The festival of Saint Symeon’s (t’Ai-Symiou) is a custom with historical, religious, musical and dance dimensions which takes place twice a year in Mesologgi:
– on the 2nd & 3rd of February (Ypapadi)
– on the four-day celebration of the Holy Spirit ( Saturday to Tuesday- usually in June).
It is one of the biggest celebrations of Mesologgi and it constitutes one of the most significant and notable happenings in the region of Aetolia.
It was inscribed on the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Greece in 2018.
Photos (additional photos for the element available at the website: “THE JOHN D. PHOTOGRAPHY EXPERIENCE”: https://www.johndcarnessiotis.com/GT/Other-1/SYMIOSMAIN)
a. Under what name is the element recognized by its bearers
The feast of Ai Symios [Το πανηγύρι του Αη Συμιού – St. Symeon’s feast]
b. Other name(s)
T’ Ai Symiou [Τ’ Άη Συμιού]
Ai Symiotes [Άη Συμιώτες – the participants]
c. Brief description
This is a custom with historical, religious and song-and-dance dimensions, which takes place twice a year: on the two days of Candlemas (the presentation of Christ at the temple; 2-3 February) and the four days of Pentecost (Saturday to Tuesday). Saint Symeon’s feast is one of the biggest celebrations for the town of Messolonghi and one of the most important and special events of the Aetolian region.
d. ICH Domain
√ Oral traditions and expressions: the traditional songs that are still sung by participants, as well as the historic songs which are related to the siege of Messolonghi and the Greek War of Independence of 1821 are inextricably bound to the feast’s rich oral tradition. After 2005, contemporary narrative songs have been recorded, referring to persons and events related to the feast, in the style of the traditional songs
√ Performing arts: traditional dances, such as tsamiko and syrtos, but also local dances are danced at the feast (Helaki [Χελάκι – little eel], tou Pethamenou [του Πεθαμένου – the dead man’s song ] and Piperi [Πιπέρι – Pepper])
√ social practices – rituals – festive events:
The direct relation of the event to the history of the Messolonghi region, the pervasive atmosphere of merrymaking during both the preparations and the performance of the custom, instruction, strengthening of values, such as equality and solidarity amongst the merrymakers, learning to play the zurna pipe through apprenticeship of the younger generation at the side of the more experienced Greek Roma, as well as the transmission of practices and behaviours from one generation to the next, with the ability to adapt to technological and social developments.
√ traditional craftsmanship:
The traditional costume of the Ai-Symiotes (doulamas, arms), is crafted by persons who, having been taught, are masters of this particular traditional art.
e. Region where the element is to be found
Region of Western Greece, Prefecture of Aetoloakarnania, Municipality of the Holy Town of Messolonghi
f. Key words
Messolonghi, feast, group of companions [παρέα – parea], captain, zournas [ζουρνάς – zurna pipe], daouli [νταούλι – davul drum], doulamas [ντουλαμάς] dance. Μεσολόγγι, πανηγυρισμός, παρέα, καπετάνιος, , , , χορός.
a. Who is/are the bearer(s) of the element?
The primary bearers of the custom are the groups of armed men and horse-riders who participate in the feast and are flanked by merrymakers and musicians, the zygies [small bands/ trios]. Furthermore, an important supportive role is played by the craftsmen who are involved in the making of traditional jewellery and costumes, as well as the societies and associations that promote and instruct in the feast songs and dances.
The “Ai Symios” Society of Celebrants form the collective expression of all celebrants and aim to safeguard and promote the feast as a composite cultural event.
“Ai Symios” Society of Celebrants [Σύλλογος Πανηγυριστών «Ο Άη Συμιός» – Syllogos Panigyriston ““ Ai Symios”]
Headquarters / Place: Messolonghi
Address: Plateia Ai Symiou (close to the Town Hall), Postcode 30200
1) Symeon Villios
Capacity: Chairperson of the “Ai Symios” Society
Address: Almyraki, Messolonghi, Postcode:30200
2) Konstantinos Sokolas
Address: Asimaki Fotila 9, Postcode 30200
Groups of Armatomenoi (Αρματωμένοι – Armed men) and Kavalareoi (Καβαλαραίοι – Riders)
1) Companions of Theofilatos [Παρέα Θεοφιλάτου]
Captain: Thomas Theofilatos
Lead musician of the zygia (band): Giannis Bekos
Address: Ergatikes Katoikies 44, Messolonghi
2) Companions of Katochianos [Παρέα Κατοχιανού ]
Captain: Petros Petropoulos
Lead musician of the zygia : Asimakis Vasilopanos,
Address: Almyraki, Messolonghi
3) Companions of Sakelaropoulos [Παρέα Σακελαρόπουλου]
Captain: Christos Sakelaropoulos
Lead musician of the zygia: Dimitris Bekos, Aspropyrgos, Attiki
Address: Zaloggitou 19
4) Companions of Skarlatos [Παρέα Σκαρλάτου ]
Captain: Nionios Skarlatos
Lead musician of the zygia: Giorgos Bekos, Aspropyrgos, Attiki
