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Open AccessArticle

Live Your Myth in Greece: Towards the Construction of a Heritage Identity

School of Architecture, NTUA-National Technical University of Greece, 42, Patision Street, 10682 Athens, Greece
Heritage 2019, 2(2), 1640-1661;
Received: 18 March 2019 / Revised: 4 June 2019 / Accepted: 7 June 2019 / Published: 12 June 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Re-Inventing the Mediterranean Tourist City)


Nowadays, top-rated tourist attractions in Greece are ancient archaeological places and islands with blue-and-white esthetics. The country’s projected impression is greatly based on these two distinguished representations, chosen for their distinctive architecture scattered in the Greek landscape. Both imageries seem to be officially promoted in order to configure today’s national identity. The classical antiquities are related to the birthplace of European civilization, whereas the notion of the unspoilt archipelago with the whitewashed Cycladic houses works as a symbol of purity and eternity. The present article focuses on the analysis of these two Greek heritage scenarios and, subsequently, on their deconstruction. It aims to investigate the interaction between myth and reality and their role in forming the perception of contemporary Greece. The article argues that there is not a unique architectural history to come to light and, therefore, the highlighting of specific periods of it probably conceals intentions concerning patrimony management: selective excavation among the layers of history, historic preservation of selected buildings, and laws which impose the maintenance of certain findings or specific colors are some indicative signs. It also investigates the ways in which national heritage is directed and affected according to certain policies—local or foreign—that aim at a cultural investment in the world history.
Keywords: tourism; Greece; classical antiquity; Cycladic islands; identity; constructed heritage; architecture; landmarks tourism; Greece; classical antiquity; Cycladic islands; identity; constructed heritage; architecture; landmarks

1. Introduction

Greece’s projected image seems as though it can be largely classified into two categories: the idea of classical antiquities and the notion of the unspoilt archipelago with the whitewashed Cycladic houses (Figure 1). The two prevailing heritage images did not appear simultaneously during tourism history. Ancient Greece and the classical past are interweaved with the existence of the modern Greek state from 1821 onwards. On the contrary, the Aegean archipelago (focusing on the Cyclades landscape), started coming to light one hundred years later (1930 and on). The tourist blooming that occurred in the mid-20th century in Europe—after the Second World War—affected Greece remarkably, and the two prevalent imageries were progressively established. Gradually, antiquity on the one hand and the Cyclades on the other hand became synonymous with Greek origins. Relying on these two easily recognizable architectural notions, the country became a popular destination for tourists from all over the world.
As a matter of fact, the national touristic profile reproduces selectively particular aspects of the Greek reality. Future visitors do not have access to what has been excluded, and only see an artificial image of the country. A potential tourist forms the idea that the country is composed from idealized places that call him away from his mundane reality. A common appealing characteristic of the two dominant scenarios is that both of them are spatially and temporally different from the tourist’s daily urban experience. In order to construct a vision of purified tradition, the surroundings of the spot are often cropped in the photos taken from these places, thus concealing the possible ugliness of the proximate contemporary city. As Urry, expert on tourism geography, argues: “In particular there is the attempt to construct idealized images which beautify the object being photographed” [1] (p. 139). The ultimate aim is to create an imaginary picture that mentally transfers the potential visitor to something authentic and which has not been affected by the time. The untouched spot is a key issue in the direction of heritage images. This direction is additionally in full harmony with today’s tourism practices which seek for antiquity and vernacular lifestyle, in the context of civilizations that refer to a distant past. According to MacCannell, who has focused on the sociology of tourism: “the concern of moderns for ‘naturalness’, their nostalgia and their search for authenticity are (…), attachments to the souvenirs of destroyed cultures and dead epochs” [2] (p. 3).
The present work starts with a short presentation of tourism in Greece (Section 2) in order to offer to the reader an overview of the country’s touristic history. Following, Classical Greece (Section 3.1, Section 3.2, Section 3.3 and Section 3.4) and the Cyclades (Section 4.1, Section 4.2 and Section 4.3) are examined under the gaze of the West. Mass representations of the country’s image are then presented (Section 5) before proceeding to some common characteristics of the two heritage imageries (Section 6). In order to achieve a thorough idea about national heritage, the Greek perspective is studied, a fact that gradually leads to the documentation of forming a national identity (Section 7.1 and Section 7.2). Finally, the last part investigates any interaction between national and global meanings in terms of heritage management (Section 8).

2. Short Overview of Tourism in Greece

In the early 20th century, the inadequacy of infrastructures (both accommodation and road network) made the Greek inland inaccessible to potential visitors. The limited rail network and the rural villages in the rugged mountains made things harder. Indicatively, it is mentioned that Greece has been connected by railway with the Balkans after 1918 [3]. Moreover, the defeat of the Greek army in Asia Minor as well as the consequential refuges’ crucial needs for accommodation and infrastructures, delayed tourism investments until the mid-1920s [4].
The aforementioned conditions are the main ones among many other ones of socioeconomic nature that have steered tourism towards steam propulsion at the sea. The cruises were highly demanded right from the beginning of international tourism because of the difficulties that the mainland presented. “In this light it should not be surprising that cruises were extremely popular for Western travelers from early on, a travel practice that escalated at an astonishing rate in the ‘30s” [5] (p. 24). It is significant that before 1925, according to state documents, excluding thermal tourism, there is almost no domestic tourism [6] (p. 15). In the first decades of the twentieth century, tourism in Greece was synonymous for the locals with the thermal baths that cities such as Loutraki or Edipsos offered, while on the contrary, for the foreigners was identifiable with antiquities. At the archaeological sites of the Acropolis, Delphi, Olympia, and Epidaurus, foreigners were seeking for the ancient Greek spirit. The tourist industry as we know it today did not start immediately its practices and although the GNTO—Greek National Tourism Organization (E.O.T. in Greek) was founded in 1929, in the beginning it only funded some tourist kiosks at various archaeological sites. International tourism in Greece was the leading engine of mainly private investments.
It was only until the period 1936–1940 that the “Ministry of Press and Tourism” was founded. The pairing of Greek nature with ancient ruins becomes the ultimate ideological direction on which the interwar formation of the Greek tourist product would be established. Unlike older debates related to religion or language, the correlation of national continuity with the ruins of classical antiquity is gaining ground [7] (pp. 136–137).
Following the European reforms on labor law, the first provisions establishing paid leave for employees were adopted in Greece in 1945 (Νο. 539/1945), but only after the recovery of the war wounds did locals started to enjoy their right. In the 1950s, tourism in Greece existed under state tutelage, which undertakes its organization either through the GNTO or through its key banking pillar, the National Bank of Greece, offering smaller or larger hotel infrastructures around Greece usually located close to major national landmarks. “The fruits of those efforts are to be seen in the ‘Xenia’ chain of hotels and the units of the ‘Astir’ corporation” [8] (p. 40) (e.g., Delphi 1953, Olympia 1963, Andros 1958, Mykonos 1962).
Surprisingly, according to today’s standards, the advertised image of Greece during the 1960s and 1970s included urban environments such as concrete blocks of flats, in order to prove that the country was synchronized with the European norms. Back then, vernacular architecture or archaeological spots were enhanced by modern amenities which reassured potential tourists that in Greece, they could enjoy the same commodities, transportation, and lifestyle that they were used to in their home countries. Soon, though, a change of focus in the strategy promoted by Greece was observed: the initial advertising on tourist built infrastructures was quickly abandoned once it became widely known that the country was not underdeveloped. A swift movement towards an untouched paradise was gradually established. After modernization progress was guaranteed, the country started gradually building a profile of one of the last authentic paradises left in Europe based on the idea of classical Greece (Section 3) and the unspoilt archipelago with the whitewashed Cycladic houses (Section 4), imageries that are still in the spotlight.

