rock mass in the Cappadocia region, the monastery is believed to have been constructed sometime during the Byzantine era between the 8th and 12th centuries.

The most important part of the monastery is the church in the northern part. It is thought that at least three different masters worked on all the church wall paintings.

The monastery is carved out of a large rock and is one of the best-preserved and largest of its kind in the Cappadocia region. Credit: Dosseman, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia

In the main section, paintings of Jesus on the throne, two angels, symbols of apostles, the Virgin Mary, the Great Basileios of Kayseri, Gregorios of Nysa and Gregorios of Nazians can be seen.

Smiling Virgin Mary fresco: Restoration gone wrong?

But the monastery is best known for the Smiling Virgin Mary fresco, known to be the only one in Anatolia.

Speaking recently to state-run Anadolu Agency, Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Basri Akdemi said: “The Mary figure looks like she is looking at you from all directions.”

Akdemir noted that the wall paintings were restored by British archaeologist and restorer Michael Gough in the 1960s.

“The figure of Virgin Mary smiling most probably was a restoration mistake, but it is known like this in Turkey and abroad,” said Gough. “This place was restored three times.”

“We don’t have any information if Mother Mary was smiling before the restoration but such restoration mistakes have been made before,” he added.

Monastery main apse Christ enthroned. Credit: Dosseman, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia



2,000 Year Old Tortoise and its Egg Found in Latest Pompeii Discovery

tortoise Pompeii
The remains of the tortoise were unearthed in Pompeii. Credit: Pompeii Archaeological Park

Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a tortoise and its egg that was buried in volcanic ash after the eruption in 79 AD in Pompeii.

The animal’s remains were found buried under the clay floor of a storehouse and probably died before Vesuvius erupted.

The mysterious find came to light during excavations of an area that had been devastated by a violent earthquake in 62 AD and was subsequently absorbed into a public bath house.

An anthropologist who works at the site, Valeria Amoretti, said “It had dug itself a burrow where it could lay its egg, but failed to do so, which may have caused its death.”

The general director of Pompeii, Gabriel Zuchtriegel said, “It’s not the first tortoise to be found in Pompeii, an important focus of current excavations and research concerns the organic and agricultural materials found outside Pompeii’s urban center”.

Presence of the tortoise Pompeii

In the 1st century BC, the site was originally an opulent home with refined mosaics and wall paintings. Archaeologists are not sure why the building was not restored but was rather taken over by the Stabian baths.

Zuchtriegel said both the presence of the tortoise in the city and the abandonment of the sumptuous domus illustrate the extent of the transformations after the earthquake in 62 AD.

He further said, “Evidently not all the houses were rebuilt and areas, even central ones, of the city were scarcely frequented to the extent that they became the habitat of wild animals.”

“At the same time, the expansion of the baths is evidence of the great confidence with which Pompeii restarted after the earthquake, only to be crushed in a single day in AD 79,” Zuchtriegel said.

How a Greek Priest Made Giannis Antetokounmpo a Devout Christian

Priest Antetokounmpo
Father Evangelos Ghanas, the priest at Agios Meletios Church in Sepolia, baptized Giannis. Illustrations: Greek Reporter

A Greek Orthodox priest in the Sepolia area of Athens who baptized Giannis Antetokounmpo together with his brother Alexandros on October 28, 2012, spoke recently about his relationship with the NBA star and his family.

Antetokounmpo developed a special relationship many years ago with Father Evangelos Ghanas, a beloved priest at Agios Meletios Church.

Even the date of the NBA star’s baptism was deliberate, as he chose to be baptized Greek Orthodox on “OXI Day,” Greece’s second most important national holiday.

Antetokounmpo’s patriotism and respect for the Greek flag have often been remarked upon; for example, when his Greek fans in the US asked him to sign the blue-and-white flag for them, he refused.

Orthodox Priest Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo wearing the traditional costume of the Evzone at a school ceremony in Athens.

Antetokounmpo actually served as the link between his family and the parish. The years that he spent at Agios Meletios Church and their Sunday School in the poor Sepolia neighborhood were crucial for the young man in his journey to adulthood and undoubtedly contributed to the shaping of his character.

Orthodox Priest: Antetokounmpo never held a grudge

Father Evangelos spoke recently to Ethnos newspaper about the character of the young basketball phenomenon, describing him as a young man with ethics who, unlike most of his peers, never held a grudge against society for his poverty.

