Zante Civilization and culture Zakynthos
Zakynthos or Zante since ancient years, although it came into contact with new, European people knowing different cultures and ways of thinking, it never lost its Greek identity. As a receiver of many cultural influences it has fecundated them and contributed substantially to the development of the modern neo-Greek spirit.
The position of Zakynthos in the New Greece has enabled it to meet a large growth with visible signs of its cultural heritage. At a time when the rest of Greece was groaning under the Turks lacking in freedom and intellectual growth, the Zakynthian love for the arts, letters and theater creates top writers and poets, who are all guardians of the letters and held a special place in the history of Greece.
On the subjects below you can find more information about the literature, painting, architecture, music, theater, cinema and folk traditions in Zakynthos.
Literature origins date back to the 15th century when the island poets were popular for their poems, prose, and the translation of texts from ancient Greek to the spoken language.
In the following years Zakynthos with the founding of the first Greek Academy has to highlight important personalities that stand out in the field of literature and art, such as:
- The Ugo Foscolo, with an Italian mother tongue and a remarkable work by sonnets, odes and tragedy, critics work and a small novel, who ranks among the best poets of modern Italy.
- Andreas Kalvos, who was born in Zakynthos, was touched by Ugo Foscolo and wrote the words ‘Freedom requires virtue and daring’, which bear the coat of arms of Zante town. He falls upon the mausoleum of Solomos Museum and Eminent Zakynthians.
- The Dionysios Solomos, creator of the poem 'Hymn to Freedom', the first two strophes of which constitute the National Anthem of Greece. Solomos studied in Italy and after he came back home, Zante, he wrote poems to support the struggle of the Greeks during the war against the Turkish domination.
- Gregory Xenopoulos, who was born in Istanbul and spent his childhood and teenage in Zakynthos. He is considered to be one of the most productive representatives of his generation.
In the Ionian Islands the application of Italian art and the church painting gave birth to the so-called Ionian School. The starting point was Panagiotis Doxaras from Mani, a knight in the service of Venice, who directed critically the Eptanesian art to the West.
His student was his son Nikolaos, who painted three major formations in the Celestial Church of the Panagia Faneromeni, one of the most important monuments of the preseismic town of the island.
Student of Nikolaos Doxaras was Nikolaos Koutouzis, who was born and died in Zakynthos, while he is considered to be the key figure of the Eptanesian School.
An important presence in the field of painting gave Nikolaos Kantounis also, whose works exist in the Museum of Zakynthos and other temples. It is the fact that during the 18th century, several painters came to the island to learn and work beside them.
The long tradition that Zakynthos created in the field of fine arts is continued to the 20th century. Dozens of Zakynthians are studying in the Academy of Fine Arts, next to important painters. Nowadays the existence of two galleries on the island of Zakynthos is considered to be really important. These are the art room of Platania (no longer functions) and the Crypt of Dionysios Papadatos, in Machairado.
In the years of the Venetian domination the catastrophic earthquakes that struck the island wiped out many elements that could give us information about the architecture of the island during that period.
Major sources are famous processions that Zakynthian painters have painted and depict some buildings, as well as oral or written testimonies.
As far as the architecture of the 19th century is concerned many items are pumped from the various descriptions of the excursionists that visited the island, as from the photographic material that was rescued from the fire of 1953 also.
The houses can be divided into three categories:
a) the large mansion houses, which were three floored and usually occupied an entire block b) the civil houses, which were three floored or double floored and c) the popular houses, which were usually two floored or less .
From the public buildings we can distinguish the Municipal Theatre of Foscolos, the building block of Prisons and the Martinegos poor house.
The use of musical instruments was adopted originally to accompany the military parade, but over the centuries leaded the islanders to make ballads with a purpose to join the folk festivals.
During the 19th century Zakynthos highlighted a multitude of musicians, who managed to hold a special place in the history of Greek music with Paul Karrer being a top personality.
The Zakynthian musicians distinguished themselves as composers of opera and songs and wrote music for vaudeville shows for many times. They have risen to eminence both in church music and choral symphonies.
During the 20th century, Zakynthos continues to highlight important composers such as Dimitrios Lagios. The Zakynthian composers of the 20th century have excelled in all kinds of music from classical to church even though the set a poem to music.
