The long-joined history of a town and crop

The tobacco industry has left its mark all over the town of Agrinion. Every building of note, every square, was once the property of the Papastratos, Papapetrou or Iliou families. The town’s history goes back a long way. In 1667, the Ottoman traveler Evlia Tzelebi refers to it in one of his accounts: «The climate in Vrahori (Agrinion) is harsh. The product that is grown everywhere is the tobacco of Zepan. It has wide leaves and an exhilarating aroma.» This was the first written reference to tobacco farming anywhere in the Balkans. Since then Agrinion and the entire prefecture of Aitoloacarnania and many other regions in Greece have become identified with this one crop. Grown on small holdings, tobacco is nevertheless an extremely high-yield crop. So naturally it soon developed into one of the country’s national products. It kept families in the countryside during all the national and financial crises of the past century. Between the two world wars, the industry grew rapidly. Foreign soldiers who found themselves in Greece made the Oriental blends popular (Basmas, Tsebelia, Katerini) in the rest of Europe. The end of World War II brought the Americans and their habits, including a preference for Virginia blends. Agrinion’s people have survived internal migration, dictatorship and everything else thanks to tobacco. Until now, that is.