“I don’t remember him ever complaining or having a sense of being wronged by life and being aggressive towards society,” Father Evangelos recalled. “He may be flying on the court, but in real life I think he stands firmly on his feet.”

“What I cannot forget was Giannis’ gaze. I find it difficult to describe. There was an innocence (in his eyes) but also hope. No fear and no resentment,” Father Evangelos added.

Orthodox Priest Antetokounmpo
Young Giannis Atetokounmpo with his Sunday School class. Public Domain

The priest said that Giannis liked Sunday School, and that helped him develop a strong character, as a giving human being with optimism for the future.

Describing Antetokounmpo’s upbringing and schooling, the Greek priest stated: “Giannis went to school in Greece, became a Christian in the same country, and now he can live on the other side of the Atlantic, carrying his memories as a precious guide to his later life.”

Antetokounmpo “loved” Sunday School

According to Father Evangelos, the whole Antetokounmpo family had a good relationship with the church, mostly because of Giannis, who loved to go to Sunday School.

Father Evangelos is beloved by all the parishioners of Agios Meletios Church, in part because he has embraced the children of migrants, who are numerous in that area.

He has taken a firm stand against any actions or words which imply any possible racism and has helped children and teenagers as much as he possibly could throughout the years of his ministry.

And Antetokounmpo has not forgotten Father Evangelos. As the NBA MVP said in a previous interview, “When I was a kid, I went to Sunday School and there was a man there who was helping us a lot. You cannot imagine how much he helped.”

The Magic of Sailing Through the Corinth Canal

Corinth Canal
Magical scene sailing through the Corinth Canal. Credit: Greek Reporter/Tony Cross

What is it like sailing through the Corinth Canal? British expatriates Tony and Tessa Cross describe a fascinating experience. The Greek engineering marvel will temporarily reopen for three months on Monday, July 4th after the landslides of more than 18 months ago. The British couple spent years living on their yacht while crisscrossing the Aegean. 

By Tony Cross

The Corinth Canal is one of the wonders of the modern world. It’s impressive when viewed from one of the road bridges that cross the canal, but when viewed from a yacht in the canal itself it’s simply breathtaking.

We’ve been fortunate to travel through the canal twice in our sailing yacht Little Roundtop and in both directions.

A little history of the Corinth Canal

The Isthmus of Corinth is a tantalizingly narrow piece of land that separates the Gulf of Corinth from the Saronic Gulf. For any ships wanting to travel between the Ionian and the Aegean, finding a way across the narrow isthmus would spare one from a long trip around the Peloponnese.

As far back as 600 BC, ships were dragged across the isthmus on cradles on a specially constructed stone road.

Although the idea of a canal was first proposed around 300 BC, it was the Roman Emperor Nero who initiated the first serious attempts to dig a canal in 67 AD. He completed only about 700 meters (2,296 feet), a little more than a tenth of the distance required.

The modern canal, which follows the same route as Nero’s canal—and thus obliterated all traces of it—was begun in 1881 and completed in 1893. It didn’t open for traffic until the following year, however, because of problems with the stability of the walls.

The canal is 6.4 kilometers (3.4 nautical miles) long, 25 meters (82 feet) wide at sea level, and 8 meters (26 feet) deep. It runs in a rough northwest to southeast direction.

Unfortunately, the size of cargo ships increased quite quickly after the canal had been opened, and they soon began to outgrow the 25-meter width of the canal. Today it is used only by smaller cargo ships, cruise ships, pleasure boats, and tourist vessels.

In October 2019, the cruise ship MS Braemar, with a length of almost 196 meters and a beam just short of 23 meters, became the largest vessel ever to pass through the Corinth Canal.

Corinth Canal
Arriving at the Canal. Credit: Greek Reporter/Tony Cross

Arriving at the Canal

The control tower and a small quay are at the eastern end of the canal opposite Isthmia, so vessels passing westwards towards the Gulf of Corinth can moor to the quay and pay at the control tower.

The cost varies depending on the type of vessel and its length. For our 14 meter private sailing yacht we paid a little over €233, including VAT. That works out at around €68 per mile and almost certainly makes the Corinth Canal the most expensive stretch of water in the world!

Traffic in the canal runs in only one direction at a time of course, so you have to wait for eastbound traffic to exit before they will let the westbound traffic go. There is a submersible bridge at each end of the canal which they raise and lower to control the flow of traffic in the canal.