3. First Patrimony Scenario

3.1. Ancient Greek Ruins, the Foreign Gaze

“We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley in the preface of his poem Hellas (1822) [9] (p. 431).
“On hearing the name ‘Greece’ a cultured European man immediately feels himself to be in his home country.”
Hegel, German philosopher (1770–1831) [10] (p. 102).
A master narrative imposes the basic images of Greece: the onset of European civilization is hidden in a pristine place. But was classical antiquity always on the spotlight? When did ancient Greece start to attract the Europeans’ interest? “Since the Renaissance, if not earlier, classical antiquity has been seen as more than simply Greek patrimony (Lowenthal 1988 [11])” [12] (p. 132). All these centuries, the actual geographical location remained distant in the conscience of Europeans, until the Renaissance Humanism, which is placed at the end of the Late Middle Ages and at the beginning of the Renaissance. Leaving behind the theocratic model of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance humanists turned to the ancient Greek and Roman literature. The Renaissance town was still under the hegemonic system, so the Athenian democracy was projected as the ideal state model. The Ideas of the Renaissance prepared the ground for Enlightenment, during which nation states were supported. Enlightenment has a major role towards the independence of nations, and its influence can be also traced to the liberation of Greeks from the Turkish yoke. The Greek Revolution revives the European values of the French Enlightenment and those of the French Revolution [13].
The intellectuals of the Enlightenment would not have been interested in the Christian culture of Byzantium, which was associated with the traditional perceptions of the Orthodox world because they wanted to get rid of the theocracy of the Middle Ages. In midst of the reborn ancient expressional forms, the philosophy of the Enlightenment seeks to emancipate the European spirit from the bonds of medieval worldview. In this framework, Greece is, at the same time, the country of ancient Greek civilization which the West “inherited” as part of its “own” history.
Ancient Greece was already known from the Grand Tours of the 17th and 18th century. During the educational trip, the noble traveler could expose himself to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, as well as to mingle with the high society of the European continent. In the context of classical antiquity, Ancient Greece was presented during the stay in Italy since the country was still under Ottoman occupation [14]. Through the 18th century travel texts, as well as through texts of scholars, such as Montesquieu, Voltaire, Gibbon and Winckelmann, classical Greece (and especially classical Athens) is perceived as “the starting point, the origin place of modern Europe” [15] (p. 11).
The intellectual European circles, before Greeks’ revolution in 1821, created and spread the Philhellenic Movement (meaning people who love Greece) for the liberation of enslaved Greeks from the Ottoman occupation. Philhellenism, as a term, is attested already in 1761, and from the late 18th century, mainly in European countries, the Philhellenes form committees (comitata) for the purpose of moral and material support of the struggling Greek people against Ottoman rule. According to the Charter of Rights adopted by the French Revolution, Philhellenes supported a free and independent Greece. The feeling that ancient Greece is treated as the source of their own culture is clear. The most famous philhellenes were Lord Byron, François de Chateaubriand, Victor Hugo, Alexander Pushkin, Friedrich Hölderlin, Santorre Di Santa Rosa, Friedrich Schiller, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Jean-Gabriel Eynard, Charles Fabvier, Hegel, Schlegel, Schelling, and many others.
Similarly, the Greeks who contributed to the foundations of the newly established state were Greeks of the diaspora, wealthy Greek bourgeois and intellectuals who have studied in the West. Thanks to the prevailing philhellenism in the centers of western Europe, they undertook “the ‘de-barbarism’ of the modern Greeks by transforming them into beings equal to Pericles and Socrates” [16]. The most famous representatives of the Modern Greek Enlightenment were Adamantios Korais, Rigas Feraios, and Eugenios Voulgaris. At the beginning of the 19th century, although the Byzantine past and the live folk tradition remained inseparably attached to the majority of people and their everyday experiences, emphasis was given to the study of classical Greek literature and on the learning of the appropriate language (called “katharevusa” with means pure from linguistic blending), a linguistic written structure very distant from the common written or spoken language [17].
After the Greek War of Independence in 1821, the Great Powers (England, France, and Russia) recognized Greece’s autonomy from the Ottoman Empire and formed the kingdom of Greece. In the early 19th century, Otto of Wittelsbach became the first king of the new state. “In the countries that once belonged to the High Gate, German and Austrian hegemonies were installed, at the request of the Great Powers” [18] (p. 250). The arrival of the Bavarians enforced the concept that Athens, as the new capital of Greece, should become a city to glorify classicism. The newly born modern Greek state (1830) sets an ideological start to the link with ancient Greek civilization throughout the whole century.

3.2. Questioning the Cultural and Historical Continuity

Nevertheless, the consolidation of a national link from antiquity to modern times was not self-evident, despite the efforts of the Bavarians and the Greek authorities. Scholars have struggled to prove or to question it. The Austrian historian Fallmerayer tried to deny the culture continuity between the modern and the ancient Greeks by advocating an extreme genetic mixing among people living in the south Balkans [19]. On the other hand, historians like Johann Zinkeisen and Carl Hopf accused Fallmerayer for misreading the historical sources. Moreover, Greek thinkers such as the archaeologist Kyriakos Pittakis [20], who published his research on the Archaeological Newspaper of that period of time, or Ioannis Veloudis [21] as well as the historian Constantine Paparrigopoulos [22], have tried to demonstrate that Fallmerayer’s theory had many pitfalls and have also attempted to re-establish the historical continuity.
A systematic attempt to resurrect classical Greece was conducted through a gradually consolidation of a historical continuity. “When, within the context of the independence of national states from the great empires in the European area (Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian), architecture turned towards to the medieval tradition of each country in order to differentiate itself from the public image of the previous authority, Greece followed its own distinct direction. There were two reasons for this: the Ottoman Empire (until 1821) had invested very little in the public architecture of the regions that were included in the newly established Greek state so that an immediate differentiation was required. The second and most important reason was that Greece had another historical past (…) from which architecture could be inspired: classical antiquity and the artistic models of the golden age of the Athenian democracy” [23] (p. 470).
The gap between the ancient past and the present was tried to get bridged through the esthetic, symbolic, and archaeological process of classical past revival, which was expressed by the restoration of the ancient monuments, the creation of the aforementioned artificial language, the architectural neoclassical new appearance of Athens, and so on. Neoclassism expressed this reconnection with the classical past: One of the most important neoclassical buildings which were built during the first decade of the Otto’s rule was first the University of Athens (1837) and, later, the neoclassical Academy of Athens (1859) as well as the National Library of Greece (1888). State principles feature in the visual representation of public buildings. The emphasis that was given to the capital of the Greek state as the cradle of Western civilization, has led to an extremely rapid urbanization of Athens and thus to an uneven development of the country [24].

