Costumes of Evros in Thrace
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.
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 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.
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 came 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 really looked like a celebration!
It was obvious how the people of Nea Vyssa value their traditions and heritage. Over the course of my stay in the area, I visited Nea Vyssa many times, although the initial plan was to do a one-day shooting. There were so many ladies who 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.
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.
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 gave us the opportunity 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 of selling 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.
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 that 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.
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.
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, in order to reach this place, we needed to walk inside a field with bushes that were knee-high. 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!
At the river with all the girls
Ardas river surrounds this area and we figured we could pay a visit and make some images 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 in order 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 in order 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.
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. Actually, 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 costume that they used to wear to do their agricultural chores, and the lines formed along the field really helped the image's perspective.
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.
Acquire a print from the work
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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 in. 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.
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 the 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 with 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.
We also had a lady in our company that wore the bridal outfit, including a beautiful veil with embroidery. I thought I should create more images with her as I really 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 really 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.
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.
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 at the end that was my favourite image.
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. It was used by Thracian tribes 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.
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.
The Saltamarka was an overcoat, black in colour, short and medium-length made of wool and woven on the loom. It was decorated with either blue piping or blue lace.
Woollen socks knitted by women with needles, plain and patterned.
An old house in Paliouri
That was the final variation on the Metaxades' traditional costumes. We would visit a nearby village by the name of Paliouri. In that village, a member of our company had a grandparents' place where we could try. When I visited, the house was the right setting for our shooting. A two-storey traditional home in the typical architecture of Evros. There was even a barn attached to the side of the house.
We created several interesting photographs and we also had a dressed-up man with us in the traditional male costume, so I created a portrait of him. Having an old shotgun as a prop worked just fine.
A separate group of traditional costumes in Evros is that of Enoe. Enoe is part of the Orestiada town, which is the largest town in Thrace, East of Alexandroupoli. I had already been in contact with the local cultural club, and I would be meeting the ladies at the house in which they would be getting ready for the shoot. I found them all being there when I arrived and while they were getting ready we had a nice coffee together and got to know each other.
Once more I rode with a local lady to do some location scouting and find houses that might be appropriate for my shooting, which proved rather tricky. That is an interesting fact, as Evros in general, was the place that was one the easiest one could find such traditional houses that are left almost untouched. These places were usually uninhabited houses. In most places in Greece, finding such places is very difficult. The aftermath of wars throughout Greece's history, especially World War II, as well as convenience and tourism has sacrificed in most cases quality and aesthetics. One can only be hopeful as today there are hints here and there where proper renovations of such traditional gems are taking place.
The similarity in the costume elements of this group is clear despite the different names and the variations in the embroidery designs that prevailed between different villages. A similarity that is also evident in folk events, dances and songs as well as in their fairy tales and legends. Since the movement of 1922 and the settlement of the refugees in western Thrace, new villages emerged with mixed settlers who came from different villages but also new settlements created entirely by refugees from the same village, without any mixing. Despite the mixing and cohabitation the similarities in dress, speech, songs and dances are evident to this day. The inhabitants of today's settlements themselves accept their different origins as they testify that they are Parapagaeans, a name they attribute to the refugees of the aforementioned villages.
A traditional house in Thyrea
The village of Thyrea is situated around ten kilometres away from Didimotichon, where I was staying. I had visited that village before the shooting and found a local house that was left intact and kept its traditional character. I was sure that this was the place to go, so we took five ladies dressed in traditional costumes and we made some images both inside, as well as outside the house.
HISTORY CORNER \\
The region of Thyrea has been inhabited since prehistoric times and it is believed that the first settlers were Proto-Indo-European tribes who arrived here from the Balkans around 3000 BCE.
The "Kavourtziki" was a duck feather, the unique scalloped feather that every male duck has on its tail. They used two and wore them through the scarf under the temples of the face thus giving shape to the sideburns.
Α large number of refugees from the clothing group of Makra Gefyra also settled in the villages of Maris such as Koufovouno, Kyani and Karoti, as well as in the villages of Spilaio, Evgeniko and Elafochori.
According to the testimonies of residents of the village of Isaakion, the clothing was worn as everyday clothing until the 1950s, when it gradually began to be replaced by clothes of European origin, while elderly people continued to wear it until the 1990s.
The ladies in Mani
Moving on with the costumes of Makra Gefyra, our next stop was the village of Mani. It is an interesting name as it reminds us of the Mani region in the Peloponnese. I didn't know that there was a village by that name in the Evros region as well. Etymologically, the name "Mani", at least in Peloponnese, comes from the Latin word "Magne" which means great, strong. It referred to the area where the residence of a bishop was located. In Peloponnese, in later years, the word came to refer to a single castle, "Megali Maini" (Grand Magne Castle). If the name of the village in Evros has the same origin, we could assume that there was a great tower or castle in the area.
The people who were helping me locally knew of a local house that might be good for the shooting and indeed, it was. That was a two-storey traditional house with a barn and a storage room attached to it. We made photographs in almost every room. There was also a great-looking room on the ground floor, that was dimly lit, so I used the light of candles to make a portrait there. We also made a photograph outdoors, by an attractive wall, constructed in the traditional technique.
The "Simouzounarou" which translates to silver belt, was a metal belt given by the mother-in-law to her future bride to wear for the first time on the wedding day.
The "p'kam'so" (shirt)
The shirts were all cotton and woven on the loom. It was long with wide and relatively short sleeves and a deep slit in front of the chest. The opening in the collar was closed with two handmade knitted cords that tied them together.