As we waited for the eastbound traffic to exit, we saw that the last vessel through was a sizeable cargo ship. One of the canal workers on shore shouted to everyone to “watch your lines!” The bow wave that larger ships push before them has nowhere to go in the canal, so it forms a tiny tsunami in front of the ship.

As the cargo ship passed us, all of the small yachts on the quay were tossed around like toys.

Eastbound traffic. Credit: Greek Reporter/Tony Cross

Thanks to the warning shout from the canal worker almost everyone managed to keep their boats safe and secure, though a yacht astern of us very nearly crashed into us.

Setting off

When you check in and pay, they tell you in which order to enter the canal; generally, they put the faster vessels at the front and the slower vessels at the back. Because they want traffic to pass through the canal as fast as possible, you are supposed to make a minimum speed of 6 knots. You also have to keep your VHF radio on channel 11; the canal control seems to only use this to constantly tell everyone to go faster!

Entering the Corinth Canal
Entering the Corinth Canal. Credit: Greek Reporter/Tony Cross

As we all set off, a lone sailor in a small German-flagged yacht didn’t seem to want to wait his turn at the back, and he rushed off as fast as he could, trying to get ahead in line. We couldn’t figure out why he’d bother, as the view is the same wherever you are in the order of yachts!

His impatience turned out to be a blessing for us, however. He ended up just in front of us, and it turned out that his small yacht could barely make five knots. Since overtaking in the canal is forbidden, we had a much more leisurely view of the canal than we would otherwise have had despite the near constant calls from the control tower for me to “go faster!”

In the Corinth canal

The canal is arrow-straight, so there is no difficulty in steering the yacht and admiring the view at the same time. Not running over the small yacht in front was a bit more of a challenge, however! With occasional use of the autopilot it’s even possible to take photos.

The eastern end of the canal is fairly low and the walls slowly rise to tower above you where the road bridges cross (the maximum height of the walls is 79 meters). We could see lots of people on the bridges watching us so we waved at them, and they all waved back!

Bridges above the water. Credit: Greek Reporter/Tony Cross

The famous aerial views you see of the canal are of this higher central section. At one point here, it’s also possible to see the hand and foot holds cut into the rock by the men who built it.

Hand and foot holds on the walls of the canal. Credit: Greek Reporter/Tony Cross

At water level, the canal has been lined with stone blocks in places, presumably to protect these weaker sections; elsewhere, the wash of even small yachts undermines the soft limestone walls. The site of many recent landslides, and a few old and larger ones are clearly visible. It’s not hard to see why the canal suffers so many landslides and blockages.

A recent landslide. A much bigger one in early 2021 forced the canal to close. Credit: Greek Reporter/Tony Cross

Once past all the bridges, the walls of the canal gradually reduce in height again. By the time you reach the western end, the walls are only a little above sea level and the transition from canal to open sea would pass almost unnoticed were it not for the black and yellow stripes on the submersible bridge, which thankfully was submerged at the time!

western exit
The western exit of the canal. Credit: Greek Reporter/Tony Cross

Going eastwards through the canal

If you’re in the Gulf of Corinth looking to travel eastward through the canal, things are a little more complex. There is no quay at the western end of the canal. Rather there is only an enclosed basin in which waiting is forbidden.

You have to call the canal control on VHF channel 11 so that they know you’re there. They do have cameras, of course, but you still have to call to make your intentions clear.

The canal was not open to eastbound traffic when we arrived, and the submersible bridge was in its raised position blocking the canal, so we had to wait. Since it can take 45 minutes to an hour for all westbound traffic to clear the canal, we anchored a safe distance to the north of the canal.

We knew from our previous trip through that they don’t leave much time when they turn the canal direction round, so as soon as we saw vessels exiting the canal, we raised anchor and just motored around out of the way until we were called in.

There were a couple of other yachts hanging around the western entrance as well in addition to us, and since there was nobody to tell us in which order to enter, we sorted our order out by mutual consent and a lot of “after you” arm waving!

On our eastbound trip we were again constantly assaulted by canal control telling us over the radio to go faster. I wondered whether it was a recording on a loop that they just play every time?

Once you reach the eastern end of the canal, you have to moor to the quay and pay at the control tower. They have a very fast patrol boat moored here to chase those who try to avoid paying.

