Greek life, Travels

Independence Day and Nafplio

Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, and for the next 400 years, Greece attempted several (unsuccessful) revolts. In 1814, a secret liberation organization was founded and made plans for several simultaneous revolts in four or five locations around the country. Planned for March 25, 1821, the revolution got started a little early as someone let slip to the Turks what was going on. As in any war, there were major, significant battles — Hydra, Navarino, Missolonghi — between 1821 and 1829. The Turks aligned with Egypt, who sent an enormous fleet to help defend Ottoman holdings. Greece was eventually aided by Britain, France and Russia — funds, fleets, soldiers. In fact, Lord Byron believed so devoutly in the Greek cause he came to fight and died in battle.

Fighting ended in 1829 and Greece was finally recognized as an independent nation via the Treaty of Constantinople in 1832.

That was a very brief summary of the most important event of modern Greek history. It’s been fascinating to learn about the Turkish oppression that led to revolution and see how it factors significantly into today’s national culture. It explains so much — at least we think so — about life and attitudes in Greece.  A country invaded and occupied by others makes for an incredible national spirit.

March 25 is Independence Day. We learned last week that the Education Ministry directs all schools to celebrate various national holidays and the 2018 programs were to be held Friday the 23rd. Michael had a role in Kessaris’ program: reading a stanza of a poem (in Greek of course) to the lower school. He crushed it — and Papou and Aunt Ernie were there to see it.

Our friends the Schumachers are visiting, so we planned a weekend with them (and Erin) in Nafplio, a beautiful city on the water in the Peloponnese, just across the Corinth canal. Nafplio was the capital of Greece before Athens, and it was an Ottoman stronghold in the war of independence.  It was first invaded and occupied in the 1600s by the Venetians and has a huge fortress on top of the hill. We spent hours climbing in and around various walls, trails and innards.  We even found the cell of Theodoros Kolkotronis, the pre-eminent leader of the war of independence.  The cell was awful: dark, stinky, not a smooth surface in the place.  Kolkotronis was convicted for treason; he was just one of many revolutionary heroes jailed and exiled post-war as enemies of the state.

On the 25th, there were parades and celebrations all over Greece with military marches and lots of people in traditional clothing. 25 March is also an important religious holiday: the feast of the Annunciation (Evangelismos). The celebration of the Virgin Mary is a joyful holy day and one of only two days during the 40-day Lenten fast that allows fish, oil and wine to be consumed. Palm Sunday is the other day; it’s next week.

Since the 15th century, the traditional food for this holiday is fried cod (tiganitos bakaliaros) with garlic sauce (skordalia).   Cod isn’t native to the Mediterranean sea, but it’s quite prolific in the North Atlantic and it can be cured, making it inexpensive and simple to preserve.  Skordalia is made from either potatoes or bread crumbs and it’s got lots of garlic in it.  It’s often served with beets or just with some bread.

We hugged the Schumachers goodbye as they headed to the rest of their vacation in the Peloponnese. We headed for Athens, blissfully unaware that the clock in the car had not been changed for daylight savings.


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