3.3. Archaeological Excavations and the Construction of “New Athens”

Archaeology as a science was essential for bringing into light the connection with the classical past. The Greek Archaeological Service was founded in 1833 [25] (pp. 36–37) and was typically responsible for the oversight of all archaeological excavations in the country. The state’s law of 1834, regarding academic and museum collections and archaeology, prevented the export of antiquities from the country and created an inclusive, liberal climate for the exercise of archaeological research [26] (p. 118). This protection measure, right from the beginning of the newly born state, demonstrates that the importance of antiquity was realized early enough. Nevertheless, due to financial restrictions, inadequacy of archaeologically educated employees, and lack of museums, the state was unable to support large archaeological projects. Furthermore, the sovereignty of Greece during the 19th century was de facto limited, due to its dependence on the three Great powers which intervened in national issues. Within this framework, foreign archaeological institutes of the more powerful western countries were founded in Athens, in order to get involved in a multitude of excavations. For example, the French School in Athens was already founded in 1846 and was responsible for prestigious excavation sites, such as Delphi, Delos, Philippi, etc. On the other hand, the German Archaeological Institute in Athens was founded in 1874 and had under its supervision sites such as Thebes (Boeotia), Eleusis (Attica), the Kerameikos (Athens), Ancient Olympia (Peloponnese), the Heraion of Samos, etc.
Architecture and archaeology were called upon to play an active role in the formation of conceiving the nation. The following analysis on the construction of the “New Athens” is a typical example on how the foreign gaze affected heritage issues. In the case of Athens, the ideological construction precedes its spatial planning. The first plans of “New Athens” were developed at the time of King Otto (1832–1862). The original urban planning of the architects Cleanthes and Schaubert for Athens (1833) depicts a neoclassical isosceles triangle whose purpose was to enable the emergence of the Holy Rock of Acropolis. “The memory of classical Athens was rooted in a sentimental desire to return to the origin of Western knowledge, to reappropriate the rightful patrimony of northern Europe, and to reform the present based on the highest and purest accomplishments of the past” [27] (p. 170).
In reality, however, Greece of the 19th century looked more like the imperfect reincarnation of its ancient self, culturally degraded/distressed in relation to modern Europe [7] (p. 227). The Western originary myth of “New Athens” demands that the social signs of the area must be removed in order to highlight the monumental character of the territory. Within this framework, Cleanthes and Schaubert imagine a space at the northern aisle of the Acropolis according to their design solution, which will remain with no buildings at all and free from newer buildings. They suggest the removal of existing dwellings: “the huts or the modern houses, the proximity of which depresses and disturbs the visitor who admires ancient art, as well as it prevents artists and intellectuals from representing it in its fullness” [28] (p. 189); Figure 2 and Figure 3.

3.4. The Case of the Ancient Agora

The realization of the architects’ visions came much later and, specifically, during the interwar period, when the American Archaeological School undertook entirely the excavation of the Ancient Agora, located under the Acropolis hill, with private funding. “The Agora would be for the Americans what Olympia was for the Germans, Delphi for the French, and Knossos for the British. (…) The fact that funding for this project was secured despite the stock market crash of 1929 is another sign of its national importance” [29] (p. 172).
Τhe process of archaeological elimination of any intermediate historical time, in order to approach the “original” classical land, began in 1931 [30] (p. 46). The Ancient Agora was organized around a “scientific” documentation and narrative, and the legitimate method that was decided was the academic exact reproduction of the pre-existing place status. In this respect, either undesirable evidence was demolished, or new constructions imitating the old ones were manufactured relying on partial ancient elements. A typical example of the second case is the Stoa of Attalos, which was designed by the architect Ioannis Travlos. In order to house the archaeological findings (1953–1956), he tried to restore the building to its original form by using modern building materials (reinforced concrete which imitated marble and wood).
During the excavation by the American school, whatever did not serve the narrative was removed. A whole neighborhood was demolished in order to produce an image of ancient Athens as if it had been frozen in time and give the impression that it has always been there. At the same time, the area surrounding the Acropolis was expropriated and an archaeological landscape, in the service of a super-historical and transcendent reality, was formed [29].
Furthermore, all cultural elements that could testify to a Turkish, Slavic, or Arab influence were removed, assisting the consolidation of a generalized neoclassical impression. The case of the churches that existed in the archaeological park before the excavations and demonstrated the Byzantine past of Athens is characteristic: “Several churches were removed following the excavation of the modern neighborhoods overlying the Agora” [30] (p. 45). “Here and there, one of the picturesque ruined churches of the Byzantine Middle Ages could make a pleasant contrast with the artworks of the ancient civilisation” [31] (p. 111).
The archaeological approach of Ancient Agora, directed by the American scientific group, was supposed to confirm the relationship between Greece and the United States after the Second World War. In the context of a cultural aspect of the Truman doctrine (1947) and the following Marshall plan (1948–1952), the findings must be clear, recognizable, and capable of being exported and globalized. The American gaze was characteristic, promoting a brilliant future for Greece by focusing on growth sectors such as tourism. Paul Hoffman, the man in charge of implementing the Marshall Plan in Europe, supported this: “Your country is literally crying out for tourism! You have the most celebrated natural landscapes, traditional hospitality, world-renowned archaeological sites and a wonderful climate. Much needs to be done of course, but you shall succeed if you remember that you are Greek” [32] (p. 317). Such an approach could not allow blending with the Oriental element. It had to express the truth of the Western past, the classical Greece with its brilliant monuments [33].
The long history of Greece justifies that archaeological sites have a very deep stratification. The stratification of an archaeological site is specific and, according to the rule of superposition, it is widely known that the higher layers contain findings from more recent historical periods while the deeper strata contain older ones. Therefore, it is a controversial issue which history layers the excavation will bring into the light and raises a question on cultural management regarding which layers will be revealed by the archaeologists. In the case of Athens, for example, neither the previous layer of history (prehistoric archaeology) nor the next one (Byzantine archaeology) came to light. Was this a political decision? Concerning the example of Ancient Agora, the answer is positive, since the American gaze determined the excavation policy. The foreign excavations in Athens suggest that the long European tradition of casting antiquity as the origin for western civilization resulted in a focus on exemplary aspects of antiquity [26] (p. 118).