Address: Thysias 8, Messolonghi
5) Companions of Chasiotis [Παρέα Χασιώτη]
Captain: Giorgos Chasiotis
Lead musician of the zygia: Charalambos Theodoropoulos, Messolonghi
Address: Meyer 4, Messolonghi
6) Companions of Sakirianos [Παρέα Σακιριανού]
Captain: Asimakis Sakirianos
Lead musician of the zygia ; Sakis Nissis, Messolonghi
Address: Razikotsika 8, Messolonghi
7) Companions of Christodoulos
[Παρέα Χριστοδούλου ]
Captain: Apostolos Christodoulou
Lead musician of the zygia: Dimitris Bekos
Address: Ag. Athanasiou 67, Messolonghi
8) Companions of Tzilias [Παρέα Τζίλια]
Captain: Makis Tzilias
Lead musician of the zygia: Panos Panopoulos, Almyraki, Messolonghi
Address: Ergatikes Katoikies 12, Messolonghi
9) Companions of Athanasopoulos [Παρέα Αθανασόπουλου]
Captain: Ilias Athanasopoulos
Lead musician of the zygia: Vaggelis Kokonis, Amaliada
Address: Drosini 8, Messolonghi
10) Companions of Aggelopoulos [Παρέα Αγγελόπουλου]
Captain: Nasos Aggelopoulos
Lead musician of the zygia: Kostas Panopoulos, 6933123205, Almyraki, Messolonghi
Address: El. Poliorkimenon 25, Messolonghi
11) “I Exodos” Society of Celebrants / Companions of Tsimperlenios-Tsarouchis [Σύλλογος πανηγυριστών «Η Έξοδος» / Παρέα Τσιμπερλένιου-Τσαρούχη]
Captain: Vasilis Tsarouchis
Lead musician of the zygia: Ilias Aristopoulos, 6946072035, Agrinio
Address: Ch. Trikoupi 1, Messolonghi
12) Companions of Christodoulatos [Παρέα Χριστοδουλάτου]
Captain: Makis Christodoulatos
Lead musician of the zygia: Polyvios Basilaris, 6940111678, Messolonghi
Address: Ag. Athanasiou, Messolonghi
Craftsmen of Traditional Costumes
1) Workshop for Traditional Costumes, Zoe Steliou [Εργαστήρι Παραδοσιακών Φορεσιών Ζωή Στέλιου]
Name: Zoe Steliou
Capacity: Crafter of traditional costumes (doulamades} and rigging
Address: I. Ragkou 6, Messolonghi, Postcode: 30200
Tel.: 26310 24009
2) Workshop for folk costumes and jewellery
Name: Nikos Plakidas
Capacity: Manufacturer of traditional costumes (doulamades) and arms
Address: Katochi, Messolonghi
3) Gerasimos Christodoulatos
Capacity: manufacturer of arms
Address: Ag. Athanasiou,
Messolonghi, Postcode: 30200
Entities connected to safeguarding and promoting the Panegyri [Πανηγύρι – Feast]
1) Cultural Centre of the Municipality of the Holy Town of Messolonghi [Πνευματικό Κέντρο Δήμου Ι.Π. Μεσολογγίου]
The main cultural body of the Municipality, collaborators for organizing both the
winter and summer feasts annually.
Person in charge: Konstantinos Giannopoulos (Chairperson)
Address: Razikotsika 21, Messolonghi
2) Holy Diocese of Aetolia and Akarnania [Ιερά Μητρόπολη Αιτωλίας και Ακαρνανίας – Iera Mitropoli]
The monastery of Ai Symios, with its grounds and several buildings, belong to the
Diocese. Every year, the diocese clergy also participate in the religious events of
Person in charge: Christoforos Bampanis
Address: Arch. Damaskinou 10, Messolonghi
3) Messolonghi Film Club [Κινηματογραφική Λέσχη Μεσολογγίου]
Screenings of visual documents related to the feast and support of the “Ai Symios” Society’s events.
Person in charge: Konstantinos Sokolas (Chairperson)
Address: Trikoupeio Politistiko Kentro (Cultural Centre), Messolonghi
4) “Iosif Rogon” Music Club [Μουσικός Όμιλος «Ιωσήφ Ρωγών»]
Musical support, accompaniment of Ai-Symiotes in processions.
Person in charge: Dimitris Manolatos (Chairperson)
Address: Nafpaktou 33, Messolonghi
5) Messolonghi Photography Club [Φωτογραφική Λέσχη Μεσολογγίου]
Creation of photographic albums of the feast and promotion of the feast
through exhibitions in Mesologgi and elsewhere.
Person in charge: Giannis Tsalafoutas (Chairperson)
Address: Almyraki, Messolonghi
6) Messolonghi Cultural Centre Choir [Χορωδία Πνευματικού Κέντρου Μεσολογγίου]
Rendition of the feast’s songs at national and international choir festivals
Person in charge: Spyros Cholevas (Chairperson)
Address: Odos Manas, Messolonghi
7) Dance Department of the Municipality of the Holy Town of Messolonghi
Dance classes, folklore research papers, participation in national and
Person in charge: Dimitris Karavasilis (Chairperson)
Address: Zesti, Messolonghi
8) “O Liaros” Friends of Historical costume and Armour [Φίλοι Ιστορικής Φορεσιάς και Οπλισμού «Ο Λιάρος»]
Participation in cultural events promoting elements of the feast.
Person in charge: George Michailidis (Chairperson)
Address: Hondrou 9, Messolonghi
9) Greek Red Cross, Mesologgi Chapter [Ελληνικός Ερυθρός Σταυρός, τμήμα Μεσολογγίου]
Participation in cultural events of the Ai Symios Society
Person in charge: Aristovoulos Trivlis (Chairperson)
Address: Makri 7, Messolonghi
10) “Panagia Eleousa” Workshop [Εργαστήρι «Παναγία Ελεούσα»]
Creation of costumes for the feast participants, on occasion, by children with
Person in charge: Dionysia Samanta (Chairperson)
Address: Arch. Damaskinou, Messolonghi
11) The Messolonghi Byron Society [Βυρωνική Εταιρεία]
Organization of events, based on the theme of the feast.
