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Culture East Macedonia and Thrace Prefecture of Drama

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20/05/2009
Prefecture of Drama: Culture

Stefania Christianou
Source: ILSP
© ILSP
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The prefecture of Drama has a remarkable history as testified by the important preserved monuments. The paleontological finds provide evidence for consequent habitation since the Paleolithic Period up to the Neolithic Period and the Bronze Age. The area was annexed to the Kingdom of Macedonia in 400 BC. In the Roman period the region prospered due to the construction of Via Egnatia, the route which connected the Roman Empire with Byzantium. It belonged to the administration of the territorium of the Roman colony at Philippi, the Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensis. In the Middle Byzantine period (9th - early 13th cent. AD) Drama developed into a powerful castle of strategic importance. It was a fortified acropolis on a plateau and the seat of the military commander of the region. The names 'Darma' (1172) and 'Dramme' (1206), which refer to the castle, are recorded in written sources dated to the end of the period and are connected with the ancient name of the site as well as with the modern one. During the Late Byzantine period (early 13th cent. AD - 1453) Drama was occupied by different conquerors as was happening in the other Byzantine provinces. Significant Byzantine monuments have been preserved in the municipality of Protsosani and in the county of Nevrokopi. The Ottoman domination lasted from 1383 until 1912, when the region was annexed to Greece. The beginning of the 19th century was a new period of economic prosperity due to the cultivation and production of rice and tobacco. The area was often claimed by Bulgaria, which occupied the area for a while during the Balkan Wars, but after the arrival of the refugees from Asia Minor the population was more homogeneous. During the WWII the area was once more occupied by Bulgaria until it was finally liberated in 1944.
The settlement pattern is defined by the course of history in the wider area of Central Rodopi. In earlier times settlements of Muslims, as well as of the nomads Sarakatsani were scattered in the region. After liberation and the Treaty of Lausanne, the Muslim population was exchanged with Greeks from Pontus. The refugees settled in the larger south villages, where they remained until the Civil War, while the Sarakatsani were still living in the land, organized in tseligata. However, since 1946, due to the Cold War in Europe, they abandoned the area.
Folklore festivals and events inspired by the local traditional culture and customs attract a large number of visitors. The park of Agia Varvara in the town of Drama is an idyllic location of architectural interest, as it boasts traditional residences, windmills and multi-storey tobacco warehouses from the inter-war period. On the 3rd of December, eve of the celebration of the patron-saint Agia Varvara, children leave small lit-up boats to float on the lake in front of the church, creating a magnificent scene in the dusk.
The days around the Epiphany the arrival of the New Year is celebrated with festivals, dances, dressing-up, songs and performances with Dionysian elements at the villages of Volakas, Kali Vrysi, Monastiraki, Xeropotamos, Petrousa and Pyrgi. The Carnival is particularly celebrated at Choristi, when on Ash Monday people wear traditional costumes and take part in various performances and enactments. On the 2nd of May, on the feast of Agios Athanasios at the village of Doxato, traditional horse races are held, in memory of the struggle for liberation in the period of the Ottoman domination. In Mavrolefki, on the 21st and 23rd of May, people revive the 'Anastenaria', an ecstatic dance accompanied by lyre and tabor, ritual animal sacrifices and the dancers walking on coals without being burned. During Christmas, the Municipality of Drama organises the 'Dreamland' for the children. The International Short Film Festival in Drama is internationally recognised, while the performances in the unique stone theatre in the gorge of Petrousa attract wide audiences.
The Archaeological Museum of Drama spans the human presence in the prefecture of Drama from the Middle Paleolithic Age (50,000 years before present), with exhibits from the daily life of the nomads and the hunters dated in the cave of Aggitis, up to 1913. Worth mentioning among the exhibits are the representation of a Neolithic house and finds related to the widespread cult of god Dionysus. The Ecclesiastical Museum of the Metropolis of Drama houses religious treasures, including the icons of Virgin Mary Hodegetria and of Christ blessing, dated back to the 13th cent., and icons from the 17th and particularly from the 19th cent. There are also vestments, holy vessels form the 19th cent., relics of Chrysostomos of Drama and Smyrna, as well as relics brought by the refugees from Asia Minor and Pontus in 1922. In the Museum of Natural History at Paranesti the geological evolution of the region and environmental exhibits are on display. Fort Lisse offers a vivid image of the struggles against the German and Bulgarian invaders and the heroic battle.