4. Second Patrimony Scenario

4.1. Cyclades, the Foreign Gaze

“Modern Greece is still an unknown land for us. We see a lot of goodwill, a lot of problems to be solved and we do not doubt that a solution will be possible on these magnificent lands where an eternal tradition only needs to be awakened in a modern sense”.
Sigfried Giedion, General Secretary of the 4th CIAM (1933) [34] (p. 1140).
The second trademark of Hellenism has become the Cycladic image with white volumes and blue painted window shutters. It is not certain that the Cycladic houses were always whitewashed. The crystallization of Aegean images in our conscience enable them to be taken for granted in a natural way, as if they have been definitively frozen in time throughout the centuries and have always been like this [35] (p. 23). The total white has become synonymous with Cycladic architecture but the truth is that in the Cyclades, there was a multicolorness: Scratching the layers of the plaster during renovations of old structures or by observing the ruins of abandoned Cycladic houses, colors such as ochre, red, black, and ultramarine–indigo blue are revealed (the famous Polygnotian palette by the 5th century painter Polygnotus). In this direction, Moutsopoulos supports the idea that during medieval ages, the integration of the buildings into the landscape by using local materials, was crucial for protection reasons: “The current forms of the island settlements, with the coming from mid-20th century predominance of the whitewashed facades, have overwhelmed their medieval form, where the exterior facades were not plastered, integrated with the site and the surrounding landscape. People back then struggled to make their settlements invisible from the sea, under the fear of pirates” [36] (p. 401).
Nevertheless, in order to get a correct impression about the white color in the Cyclades, it must be mentioned that during the 19th century, some foreign travelers visiting Greece have confirmed the sparse existence of whitewashed houses along the Cycladic landscape (examples include travelers like Ph. Jourdain 1822–1827, V. de Marcellus 1820, Louis Lacroix 1850 et al.). However, it is clear that this is not the generalized picture and has been gradually established since the middle of the 20th century. The prevalence of white color is a recent story: The dictator Ioannis Metaxas (1936–1941) enforced a decree to islands residents according to which the white lime was compulsorily applied to the Cyclades. In order to avoid the epidemics, houses were painted white, as a protection measure for public health. Metaxas ordered all the houses of the islands to have plastered walls in order to be fortified against the cholera contamination that plagued Greece at that time. Until today, Island habitants whitewash their villages, from the walls to the streets, before official religious feasts like Christmas, Easter, and the Assumption. The military government that was in power in Greece between 1967–1974, mandated that all houses must be painted in white by sending the relevant documents from the Cyclades prefecture to each island police department, mayor office, and local authorities. The whitening of the houses and roads evolved from a traditional cleaning ritual to a means of establishing a touristic image.

4.2. Cyclades and the Modern Movement

In parallel, Cycladic white image was supported by modern architects who promoted it as an evidence of their philosophy. In 1933, during the fourth meeting of the International Congresses of Modern Architecture (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne—CIAM), Giedion (the general secretary of the Congress) and other delegates had the chance to come into contact with Aegean architecture (Figure 4). The tranquil Cycladic destination of myth and legend allowed to travelers to project modern architectural ideals to Cycladic forms. The blue–white Aegean archipelago did not disappoint them; on the contrary, it met the demands of the lost Eden and offered one of the most prosperous areas of the Western fantasy [37].
Le Corbusier for example, the most representative architect of modern architecture, refers characteristically: “In the meantime—between the first and the second voyage to Greece—I realized that the Mediterranean was the infinite reservoir of information useful to our history. However, I did not know that the Cycladic houses, these white flowers, confirmed to us, for our consolation that they were still blooming. (…) So we were free to recall the eternal scenes with the reality of legends and history. (…) the movements here only needed a slight impulse of the spirit, to make them movements of humble or impetuous heroes, for which only the poets talk to us” [38] (pp. 161–162). The mythology of white is largely due to Le Corbusier, who combined it with the purity of the Mediterranean residence. Away from ornaments, the architecture of the Aegean offers this desirable purified dimension. The white color of Cycladic islands meets modern architects’ vision for a common morphoplastic esthetics within the landscape of the Mediterranean. “When Le Corbusier reactivates the white wall, he attempts to mobilize it to the most modern of agendas while crediting it with some kind of transhistorical status. The white garment is meant to be at once up-to-date and timeless” [39] (p. 36).
Furthermore, the geometric forms imply the rationalism of the simple in the context of the minimalistic slogan “less is more”. Le Corbusier supported the notion that in Cycladic forms, the archetypes of modern architecture can be detected. The cubic geometrical forms and the primal life they enclose, are the Greek vernacular that he was inspired from: “What kind of usefulness can the modern people have in view of this life of the past that is perpetuated in today’s places, in villages, in homes and in Greek customs? To Confirm the Human Scale” [38] (p. 162). The aforementioned Le Corbusier’s quote aligns with his work leading to the invention of the Modulor, a metric system which can be universally applied in architecture. The human body’s proportions on which the Cycladic dwellings are based excited him, since the human scale has been a fundamental concern throughout his career. During his trip to Greece, he accomplished a purifying return to elemental experience which helped him to confirm his philosophy [40]. Ιn the era of mechanized civilization, Le Corbusier was looking for the primitive archetype which could be an example of architectural wisdom for future claim.
The sincerity of construction in architecture is a focal point for modern architects. “Thus sincerity in architecture has meant, in effect, starting from scratch, or, as Reyner Banham puts it, ‘the freedom to live in a house designed as if houses had just been invented’. It has meant rejecting the acquired experience of our ancestors, and thus paradoxically relates, in the realm of the history of ideas, to those notions of Greek Revivalism which can also claim Rousseau as their ancestor, and which were responsible, two centuries ago, for a type of Primitivism which sought for new architectural roots in the most remote past” [41] (p. 253). In the humble Cycladic dwellings, modernist architects detected the archetypes of their architecture.
However, the Cycladic settlements predate modern architecture. White cubic volumes have been determined by the local climate and available reserves: the structures are flat with no slopping roofs since there is no need for rain or snow protection. On the contrary, close to the main house, there are cisterns for collecting water during dry summer months. (Nowadays, there are abolished during modern renovations. What a brilliant and profitable idea to turn it into an extra room!) The older villages were hidden from the sea in order to be invisible to pirates and for the same reason local materials were used for facades in order to blend easily into the landscape. Before becoming an esthetic value or a disinfection mean, the visual integration in the landscape was therefore a way of survival. Donkeys with two baskets, one on either side, gave the scale for the passageways and occasionally the form of the ground floor if used as a barn. Materials shortage (e.g., wood) often defined Cycladic architecture. The bright glare of the sun led the masons to build limited openings as well as the strong winds over the Aegean archipelago resulted in narrow passageways. At the same time, painting the buildings with bright colors was a practical way to keep them cool and reflect the harsh sunlight [42].