Person in charge: Rodanthi Florou (Chairperson)
Address: Byroneio Ktirio, Messolonghi
12) “Friends of the Lagoon” Cultural Society [Εκπολιτιστικός Σύλλογος «Οι Φίλοι της Λιμνοθάλασσας»]
Support of Ai-Symiotes’ events
Person in charge: Aphrodite Tsiroglou (Secretary)
Address: Meyer 10, Messolonghi
13) Messolonghi Folklore Society [Λαογραφικός Σύλλογος Μεσολογγίου]
Research on the feast as an expression of culture
Person in charge: Niki Perikleous (Chairperson)
Address: Kalloni, Messolonghi
14) “Dionysios Solomos” Friends of Music Society [Σύλλογος Φίλων Μουσικής «Διονύσιος Σολωμός»]
Musical support-accompaniment of “Ai-Symiotes” in processions.
Person in charge: Dimitris Folias (Secretary)
Address: Razikotsika 15, Messolonghi
15) Historical Museum – “Diexodos”Centre of Word and Art [Ιστορικό Μουσείο-Κέντρο Λόγου και Τέχνης «Διέξοδος»]
Permanent collection of heirlooms related to the feast
Person in charge: Nikos Kordosis (Chairperson)
Address: Razikotsika 25, Messolonghi
16) Brotherhood of Descendants of the Free Besieged [Αδελφότητα των Απογόνων των Ελεύθερων Πολιορκημένων]
Consulting role on matters pertaining to promoting the history of the event
Person in charge: Giannis Makris (Chairperson)
Researchers of the element
1) Eleni Karanikola
Capacity: Philologist – Journalist
Research and PhD Thesis on the feast of Ai Symios
Address: Ergatikes Katoikies, Messolonghi
2) Vasilis Artikos
Photography exhibitions of the feast at domestic and international events
Address: N. Botsari 40, Messolonghi
3) Kassiani Kontaxi
Capacity: Theologian, M.Sc., PhD Candidate of Folklore, Athens University, Folklore research of the feast
4) Nikitas Filippopoulos
Capacity: Journalist – Philologist. Research and authorship of books about the feast. Publisher of Dapia newspaper.
Address: Ch. Trikoupi 36, Messolonghi
5) Maria Ziampara
6) Giannis Makris
Capacity: Amateur historical researcher of the element – Author
Media highlighting / promoting the element:
1) Aichmi Newspaper [Εφημερίδα Αιχμή]
Publisher: Sokratis Stelios
Address: D. Makri & K. Palama 38, Messolonghi
2) Messolonghitika Chronika Newspaper [ Εφημερίδα Μεσολογγίτικα Χρονικά]
Address: Charilaou Trikoupi 62, Messolonghi
3) Digital Press
4) From time to time, special coverage on the feast has been made in national newspapers, like Kathimerini and Vima.
The feast is inextricably bound with the Monastery of Saint Symeon, which is built at the foot of Arakynthos Mountain, at an altitude of 140 m., and dates from 1740. Following the events of the Exodus of Messolonghi, in 1826, and the founding of the Greek state, the feast has taken on a new character,now including amongst its rituals the memorial service for all those who fell during the Siege of Messolonghi.
The Feast of Ai Symios, in honour of the holy man Ai Symios (Saint Symeon), takes place twice annually: On 2 and 3 February, day of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple (Candlemas) and Saint Symeon’s day, the so-called winter or women’s feast takes place. It is referred to as women’s due to the fact that in the past, it was attended mainly by women, who were fulfilling vows, with their children. On the first day of the winter feast, participants, in groups, go up to the monastery, where they celebrate in the evening at their usual hangouts. The following day, at noon, following the service held at the monastery, merrymaking continues until the afternoon. Later on, the crowds gather outside the town gate and return together to continue their merrymaking in town.
Over the three-day holiday of Pentecost (Sunday), the Holy Spirit (Monday) and the Holy Trinity (Tuesday), the so-called summer feast. or feast of the armed men, is held. The summer feast, which is the better known one, is the second largest event in the town, following the “Exodus Celebrations”, and has all the characteristics of a large popular religious and historical celebration. Celebrations start as early as Ascension day (about ten days before Pentecost), when the first “trial” gathering of all the groups takes place, which is, of course, followed by merry-making.
The feast begins, officially, on the Saturday before Pentecost, when all the groups of companions celebrate in their usual hangouts about town. On Sunday morning, each Captain sets off, roaming the town alleyways, where he gathers his companions. By noon, they have all gathered to feast on the traditional giouvetsi.
By Sunday afternoon, all groups of companions have gathered at St. Spyridon’s Cathedral, from where they proceed, in procession, towards the Garden of Heroes, where the memorial service is held to commemorate all those who fell in the Exodus. The groups then set off from the Garden of Heroes towards the Monastery of Ai Symios. They arrive, dancing, up to a certain point, from where they continue to the monastery along a ten-kilometre route. In the past, they would ride to the monastery on horseback. Nowadays, cars are mainly used, although some revelers still ride up on horseback. The feast continues all night at the monastery until the early morning hours.
