Chalkidiki – Arts and Letters

In antiquity, Olynthos, Potidaea, Stageira, and other cities of Chalkidiki, most of which were colonies founded by southern Greek cities, were very much part of the flourishing civilization that developed in the rest of the Greek world. Finds from excavations – pottery, sculpture – show the influence of southern Greek workshops, the products of which were used as models.

In the Geometric period, the typical vessels of Chalkidiki were undecorated. The production of local pottery continued in the 7th and bill centuries. From the 6th century 13BC on, as we can see from the objects found in certain areas, there must have been pottery workshops in Chalkidiki imitating Attic prototypes. During the same period, more and more pottery from Corinth and Attica was also imported.
The unfinished kouros found, half eroded by the sea in the harbor of ancient Stageira is an example of the sculpture of Archaic times in Chalkidiki.

After the Persian Wars, communication between the cities of Chalkidiki and those of the shores of Asia Minor and the islands of the Aegean became more frequent and the influences of the latter on the works created in the peninsula more numerous and marked. Of the sculptures of this period, notable is the funerary stele of Nea Kallicrateia, dating from 440 BC, a work showing the influence of Cycladic workshops. It portrays a young woman holding a dove in her left hand. A fragmentary stele found at Cassandra dates from about 420 BC; this sculpture, revealing the influence of Attic and Cycladic workshops, represents a young man, who was obviously an athlete and hunter, and of whom only the head survives.

The unique mosaic floors of Olynthos depicting mythological subjects are among the most impressive artistic creations of the late 5th century BC.
The production of local imitations of Attic red-figure vases was developed in the 4th century. Examples of 4th-century sculptures in the region are few but very characteristic.

Chalkidiki was the birthplace of a number of the world’s outstanding thinkers, scientists, and artists. Among them, the greatest is undoubtedly the philosopher Aristotle, who was a native of Stageira. He was born in 384 BC, and besides being a philosopher was also a mathematician, an astronomer, a biologist, and a zoologist. His father was the personal physician and friend of the king of Macedonia Amyntas III, grandfather of Alexander the Great. In 367 BC Aristotle left his homeland and moved to Athens, where he remained until 347 BC. During his stay, he first studied at Plato’s Academy and then later also taught there. After Athens, he went to Assos, in Asia Minor, where he met Theophrastus, who was to become his disciple and later collaborator. After Assos Aristotle taught in Lesbos for two years until 343 BC. In 343 BC he settled at Pella, on the invitation of Philip II of Macedon, who asked him to become the tutor of his 13-year-old son, Alexander – later to become known to the world as Alexander the Great. In 341 BC he returned to his hometown of Stageira to devote himself to study and research.

He returned to Athens in 334 BC, where he established his own school, the Lyceum, at which he taught until 323 BC. Because much of the discussion in the school took place while the teachers and students were walking about the Lyceum grounds, Aristotle’s school came to be known as the Peripatetic ( “walking” or “strolling” ) school. In 323 BC he retired to his mother’s estate in Euboea, where he died the following year. Aristotle wrote 400 works, few of which have survived, among which his lecture notes and catalogs recording 143 titles of his works.

Aristobulus ( 4th century BC ) was a native of Cassandra. A general, an engineer, and a historian, he accompanied Alexander the Great on his campaigns. He made catapults, and siege machines with which holes could be opened in city walls. Krates, a mechanical and hydraulics engineer, came from Olynthos. He lived in the 4th century BC and was considered to have been the greatest engineer of his time. He studied the method of draining the lake of Copais by opening channels from the lake to the bay of Larymna in the Euboean Gulf.

The project was never completed because of the Boeotian’s resistance to its implementation, either because it was against their economic interests or because the death of Alexander the Great occurred in the meantime. According to information that has been passed down to us from Strabo, an earthquake in the area later blocked the mouths of the channels so that the lake was reformed. Another of Kate’s works was the construction of a conduit supplying drinking water to Alexandria in Egypt.

The mathematician and astronomer Philip of Mende ( 4th c. BC ) was also a native of Chalkidiki, and one of Plato’s best-loved disciples. He taught at Plato’s Academy and published the Laws of his teacher.

The sculptor Paeonios also was born at Mende. He lived in the second half of the 5th century BC and was the creator – probably in 425 BC – of the marvelous “Nike”, now in the Museum of Olympia.
Finally, the philosopher Callisthenes and the historians Strattes and Ephippus also hailed from Olynthos. All three of them were contemporaries of Alexander the Great and followed him on his expedition into Asia.

Traditional Architecture

The limpidity of the atmosphere, the brightness of the light, the sun, the sea, and the verdant, serene landscape all contribute to the charm of Chalkidiki. On the wooded lower slopes of the mountains are found many of the older villages of the region, some of which have retained their traditional aspect to this day narrow streets, small squares around fountains with stone benches were, until not very long ago, the village women used to rest while they filled their water jugs. The houses are two, or three-storied, with tiled roofs, characteristic hayiatia ( a kind of enclosed veranda ), and sahnisiâ ( a projecting upper story ). Here we might like to stop for a cup of coffee in one of the picturesque little coffee shops.