4.3. Cyclades, Recent Alternations

The transformation that the Cycladic landscape has experienced from the touristic phenomenon is characteristic. Taking the island of Santorini, for example, a large reconstruction project started in 1956, following a big earthquake which stuck the island. The buildings were heavily impacted and especially the villages of Oia and Fira had incurred the greatest amount of damages, due to the soft rock that they are built on. The reconstitution of a blue–white scenery of dwellings with vaulted roofs became dominant tracing the required scenography. Not to mention that the differentiating architectural element in Santorini’s architecture is the vaulted roof of dwellings that result from their subterranean typology. The historical analysis demonstrated that the above the ground vaulted roof pattern prevailed after the 1956 earthquake in most areas of the island [43]. The architect Dimitris Filippidis supports the use of rounded vaults forming the roofs: “The explosive development of tourism over the last few decades will bring back the ‘old-fashioned’ vaulted roofs—this time from concrete—as a dominant trend and a morphological pattern imposed by state agencies. Such stories in time, quite common in the Cyclades, show how little importance is the pursuit for a common ancestor of Cycladic architecture, while the richness of alternations (…) further discourages the possibility of finding this ancestor” [44] (p. 140). The aforementioned example shows clearly that local architecture was strongly affected by tourism.
As a concluding comment, it could be mentioned that the present image of the Cyclades is a product of multiple mutations that aligns with both historical evolution and tourism development, as well as with the retrospective projections of architects and scholars.

5. Cinematic Gazes into Greek Tourism

The 20th century brought mass production and a concurrent diffusion of commercial images to consumers. The dissemination of visual stimuli contributed in the familiarization of vacations. Urry suggests that the companies that dominated the guidebook industry, such as Thomas Cook, John Murray and sons, Karl Baedeker, Adolphe Joanne, etc., constructed the tourist gaze [1]. From this perspective, he points out that visualization is the main rule on which many tourist sites are based. Visual representations, tourist posters, advertising campaigns or cinematographic successes, form the dominant visual teaser (Figure 5 and Figure 6).
However, to consume something, it must be recognizable and familiar. Advertisements of any kind contribute to this target, but at the same time, examining them retrospectively, they can be the revelation of the current dominant vacation model of each country or a reflection of the main state’s policy direction on national tourism. On-screen tourism representations contributed to forming a cohesive image of each destination. Landmarks and a beautification of landscapes shape a visual national identity for each country. In this direction, films are examined in order to find the relevant representations of Greece. Motion pictures of the ancient ruins and the Aegean archipelago can be grouped in two categories:
(a) The films which have clear references to the Grand Tour tradition of the British aristocracy and the explorers of the eighteenth century. Here, the idea of classical Greece is placed in the limelight and the local landscape is approached with an idealized way in the context of a glorious past. Films focus on antiquities, and Greek society is presented in a pre-industrial era where handicraft and rural elements dominate. An imaginary construction of historical continuity with ancient civilization and a sense of a charming underdeveloped country is obtained. Greek civilization is presented as a symbol of transnational humanism.
Examples are to be seen in films like Greece: The immortal land (Gladys and Basil Wright, 1958) Figure 7, Greek Sculpture: 3000 BC to 300 BC (Basil Wright, 1959), This world of ours: Greece (Carl Dudley, 1951), Argolis (Roussos Koundouros, 1964).
(b) The next representation of tourism is based on the construction of Greek islands. The consolidation of the white houses’ image on Greek islands is here established. The dipole of modernity versus tradition is obvious. Along with the ruins of the past and the unspoiled archipelago, the scenery hosts aspiring dreamers for imaginary transition. Everyday life in Greece is rendered on the screen somewhere between the myth of tradition, local lifestyle accommodation and carefree sunbathing. Τhe liberation of the naked body is recorded. As Hobsbawm observes characteristically: “To go to the Mediterranean in mid-summer, without looking for artistic and architectural monuments, was considered to be madness, until the first decades of the twentieth century, which brought with them the adoration of the sun and of sun-tanning” [45] (p. 311).
The most famous examples are Boy on a Dolphin (Jean Negulesco, 1957), The Dragon (Nikos Koundouros, 1956), Never on Sunday (Jules Dassin, 1960), Zorba the Greek (Michalis Cacoyannis, 1964), Celui qui doit mourir (Jules Dassin,1957), Stella (Michalis Cacoyannis, 1955), A Girl in Black (Michalis Cacoyannis, 1956), Sunoikia to oneiro (Alekos Alexandrakis, 1961) and the recent films Mama Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008) and Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013) (Figure 8).
Finally, there are also some film categories which include representations of Greece as either a retreat destination or, on the contrary, as the ideal place for erotism. In these cases, antisocial and social perspectives are given at the same time to aspiring visitors. Consequently, all mentioned categories are composed by fragmented pictures of Greek reality that do not represent the entirety of local scenery. Film directors have certain cinematic aspects which create a determined identity by highlighting or concealing specific characteristics. The fictionary result serves to promote Greece as a touristic product with a particular version each time.
The films which promote Greece in a touristic aspect were sometimes made on behalf of foreign governments (often combined with archaeological sites where the relevant excavations have been undertaken by these countries). Other times, they were co-productions realized under Greek and foreign funding or occasionally they were exclusively carried out on behalf of the Greek National Tourism Organization. Figure 9. A consistency of gazes and representations between private and public productions is observed depending each time on the emerging national identity of each era. [46] (pp. 256–273).