On Monday morning, Holy Mass is held, and Roma/Romani arrive from all over Greece, to christen their children. After the service, the festivities continue until lunchtime, when the groups of companions begin their descent towards Messolonghi. On Monday afternoon, having gathered in the Agios Athanasios area, the big procession of Ai-Symiotes sets off for the centre of Messolonghi, ending up at Saint Spyridon. First the groups of armed men [αρματωμένοι – armatomenoi], then of horse-riders enter the town, singing and dancing until they reach their hangouts and continue their revelries all night.
On Tuesday afternoon, after the memorial service has been held in the chapel of the Holy Trinity, on the islet of Kleisova, in honour of those who fell in the battle of that name (25 March 1826), the revelers return to their usual hangouts for their final merrymaking.
The revelers, who are the soul of the feast, are divided into armed men [αρματωμένοι – armatomenoi] and horse-riders [καβαλαραίοι – kavalareoi], who are further divided into groups, the parees. As documented in the writings of Andreas Karkavitsas, the parees (companions). In older times, were also called mages [μάγκες].
It is said that the armed men [armatomenoi] go “dressed”, because they wear the traditional costumes and their arms, while the horse-riders [kavalareoi] go on horse-back because they go up to the monastery in mounted procession. Each group of companions has its chief, the so-called captain (or, in older times the boulouktsi), who is first among equals. If the armed men and the horse-riders are thought of as the soul of the feast, the zygia (band) is what creates spiritual ecstasy that characterizes the Ai-Symiotes. The zygia is the three-member band (trio) which accompanies each group, and consists of two zourna pipes or trumpets or bagpipes and a daouli [davouli or xerodaoulo – davul drum]. Traditionally, the zygia ia trio (three-member band) which consists of Greek Roma, who, in the past, originated almost exclusively from Messolonghi and the surrounding region.
The most important characteristic of a parea [παρέα – group of companions] is cooperation and solidarity amongst the members, and with the zygia during the feast. Furthermore, all those factors which differentiate social hierarchies are annulled, as they all are equal and there is no distinction between revelers from Messolonghi and Roma musicians. It is worth noting that on Holy Spirit Monday, many celebrants christen Roma children at Ai Symios monastery.
An element of the utmost importance is the transmission, from one generation to the next, of the special manner of singing [«τραγούδισμα» – “tragoudisma”) and the particular manner of social behaviour, as they emerge through the performance of specific dances. During the feast, besides old folk table songs, kleft songs [κλέφτικα -kleftika] and lianotragouda [λιανοτράγουδα], merrymakers also sing famous moirologia [μοιρολόγια – dirges] of Messolonghi, songs about the siege of the town, as well as aisymiotika [αησυμιώτικα – Songs of Ai Symios].
The revelers’ dances, besides the tsamiko [τσάμικο] and the syrto [συρτό] dances, include the special local dances of the feast, such as Chelaki [Χελάκ – Little eel ], Tripsimo tou Piperiou [Τρίψιμο του Πιπεριού – Grinding of the Pepper] and the famous Choros tou pethamenou [Χορόs του Πεθαμένου – Dead man’s dance]. This last dance is the most characteristic representation: the dance starts from a misunderstanding between the captain and one of his companions, when the latter orders the music to stop. After some movements representing a fight, the captain wounds his companion, killing him. Later, realizing what he has done, he bends over the dead man, weeps and repents. Immediately, the Saint performs his miracle and the dead man is resurrected and rises, in even greater spirits, leading the dance with the captain and all his other companions.
Also, very characteristic is the “throwing” of bank notes (from 2002 onwards it’s dollars) by the companions to the zygia musicians or their fellow revelers. In this symbolic manner, the Ai-Symiotes achieve the transition from the material world, to the spiritual ecstasy one is led to by the sounds of the zygia. It expresses the salvation of the reveler, his disdain for material goods and the exaltation achieved through spiritual/ethical values.
The locations connected to the celebration of the feast are:
1) St. Symeon’s monastery and its grounds, with permanent installations and stalls. Each group of companions have their own space, either a stall or building.
2) The main streets of the town of Messolonghi for the processions of the Ai-Symiotes and the hangouts of the groups in the town’s alleys. Each group of companions, over time, has determined a specific space in the town centre, where they make merry every year.
3) The houses of the revelers themselves, where the captains pass by to gather the entire group of companions. At every house, relatives make a point of offering the captain and the other companions all sorts of savoury and sweet delicacies, as well as the traditional ouzo.
4) The Garden of Heroes, where the Pentecost procession ends, and where the memorial service is held to pay tribute to all deceased Ai-Symiotes.
The facilities connected to the performance of the custom are the following:
1) The headquarters of “Ai Symios” Society, where various heirlooms (photographs, banners, documents) are kept; these premises are also used for gatherings of the Board of Directors and for decision making.
2) The grounds of Saint Symeon’s monastery where, for decades, there have been dedicated spaces or buildings for each group of companions. This is where the groups keep all necessary equipment before each gathering and revelry. Unfortunately, there are still groups who have not managed to build their own stone or wooden building and are confined to spots in nature surrounding the monastery. nature, During the winter months, these are protected by plastic coverings.
3) In addition, the “Diexodos” historical museum houses the heirlooms which are directly connected with the feast. In an effort to highlight and promote it, “Diexodos” has incorporated in the historical museum’s permanent collection, a series of photographs from the celebrations, by the notable Kostas Balafas, as well as traditional costumes and participants’ arms.