If you don’t have your own boat

When we were moored to the quay at the eastern end of the canal, we noticed a number of tourist coaches arriving and leaving. These bring tourists to a couple of large tripper boats that do nothing other than motor up and down the canal. If you don’t have your own boat, then this is one way to experience the canal from sea level.

I strongly recommend it because travelling through the Corinth Canal is an unforgettable experience.

Destination Dream Weddings Soar in Santorini, Other Greek Islands

Santorini weddings
There is a 50 percent increase in weddings in Santorini compared to 2019. Credit: Rivios Thanos Photography

Couples from all over the world are flocking to the Greek island of Santorini for their destination dream wedding following the opening up of travel restrictions due to the pandemic.

As couples tie the knot overlooking the traditional style houses of the famous island and the sparkling blue waters of the sea below, they have found that their destination weddings are a dream come true.

The island provides a vast variety of options for couples with different types of ceremonies, both civil and religious.

According to officials of the municipality of Thera, which is the official name of Santorini, there has been a huge increase in weddings this year.

“Those that were scheduled to take place in 2020 and 2021 were canceled, with the result that this year, from the end of March and the beginning of April, weddings on the island have begun en masse,” a spokesperson told Greek daily Ta Nea.

Every normal year about 1,000 weddings take place on Santorini. Of these, 90 percent concern visitors from abroad while more than 60 percent of couples tying the knot are from Great Britain.

“Although it is early to have total figures, in the months of May and June there has been an impressive increase in weddings—by about 50 percent compared to 2019,” the Santorini spokesperson said.

Destination weddings in Santorini and other Greek islands have become a lucrative market in recent years. As professional photographer Thanos Rivios notes, most of the couples who come to Santorini to get married may bring a party of 50 to 100 people together.

Rivios tells Greek Reporter that after the wedding ceremony that usually takes place in upscale hotel resorts, newlyweds get photographed in their wedding dresses overlooking the Caldera.

Santorini destination weddings
Credit: Rivios Thanos Photography

Their favorite spots are the Imerovigli village sitting on a clifftop overlooking Santorini’s caldera islands or Oia, the village famous for the best sunsets in the Mediterranean.

Santorini is a wedding destination favorite among British and American couples

The photographer says that although most of the couples who arrive to get married are from Britain, there is a sizeable number from the US, including many Greek Americans. “Before the COVID pandemic, there were lots of Chinese visiting Santorini to get married. However, there is now a significant drop in their numbers.”

Santorini officials says that it is not only the dreamy scenery that attracts brides and grooms but also the comparatively low cost of the process. The island which is very high in the preferences of brides-to-be internationally ranks 36th in terms of cost among the 100 most popular destinations worldwide.

The high demand is also combined with the jumpy increase in international arrivals observed on the island this year. In May alone, there was a 36 percent increase in foreign tourist arrivals compared to 2019, i.e. from the pre-coronavirus era while bookings for the rest of the season portend a surge in visitor numbers.

Other Greek islands become wedding destinations

Although Santorini is the flagship for Greek weddings, there is an increased demand on other Greek islands.

Ioanna Efstathiou, president of the tourist committee of the Municipality of Skopelos. told Ta Nea that there has been an increase of at least 30 percent compared to the pre-pandemic era.

Skopelos is also in great demand for the renewal of vows or for marriage proposal events which take place mainly in the place where the movie Mamma Mia was filmed.

“They come from abroad for this purpose. These are mainly British, but the international airport of Skiathos that serves us also has direct flights from Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Poland and Paris,” Efstathiou says.

Apart from Skopelos and Santorini, Crete, Ios, Folegandros, Rhodes, and Naxos have also begun establishing themselves as wedding dream destinations.

In June, Paros was chosen by actor Alex Pettyfer and supermodel Toni Garrn to renew their wedding vows, while some islands are particularly popular in far-flung markets, such as India.

Due to its stunning beaches, beautiful venues, and rich culture, it is no wonder that Greece attracts so many couples who want to have a dream destination wedding.

Lessons from Ancient Athens: The Art of Exiling Your Enemies

Ancient Greek Ostraka from classical Athens, nominating and exiling Kallias and Megakle. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

For the first time in recent memory, the possibility of imprisoning political rivals has entered the political discourse of a modern western election, but ostracism is an ancient Greek democratic tradition practiced in classical Athens that offers an alternative approach.

