Pho­to­graphic trib­ute to Syria

Ex­hi­bi­tion at Vo­los City Mu­seum shows Greek im­print in Mid­dle Eastern nation

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY NIKOS VATOPOULOS

Any­one who vis­it­edSyria be­fore the dev­as­tat­ing war that has claimed hun­dreds of thou­sands of lives and mas­sive losses in cul­tural her­itage, will be able to un­der­stand the need for an ex­hi­bi­tion like that cur­rently on at the Vo­los City Mu­seum in cen­tral Greece.

The pho­tog­ra­phy ex­hi­bi­tion, ti­tled “The Syria I Loved,” has been put to­gether by the Panorama cul­tural so­ci­ety as a trib­ute to a land that has hosted some of the world’s great­est civ­i­liza­tions and as a means to fight wide­spread ig­no­rance about this Mid­dle Eastern nation.

Since she first trav­eled to Syria in the 1970s, guide, his­to­rian and writer Mar­i­anna Koromila has of­ten re­turned to the coun­try both as a trav­eler and a tour guide. She knows Syria – which she calls her sec­ond home – as well as any for­eigner can.

Koromila says that Greeks are a “in­te­gral el­e­ment of the Syr­ian iden­tity” and any­one for­tu­nate to have vis­ited the coun­try be­fore the war will likely agree with that de­scrip­tion.

“Per­haps also with the help of Cavafy, in Syria I be­gan to re­al­ize the in­flu­ence of the Hel­lenis­tic world; the im­pact that the vi­sion of Alexan­der the Great – ma­te­ri­al­ized by Seleu­cus I Ni­ca­tor – had on the East,” Koromila says.

“They ush­ered in a mil­len­nium that was in­flu­enced by Hel­lenism and which changed the char­ac­ter of the Near East – an area stretch­ing from the Mediter­ranean to the Euphrates River,” she says.

The no­tion, as pre­sented by Koromila, is a pro­foundly mov­ing one.

“It was hard to re­al­ize what peo­ple who had never heard of the Parthenon or the Golden Age of Per­i­cles saw in me; what that word ‘Rum’ [Romioi or Greeks] meant to them,” she says.

She came across a tra­di­tional so­ci­ety, still un­af­fected by the ad­vent of tourism and con­sumerism, nur­tured by the tales passed down by grand­moth­ers from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion.

“Peo­ple were point­ing to Jus­tini­an­era wells and reser­voirs in the desert and ges­tur­ing in ap­pre­ci­a­tion, ut­ter­ing the word ‘Rum,’ as if these had been built by one of my kind,” Koromila says.

“Roads, bridges, reser­voirs and for- ti­fied monas­ter­ies that over­see moun­tain­ous paths to this day, gates, mar­kets, so much was made by Rum. I had to re­vise many of my the­o­ries to come to terms with what ‘we’ are and what I was to them,” she says.

“No one had re­al­ized that Chris­tian­ity had sur­vived for 14 cen­turies in an Is­lamic state en­vi­ron­ment. It’s hard to imag­ine that after driv­ing from the air­port to Da­m­as­cus you will see the Gate of Apos­tle Paul (bet­ter known as the Gate of Da­m­as­cus, the equiv­a­lent of Hadrian’s Arch in Athens) with two huge Chris­tograms, while not far from there lies the Greek Ortho­dox Pa­tri­ar­chate of An­ti­och, which was moved from the old cap­i­tal of Syria to me­dieval Da­m­as­cus in the 14th cen­tury,” she says.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, which runs through Oc­to­ber 29, com­prises pho­to­graphs by Doukas Doukas, Gior­gos Kostopou­los, Panayi­o­tis Panayiotou and The­ofi­los Pro­dro­mou. They were taken dur­ing trips to Syria in 1999, 2008 and 2009, and Lesvos in 2015.

among the ru­ins of Palmyra and a man go­ing about his busi­ness in Aleppo are scenes that have been ex­tin­guished by war in Syria.

A fam­ily pic­nic

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