The Ai-Symiotes’ costumes and other equipment are a significant aspect of the feast itself and of their own identity. The white, red and black colours of the Messolonghi costume [ντουλαμάς – doulamas], combined with their silver arms, imparts a most imposing air. The majority of these garments have been made at folk art workshops in Ioannina and are heirlooms of old Messolonghi families. Since the early 1900s, it has been customary for women to sew their husband’s and children’s clothes. Thus, clothing acquired a particular sentimental value and became part of each Messolonghi family’s heirloom. Nowadays, the crafting process of the feast’s special costumes is undertaken by craftsmen and workshops in the town, who specialize in sewing and embroidery.
The armed men’s costume consists of:
Skaltses (Σκάλτσες) or kaltses (κάλτσες ) – stockings: they are made of white cotton fabric and cover the legs from the ankles to the waist.
Skaltsodetes (Σκαλτσοδέτες) or kaltsodetes (καλτσοδέτες) – garters: They are black and are tied right above the knees. They end at the calf with one or two silk tassels. At the back, they are decorated with various buttons.
Poukamiso (Πουκάμισο) – shirt: It is made of white calico and has wide sleeves, puckered at the top. The collar is small, without points. At the chest, there are folds or pleats. Every armed man has three poukamisa (shirts). The first is for the feast, the second is worn to go to the monastery for Mass and the third for the memorial service at the historical islet of Kleisova.
Doulamas (Ντουλαμάς): An overcoat made of black felt, reaching up to just above the knee. Its sleeves (spilia – σπιλιά) are stuck at the back, opened with red piping and red felt inside. Its lining is also red felt.
Selachi (Σελάχι) or selachliki (σελαχλίκι): It is made of leather and has 3-5 pockets, where the armed men keep their weapons ( pistols, knives, daggers), kerchiefs (in the past, they were used to protect the weapons from friction, nowadays they are purely decorative) and gardenias (the official perfumed flower of the celebrations. It is tied around the armed man’s waist with a strap and is beautifully embroidered. In the past, all selachia used to be ornate, embroidered with gold. Unfortunately, over time, the art of crafting them has become extinct, so most revelers wear plain leather selachia.
Skoufia (Σκούφια): It is black and is the known “monks’” (καλογερίστικη) cap. It is made of black silk and is decorated with silk charsia [χάρσια], sewn with plant silk thread (μπερσίμι – bersimi).
Tsarouchia (Τσαρούχια): These are the armed men’s shoes. They are made of animal leather and the pointed tips have black pom-poms attached. They are black or red. The tsarouchi in its present form was first worn towards the end of the 19th century.
It is usual, even today, for the jewellery of the armed men’s costumes to be called “armata” («άρματα» – arms, rigging), as in the past they were aesthetically and functionally connected to the rigging of the armed men in each group of companions. Their aesthetic value is notable and several are family heirlooms, therefore, so significant in their symbolism, as to be kept safe with the icons in each home.
The full set of rigging consists of the following jewels and accessories:
Kiousteki (Κιουστέκι) or stavraetos (σταυραετός): a heavy, ornate piece of jewellery, with many silver chains. It used to be silver, nowadays it is made of stamped iron surfaces, coated/ with silver or gold. It is worn on the chest, crosswise, over the doulamas. The four ends are clasped on the shoulders and the armpits. Their small hooks have the shape of a double-headed eagle or a Kalarytes [καλαρύτικο] bird, characteristic of the masons from Kalarytes of Epirus; at the centre there is a round or square carved plaque, depicting saints, primarily Saint Symeon (Ai Symios) or Saint George.
Fysekliki (Φυσεκλίκι): Its shape is triangular, it is made of leather strips and ends with a balaska [μπαλάσκα –ammunition pouch]. It is always worn on the right side and is tied at the waist with a belt. It consists of 3-5 rows of round or rhomboid small hooks. The old type of fyseklikia had three rows of 5-6 rosettes, at most. Christos Kavagias, a craftsman, wishing to make them look more impressive, increased the number of rosettes, so nowadays the fyseklikia are oversized.
Sougias (Σουγιάς) or asimosougias (ασημοσουγιάς): It covers the lower part of the doulamas and matches the kiousteki. It has a hexagonal plaque in the centre, depicting saints. It is fastened by three small hooks, two of which are fastened at the waist and the third is pinned on the belt. Usually patron saints are depicted, with a few exceptions where one might come across images of heroes, churches, etc.
Balaskes (Μπαλάσκες): Silver or bronze pouches fastened to the belt of the selachi, at the back (they were placed above the kidneys for protection from enemy fire). They were used for keeping cartridges for firearms.
Pala or spatha (Πάλα – σπάθα): a sharply curved sabre with a cross-like handle, the main weapon for man-to-man battles [Giourousia – γιουρούσια: onslaught]. Fighters carried it on their waist or shoulder blade, tied with cords. On marches, the klephts used to wear them on their backs, tied with a tight rope that was knotted on the chest.
Giatagani (Γιαταγάνι – yataghan): a type of weapon for man-to-man fighting, used extensively in the Ottoman Empire, between the mid-16th century and the end of the 19th c. It consisted of a sharpened blade, curving sharply forward and a handle that usually “turned” backwards. The length of this sword’s blade was usually 60 to 80 centimetres long.
Harbi (Χαρμπί): an iron rod with silver or brass decorations on the handle, with a cylindrical sheath, which was used for loading the pistol. It was hung on the selachi.
Masati (Μασάτι): The masati was used for sharpening the blades of heavy weapons, when they were no longer sharp after extensive use.
Kama (Κάμα): a double-bladed knife
Koumpouri (Κουμπούρι) or (m)pistola ((μ)πιστόλα): It is a gun with a flint mechanism, used during the period of the Greek War of Independence. It is kept on the selachi.
