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Exploring the Rich Diversity of Evros' Traditional Costumes in the Thrace Region

The traditional costumes of Evros in Thrace are some of the most beautiful and intricate in all of Greece. The region has a long history dating back to the Byzantine Empire, and its culture is reflected in its clothing. The women's dresses are especially lovely, with colourful embroidery and delicate lace.

My travel to Evros, Thrace.

I stayed in Evros for about forty days to create photographs of the local traditional women's costumes for my project "Caryatis". I have managed to capture the clothes of different groups across Evros, such as the large one of Makra Gefyra (Long bridge), which includes the variations of Marides, Issaakion, Zaloufi and Eastern Romylia, as well as the groups of Ormenio, Nea Vyssa, Metaxades and Enoe.

The traditional costumes of Metaxades, Evros, Greece. By photographer George Tatakis
Exploring the Rich Diversity of Evros' Traditional Costumes

The richness of the costumes is reflected in the elaborate embroideries and colourful designs of "Gaitans" that decorated a large part of the costume. All the clothes were handmade and embroidered with great care by the girls and newly married women during the endless winter nights.

The processing of animal wool and cotton and the making of clothes were strictly women's jobs. The women carded the wool, combed it and wove it on the loom. Every housewife had in her house the necessary tools for the processing of wool such as a loom, spindle, wind, and more. The wool they used came mainly from the sheep that all the houses raised.

Nea Vyssa

A group photo with the ladies of Nea Vyssa and the photographer George Tatakis
A group photo with the ladies of Nea Vyssa

The striking colours and designs of the costumes reflect the region's vibrant culture and history. The costume consists of a top with puffed sleeves and an embroidered bodice. The skirt is often adorned with pleats or ruffles and is usually made from brightly coloured fabric. A headscarf or other headpiece is used to complete the look. Traditional jewellery includes hoop earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and rings adorned with colourful stones or beads. These garments were once everyday wear for women in Nea Vyssa, but they are now only worn on special occasions such as weddings or religious festivals. Nevertheless, they remain important to the town's heritage and culture. The costumes are decorated with gold embroidery and beads. Religion plays a significant role in daily life and customs. One custom that is related to traditional costumes is that young girls must cover their heads with a scarf or piece of cloth until they are married. After marriage, they can choose to wear either a white or black headscarf as part of their attire. This tradition is thought to date back to Byzantine times when it was believed that covering a woman's hair would protect her from evil spirits.

Inside the houses of Nea Vyssa

When I first arrived in town, I realised that word had come out, and most of the locals had been informed of the shooting. I was taken to the beautiful garden of a local house, where a very long table had been set, with food and drinks. Fourteen women were dressed in traditional costumes for the photo shoot. It looked like a celebration!

It was obvious how the people of Nea Vyssa value their traditions and heritage. Throughout my stay in the area, I visited Nea Vyssa many times, although the initial plan was to do a one-day shooting. Some so many ladies wanted to wear their traditional costumes, so there was a lot to go by. We had a second shooting with sixteen more costumes, a third, around the tradition of garlic growing in the area, and a fourth, where I shot a traditional family portrait.

We needed to do a location scouting for the shooting, so I rode along with Fani, the president of the local cultural club, around most parts of the town to find appropriate interiors for the portraits. It proved to be a rather tedious task since we had so many photographs to make and I wanted different locations for each one of them. After finding the places, I would arrange the setting for each shooting on the spot with props that I found inside the house.

The bridal costume of Nea Vyssa, inside a traditional house, by photographer George Tatakis
The bridal costume of Nea Vyssa, inside a traditional house

HISTORY CORNER \\

The first settlers in the area of Nea Vyssa are thought to have been the Thracians. The town was later conquered by the Persians and then by Alexander the Great. After Alexander's death, his empire was divided among his generals, with Nea Vyssa falling under the control of Lysimachus. The town later came under Roman rule and was destroyed by barbarian invasions in the 3rd century AD. It was rebuilt and flourished during Byzantine times before being captured by Bulgarian tsar Simeon I in 917. The Bulgarians held it until 1185 when it regained its autonomy under Constantinople's rule once again. In 1361, it fell to Ottoman Turks who renamed it Bursaköy; they held onto power until 1912 when Greek troops liberated it during the First Balkan War.