The architecture has, therefore, been influenced by that of regions of Western Macedonia. A good number of the inhabitants were wealthy, which is reflected in the construction of the houses, most of which were two or three stories. The most important part of the house was the hayiati, for this is where most of the jobs were done, where the children could play and from where, if the owner was a merchant, a tradesman, or a farmer, some of his work could be conducted.

After 1850 the place of the hayiati as the most important part of the house was taken over by the “sala” or drawing-room, while the archontariki was where, in the wealthy houses, guests were received. The hayiati became a balcony that jutted out from the main body of the house and was covered by a pitched roof which formed a pointed gable, while the sahnisi, the feature of western Macedonian architecture, considerably increased the floor space.

In the houses of Arnaea, a village with a tradition in weaving, one of the most important rooms was that where stood the loom. This room, in two-story houses, was on the second floor, but if space was a problem, the loom could be placed in some part of the “sala” or even in the basement. In three-story houses, it found its place in the mezzanine, which was also used as a storeroom.
Essential for the heating of the home was the fireplace, which was made of brick, while the chimneys, which were usually cylindrical and decorated at the top, were made of stone or clay.

The materials for the building of the houses were argillaceous earth and stone, and the wood of chestnut, oak, and beech trees. On the inside, they were decorated with bands, multicolored woven wall-hangings, and koureloudes or kilimia ( patchwork or simple homemade rugs ) on the floor.
Today the interior walls are painted in bright colors – green, blue, white, yellow, or pink, while the outside of the house may be ocher or rose-colored, grey, blue, or white.

Popular Art, Costumes, Traditional Wedding

The art of weaving flourished in many parts of Chalkidiki. The multicolored woven articles created with great care, love, and imagination by the women were ( and still are ) famed throughout Greece. The materials used were wool and silk, and the colors were those of the Greek landscape – red, green, yellow, and crimson. The silk came from the cocoons woven by the silkworms that fed on the mulberry leaves from the trees covering the slopes of Polygyros and Arnaea. The women used this silk to make beautiful table cloths, sheets, napkins for trays, borders of bedspreads, and the silk fabrics required for their colorful regional costume. The wool, after a long process, was eventually used to make tserges and yiamboles ( woolen covers ), flokates ( long-haired blankets or rugs ), striped Velendzes ( woolen blankets ), or striped kilimia ( rugs ) and cushions. The softest wool was chosen for the grey jackets woven for the menfolk and children.

The exquisite artistry of the women’s weaving was also evident in the costume of the women of Chalkidiki, which consisted of a knee-length chemise ( pokamiso ), in white or deep blue, embroidered along the hem and the sleeves, a silk kavadi, that is a kind of coat-dress made of striped material and worn over the pokamiso, a striped, richly embroidered apron edged with a short fringe ( ftilia ), and finally a large square silk print scarf wrapped around the waist over the ‘podia’. On the head was wearing a small round cap with a long tassel – the kavouki or fessi – and around it was wrapped a cotton print kerchief. The cap, which was made in Venice, was the wedding present of the groom to his bride and was bought in Thessalonike. Thus attired, the women shone with pride and beauty on the special days in their lives, one of which was their wedding day. Weddings, in Arnaea, one of the large towns of Chalkidiki, used to last for four days. On a Wednesday would begin the preparations for the marriage ceremony, which would finally take place late on the evening of Saturday. The homes of the bride and groom were at the center of these preparations.

On a Wednesday morning, a relative of the bride would invite relatives and friends to the wedding. The next day was that on which were kneaded and baked the rounds wreath-shaped wedding pieces of bread, known as klikia, to the accompaniment of appropriate songs, while various sweets and refreshments were handed round to those who were present. The red yarn was then tied onto the wedding pieces of bread and cotton and ivy ( brouslianos ) were placed on the top.
The red yarn was to ensure a happy life for the young couple, the cotton a long one, and the brouslianos, the bearing of many healthy children. At the same time, on the same day, in the groom’s home, the Flamboro – a long pole with a horizontal piece of wood fastened across the top, forming a cross – would be prepared and adorned. At the top of the cross was placed an apple, and on the horizontal piece of wood was tied a red silk kerchief. Friday was the day on which the bride’s dowry was displayed at the bride’s home, in the presence of the bride herself, her parents, the village priest, and sundry relatives.

On the same day, in the afternoon, after having visited the homes of the groom and the bride, the guests and the two families, each family bearing a basket of gifts, among which was a kliki, sugared almonds, cheese, and fruit, would gather in the main square of the village where the general merry-making that ensued was known as the Brouslianos.

In the end, the whole company would troop out of the village and gather around a spring. There they would sit under the trees, the trunks of which were covered with ivy, and another round of eating and drinking and dancing would begin. When the great day, Saturday, finally dawned, the groom would send a basket with various foodstuffs known as the deipno ( dinner ) in the morning to the best man and the bride. Around noon, relatives of the groom would bring his gifts to the bride, while the bride’s dowry was carried to the home of the couple to be. This is when the songs accompanying the attiring of the bride would begin. When she was ready, the groom would arrive with his companions, the Godfather, and, to the accompaniment of musical instruments, she would be led to his home, where the wedding ceremony would take place. After the ceremony, the feasting and dancing would continue until late into the night.

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