Medoulari (Μεδουλάρι): containers of grease, for the maintenance of weapons.
Various knives in carved silver cases complete the rigging.
Prior to and during the feast, the two typical Roma musical instruments are manufactured, the zourna and the daouli. The zourna is an instrument with a double reed, to which its sharp, high-pitched sound is due. The ancient Greek flute (aulos) belongs to the same family of musical instruments. The zourna used in Messolonghi is approximately 22 cm. long and in several cases is crafted by the Roma themselves, from wood or bone.
Known since Byzantine times, the daouli (bass drum) is the pre-eminently rhythmic instrument of mainland Greece; there is a great variety of dimensions, binding of ropes, processing of leather and overall construction. It is frequently made by the daoulieris (νταουλιέρη – daouli player) himself, and is played, hung from the left shoulder, by beating both leather surfaces with the daouli drumsticks [νταουλόξυλα – daouloxyla], one thick and heavy for the right hand [kopanos – κόπανος] and a thin one for the left hand [verga – βέργα or vitsa – βίτσα].
Typical dishes and drinks offered at the revelers’ homes during the gathering of each group of companions, on the morning of Pentecost Sunday, are the traditional cake of the region, rivani [ριβανί] and ouzo [ούζο]. In addition, during the merrymaking, the traditional dishes prepared for the groups, include giouvetsi [γιουβέτσι] and tsoumpleki [τσουμπλέκι], cooked with lamb. Other dishes prepared by the groups are grilled eel [souflomytaria – σουφλομυτάρια] and savoro fish (a traditional Messolonghi recipe cooked with anchovies or bream and a characteristic sauce of vinegar, olive oil, flour, garlic and rosemary, created in the old days, before there were any refrigerators, so that housewives could preserve fish for about one week.
“An ancient custom has prevailed annually at the gathering of Pentecost. Celebrants attend from the evening up until the following morning. Furthermore, in keeping with the ancient custom, most of them attend fully rigged and great efforts are made on behalf of young people, in particular, as to who will wear the most magnificent rigging…” (Ellinika Chronika, 1859 [Εφημερίδα Ελληνικά Χρονικά – Greek Chronicles Newspaper].)
“Today is the day of Pentecost. Messolonghi is holding an utterly archaic and imposing celebration, the kind of feast that eventually becomes inextricably bound to the place where it takes place and it encompasses all the strong points of the land where it was conceived”.
(Andreas Karkavitsas, Taxidiotika [Ταξιδιωτικά], 1891)
There are a number of theories as to how the feast started being celebrated in this manner. Legend has it that, from pre-insurrection times, this custom was an opportunity for the klephts of Zygos and the inhabitants of Messolonghi to get together, attend mass and then make merry in the area, densely wooded with plane trees.
Another opinion suggests that the feast has evolved from ancient Greek symposiums, since, opposite the monastery, on a hilltop, the ancient town of Kalydona (Καλυδώνα) was built, with its three sanctuaries, that of Lafria Artemis, her brother Appolo’s and that of Dionysus. According to this interpretation, the roots of the feast can be identified in the ancient celebrations that took place here. With the Greek War of Independence of 1821, the celebrations were suspended for five years. Following the events of the Exodus in 1826, and upon the founding of the Greek State, the feast started being celebrated once again, since memories remained vivid and the entities involved were the same. The ritual of the event now included the memorial service paying tribute to all those who fell at the Siege of Messolonghi.
From the mid 19th century till the early 20th century, historical newspapers of Messolonghi provide valuable reports on the celebration of the feast. Up until today, the main elements and the spirit of the feast are passed on from one generation to the next, with minimal differentiations.
The first differentiation noted was at the end of the 19th century, when the Ai-Symiotes adopt the doulamas, thus abandoning the traditional foustanella worn until then. The reason for this change in dress remains unclear. Given that this transition is made at a time coinciding with the thoroughly turbulent period of the Macedonian Struggle, and the doulamas was the pre-eminent item of clothing of the Macedonian fighters, the change in dress at the Ai Symios feast might be explained primarily as a sign of respect and admiration towards the Macedonian fighters. However, over and above this emotionally charged explanation, the doulamas can be put on faster and more easily, it is not a complex item of clothing and is most impressive due to its striking red and black colours.
A further, important change has to do with the revelers’ rigging, as until the early 20th century, participants in the event would go up to the monastery carrying their own personal arms and would participate in shooting contests. Upon returning to town, they gathered outside the Gates of Messolonghi, outside the Garden of Heroes, where they would all together fire shots in the air, in honour of the Exodus fighters. However, in the early 20th century, for safety reasons, guns were forbidden by law and, following heated altercations (even including armed clashes with the police), Ai Symiotes, up until today, are rigged with non-functional weapons, several of which are now valuable historical relics.
The first attempt at forming a collective body to organize and upgrade the feast was made with the founding of the “Agios Symeon” Society in 1956, by a group of Messolonghi citizens. However, by 1979, given the prevalent situation and that this Society had become inactive, Ai-Symiotes were once more in search of a means for collective expression and representation.
Following numerous discussions, exchanges of opinion, thoughts and concerns, a decision was reached to establish a new Society which would represent the members of all groups of companions. Thus, in 1981, the late Vasilios Papatheou, an eminent lawyer of Messolonghi, was entrusted with drafting a statute and submitting it for approval to the Court of First Instance at Messolonghi. All groups of companions are now represented on the Board of Directors, which comprises 11 members.
