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Unlocking the Mystique: St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi

Nestled in the historic sacred city of Missolonghi, the St. Simeon Festivals are a captivating blend of tradition, celebration, and a touch of mystique. Twice a year, this enchanting event unfolds within the sacred walls of the St. Simeon Monastery, creating an atmosphere steeped in history and local fervor.

"Every free man is a citizen of Messolonghi." - a quote inscribed at the city's wall.
St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
The male costumes 'Ntoulamas' at Missolonghi Lagoon.

The Winter Festival of Saint Simeon at the Sacred City of Missolonghi: Embracing Tradition and Memories.

Held on the name days of Ipapantis and Saint Simeon, the winter festival, a hidden gem, takes place on February 2 and 3. Unlike its vibrant summer counterpart, the winter celebration is more intimate, wrapped in a cloak of nostalgia and local charm.

St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
A hut outside the monastery of Saint Simeon

Journey to Missolonghi: A Three-Hour Drive into History.

For those seeking a taste of Missolonghi's unique offerings, a scenic three-hour drive from Athens unveils a world rich in cultural treasures. Beyond the festivities, the city boasts the production of exquisite local Ouzo and the renowned Greek Avgotaraho, a delicacy known as Bottarga, crafted from cured Grey Mullet roe.

"Avgotaraho: Tasting a single slice will cause a velvety explosion of fruits and the sea in your mouth—combined with a spicy whiff—that will reach the utmost parts of your brain. …a long-lasting sensation." - Simos Georgopoulos, Journalist
St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
The bridge connecting Rion to Antirion

Engineering Marvel: Crossing the Rio-Antirio Bridge.

En route to Missolonghi from Athens, the journey unfolds across the iconic Rio-Antirio Bridge, a testament to engineering ingenuity. Overcoming nature's challenges, this bridge connects Peloponnese to the mainland, leaving travelers in awe of its construction brilliance.

St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
Lighting of the bridge "Charilaos Trikoupis"

Exploring Nature's Canvas: Lagoons and Wooden Homes.

Missolonghi offers more than just festivals; it presents a breathtaking lagoon adorned with diverse avian inhabitants and wooden homes perched atop its surface, creating a picturesque landscape.

St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
A wooden fisherman's house in the Lagoon

Unveiling History: Turkish Rule and Heroic Tales.

The roots of the St. Simeon Festivals intertwine with the era of Turkish rule and the heroic exit of the people of Missolonghi. Clad in the local costume known as Ntoulamas, the arm bearers and horse riders become the heartbeat of the festival, echoing the resilience of the city's past.

Summer vs. Winter: The choice of traditional costumes is more prevalent during the Summer Festival, contrasting the more intimate and memory-laden Winter celebration.
St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
N Plakidas, adorned in the local 'Ntoulamas'

Winter's Intimate Charm: A Festival of Memories.

Contrary to the summer revelry, the winter festival unveils a more 'closed' celebration. While lacking the grand parade, it offers a unique ambiance, emphasizing shared memories, joyous encounters, and rhythmic dances.

"Winter festival is all about meeting friends, enjoying over the dinner table with singing and dancing."
St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
Meeting a local inside a hut in the woods

Behind closed doors, within the huts built around the monastery, the essence of the winter celebration unfolds. Photographers seeking to capture these moments are advised to follow a simple mantra: "Meet first, photograph later."

"If you want to take pictures, remember, meet first, photograph later."

Melodies of Tradition: Roma Musicians and Dionysian Sounds.

The air during the St. Simeon Festivals resonates with the melodies of Roma musicians playing traditional instruments like the drum and Zournas. Dionysian sounds, paired with the spirited consumption of alcohol, transport attendees to a heightened state of revelry.

St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
Roma musicians playing the Zournas

Currency Tradition: Dollar Bills in the Air.

As night descends upon St. Simeon, a unique tradition unfolds—the locals throw US dollars at the musicians to show their appreciation. A nod to tradition, this practice originated when the Drachma was in circulation. With the Euro as the currency of the land, locals exchange their bills for one-dollar notes, ensuring the continuation of this symbolic gesture.

"Musicians get bills thrown at them, and because the five Euro one is too much, they get one-dollar bills instead."
St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
Picking dollar bills off the ground

Morning Mass and Unforeseen Halts: A Mix of Reverence and Reality.

The festivities culminate with a full-night party, transitioning seamlessly into the Morning Mass. However, on rare occasions, as happened this year, an unfortunate incident may interrupt the celebration. In this instance, a participant's heart attack brought an unexpected halt to the festivities, reminding attendees of life's unpredictable nature.

St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
Washing up in the morning
 

The Summer Spectacle: A Vibrant Celebration Unfolds.

Marking the national holiday of the Holy Spirit, the summer St. Simeon Festival unfolds over three consecutive days. In stark contrast to the winter gathering, the summer celebration bursts forth with grandeur and color.

St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
Riding horses outside the main church of Missolonghi

Parade of Heroes: Horses, Arms Bearers, and Ntoulamas.

A magnificent parade sets the stage, commencing from the city's Cathedral Saint Spiridon. Horses and their riders lead the way, followed by arm bearers adorned in the Ntoulamas costume. The procession traverses the city, culminating in Heroes square, where a memorial pays tribute to the city's history.

St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
Men wearing the traditional 'Ntoulamas'

Nocturnal Revelry and Currency Showers: A Night to Remember.

As the procession reaches St. Simeon, a night of revelry unfolds until the Morning Mass. An intriguing tradition continues, with locals showering musicians with US dollars, as with the winter festival, embracing the spirit of celebration.

St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
All night music and dancing

The Morning After: Summer's Hushed Repose.

As the final chords of the St. Simeon Summer Festival faded, the woods around the monastery became an impromptu dormitory. Exhausted from the night's revelry, people sprawled on the ground or nestled in huts, finding solace in the quiet embrace of nature. Capturing the scene with my camera, I immortalized the serene aftermath—a mosaic of tired smiles, tousled hair, horses, and the collective sigh of a community resting beneath the waking trees.

St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
Exhausted from the celebration

Morning Mass and Baptisms: A Spiritual Culmination.

The Morning Mass during the summer festival intertwines with mass baptisms of Roma children. Boys and girls are baptized separately, emphasizing the spiritual and communal aspects of the celebration. As the church ceremony concludes, the festivities resume, resonating until the early hours of Tuesday morning.

St. Simeon Festivals in Missolonghi, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis.
Waiting in line to baptise children