Located between the regions of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Xanthi stands as one of the most picturesque towns in northern Greece. It is among the most important cultural centers of the area, with history going all the way back to the mythological times of heroes and demigods, when according to legend, Hercules laid the foundations of a settlement called Abdera, on the exact same spot where Xanthi lies today.
Throughout the ages, Xanthi gave birth to great people, such as the philosophers Democritus and Protagoras; and as most of the places in the Balkans, suffered many disasters that in turn alternated with golden years of flourishment and prosperity. Whether the rulers were Ottomans, Bulgarians or Greeks, the city kind of kept the rhythm of its everyday life and gradually became an important trade center for Europe, primarily thanks to the cultivation and export of high-quality tobacco, that was one of the main source of livelihood for the local population.
Today, Xanthi has developed into a cosmopolitan and elegant city. Stone houses, strong walls and narrow cobbled streets recall the best times of the 18th century when the tobacco trade was still booming. The old town is perfectly preserved and truly presents an open museum of local architecture that shaped this amazing and unique look, unparalleled to any other city. The fascinating coexistence of different styles – Belle Époque, Italian Renaissance, Greek Neoclassicism and German Romanticism – form the real Xanthi, the one that is deservedly called “The City of the Thousand Colors”.
The streets of the old town encircling the large stone houses, the clock on the main square, the City Gallery and the Folklore Museum; each give their visitors another perspective of Xanthi, but nothing has the power to affect it as much as the local cuisine and tastes of local delicacies like soutzoukakia, baklava, sekerpare, lokum and many others. The culinary tradition plays a big role in the city’s atmosphere and enhances the creation of memories for its visitors.
Also, local festivals are among the most appealing events in Xanthi. The biggest two – the Carnival and the Old Town’s Festival – attract huge masses of all generations, for a party that lasts until the last person drops.
The Old Town’s Festival
Since 1991, the city of Xanthi welcomes Autumn with a big festival. During several days, the narrow old streets swallow such a mass of people and noise, that nobody would dream it possible. Along with inspiring musical performances, the festival also hosts theatrical plays, exhibitions, children’s shows and book promotions.
Sights are more than architecture, traditions more than tastes and fragrances, music and dance, clothes and jewelry; it’s all about the people, the past and the present, everything pulsates in the unity of the holiday. Inside the stone cold houses, the cheerful noise corresponds like echo to joy coming from the streets, and night becomes such that it is hard to distinguish these from bars and restaurants, all of them together in madness, with doors widely open.
The Old Town’s Festival is among the largest cultural events in the region and among the most popular Greek festivals in general. Each year the city embraces guests from country and abroad. Hundreds of visitors, come ready to open their senses to the latest of the cultural life of Xanthi, and everything interesting that it offers in the fields of music, fine arts, photography, literature and life.
In February, the city once again turns into a scene, this time for the lush, colorful and varied – The Carnival. Local traditions and folklore are at the heart of the event, but the theme changes annually, depending on the current European and world political, cultural and social events. One thing is for sure – the idea is always a humoresque one.
Every year more than 40 carriages and organizations take part in Xanthi’s Carnival by presenting folk customs and parading until the starry sky is outshined by fireworks. Locals and guests from all over Greece bring a new life into the cobblestone streets with singing dancing, and swirling of their hidden faces both comic and scary. Thousands of masked people take part in this parade of laughter. The carnival comes to an end on Sunday night with the ritual burning of a symbolic scarecrow called the Tzaros. The rites are performed on the shore of Kosynthos River, followed with a stunning fireworks in the sky.
During the carnival days, the parades are accompanied by various cultural events – concerts, theater plays, music and dance happenings at night, exhibitions, sporting events and organized games. Meanwhile, local merchants offer their traditional products almost everywhere. From Greek drinks and local delicacies to masks and souvenirs, it’s all up for sale.
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