That same year, 1981, the “Society of Celebrants of Ai Symios” becomes active, with a temporary administrative committee, which make preparations for the first elections. All Administrative Boards to the present day, have worked diligently, and have contributed towards fulfilling the Society’s aims.
a. What is the significance of the element for the members of the community/its bearers?
The importance of the element for participants lies in the continuation of historical memory and the creation of the unique identity of every celebrant. The preservation of historical memory as it is encapsulated in and expressed through the feast in an exclusively localized manner, formulates the identity of the citizen of Messolonghi, which culminates with his participation in the event.
b. What is the significance of the element for contemporary Greek society?
The Feast of Ai Symios is an important cultural legacy for all Greeks, not just the people of Messolonghi. As all events do, it encompasses the transformations of modern Greek society, while preserving the relation to tradition, collective memory, and historical awareness, particularly regarding the event of the Exodus, which was so decisive in the War of Independence of 1821. Furthermore, it is an exemplary means of strengthening community cohesion, as the feast proves to be a field of social osmosis and formation of strong, unshakable institutions, inspiring the transcendence of stereotypes and social discrimination.
c. Did the community participate, and how, in the preparations for the inscription of the element in the National Registry of Intangible Cultural Heritage?
The initiative for the inscription of the feast in the ICH National Registry was set in motion by the Curator of the Society of Celebrants “Ai Symios”, Kostas Sokolas, who mobilized the members of the Society to communicate with the competent authorities for the implementation of the Convention in Greece.
The Society, in collaboration with the Directorate of Modern Cultural Assets and Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture and Sports organized a two-day conference (27-28/1/2017), with the aim of informing and sensitizing the local community. During the conference, incentives were given to discuss topics such as safeguarding and highlighting elements of Intangible Cultural Heritage, on the occasion of the feast of Ai Symios, but also of other elements that one comes across in the broader Western Greece region. Furthermore, local society was offered the opportunity to become updated on the importance of drawing up a complete package of measures for safeguarding the feast, and the necessity of its promotion even to local cultural organizations, such as the Diexodos Museum. Following the conference, the idea emerged of compiling a questionnaire, aiming to record the opinion of every group of companions, on the necessity of sensitizing citizens and visitors regarding specific aspects of the event, cooperation with other cultural societies, as well as the framework of conducting the feast, both within and outside the town of Messolonghi. The following outcomes emerged from the evaluation of the questionnaires:
The groups of revelers stress the necessity of highlighting elements, such as historical heritage, the connection to the Exodus of Messolonghi as a historical event, and ritual practices and ethical principles characterizing the groups of companions. At the same time, they note phenomena and behaviours acting against the interests of the feast, such as the inclusion of uninitiated persons in the groups of companions, the unlawful conduct of the Roma, the drop in the numbers of participants over the last years, and particular behaviours of individual revelers. Furthermore, by accepting the importance of actions for updating the local society, the groups of companions recognize the necessity of implementing sensitization programmes for students, as well as events for the general public. They also take a positive view of the possibility of collaboration with a cultural institution, such as Diexodos, while placing particular emphasis on the criteria for selection of those events in which the Society is called on to participate.
a. How is the element passed down to younger generations today?
Throughout the year, Roma musicians try to pass on the art of playing the zourna and the daouli to members of their immediate family, without making use of music manuals or rules, simply through hearings of sound and melody.
For someone to actively participate in Ai Symios’ feast it is imperative they originate from Messolonghi, or to be related with companions of a group. What is of the utmost importance is the acceptance of the values and ethos governing the feast and all groups. Most of the time, Ai Symiotes participating for years in the celebrations try to pass on these values to their children, by “dressing them up” from a young age and taking them along to the feast events. Later on, once the children reach adulthood, they decide whether to participate in the feast as active members. Occasionally, men who follow a group of companions as visitors develop friendly relations with the members and, following the captain’s proposal, they, too, participate in the feast as active Ai Symiotes. Thus, when a member of the group proposes a new member to join, they hold a meeting of all members, where they discuss whether to accept or proposed new member or not, on the basis of the valuable experience and guidance of older members.
The musical elements for playing the zourna and daouli are transmitted by the Roma lead musicians themselves, but also, at times, cultural institutions involved in subsidized programmes for teaching these instruments to Roma minors.
The primary carriers of the cultural values and expressions that one comes across at the feast are the groups of companions themselves and, more particularly, all those participating in the feast for the greatest number of years. Considering that each group of companions give their own touch to Ai Symios’ feast, they are also responsible for initiating their members and friends to the universal values of solidarity, respect, ecstasy, group spirit, etc., which characterize the event.
Several dance societies in the area deal with dance instruction, organizing events, from time to time, with the intention of promoting the feast’s dances.
Finally, the Ai-Symiotes’ Society, itself, attempts, at times, to update the Ai-Symiotes about the historical heritage of the feast, by organizing discussions and lectures by researchers.
b. Μeasures for safeguarding/promoting the element, that have been taken in the past or are being implemented today (on a local, regional or broader scale)
The outcome of the collaboration with the municipality and the Diocese of Aetolia and Akarnania was the creation of parking areas and the regulated ascent of cars to the monastery, the highlighting of the church of Agia Triada (the Holy Trinity) on the islet of Kleisova, and the acquisition of a space to house the Society.