Inside a local traditional house of Nea Vyssa by photographer George Tatakis
Inside a local traditional house of Nea Vyssa

At nightfall, after each shooting, exhausted and hungry, we would all convene at a local tavern to have some dinner. I am just bringing this up to take the opportunity and speak about the veal souvlaki, a local traditional delicacy that is truly heavenly. You can try this at the local taverns of Nea Vyssa and I am sure you will enjoy it! That allowed us to further bond and become friends with the people there. It made the whole experience much more enjoyable.

On the day of the next shooting, we repeated the location-scouting process and found more houses that could host our photography. I was looking for houses that kept their traditional character with as less interventions as possible. These are the settings of my preference for the Caryatis project. That is because, apart from the garments, the tradition in Greece also dictates the concept of property. What we use does not make us its owners. This fact can shed light on the reluctance to sell ancestral property or fortune. A house that was inherited by our parents, maybe ours for now, but it won’t be ours forever. Instead, we are impelled to keep it safe and sound and pass it on to the next generation.

Inside a local traditional house of Nea Vyssa by photographer George Tatakis
Inside a local traditional house of Nea Vyssa

Portrait of a family

On a separate day, we thought to create an image that resembles a traditional family portrait of the past. We created the image below which is an actual family, Fani in the centre, the lady who helped me with most of the arrangements, her husband and two daughters.

Photographic portraits were very valuable at the time these costumes were worn. Photography at the time required the skills of an artist, as well as a chemist; ergo could only be performed by skilled professionals of the craft. By entering these houses I saw the family portraits hanging in the top corner of the bedroom opposite the iconostasis.

Bacharidis family portrait at a local house in Nea Vyssa, by photographer George Tatakis
Bacharidis family portrait at a local house in Nea Vyssa

The fields of Vyssa

The climate in this region is favourable for growing crops such as corn, sunflowers and garlic. The history of agriculture in Nea Vyssa dates back to the early twentieth century when the first farmers settled in the area. They began growing crops such as wheat, barley and oats. Gradually, they started to grow more diversified crops like tobacco, cotton and vegetables.

Passing by all those agricultural fields made it easy for me to decide where to create the outdoor portraits I wanted. I have selected some aesthetically interesting sites to make these outdoor images.

Two girls in the traditional attire at a sunflower field, by photographer George Tatakis
Two girls in the traditional attire at a sunflower field

The cornfield and the snakes

No, that is not one of Aesop's fables. It is the title of our little adventure that led to the group image below inside the cornfield. I noticed this place as we were driving by and I thought it would be a perfect spot for a group photograph of the seven ladies. This line of the field was against the setting sun, so I knew that the portraits would be lit by a beautiful light during sunset.

Unfortunately, to reach this place, we needed to walk inside a field with knee-high bushes. I went first so that I could scout the exact spot and call out to the ladies to join me. A few metres in, one of the ladies shouted: "I am not getting in there, there are snakes all over the place". I immediately broke out in a cold sweat but tried hard to remain calm so that I could encourage the ladies and create the image I was thinking of. I cried out something along the lines of: "Oh come on, don't be chickens!", or: "It's October, snakes are hibernating!" while taking extra caution in every next step I made. Besides, the weather was still hot, so chances were that snakes were well awake.

In the end, all the ladies joined, we created a nice image and, god forbid, we encountered no snake!

The group amongst the corn in Nea Vyssa, Evros, Thrace, Greece, by photographer George Tatakis
The group amongst the corn

At the river with all the girls

Ardas River surrounds this area and we figured we could pay a visit and make some photographs along its banks. A nice spot, where you can hike along the river is the Kastanies village, a village that connects with Turkey through customs with Edirne. There is a nice park there, where you can be near the water, so that was our destination.

We arrived there, along with more-than-a-dozen women and I started scouting the area for the right spot. There I discovered that the ladies shared a fiery temperament, as they would converse in such a loud tone that one could think they were fighting about something. Thus, I had to interrupt their friendly discussion, so that it would become possible for me to "enter the zone".

I asked the ladies to dip their feet in the water to make the portraits, to which they happily obliged!

Ardas River \\

The Ardas River forms the natural border between Turkey and Greece. The river is approximately 38 kilometres long and its source is near the village of Kastanies. The history of the Ardas River dates back to ancient times. In Greek mythology, it was said that Hercules had to cross the river to get to Mount Olympus. Various historical battles have also been fought on its banks, most notably during the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22). During World War II, Turkish troops crossed the Ardas River into Greece to occupy a strategic foothold along the valley leading up to Bulgaria. However, they were eventually forced to retreat by Greek forces under General Alexander Papagos. Today, there are several bridges crossing over the Ardas River including one that connects Kastanies with Edirne city in Turkey.

