Thrace in the early 20th century

In order to comprehend the decision of Giorgos Lambakis (1854-1914) to travel to Thrace and Constantinople in 1902, one has to recall the historical circumstances of that period. The entire geographical region that we now define as northern Greece was back then still a part of the Ottoman Empire. In June of 1905 Lambakis received a document from the Ministry of Ecclesiastics and Public Education asking him to go to Serres and help save a mosaic object that belonged to the Cathedral. The scholar decided not to let such an important opportunity slip away. Lambakis, an Athenian who had studied theology and Christian archaeology both at the Capodistrian University and in Germany, extended his stay at the far borders of the declining empire. He gradually found this part of the world to be filled with mystery, myths, legends and distant relatives. It was a trip that fostered his national self-identity and a journey filled with excitement. Being the founder of the Christian and Archaeological Society, Lambakis was stirred and moved by the idea that in these almost exotic places he would trace the thread of history. The 50 photographs that Lambakis took during his travels express the pure and spontaneous emotions that the scholar experienced during his journey. The photographs are presented in «Thrace-Constantinople: The Travelogue of Giorgos Lambakis (1902),» an exhibition currently on display at the Byzantine and Christian Museum. Lambakis’s choice to travel to Thrace was not by chance. The remains of the Byzantine period were where he passionately sought confirmation of the continuity of the Greek nation; a continuity that he saw as based on the role of the Church. The exhibition’s curator, Vasiliki Chorti, explains that the exhibition is intentionally focused on the photographs that document the important monuments. Fortunately, there was also space to exhibit images of everyday life. In those faraway places, an Athenian with a camera must have appeared strange and impressive to the locals. It is likely that Lambakis enjoyed this attention and used it productively. In the photograph illustrated on this page, the inhabitants of the small community of Abdera willingly pose to be photographed under the directions of Lambakis. During his travels, Lambakis was however not always greeted with a willingness to collaborate. In his diary he writes that when on August 28 he arrived «in the depths of the night» at Didymoteicho, the night watchman viewed him with suspicion and submitted him «to detailed questions and examinations.» Those fleeting moments both in the writings and photographs of Giorgos Lambakis have brought his work into the 21st century. At the Christian and Byzantine Museum (22 Vassilissis Sofias, 210.721.1027) through January 6.