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Drama: Past and Present

The peaks of Falakro, running water, tall trees which cover springs and brooks, the quiet way of life in the neighbourhoods and the parks, hospitable and pleasant people, all go together to make up the image of the city which lies at the heart of the prefecture, which is too the starting point for most of our explorations of the surrounding countryside. Drama has grown much during the 20th century and the changes in its layout and architecture have been rapid in order to meet the needs of its many citizens. Many neighbourhoods in the old centre acquired a new colour while new neighbourhoods developed around the edge of the city. Within this modem city the visitor can discover, with a pleasant sense of surprise, that certain parts of Drama have withstood both time and change, giving us an idea of how the city must have been in olden times when the community consisted of peoples from many places and many religions living together in a human mosaic which has left its mark on the city's monuments.

The central Eleftherias Square as it is now...  ...and as it was

For these reasons our tour around Drama will start off from the archaeological museum which lies close to the Public Park, an area full of greenery and running water, since the archaeological museum is also a city museum. There, the visitor can find information on the history of Drama from prehistoric times up to the period of Turkish occupation and the inter-war years all gathered in one place, and this information gives one a first glimpse into the long tradition of inhabitation and the variety of culture in the prefecture.
The city's parks are refuge to quite a few species of our feathered friendsOur tour continues through the Ayia Barbara park which covers approximately 60,000 m2 and which throughout time has been an identifying feature of the city and a pole of attraction for tourists. Here one can clearly see the city's wealth in running water as well as much of the more recent history of Drama. Water springs up from various points forming small lakes and waterfalls under the shade of ancient trees. n some places the water creates impressive sounds, in others it flows calmly and quietly as it branches out and covers the whole park. This is an idyllic location with exceptional colours inall seasons and it is a place which has always moved both travellers and visitors to the city as well as residents.
The waters of Ayia Barbara reflecting the multi-storey tobacco storehousesOne can see traditional watermills here and multi-storey tobacco storehouses from the inter-war years ret1ected in the calm waters and in the depths of the lake are the remains of an Orthodox church. The Mill of Zonke stands out from all the other mills, which are located at the south side of the park, it being an old Muslim mill with the grinding area above the underground movement mechanism and the storage area on the ground t1oor being well-preserved. Next to the mill, too, stands the two-floor miller's residence which has survived in good condition. n the north side of the park lies a multi-storey tobacco storehouse once owned by the Swiss-Jewish tobacco merchant Herman Spirer which dates from 1925 and which recalls the golden age of the city when hundreds of workers filled the halls of the tobacco factories and produced tobacco of the highest quality. Exactly in front of it are the ruins of the Joseph Faratzis tobacco storehouse where the Jews from Drama were imprisoned in 1943 before their tragic end in the Polish concentration camps. monument in their honour stands in the centre of the park. Around this monument are houses from past times which have been declared national monuments, the most important of these being the mansion of the tobacco merchant Anastasiadis, dating from 1876, which is dressed n the outside with local marble.
Today many visitors come to the area from spring to autumn and at all times of the day in order to relax, to enjoy themselves, to have a drink or something to eat in one of the taverns. There is even entertainment to be had in the open air theatre and the "Melina" art gallery located in the Municipal Cultural Centre. special day in the park is the eve of the feast day of the city's patron saint, Ayia Barbara, held n 3rd December, when hundreds of children leave small boats lit up on the calm waters of the lake, infront of the church bearing the saint's name, providing those present with a wonderful sight in the twilight.

 


The mansion of the tobacco merchant Tzimos at Taxiarhias SquareBehind the church of Ayia Barbara, ascending the steps which lead us past old two-floor houses and the ruins of tobacco storehouses, one reaches Perdika St. From there one heads towards Venizelou St. which until recently was the most important road in the city and which has many noble monuments either located directly n it or a short distance from it. At the junction of Perdika St. and Venizelou St. one comes across the Drama Educational Institute built between 1907 - 1908 by the Greek community under the guidance of the National Hero and Bishop of Drama and later of Smyrni, Chiststms, while part of the money was offered by the family of the Macedonian freedom fighter, Pavlos Melas. Climbing up Venizelou St. one can visit the ecclesiastical museum located next to the Bishop's palace which contains valuable treasures of the Orthodox faith.
The Cathedral of DramaThe next stop on the tour of Drama is the small square near the Cathedral of Drama. Next to the present day church stands part of the old Cathedral of the Presentation of the Virgin built in1834 by Bishop Philippos Germanos which contains exceptional works of woodcarving inside dating too from the 19th century. Exactly opposite the Cathedral are the restored building of the old city cinema, the one time "Mega" dating from 1913 and town houses from the beginning of the 20th century.
The Byzantine church of Ayia Sophia located in the old Christian quarter short distance from the cinema lies the Byzantine church of Ayia Sofia dating from the l0th century. The church was remodelled during Byzantine years as well as during the Turkish occupation when it was converted into a mosque (Bey Mosque ) and its present day bell tower was once the base of a minaret. It consists of a central square space supported on four bulky pillars with vaults and is covered by a high, eight-sided dome.
In the same area, which is the historical centre of Drama and the old Christian neighbourhood, one can go in search of the remains of the city's Byzantine walls. Among modem town houses dating from the inter-war years one can find the remains of six towers from the walls which in total covered a length of roughly 850rn and an area of approximately 40,000 m2. They were built for the first time around the l0th century and were reinforced during two later phases, the latter being in 1206 by the then governor of the castle, the Latin Boniface Momferatikos. It is peculiar that the walls were so well fortified for a such small castle which was otherwise set in a good natural location as it was built on a plateau and on most sides it was protected by the waters of the city.