6. Common Characteristics of the Main Heritage Imageries

The projected image of Greek architecture oscillates between the artistic models of the golden century of Athenian democracy (via the ancient temples and ruins of the past as well as the neoclassical models brought from Munich by King Otto and the Bavarian architects which perpetuated the conception of a classical atmosphere in the city) and the projections that modern architects had on vernacular architecture. The posters plastered all over the walls of travel agencies around the world depict either ancient ruins or islands. These two main projected Greek heritage imageries seem to have some common characteristics.
The first common characteristic of the two subjects is the white color which dominates in both cases. The myth of white color in Ancient Greece gradually became a conviction “ancient art is esthetically paradoxical and ambivalent: it is ruthlessly and mercilessly white” [47] (p. 346). Manolis Korres, the chief architect of the Acropolis restoration project, reveals that the polychromy of classical architecture was first depicted by J. Stuart and N. Revett in the three volumes work after their scientific journey to Greece (1751–53): “Here, it has to be underlined that the two British discovered far before any other the famous Polychromy of the classical architecture, but, having no other choice, they rendered it into black and white when published” [48] (p. 215). Today, the marbles are discolored by giving the impression of a white entity. White color gradually acquired significant symbolic connotations, associating it with the sphere of the sacred and divine. The issue of the classical white is even today in the limelight [49]. In reality, ancient temples and statues were not white, but on the contrary heavily colored.
In the same sense, as we have already discussed, the whitewashed Cycladic dwellings have not always been the norm. There is doubt as to whether the picturesque houses on the islands that respect the “architectural tradition” have always really existed or whether they have been transformed in a way that has served, over time, the intended promotion image. The internationally renowned “typical” white Cycladic color is not historically accurate. “The works of Greek modernists, in their overwhelming majority, followed the European codified models of modernism and only retrospectively they based this architecture on the local tradition of Cyclades seeking the plasticity of the works of Le Corbusier in the islands’ geometric forms” [50] (p. 106).
For centuries across many civilizations, white color has been a universal synonym for spiritual purity, idealization, and the purity of the past, as well as a symbol of eternity, like the cornerstone of architecture, placed to last forever. In European cultures specifically, white is linked with values such as clarity and transparency. In this context, the whiteness that prevails in the main tourism trajectories—the antiquities and Cycladic architecture—adds a strong educational aspect to the image of Greece. “The language of the architectonic forms is best expressed in the superior luminosity of white” [51] (p. 103). In antiquity masterpieces and Cycladic dwellings, modernists found the immaculate conception and virgin birth of their architecture, like an everlasting symbol. A study on classical and vernacular architecture can illuminate their work towards universality, going beyond the limits of national architecture.
Another common feature could be the harmony and the ideal proportions of the constructions that the Western gaze observed. Le Corbusier, during his first trip to Greece, is astonished by the harmony of the Acropolis and he suggests modern architecture to imitate the ancient Greek virtue of harmony: “In the name of the Acropolis, a strong, conquering harmony, without weakness, without fail” [52] (p. 1141). The feeling of exaltation that is provoked through right proportions and the balance obtained through the correct use of human scale, as found in the Cycladic dwellings, could work as a beacon of inspiration for the architectural community: “‘A modern building,’ wrote Walter Gropius, ‘should derive its architectural significance solely from the vigour and consequence of its own organic proportions; it must be true to itself’” [41] (p. 251) (Figure 10).
The Mediterranean vernacular appeared “deeply embedded in the whole Modern Movement” [53] (p. 148). The quest for universality—an inherent objective of the Modern Movement—activated a series of dipoles between regional and catholic, material and spiritual, tangible and metaphysical characteristics. “The ‘pure’ Cycladic residence, from esthetic, functional or constructional aspect, appears as the ultimate archetype of modern, in its primitive prehistoric and contemporary vernacular form. The avant-garde and the tradition, rationalism and poetry, classical and primitive, are crossed and eventually united in a speech which expresses the Greek version of the absolutely modern” [54] (p. 70). According to modernist architects, the Aegean and the primitive, was almost identical with the modern and the avant-garde. An inductive reasoning between the past, as expressed through the immutable Cycladic vernacular, and the present, as articulated through the aspiring modernist structures, was attempted to set up for the benefit of the latter. Approaching the myth of the Mediterranean as a germ of Western modernist architecture, the architects sought the esthetic finesse that they could find in those cultures that had remained untouched.
Another common characteristic between ancient Greek historical monuments and Cycladic settlements could be the nostalgic invocation of a past paradise, when people could live in a microscale of a village. Representations of Greece as a lost-paradise destination dominates the press. The country is presented as a refuge from the ongoing development of current metropolises offering people more primitive lifestyles and the fantasy of a return to back-to-the-basics. Potential travelers can experience the feeling of a return to a mindful and self-discovery lifestyle. Bucolic archaeological sites and isolated Cycladic villages promise to fulfill this expectation, providing an authentic simplicity which offers a respite from urban reality. There is a common reference to a lost civilization that seems really distant from the contemporary way of living.
Nevertheless, once the traveler arrives at the desirable spot, he often has to deal with confounded plans. For example, the dream of an isolated Cycladic island or a secluded archaeological site is destroyed by a noisy flock of tourists which had the same idea as him. The visitor feels the gap between fantasy and reality, between expectation and experience. National identities are looking for landmarks that were kept away from industrialization, alteration, and mass culture. Even if in reality, mass tourism consumes these places, they must be presented in advertisements as rare places untouched by profit expediencies. In this framework, reality has to be improved to maintain its authentic but, simultaneously, commercial appeal. This fantasy approaches the landscape with a lost authenticity or nostalgia. Since the tourist gaze consumes cultural diversity, the achievement of diversity becomes the prime objective of every tourist destination. The uniqueness of the national land is the main axis around which all national ideologies are built. “Greece’s dispute is only one of various involving source countries in the context of nationalism, tourism, and a coveted stake on the world stage (Greenfield 2007)” [55] (p. 14). In 1976, Dean MacCannell, a pioneer in tourism research in the fields of sociology and anthropology, formulated the theory of “dialectics of authenticity” [2]: building an authentic cultural identity is a process of self-determination and self-fulfillment that draws its references from the cultural repertoire of a community.

7. The Greek Perspective on National Heritage

7.1. Forming an Identity

In the previous sections, the article tried to analyze the foreign gaze on Greek heritage concerning the antiquity and the Aegean archipelago, and place them in the relevant historical period. Given this perspective, it is worth presenting how Greeks perceived their heritage and how this worked as a vehicle for determining a national identity.
Europe’s great influence on the Greek state and its policy making is very evident since its foundation after the Revolution was based on the ancient past. The Great Powers guaranteed the autonomy of Greek state against the Ottoman threat, so the desirable European direction towards antiquity originally seemed inevitable: “The privileged relationship with ancient Greece guaranteed the Greeks, once again, the privileged treatment of Europe” [7] (p. 211). Furthermore, limited sovereignty of Greece during the first decades of the establishment of the new state also shaped the heritage policies according to European influence. Athens was gradually transformed under Bavarian neoclassism, and archaeological excavations which were carried out under foreign interests. Concerning the excavation of the Agora for example, the inferior position of the Greek authorities is obvious: “Greek officials ultimately gave in to most, if not all, of the (American) School’s requests” [29] (p. 167).
The traces of a distant antiquity which came to light visualized the connection with the present society [25]. State initiatives confirmed this direction: “In fact, the official celebration of the centenary of the independent Greek state took place on the Acropolis, on Easter Sunday 1933, to emphasize the symbolic connotations of the Resurrection” [56] (p. 390). Cultural continuity with a glorious past on the verge of pagan worship, dominated. The archaeological excavations, the Olympic Games revival, or the pilgrimages to the birthplaces of Democracy, in the context of a reborn Greek nation, were some of the state policies prospecting for cultural ancestors in the past in order to define an identity in the present.
The Modern Greek state, influenced by the European admiration for classical Greece, chose to emphasize cultural continuity with the classical past. By contrast, Byzantium was viewed as a long dark age, an alien past which prevented the efforts of the reborn state to establish an unbroken link with classical antiquity. Thus, the ‘purification’ of Athens was carried out by archaeologists who shared these views and felt little sympathy for the material remains of the Byzantine era. The later incorporation of the Byzantine past into the national narrative brought about a new perspective, a fusion between Orthodoxy and Hellenism, an indigenous rather than a European version of national history. It was not until the 1860s that the Byzantium came forth in Greek history, triggered by the historians’ reassessment of the role of the Macedonians and Alexander the Great and, finally, find a place for Byzantium [57].
This selective remembrance was extensively analyzed by Herzfeld [58]. Through a specific selection of the ethnological material of the country, he argues that the selective memory of a particular period of Greek history is related to the obsession of the West for classical civilization. At the same time, he also highlights the need of the modern Greeks to establish their claim for an independent and sovereign national state on the scientific basis of the Greek nation’s continuity from antiquity to the present. Overall, the ‘selective memory’ used by the Greek state is interpreted as an active political stance for a double goal: on the one hand, in order to form a national identity and, on the other, to meet the expectations of the West. Herzfeld analyzes Greek history and supports the existence of two main historical and cultural constructions of Greek identity with a dialectic relationship between them: “Hellenism” and “Romiosini”. The notion of “Hellenism” is the idealized perception which is formed about the classical past, while the notion of “Romiosini” is the perception that Greek culture is directly linked with Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Nevertheless, his interest is attracted by the philhellenic tendency because, as he claims, it is outwardly directed and is simultaneously incident to the recognition of the new Greek state and the negotiations about Greece’s position in international politics.
The ancient Greek past seems to wish to monopolize the nation’s memory as well. The Bavarian regime and the spirit of its classicist preferences prevented the restoration of Byzantium. The question that is reasonably raised is when and why the issue of the Greek character of Byzantium comes to the foreground. The national claims of the other Balkan states have prompted the Greek state to gradually embrace its Byzantine history. “Initially, ‘defensive’ historiography turns into aggressive, especially after the great East Crisis of 1875–1878, which accelerates, at a rising pace, the aggravation of Balkan rivalries” [7] (p. 184). The Defeat in Asia Minor in 1922 caused the collapse of the Great Idea, which put an end to the plans for expansion of the Greek frontiers towards the East and the relationships with the great centers of the Greek trade of the diaspora (Constantinople, Asia Minor etc.). The generation of the 1930s, and the intellectuals who represented it (Seferis, Theotokas, Terzakis, Elytis, Ritsos, Kazantzakis and others) realized that the shrinkage of Hellenism required a reformation of the national narrative, not based on geopolitical characteristics, but instead on the esthetics of the national landscape and on the promotion of the cultural recovery. “The new myth, of course, is not articulated in a manifesto or essay, but laments as a request in their thoughts and reflections, as a narrative counterbalance to the ‘Asia Minor drama’ of Hellenism” [59] (p. 152). The continuity of the nation is once again based on its cultural wealth, not only just as a protagonist of the classical past, but as a modern, as one equal partner of European cultural scene. “And this change of the nation’s vision consists one of the key features of the 30’s generation, on which the Metaxas regime will also be based” [59] (p. 150).