Until today, a new generation of Zakynthian musicians shows that music is an art that is continued successfully on the island. Important tools to the development of music education in the island are the Municipality of Zakynthos, the Musical Secondary School, private schools and the student’s mantolinata (local choir).
Zante island, even in difficult times, has had a strong theatrical life because of the existence of remarkable playwrights.
Zakynthos is the born land of the neo-Greek theater without any doubt.
The first show was given in 1571 on the castle (it is situated in the uphill of Zante town) by young local noble men, who played the Persians of Aeschylus.
From a copy that was held by the Zakynthian Philippos Karrer was put on in Venice in 1637, the first edition of the Chortatsis’ Erofili publication.
In 1646 was printed in Venice the first Zakynthian play, the ‘Eugena’ of Montzeleze. The first theatrical neo-Greek writer, Elizabeth Moutzan-Martinegos was from Zante.
The first integral and modern play of the neo-Greek dramatic repertoire, the ‘Basil’ was written from the Zakynthian Antonios Matesis.
In the 20th century, Gregory Xenopoulos with his writing work is characterised as the refresher of the Greek theatrical speech, while Dionysios Romas, as a playwright creates great things.
We should not forget to mention that both theatrical genders that were developed in a greater success were the opera and the so-called ‘Omilies’ (speeches in English) (Zakynthian Popular Theatre), which has a tradition of four centuries and is played until today.
The first cinematic movie release in the island of Zakynthos took place in 1912 at a coffee shop, while in 1914 the projection of films at the Municipal Theatre of ‘Foskolos’ began.
A few years later the open-air cinema of Pantheon begins to work. In August 1927 the cinematic house of Vratsanou shot a short film with a subject on the tour of the Zakynthos Association in Athens, named ‘St Dennis’.
A particularly important for Greek cinema, and especially for Zante is the production of the film ‘Stella Violanti’ (1931) based on the homonymous work of Gregory Xenopoulos.
In 1948 the filming of the movie ‘Red Rock’ by Gregory Gregoriou started, based on the work of Gregory Xenopoulos again.
Zakynthos has also to present significant directors such as Socratis Kapsaskis and Toni Likouresis. The second one has won awards in Thessaloniki’s Film Festival in 1978 for his film ‘Chrysomallousa’(Gold haired in English) that was shot in Zakynthos and was screened both at the Cannes International Film Festival and dozens of other international film festivals.
Zakynthos is full of folk traditions, closely associated with the religious cult, which were born from the residents and united them in the battles against the occupiers.
The lower social classes, excluded from social events have created a large number of tradition tabloid celebrations at a religious nature that allowed them to come together and have fun.
Thus were born the so-called folk feasts, which even today liven up dozens of villages, small and large. Many people are gathered in the village square and are served on the food and drink, the dance and songs.
Among the folk feasts that stands out is the one of St. Dennis on August 24. This religious celebration in honour of Saint protector of the island is accompanied by a magnificent procession and fireworks. If you ever find yourself in Zakynthos at this period of time try not to miss it, as it will be memorable to you.
Aside from the folk feasts, the Carnival and Easter hold an exceptional place among the folk traditions.
Zakynthos carnival is known throughout Greece for being magnificent and very merry, while its beauty goes back to the Carnival of Venice. The period that the carnival takes place is a collective celebration, which brings together young and old, lasts about two weeks and welcomes many tourists. The whole island masquerades and dances at a frenetic pace, while in the villages the Omilies (Speeches) is played.
The carnival ends in the square of San Marco with a ritual from the past, which is the mask funeral.
As far as the Easter is concerned on the island of Zakynthos, as throughout Greece it is seen as a deeply spiritual event. The procession of the Byzantine icon of Virgin Mary named ‘Chrisopigi’ is performed, whereas at 12 o’clock of the same night, the priest of each parish gives the Holy Fire to his parishioners. In the Easter Day that follows the locals roast the lamb and continue the nice tradition to paint in red boiled eggs that will be broken together with friends. It is also worth mentioning that in the night of the sepulchral in Zakynthos there is the custom to download the stores’ labels and transport them to Solomos Square, in the town of Zakynthos, where crocks are burst of also.