Any measures taken in the past, related to highlighting the element, were relatively restricted and included interviews of community representatives in television and radio shows, invitations of film and television producers for coverage of the event, as well as the participation of the Society of Celebrants in domestic music and dance events.
c. Proposed measures, to be implemented in the future, for the safeguarding/promotion of the element (on a local, regional or broader scale)
• Organization of lectures related to Ai Symios’ feast, by eminent social scientists and researchers who deal with the historical, social and cultural recording of various aspects of the element.
• Showcasing the element as one of the most notable customary events of Messolonghi, but also of the Prefecture of Aetoloakarnania, in media with Panhellenic outreach.
• Although the element has been the subject of several documentaries focusing on particular aspects of the feast, it would be useful to attempt the creation of a documentary relating to the feast in its entirety.
• Participation of the element’s bearers in photography exhibitions, folk dance festivals, folklore conferences, etc., which are organized by local, domestic and international cultural organizations.
• Efforts to inform corporate units in the area about the dynamics of the feast, in order to achieve cultural sponsorships in the context of corporate social responsibility.
• The development of educational programmes for young children and adolescents, aiming to inform, not only about individual aspects of the feast, but also about the ethos pervading it as a form of cultural expression.
• The development of educational programmes for Greek Roma for instruction in playing the traditional musical instruments of the feast. In general, it is considered of the utmost importance to implement policies that will assist in the integration of the Roma people in local society. Thus, social cohesion will be strengthened and stereotypical attitudes towards the Roma will be reduced, as well as any tendency to generalize racist perceptions.
• Financial support for actions aiming to improve the spaces connected to the feast, for example, a study and financial support for the development of building complexes that will house all groups within the monastery grounds. There are still groups which have their hangouts in the monastery grounds but, nevertheless, are unable to finish building complete structures.
• Finding suitable premises for highlighting the tangible and intangible heritage of the feast, through a permanent collection and exhibition of historical costumes, jewellery, arms and other objects, as well as the screening of visual documentation on the feast.
• Digitization of the existing brochure and all audiovisual materials, with the aim of promoting online rare items and assisting researchers and anyone, in general, interested in finding out more about the feast.
Αικατερινίδης Γεώργιος (1967), Η Λαϊκή Πανήγυρις του Αγίου Συμεώνος εις Μεσολόγγιον κατά την Πεντηκοστήν. Επετηρίδα του Κέντρου Ερεύνης Ελληνικής Λαογραφίας. Ακαδημία Αθηνών.
Γκόρπας Θ., Γκόρπας Β. (1972), Το Πανηγύρι τ’ Άη Συμιού. Αθήνα: Ζυγός.
Ευαγγελάτος Χρήστος (1965), Ιστορία του Μεσολογγίου, επανεκτύπωση 2007. Αθήνα: Γκοβοστή.
Καβάγιας Αριστείδης (2007), Στο Πανηγύρι τ’ Άη Συμιού. Μεσολόγγι: Ασημακόπουλος.
Καρανικόλα-Τσουβέλα, Ελένη, (2016) Το πανηγύρι του Αϊ- Συμιού στο Μεσολόγγι : Ιστορική, Κοινωνική και Παιδαγωγική διερεύνηση. Διδακτορική διατριβή.
Λαμπρόπουλος Αντώνης (2003),
Το Μεσολόγγι, Η Ιερή Πόλη Μήτρα της Ελλάδος. Αθήνα: Βασδέκης.
Φιλιππόπουλος, Νικήτας, (2001), Το Πανηγύρι τ’ Άη Συμιού. Μεσολόγγι: Ντάπια.
a. Texts (sources, archive records, etc.)
c. Visual and audio data (plans, photographs, audio archives, videos, etc.)
d. Web sources (hyperlinks):
– Ai Symios, Society of Celebrants (2013). Available on: https://aisimios.wordpress.com/
– Daouli kai Zournas (2015). Available on: http://ntaouli.blogspot.gr/
Information on the songs of the element:
1) The songs: https://aisimios.wordpress.com/%CF%84%CE%BF-
2) Tsamiko-Rast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dZIM9ccK1g
Photographs from the feast:
– Alexandros Vrettakos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbcxFkDqQog
John Carnessiotis: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aster-oid/albums/72157640712159733
Documentaries and feature films with references to the feast or brief scenes from it:
1) Limni ton Pothon – [Λίμνη των Πόθων – Lake of Desires] (1958), a short excerpt of the film has scenes from the feast
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17kwtWI8mmk
2) Images by Kostas Balafas, 1968. Available at:
3) An excerpt from an ERT archive of 1976.
4) “Ston Ai Symio sto Messolonghi” [«Στον Άη Συμιό στο Μεσολόγγι»- “At Ai Symios in Messolonghi” ] , a musical journey by Takis Sakellarios, on ERT , 1996.
Available at: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x81cv1_%CF%83%CF%84%CE%BF%CE%BD-%CE%B1%CE%B7-%CF%83%CF%85%CE%BC%CE%B9%CF%8C-
5) “Menoume Ellada” [«Μένουμε Ελλάδα» – We live in Greece], excerpts from the 2005 feast.
Available at: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xiqhfh_%CF%80%CE%B1%CE%BD%CE%B7%C E%B3%CF%8D%CF%81%CE%B9-%CF%84-%CE%AC%CE%B7-
6) “Ellinon Dromena” [«Ελλήνων Δρώμενα» – “Events of Greeks”], a special feature on the feast, 2006.
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orvefqqUhW0
7) «Dollars for a Saint», a documentary on Roma musicians of the feast, by Avra Georgiou, 2014.
Sociologist, Curator of the Ai Symios Society of Celebrants
Messolonghi, January – September 2017