By Chris Mackie

Throwing one’s political opponent in jail has a long history to it, especially in countries where democratic principles struggle to take hold. The fate of Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi, who went from directly elected president to languishing in jail, is one high-profile contemporary example. But there are plenty of others, often in countries that are notional democracies.

One of the striking things about the recent US election was all the talk from the Trump camp about imprisoning Hillary Clinton. It is the first time that I remember such a dark threat being thrown around in the discourse of a modern, western election.

There are some interesting parallels to all of this in the political landscape of ancient Athens. It was here that the institution of ostracism was enacted in the 5th century BC—a word which we often use in a broad sense today, but not usually in formal political discourse. To be “ostracized” in classical Athens was to be exiled from the city for a period of ten years. It was a part of the annual democratic processes of Athens and, therefore, not as capricious as it tends to be in most other political contexts.

Kimon, a celebrated general of ancient Athens, was ostracised in 461BC
Bust of Kimon (510 – 450 BC). Kimon, a celebrated ancient Greek general of ancient Athens, was ostracized in 461 BC but recalled before ten years had passed. Credit: Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Ostracism worked like this. Each year the assembly of citizens (“ekklesia”) decided whether to hold an ostracism or not. If they agreed to do so, the process would commence shortly afterward. It was like an election in reverse, a contest in unpopularity that no one really wanted to win.

If the decision was made to conduct an ostracism, citizens had the opportunity to write the name of the person they wanted to ostracize on an “ostrakon,” a fragment of pottery suitable for writing on. The ancient evidence is somewhat contradictory, but it seems that if there were 6,000 votes cast in the ballot, then the person with the highest number of votes was exiled from Athens for ten years. They had ten days to pack their bags and go.

One such unlucky winner was Aristides the Just, an aristocratic statesman and renowned general. The biographer Plutarch recounts a story of his ostracism (which is probably fanciful, but a good yarn nonetheless):

Now at the time of which I was speaking, as the voters were inscribing their ostraka, it is said that an unlettered and utterly boorish fellow handed his ostrakon to Aristides, and asked him to write ‘Aristides’ on it. He, astonished, asked the man what possible wrong Aristides had done him.

‘None whatever,’ was the answer, ‘I don’t even know the fellow, but I am tired of hearing him everywhere called ‘The Just.’“ On hearing this, Aristides made no answer, but wrote his name on the ostrakon and handed it back.

All of this might sound like rather harsh treatment of individuals who had decided to offer themselves for public service for the benefit of the city. A contemporary Athenian, however, would probably have found it very responsible and civilized. After all, an ostracized leader was allowed to keep his citizenship and property. And, at the end of the ten years, he could return and live in Athens again, much as he might have done if he had never been ostracized in the first place.

Moreover, the city could recall someone from exile prior to the end of the ten years if they felt the need to do so. This actually happened in some renowned cases, as in the case of Aristides during the Persian Wars.

Ostracon bearing the name of Aristides, 483-482 BC. Ancient Agora Museum in Athens.
Ancient Greek Ostracon bearing the name of Aristides, 483-482 BC. Ancient Agora Museum in Athens. Credit: Wikipedia/CC-BY-SA-2.5

More importantly, ostracism was established as part of the annual fabric of Athenian political life rather than a ferocious descent into violent party politics. Nonetheless, it could be brutal, and all sorts of skulduggery probably took place to get rid of particular individuals.

One modern archaeological encounter was 190 ostraka found in a well at Athens with the name “Themistocles” written on them. These were probably a version of modern how-to-vote cards written by a small number of people and presumably organized by the enemies of Themistocles. An illiterate citizen would not even have had to trouble himself with scrawling the name himself. Just take an ostrakon and move on.

Themistocles, as it happens, was eventually ostracized at the end of the 470s BC although he probably survived earlier attempts to get rid of him. When one bears in mind that Themistocles was the great champion of Athens (and Greece) in the sea-battle of Salamis against the Persians a short time beforehand (480 BC), it is an indication that anyone could really fall victim to ostracism.

Others included Xanthippus, the father of Pericles, and Kimon, the prominent and wealthy political leader, as well as Thucydides, the historian. And there were many others. Exile was a fundamental part of political life, and it was used by the people both as a rejection of particular policy positions or for more specifically vindictive personal reasons. There was no single reason why Athenian citizens would be ostracized.