7.2. “The True Face of Greece”, Re-Inventing the Greek Identity and Tradition

The organic conception of the tradition is placed in the core of the reflections of the 1930s generation, and attempts to bridge the classical past with the Byzantine one, as well as with the Greek landscape. Hellenism, as a synthesis of the above parameters, combines antiquity with the orthodox tradition and with the vernacular architecture of the country, framed with nature’s elements (Figure 11). Thus, typical symbols of the generation that represent the Greek landscape are the blue of the Aegean, the white-washed houses and chapels, the ancient monuments-traces, the olive tree, the dry vines, the pines, the cypresses, the pots with geraniums, etc. In the context of the mythological description of the Greek landscape, the 1930s generation presented the Aegean as an archetypal place, as an “ethnoscape” in the sense that Antony Smith attributes to the term [60] (pp. 150–152).
“The Aegean is, for the generation of the 30s, a place both real and imaginary, historic and virginal, beautiful and mythical” [59] (p. 363) supports D. Tziovas, who examined the special characteristics of the movement. “The generation of the 30s does not simply depict or literally illustrate the Aegean, but it produces it, in the sense of Henri Lefebvre, as a symbolic space and as a symbolic or moral palimpsy” [59] (p. 364). The Greek landscape came to the fore, and the seascape with its islands began to mingle with the Greek identity. Elytis, one of the most prominent representatives of the generation, supports with “Me and my generation—including Seferis—have tried to find the true face of Greece. This was necessary because until then, the true face of Greece was as appeared what the Europeans were viewing as Greece. In order to do this, we had to put an end to the rational tradition that was dominant in the West” [61] (pp. 187–188).
During this historical period exactly, the future tourist image of the islands is born and serves both the promotion of the country abroad and the strengthening of the national identity. “From the 1930s onwards, the touristic industry championed in the local life of the Aegean communities, benefited from the modern perception of the Aegean as a—untouched by time—paradise and converged both with national strategies for the promotion of the national, touristic product and the global developmental objectives for ‘insular’ places” [62] (p. 77).
“The mythology of the Aegean is a mechanism for the sensitization of Greece, which is adopted by many foreigners, since the landscape (and particularly this of the islands) has played a significant role in the discovery of Greece by foreign writers such as Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Stephen Spender or Christopher Isherwood” [59] (p. 392). During this period of time, not only have the scholars “re-invented” Greece, but modern architects as well. The functionalism of the vernacular Aegean architecture motivated them to make retrospective projections to the simplicity of Cycladic structures and associate it with their philosophy. “It is therefore not surprising that vernacular Cycladic architecture became a landmark for the modern movement, but also for the later Functionalism, who deified the ‘simple, geometric volumes’ shining whitewashed under the sunlight” [44] (p. 136). Trying to find a residential archetype in the Cyclades that could confirm the values of modern architecture, they were accused of being generic and universal, in the meaning that modern architecture could not be applied anywhere in the world regardless of context. As Frampton puts it: “It is a fact: every culture cannot sustain and absorb the shock of modern civilization. There is the paradox: how to become modern and to return to sources; how to revive an old, dormant civilization and take part in universal civilization” [63] (pp. 470–471).
In the context of trying to resist to the phenomenon of universalization, a new direction in architecture came into light: Critical Regionalism. Against the international character of modernism, architects of critical regionalism supported that architecture must reflect the culture and tradition of its region through its design and materials. The building is still designed taking into consideration function and rationality, but it draws in the same time influence from traditional styles and uses local materials. “Equally significant are the use of local materials and craftsmanship, and responsiveness to light and climate” [63] (p. 468).
According to Tzonis and Lefaivre, critical regionalism began in Greece with the Thirties projects of Dimitris Pikionis and Aris Konstantinidis [64]. “In Greece, we have somehow recognized as the begetters of the architectural return to the values of the local scape, Dimitris Pikionis and Aris Konstantinidis, who worked supplementarily […]. They both bridged the first with the second half of the 20th century. They both intersected the arts and touched the timeless and the over-local via an inevitably modern thought” [54] (p. 74). Greek architects who endorsed critical regionalism urged the embrace of vernacular architecture with a simultaneous respect on the historical part of architecture which is uniquely linked with each country: according to them, the classical past of Greece, the Byzantium tradition, or the local climate and materials, for example, could not be exported under a unified archetype for universal use.
The borders that define architectural cultural heritage become fuzzy. The constraints of historical pathways exist and the dynamic (external guidance) of tourism and ‘glocalization’ (a combination of globalization and localization) developed a neovernacular environment after the 1930s. The geographic position of Greece as a borderline between the East and the West, and the respective influence on positions and perceptions from both sides often brought the country into a dilemma on which side it should be aligned in cultural and historical terms. On the one hand, the Ottoman rule, the Byzantine tradition, the Orthodoxy, and on the other, ancient Greece as well as the classical period as part of Western civilization, led historically to various redirections on defining national identity.
“This idea of continuity in itself, from Cycladic to Classical art, then moving through Byzantium to modern Greece, was essential to the construction of Greek national identity in the late nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century, and remains in use with no signs of subsiding” [65] (p. 11). The alternations of political narratives explain to a great extent the present form of Greek tourism. The consolidation of a national self-image was realized alongside with tourism’s development. From this perspective, tourism is not only a mean for financial growth but, at the same time, is perceived as a way for validating the main landmarks associated with the nation’s dominant identity. Modern inhabitants feel proud of their land with such a long history, and tourists confirm this by paying a visit.

