Prefecture of Xanthi: Culture
The first reference to Xanthia, to which Xanthi owns its name, is cited by the Strabo the geographer in his work Geographica, in the beginning of the 1st cent. AD. However, the exact location of the area is not specified. According to Ekataios, it is possible that the name of the area derived from the Thracian tribe Xanthous. For a long period of time there were scarce references to the region, probably due to its minor importance. The town was an episcopical seat and since the 16th cent. it is reported as the seat of the Metropolitan Bishop of Xanthi and Peritheorio, which evolved from the integration of the two Metropolises, Xanthia and Peritheorion. In that period of upheaval for the Byzantine Empire, with Bulgaria invading and social conflicts, the town of Xanthi played an important role and was fortified on a hill over the modern city. In the Byzantine period the town Topeiros prospered, established in the 1st cent. AD. In 1361 it was occupied by the Turks. Genisea develops into a significant administrative and commercial centre until 1870, when fire destroyed the town and the population gradually moved to Xanthi. The town was flourishing for many years due to the tobacco industry. It was occupied by Bulgaria in 1912, during the Balkan Wars, a most harsh and dark period for Thrace, but it was liberated in 1913 by the Greek army. According to the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest Xanthi was ceded to Bulgaria but after the WWI ended it was ceded to Greece. In the WWII the region was under Bulgarian occupation and liberated in 1944.
The mythical foundation of Abdera is attributed to Heracles in memory of his friend Abderus, who was devoured by the Mares of Diomedes, the king of the Thracian Bistones. The town was organized as a colony of Clazomenae in c. 650 BC and then it came under the successive rule of the Thracians, the Ionians of Teos and the Persians, who used it as a base. Abdera was a member of the Athenian League and a significant force, flourishing even in the period of the Peloponnesian war. Eminent phiolosophers and poets were born in Abdera, for instance Democritus, Protagoras, Leucippus, Bion, Anaxarchus, Hecataeus, Ascanius, Anacreon and Nicaenetus. Despite its destruction by Thracian tribes in 376 BC, the town survived due to the Athenian's support. The town was subjugated to the Romans and the citizens lost their independence, but the Roman senate declared their freedom. In the Byzantine period Abdera regained its past glory through its successor Polystylon. Recent excavations have revealed Early Christian and Middle Byzantine churches, as well as Middle Byzantine and Late Byzantine cemeteries. During the Ottoman period the residents of the town moved inland and built the village of Boloustra, which after the liberation was named with the Greek name Abdera.
Nowadays in the area the Christians and the Muslims co-exist in harmony, practising their religion in the churches and the mosques respectively.
The Archaeological Museum of Abdera, despite its small size, is one of the most modern in terms of its educational approach. The exhibition reveals information about the daily life of the people in the past, by making references to both the private and the public life, as well as to the burial practices and customs. The Ecclesiastical Museum of the Metropolis of Xanthi and Peritheorio in the Monastery of Archangeliotissa display religious relics, manuscripts and books, thus presenting the ecclesiastical history of the region. The Folklore Museum of F.E.X. in Xanthi, housed in Kougioumtzoglou Mansion, the Folklore Museums in Stavroupoli and Abdera exhibit artifacts of folk art and of obsolete professions. The Municipal Art Gallery in the old town of Xanthi houses a permanent exhibition of works by G. Pavlides, while in the Foundation of Thracian Art and Tradition, apart from the permanent exhibition, important temporary exhibitions of Greek artists are organized. Moreover, many institutions and associations host lectures, concerts, exhibitions and performances.
The old town is very charming with the traditional architecture and the paved streets. It was declared a town of cultural heritage in 1976 and it is today the largest traditional settlement in north Greece and the best preserved example of communal organisation of the Greeks in late Ottoman period in the Greek mainland. The diversity of the architectural features and the unique decorative elements render the entire town a monument of architecture.
Thousands of visitors flow into the town of Xanthi for the Carnival every year. At that time of the year the custom of the Smut Monday revives in the town of Policitos. The custom of the Camel takes place on the Ash Monday every year in the central square in Stavroupoli. The annual celebration of the Islamic funeral supper at Iliopetra and the Festival of Spring, Ederlezi, are not only Islamic customs but they also provide opportunities to see the common rituals surviving in different populations and religions. The Old Town Festival of Xanthi in the last days of August and the beginning of September attracts thousands of visitors who enjoy music, dances, exhibitions and good food. The town also organises the annual Xatzidakio Festival in honour of the music composer Manos Xatzidakis who was born in Xanthi.