A traditional coffee shop with the Municipal Art Gallery "Eleftheria" on the second floor The "Nea Agora", New Market, the old commercial centre located at the begining of Venizelou St.

Returning to Venizelou St. one passes in front of the now restored traditional coffee shop of the city which houses of the Municipal Art Gallery "Eleftheria" n the second floor.
Opposite this, set among houses, is the Byzantine, Chapel of the Archangels (Taxiarchon) dating from the period of the Paleologian emperors. It is a single-aisled basilica, rectangular in shape, which leans up against the Byzantine walls near the eastern gate to the city, meaning that the area around the church was probably once the site of the city jail. On the side of the church which faces Venizelou St. there is an impressive upside-down latin inscription embedded in the wall while inside the church there are wall paintings from the cycle of the Passions of Christ with the Archangels and the forms of two hierarchs in the conch of the Saturday. The chapel is still in use and may be visited on 8th November.
Continuing towards Eleftheria Square one approaches the commercial centre of the city. Tens of small shops set in narrow winding streets which run off Venizelou St. and on the more central street, 19th Maiou St., give the traditional market a different feel, the traditional market where for centuries a stream with its gushing waters during times of rain divided the city in two and caused incalculable losses to merchants.
Leaving behind the Church of Ayios Nikolaos, known as "Eski" Mosque during the Turkish occupation, and heading northwards towards the square one comes across the monument to the martyr to the Greek cause and Macedonian freedom fighter, Armen Kouptsios located n the site where he was hanged.
This area is the modern commercial centre of Drama with its well-preserved narrow streets. Memories from days gone by are aroused by the Muslim mosques which are located in this central area. At the junction of Armen St. and Agamemnon lies a mosque, possibly the "Koursamli" Mosque, with noteworthy wall paintings on its northern side which depict the city of Drama during the period of Turkish occupation. By walking through the narrow streets of the centre one comes to Lambrianidi St. which has another monument to the Ottoman times in Dikastirion Square (Court Square) which has been identified by experts as the 17th century "Mehmet Aga" Mosque. The presence of mosques in this area and in prominent places such as the junction f streets helps us to define the borders i the Muslim quarter as east and north f the Christian one.
Near the same area, n Troias St., lie the remains of a grave from the Hellenistic period with two chambers and a built passageway. Further north one can come acrdss a few examples i popular Muslim architecture such as the Ottoman Municipal School and the orphanage f Drama dating from the inter-war years.
If one makes the short excursion to the north f the city f Drama one can visit the, hill f Korylovo which is a point f reference for the city. Nature lovers can enjoy a walk and get some exercise at any time f the year among the pine forest which cover the slopes f the hill. After driving or climbing 4km to the peak which lies at an altitude f 600m the visitor will be greeted with a panoramic view of the whole of the lowlands of Drama and the surrounding mountains. There visitors will find places to relax and to exercise at the place which is beloved by residents of Drama on Kathara Deftera, Orthodoxy's version of Ash Wednesday.
The city of Drama today with its 40,000 residents, apart from being an economic and commercial centre with the opportunity to promote its products at an important annual commercial exhibition, is a hive of cultural and athletic activity. Every year there are literary and artistic events held here with many exhibitions with artists from other Balkan countries. At the end of June, residents and guest artists participate in the city festivities known as the Eleftheria, the most characteristic event being the well-established choir meeting. During September the Municipality of Drama organizes each year what has become a successful institution, the Short Film Festival, which has been enriched in recent years by an international section and by many tributes.

The Short Film Festival of Drama, one of the most importand cultural institutions in the city The theatrical troupe of the Association of Friends of the Letters and the Arts Busy night life scenes in the city

However, the city of Drama provides visitors with many other forms of entertainment. n a city where football is loved thanks to the historical team "Doxa Dramas" and in which volleyball, basketball and hockey are fast-growing sports, athletics is a way of life for many. Sports fans can work out and train in facilities such as the National Stadium or enjoy peaceful walks on Korylovo among the pines or in the city's parks. Moreover there are municipal facilities for tennis and private facilities for mini football and places on Korylovo where one can learn or practice gliding.
There are go-kart facilities too, in the east of the city. It is nightlife, though, that Drama is particularly renowned for as the people of the city are famous for their joie de vivre and their talent in both song and dance. Beginning in the taverns which offer traditional and local dishes, or the city's coffee shops with their distinct sense of finesse, one can get to know a little of the intense night life in the city either in open air summer places or winter venues which offer a wide range of fun things for the visitor to choose from regardless of age.

The railway station of the city

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