As a craftsman I recognize two kinds of music; One is created by the pull of a guitar string, tapping a piano key or blowing a flute. The other -however- can be found in workshops of various trades when the craft’s tools sing under the artisan’s hand. These are intertwined with the desires and needs of mankind and one must immerse in both to truly understand a culture…
One of the best places to do that is Plaka, at the historical center of Athens. Plaka is the area surrounding the roots of Acropolis hill, a place to take you back in time since it’s practically an amalgam of historical periods from antiquity to modern day. And it just so happens that located in this area, just 5 minutes from Monastiraki Subway station, are two small museums- each one a gem.
The first one is known as the “house at 22 Panos street”, a beautifully restored building dating back to the early 19th century. And there awaits you a journey in the world of traditional crafts through the exhibition “Man and tools”.
From the ploughing of earth to the making of barrels, from shoemakers to blacksmiths, the crafts and their masters are excellently presented through a beautiful presentation that is inventive and richly accompanied by pictures and words. Get to know all kinds of strange devices, learn why the handtools of a craftsman were worth their weight in gold and how a trade’s techniques would become a guarded secret to be passed from one generation to the next.
In a time where the hand was not yet substituted by machines the tools are presented as the nostalgic echo of the people who made, used and lived by them, thus managing to outline the merging bond between the two.
The second, just a stone’s trow away, is the “Museum of folk instruments” at Diogenous street. Housed in a building that goes as far back as the Greek revolution and free of admittance it will introduce you to the instruments that lend their voice in folk Greek music.
The exhibition is divided in 4 halls based on the category of each instrument (aerophones, chords, percussion and sound objects). In many cases the history of the displayed instruments extends centuries back, to the times of the Byzantine empire, or even millenia to the time of ancient Greeks.
The displays are accompanied by pictures and gravures illustrating the making and use of the instruments in Greece of the 19th and early 20th century and of course recordings to give you an idea of their music. Some are plain, made from the simplest of materials, others are adorned with ornaments. Some were owned by significant people or belonged to famous musicians while others were the sole company of a humble shepherd unnoticed by history. However it was the chorus of all those instruments and musicians, blended through the ages, that created the traditional music through which an entire culture expressed its joys and sorrows.
A culture will be remembered first and foremost for the things it created. People live and they make songs for their life. To live they need tools, to make songs they need musical instruments. Put together and you are listening to the Sound of History.
Check out Dimitri’s thematic tours at dopios.com and get to know the city of Athens through the eyes of a great local! For more information on Dimitri’s art check his corner: Dimitri’s bookbinding corner