CULTURE

Patras — in photos and words

Two publishers have been quick off the mark in bringing out titles celebrating the Greek city of Patras, which is to be Cultural Capital of Europe in 2006. Both volumes are collections of photographs accompanied by text, and both are available in Greek and English editions. There the similarity ends, as each follows a different approach. Topio has added to its extensive range of large-format volumes illustrated in color with «Patra: The Face of the City,» translated by Geoffrey Cox. Photographs by Dimitris Talianis record every aspect of the contemporary city, sometimes juxtaposed with postcards from the early 1900s. Olkos has extended its relatively new «Then and Now» series, which contrasts old black-and-white photos from the collection of Nikos Politis with contemporary photos of the same locations by Leonidas Kouryiantakis in «Patras: Then and Now,» translated by Judy Giannakopoulou. Topio invited several eminent Greeks who have ties of various kinds to Patras to write brief essays. Concise photo captions by poet Dionysis Karatzas, who also contributed a poem – «Patras of the Angels» – convey mood rather than detail. Olkos asked journalist and Patras native Nikos Bakounakis to provide an introduction as well as informative captions. The latter appear in a gazetteer at the back, leaving room for sizable reproductions of contrasting images to appear facing each other in the body of the book. Fani Constantinou, director of the Benaki Museum’s photographic archives, selected the photographs and wrote the foreword. The city A strategically sited port, rich in history and architecture, Patras is a gift to the photographer. The contrasts between past and present in «Patras: Then and Now» reveal how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. The squares and the neoclassical buildings may have been reshaped and refurbished – and certainly many of the buildings have been lost to the encroachment of modern apartment blocks – but the overall look of the city remains surprisingly similar. Its trademark steep stairways still lead to the port and the exhilarating view across the Corinthian Gulf to the mountains beyond. Simple cottages, handsome mansions graced with elegant balconies, churches, fountains, squares bounded by arcaded facades and old-fashioned stores selling everything from wine to hardware survive alongside bustling traffic and multistory buildings. Like all growing cities, Patras has its run-down quarters, which Talianis documents: the railway tracks where refugees and migrants gather, hoping for a ticket to a better life; disused factories, slowly crumbling. The overall picture is of a city that retains its traditions and style while actively engaging with the modern world. The texts in both books round out and deepen the portrayal of the city. In «Patra: The Face of the City,» Cretan-born writer Rhea Galanaki reveals her deep involvement with Patras, her «second hometown.» Panos Theodoridis explores how location and topography helped shaped the city’s history. Like many of the contributors, he notes the disproportionate number of national political leaders that Patras and the nearby area have produced. Athina Kakouri traces the changes in lifestyle that came with the new apartment blocks, and expresses nostalgia for what she sees as the city’s hardworking democratic spirit in the 1950s. Vassilis Lazaris presents the political and social struggles in which Patras played a leading part. Thanos Mikroutsikos voices the need to encourage some of the 1.5 million visitors who travel through Patras every year to spend some time in the city. Athanassios Papandropoulos traces the economy of Patras since antiquity, and Petros Synadinos, who also contributed the postcards, looks at the Patras of the future, predicting that its role as a transport hub and investment in universities will stand it in good stead. In «Patras: Then and Now,» Bakounakis shares the pleasures he takes in a visit to his native city, presenting them in the form of a stroll around town, starting with an espresso at a cafe below the old Majestic Hotel. As he walks the reader through his Patras, he conjures up images of the city now and as it was then, combining them with a concise account of its history. He sees Patras as a palimpsest of peoples and cultures, where the present and past coexist in harmony. The two volumes both do justice to a city that will soon be in the limelight.