Three ladies in traditional costumes of Nea Vyssa, inside Ardas river, Evros, Thrace, Greece.
Three ladies in traditional costumes of Nea Vyssa, inside Ardas river

The tradition of garlic growers in Nea Vyssa

After I got to know the people of Nea Vyssa, they told me about the tradition of garlic in the area. Many of them grew garlic themselves. Therefore we decided we should do a separate shooting around this agricultural tradition.

We did some nice images inside a warehouse as well as around a yard, used to store garlic, but what impressed me the most was that the ladies arranged for a machine to come along and plough a field for our shooting. The ladies dressed in the traditional costumes that they used to wear to do their agricultural chores, and the lines formed along the field helped the image's perspective.

The ladies in formation on a ploughed garlic field of Nea Vyssa, Evros, Thrace, Greece, by photographer George Tatakis
The ladies in formation on a ploughed garlic field

Garlic in Nea Vyssa \\

Historically, garlic cultivation in Nea Vyssa of Evros, Thrace, Greece has been a tradition that dates back thousands of years. This region is renowned for its ideal climate and rich soil which make it the perfect place to grow garlic. The majority of the garlic grown in this area is used for culinary purposes but some are also used medicinally. In ancient times, garlic was thought to have many health benefits and was utilized as a natural remedy for various ailments. It was also believed to ward off evil spirits and protect against magic spells. Garlic cloves were often worn around the neck or hung in homes as a means of protection. Today, garlic is still widely cultivated in Nea Vyssa and continues to be an important part of Greek culture and cuisine. It is commonly used in recipes such as soups, stews, sauces and marinades. Garlic bread and roasted lamb are two popular dishes that feature this tasty ingredient prominently.

Traditional work costume at an outdoor garlic storing place in Nea Vyssa, Evros, Thrace, Greece, by photographer George Tatakis
Traditional work costume at an outdoor garlic storing place
 

Acquire a print from the work

Make a statement in your home or office with unique, one-of-a-kind art from the work in Evros, by the awarded photographer George Tatakis. Not only will you be adding beauty and interest to your space, but you'll also be supporting important ethnographic work. Click here

 

Metaxades

Metaxades is also a significant and rich group in Evros with really beautiful costumes. The people there were very happy to do this shooting and so many ladies took this as a chance to wear the traditional outfit. Therefore we expanded this shooting to two days, instead of just one. That is not counting the next two shootings in Vryssi and Paliouri villages, the costumes of which fall within the Metaxades' broader group.

We managed to find a few abandoned houses that we could use for the shooting, as well as one house that still kept its traditional character, where an old lady, Mrs Chrisso Passiloudis lived. We sat in her yard, had a cup of Greek coffee and requested her permission for the shooting, to which she happily obliged. I have even made a picture of herself, holding a Greek flag.

Mrs. Chrisso Passiloudis inside her house with a Greek flag in Metaxades, Evros, Thrace, Greece
Mrs. Chrisso Passiloudis inside her house with a Greek flag

HISTORY CORNER \\

In the town of Metaxades, there is a long and rich history dating back to ancient times. The first written mention of Metaxades dates back to 479 BC when it was used as a base by Xerxes I during his invasion of Greece. In subsequent years, the town changed hands between various rulers including Alexander the Great and Lysimachus before eventually becoming part of the Roman Empire. It wasn't until after centuries under Ottoman rule that Metaxades once again came under Greek control in 1913 following the Balkan Wars. During World War II, Metaxades served as an important resistance stronghold against Nazi occupation forces – with several key battles being fought in and around the town.

The night we finished the shooting, the locals asked me to have dinner with them at a local tavern. I was happy to go along, as I was rather hungry. At the tavern, they proposed I sat next to a guy, husband to one of the ladies there, as he was the creative type, so we would have some common ground. That was quite interesting as he was a tomb constructor, and he was creative alright. So I spent most of the dinner time listening to him talking about his projects.

The bride

We also had a lady in our company who wore a bridal outfit, including a beautiful veil with embroidery. I thought I should create more images with her as I liked the eerie effect that the veil provides. I created some portraits of her inside the different houses and I also had the idea of making a few photographs of her at the local cemetery. I found interesting the idea of juxtaposing a bride with a cemetery.