8. Discussion

This last section intends to present the interplay between the global and the local as a matter for further discussion on identity construction. Ancient Greece serves as a good reference to study this interaction. On the one hand, it serves the foundations of the civilization of modernity and, on the other hand, it works by demonstrating a link with Modern Greece. The ancient ruins are faced as a sacred place which functions as a mythical ancestor of European culture. The symbolic capital of classical antiquity is treated as the cradle of European culture.
The Western originary projections in Greece as the birthplace of European civilization, along with the local seek for an identity, resulted in an obsession for building preservation and landmark designation. Greece was presented as a Western utopia but, at the same time, this was a role that was actually aligned with national tourism policies. Within this framework, heritage and tourism practices establish an identity to the spots that must be maintained. The promoted images encapsulate and shape particular versions of what is considered desirably national and exportable. According to Western rhetoric, ancient Greek monuments are symbolic for the West as a whole. Ancient Greek monuments are seen as major symbolic landmarks of Western civilization and, at the same time, Aegean architecture is sacred since it contributes with its symbolic capital in vernacular architecture. The landmarks must be accurately preserved according to the dominant narrative by remaining in a way like static images.
Ancient ruins are the projection of idealization that goes beyond the urban norms of spaces, even if they are still situated inside the city. In the case of Athens, the increased importance as the capital of the newly established state transformed the city into a significant cultural example of ancient Greece. The West needs Athens to be on the verge between the present and the past. The archaeological heritage remains alive, structured, narrated, ready to be experienced and revived. “The real space of Athens, the geographically defined area that is full of its overvalued ancient history, is the other side of European cities” [66] (p. 35). In the past of this city, the European presence is reflected, and the future is legitimized. In this direction, the main touristic attractions must follow this narrative and, thus, the dominant projected images are white, virgin as they should be in their infancy of history.
In an attempt to contribute to the discussion of this special issue on Re-Inventing the Mediterranean Tourist City, the present article tried to highlight the fixed identity of Greece as a touristic destination. It tried to prove that the rhetoric around the issue of national tourism is multidimensional, since it is directly connected with national constructions around the state’s constitution for domestic consumption as well. The paper gave prominence to glorified perceptions which present Greeks either as rightful owners of the classical heritage, being the descendants of ancient Greeks, or as preindustrial people that live in handmade island constructions. In the direction of notions of continuities, Greece is presented through a static image based on one-dimensional heritage interpretations.


(PhD Scholarship) “This article is based on work supported by the General Secretariat for Research and Technology (GSRT) & the Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation (HFRI)”.


Special Account for Research Funds of the National Technical University of Athens.

Conflicts of Interest

“The author declares no conflict of interest. The General Secretariat for Research and Technology (GSRT) & the Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation (HFRI) had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results”.


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Figure 1. Ancient Greece (temple of Poseidon) (a) hand by hand with Cyclades (b). Posters by the Greek National Tourism Organization. Communication strategy of Greece in 2007, Campaign entitled Greece: Explore your senses. Source:
Figure 1. Ancient Greece (temple of Poseidon) (a) hand by hand with Cyclades (b). Posters by the Greek National Tourism Organization. Communication strategy of Greece in 2007, Campaign entitled Greece: Explore your senses. Source:
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Figure 2. The area of the Agora before the start of excavations in 1931, view from the west. Camp II, J., McK., The Athenian Agora: A Short Guide to the Excavations; American school of classical studies at Athens (ASCA) in collaboration with the Packard Humanities Institute: Athens, Greece, 2003; p. 48.
Figure 2. The area of the Agora before the start of excavations in 1931, view from the west. Camp II, J., McK., The Athenian Agora: A Short Guide to the Excavations; American school of classical studies at Athens (ASCA) in collaboration with the Packard Humanities Institute: Athens, Greece, 2003; p. 48.
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Figure 3. Panorama of the Agora excavations, also from the west in 2002. Camp II, J., McK., The Athenian Agora: A Short Guide to the Excavations; American school of classical studies at Athens (ASCA) in collaboration with the Packard Humanities Institute: Athens, Greece, 2003; p. 48.
Figure 3. Panorama of the Agora excavations, also from the west in 2002. Camp II, J., McK., The Athenian Agora: A Short Guide to the Excavations; American school of classical studies at Athens (ASCA) in collaboration with the Packard Humanities Institute: Athens, Greece, 2003; p. 48.
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Figure 4. Santorini by Sigfried Giedion during the 4th CIAM, 1933, Archives ETH Zurich.
Figure 4. Santorini by Sigfried Giedion during the 4th CIAM, 1933, Archives ETH Zurich.
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Figure 5. Classical Greece promoted by the Greek National Tourism Organization. Posters from the 1910s, 1950s, and 1980s, respectively. Source:
Figure 5. Classical Greece promoted by the Greek National Tourism Organization. Posters from the 1910s, 1950s, and 1980s, respectively. Source:
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Figure 6. Cyclades promoted by the Greek National Tourism Organization. Posters from the 1930s, 1960s, and 1980s respectively. Source:
Figure 6. Cyclades promoted by the Greek National Tourism Organization. Posters from the 1930s, 1960s, and 1980s respectively. Source:
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Figure 7. Screenshots from the film “Immortal Land”, 1958.
Figure 7. Screenshots from the film “Immortal Land”, 1958.
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Figure 8. Representations of the Greek islands: Poster of the film “Before Midnight” (2013) (a) and screenshot of the film “Zorba the Greek” (1964) (b).
Figure 8. Representations of the Greek islands: Poster of the film “Before Midnight” (2013) (a) and screenshot of the film “Zorba the Greek” (1964) (b).
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Figure 9. View of Santorini island (a), The Acropolis in Athens (b), Typical orthodox church (c), Poseidon’s temple in Sounio (d). Campaign entitled Visit Greece: A 365 Day Destination in 2017 produced by the Greek National Tourism Organization (EOT), Best Video in Europe award for 2017 at the second World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Video Competition. Source:
Figure 9. View of Santorini island (a), The Acropolis in Athens (b), Typical orthodox church (c), Poseidon’s temple in Sounio (d). Campaign entitled Visit Greece: A 365 Day Destination in 2017 produced by the Greek National Tourism Organization (EOT), Best Video in Europe award for 2017 at the second World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Video Competition. Source:
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Figure 10. Sifnos island by Henri Cartier–Bresson, Greece, 1961. Source:
Figure 10. Sifnos island by Henri Cartier–Bresson, Greece, 1961. Source:
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Figure 11. Genii Loci II, 1970, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas (1906–1994), Benaki Museum Archives in Athens.
Figure 11. Genii Loci II, 1970, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas (1906–1994), Benaki Museum Archives in Athens.
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