Odd though it seems to us today, ostracism might be seen as a rather inspired way for a democratic polis, or city-state, to keep tyranny at bay. In that sense it was successful at Athens although the institution of ostracism probably didn’t last much beyond 417 BC.

Ostracism reminds us that intolerance and vindictiveness have an ancient history to them. The Athenian system, at least, had the virtue of recognizing that exile could be a part of the normal democratic processes and could, therefore, take place in a way that would not severely damage the state.

Chris Mackie is a Professor of Greek Studies at La Trobe University. This article was published at The Conversation and is republished under a Creative Commons License.

Heladeria Americana: The Greek Ice Cream Legend of Colombia

Greek ice cream Colombia
Credit: Heladeria Americana/Facebook. Illustration: Greek Reporter

A Greek immigrant named Andreas Aristidou, singlehandedly brought ice cream to Colombia in the 1930’s — and since then, three generation of Greeks have expanded the business to become the ice cream kings of this Latin American country.

Based in the coastal city of Barranquilla, in north Colombia on the shores of the Caribbean, “Heladeria Americana” has become a bit of an ice-cream empire, with six, soon to become seven, outlets in the city.

Antonis Mandralis-Aristidou, the general manager of the ice cream empire, was born in Colombia but grew up in Greece, which he loves. Speaking to the Greek Reporter, he says he is proud to continue the business founded by his grandfather.

Greek ice cream Colombia
Andreas Aristidou founded Heladeria Americana in Barranquilla in 1936.

“Heladeria Americana was founded in 1936 by my granddad, a Greek immigrant from the Peloponnese. It was a time of great opportunity and growth for Colombia. He brought the idea of ice cream, sweets and generally speaking the idea of “dining,” in Barranquilla.”

The city is the largest municipality and port in the northern Caribbean coast region of Colombia, with a population of 1,232,766 as of 2018. This makes it Colombia’s fourth most populous city, after the large population centers of Bogota, Medellin and Cali.

Mandralis-Aristidou says the best time to visit Barranquilla is during Carnival season. “It’s a famous carnival with lots of fun, comparable to Rio,” he explains. The carnival was even declared a part of the country’s “National Cultural Heritage” by the Congress of Colombia in 2001, and was recognized by UNESCO in 2003.

From ice cream to kebab

Evgenia Mandrali, the owner of Heladeria Americana, was born in Greece, but arrived in Colombia as an infant. “I arrived in Colombia in a little basket with my mother. I was only six months old,” she tells the Greek Reporter.

“Our restaurants are well-respected in the city. One can find everything. It’s a traditional Mediterranean eatery,” she says.

From ice cream to Greek kebab, Heladeria Americana has over the decades made quite an  impact on the city’s gastronomy. However, its signature product is the “Frozo Malt,” originally created and served to customers back in the 1930’s by Andreas Aristidou — and still loved today.


Frozo Malt, from the English words “Freeze” and “Melt,” is a delight, deliciously combining frozen and warm temperatures and textures. It assimilates the texture of a milkshake with the composition of an ice cream.

The Frozo Malt, with a mild chocolate flavor, is also topped with tropical fruit jelly (the secret touch) and its now-famous cookie.

The signature ice cream of Heladeria Americana is served in a tall glass, just as the founder of the business did decades ago. Its light chocolate ice cream has a unique taste compared to the traditional chocolate, and the combination with tropical fruit on top is indescribably delicious.

“We have served it for 82 years in the traditional tall glass. The recipe has not changed much. Barranquilleros and visitors love it,” says Mandralis-Aristidou with pride.

Torn between Greece and Colombia

The general manager of the ice cream empire admits he is torn between Colombia and Greece. “When I am in Colombia, I miss Greece. When I go to Greece and stay for long periods, then I miss Colombia.

“Some say that Greece is like Colombia, but I say that Colombia is more like Greece,” he notes.

The Greek community in Colombia is small but vibrant. Some of the Greeks there, however, ended up leaving Colombia during the years of insecurity caused by the cartels and Pablo Escobar in the 1980’s and 90’s.

However, after the 90’s, when Colombia became safer and began recovering economically, many Greeks came back to their beloved country and began to grow innovative businesses there once again. Greeks are, indeed, everywhere.

Related: Meet The Greeks of Medellin, Colombia