The significance of the bride's veil in tradition \\

The bride's veil has a long and rich history in the traditional wedding of Thrace. In ancient times, the groom would present his future wife with a veil as part of her dowry. The veil was not only a symbol of modesty and chastity but also served to protect the bride from evil spirits. In some cases, the groom would even wear the veil himself during the ceremony to ward off any malicious intent. The other significance of the veil was that since the wedding is a passage ritual from the life of being single to that of a married woman, it was thought that during the ceremony, the bride was lingering in the world of the spirits, a parallel universe so to speak. The veil was a way to disrupt her vision during this time, thus helping her to excuse herself from our world.

Costumes of Metaxades, in front of a local traditional house, Evros, Thrace, Greece, by photographer George Tatakis
Costumes of Metaxades, in front of a local traditional house

A small village (Vryssi)

The traditional costume of Metaxades was worn in other villages in the area, with some variations. We thought we should make some images of these as well. On another day, the ladies were dressed and we would go to the small village of Vryssi for the shooting. We would scout for locations on the spot. When we got there, it proved somewhat difficult to find the right place, but I found an abandoned house that looked perfect for the occasion. The only problem was that the door was locked, but there was an open side window. I jumped right in and after verifying that this was the right place, I found two chairs inside the house and placed them on either side of the window to create steps, so that the ladies could also enter inside. Being in these costumes would have been difficult otherwise. The interior was perfect for the shooting so we came up with these images.

HISTORY CORNER \\

The first written reference to Vryssi dates back to 1372 AD when it was mentioned as being part of the fiefdom that belonged to John Kantakouzenos Asanes but its recent history begins at the beginning of the 18th century when refugees from Pontus settled here after fleeing from Ottoman persecution. Among these refugees were families by the name Gatzoyiannis and Mavromichalis who became important personalities in subsequent years for their role in taking up arms against Ottoman rule during various Greek revolts such as the Orlov Revolt (1770), Souliotis Rebellion(1803), Revolution of 1821 etc. After Greece gained independence from Ottoman rule in 1830 family members Of Gatzoyannis and Mavromichalis played a very significant role in National Politics for many decades.

The local traditional costume inside a local house of Vrysses village, Evros, Thrace, Greece, by photographer George Tatakis
The local traditional costume inside a local house of Vryssi village

Going outside

I had been informed that we could reach the banks of the Erythropotamos River, just a few kilometres away from Vrysses village. I found it a good idea to go there and try some shots. I am always fond of bodies of water. Even though the river was rather dry, it was somewhat tricky to reach a certain spot at the centre of the river and we walked through thick mud to achieve that. After doing that, I found a set of vegetation by the river bank that its form reminded me of a bird's nest. So in the end that was my favourite image.

Erythropotamos River

The Erythropotamos River is a tributary of the Evros River and is approximately 27 kilometres long. The source of the river is in the Ormenio mountains and it flows through the towns of Didymoteicho, Alexandroupoli and Orestiada before emptying into the Evros River. The river has been an important waterway since ancient times. Thracian tribes used it for transportation and later by Greeks for trade and commerce. In Roman times, it was known as the Gyttus Fluvius and served as a border between Byzantium and Rome. Today, it continues to be an important part of local life with many villages relying on it for irrigation purposes.

Vegeration at Erythropotamos river's bank in Evros, Thrace, Greece, by photographer George Tatakis
Vegeration at Erythropotamos river's bank

On the way to Vrysses village, before the shooting took place, I noticed this interesting cotton field at the side of the road. I kept that in mind for when we would have finished the shooting at Vrysses. On our way back, the sun was already setting, we pulled over the road and made our way to the centre of the field. Cotton growing is a big thing around Evros, so I found it to be an appropriate setting to make some photographs.

Cotton in Evros

Cotton was first introduced to Evros, Thrace in the early 19th century by the Ottoman Empire. The climate and soil in Evros were suitable for growing cotton. However, production was limited due to a lack of technology and labour. In the late 19th century, Greek refugees from Asia Minor settled in Evros and began growing cotton on a large scale. They introduced new varieties of cotton and improved irrigation techniques. Cotton production increased dramatically, peaking in the 1920s when Evros was one of the largest producers of cotton in Greece.

At a cotton field on the way to Vrysses village, Evros, Thrace, Greece, by photographer George Tatakis
At a cotton field on the way to Vrysses village

Saltamarka

The Saltamarka was an overcoat, black in colour, short and medium-length made of wool and