More than a time capsule

A small, newly renovated museum 15 kilometers outside of Iraklio, Crete, offers up a fresh, well-balanced look at the most translated Greek writer and philosopher of the 20th century. «We want to show Nikos Kazantzakis as a citizen of the world, as a traveler… not just as Zorba the Greek,» the institution’s graphic designer Dimitris Kalokyris explained during the first guided tour of the relaunched museum on July 3. «The original museum was more an archive than a museum,» Kalokyris said as he showed the crowd of journalists, writers, politicians and curious local villagers from Myrtia (Kazantzakis’s father’s hometown, then known as Varvari) around the cozy two-floor building, pointing out rare first editions, sketches, photographs and letters. Kazantzakis’s personal items on display – such as a pair of spectacles, an engraved crystal glass and a watch – sit next to evidence of the man’s international travels and, importantly, the far-reaching role he played in shaping the international perception of modern Greece. Next to Dr Litsa Chatzopou-lou’s detailed Greek-English bilingual texts are video screens showing clips of films based on Kazantzakis’s works. Shelves hold brightly colored translated editions of «Freedom or Death» and «The Last Temptations of Christ» from years past, in languages that range from Russian to Japanese. Drawers and suspended leather suitcases open to reveal letters and drafts, while one wall is filled from floor to ceiling with portraits of the people who shaped his world view. The new Nikos Kazantzakis Museum is a first for the country, head of the Benaki Museum Angelos Delivorias explained to the audience at the evening celebration held in Myrtia’s village square. Unlike its European neighbors, Greece is greatly lacking when it comes to museums dedicated to its modern literary greats. «Kazantzakis stands much luckier than the others,» Delivorias said, mentioning the names of Kostis Palamas as just one of the many examples. Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos and now-independent MP Dora Bakoyannis also spoke at the event and shared the view that the museum, renovated by architects Giorgos Psomadakis and Maria Marinou, was a bright sign on the horizon at a time of economic recession. Proof of the feat that a dedicated team of people could accomplish, Bakoyannis knew the project «was a lifetime dream for those who took part.» «It’s not easy to fit everything that was Nikos Kazantzakis into a few square meters,» Venizelos said, but despite that, «the museum has succeeded.» It was a significant and timely achievement in times such as these, he said, as the writer was and still is «a doorman to Greek culture.» A concert by Maria Farantouri ushered in the end to the evening. Many in the square joined in as she sang pieces by Manos Hadjidakis and Mikis Theodorakis. A similarly joyous occasion took place in the same square 27 years ago, when, in 1983, then Culture Minister Melina Mercouri inaugurated the original museum. It was founded by set designer Giorgos Anemogiannis, who arranged for the use of the building and put together the first collection with the help of the Kazantzakis’s second wife, Eleni. Almost three decades later, curator of the new museum Varvara Tsaka says plans are in place to introduce the author to an even wider audience by digitizing the archives, developing educational programs and producing both print and electronic editions. She said: «It’s become clear that the museum is entering a new age. It’s not just a time capsule.» For more information, visit

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