Promoting culture on a tourist island

• Category: Interviews

Hosted in a 17th century elegant mansion that used to belong to the most powerful family of the Cyclades, the Cultural Centre Megaro Gyzi makes sure that visitors get in touch not only with the natural beauty of the island but also with its long and rich culture. The Cultural Centre "Megaro Gyzi" is a non-lucrative institution that was established in 1980 with the initiative and financial support of the Catholic Diocese of Santorini, aiming to contribute in the cultural development and the promotion of the island. That is why it hosts permanent and temporary exhibitions, holds since 2005 an international piano competition and organizes the Megaro Gyzi Festival every August. Mr Yannis Papaconstantinou, the artistic director of this cultural centre, talked to us about the work of Megaro Gyzi and how it gradually became such an important factor in the intellectual life of the island.

Mr Papaconstantinou, this Cultural Centre is housed in one of the last preserved Venetians mansions in Cyclades...

Indeed, Megaro Gyzi is one of the few 17th century mansions that survived the earthquakes of 1956. After these devastating earthquakes, only the ground floor survived, where the subsidiary rooms of this mansion were found. This is the only building of that era on Santorini that the ground rooms have been built around a patio and this gives a special architectural style to the building.

At the entrance of the Museum, there is the coat of arms of the Gyzi family, one of the oldest families of Santorini who settled there from Italy in the 15th century. The last offspring of the Gyzis didn't have children and donated this house to the Catholic Diocese of Santorini in the end of the 19th century. Later on, the Catholic Diocese provided this building for the needs of the Cultural Centre. The mansion was renovated in the 1980s in accordance to the traditional architecture and also to serve the needs and functions of the Centre.

Can you tell us a few words about your permanent exhibitions? How did they Centre obtain them?

Megaro Gyzi hosts 6 permanent exhibitions. The first one is a collection of original gravures of European artists with maps, landscapes and local costumes of the Cyclades from the 15th till the 19th century. These gravures have been bought by Megaro Gyzi in the 1970s and 1980s from different European towns. The second exhibition includes old historical documents dating from 1573-1819 that give a lot of information about the public and private life on our island from the early 16th till the 19th century.

The third collection consists of paintings inspired by Santorini. These paintings are work of Greek artists and were donated by them to the Museum. The fourth one is a collection of paintings by Greek and foreign artists, donated by L and M. Pintos. Our fifth collection has old photographs (from 1930-1956) that show Santorini before the earthquakes. Finally, the sixth collection has valuable and interesting fossils from Santorini. The Museum is open from May 1st to October 31st, every day except Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Approximately how many visitors do you receive? Do they like the museum and the island generally?

The Museum receives about 6,000 visitors every year who admire the exhibits, the patio and the unique architecture of Megaro Gyzi. As for Santorini, I don't think my comments are necessary, as it is known all over the world.

Is there a tour for foreign visitors?

Most of our visitors are foreigners and come either in groups with their own guide or independently. All our exhibits are labeled in Greek and in English.

What can someone buy from your gift shop?

In the gift shop, there are the editions of the Cultural Centre of "Megaro Gyzi", many books and albums related to Santorini and Cyclades in general, original gravures of famous Greek artists and copies from the exhibits of our permanent exhibitions. The aim of our gift shop is to broadly distribute these copies for the promotion of our Museum and of Santorini and also to financially support the Museum and its activities.

Every summer, you organize a Festival. What kind of events does it include?

The Cultural Centre "Megaro Gyzi", since it was established, organizes many cultural events, particularly in the tourist season, including painting exhibitions, concerts, lectures and theatrical performances. The aim is to contribute in the cultural development of the island and to offer activities to visitors and locals. This year, the Megaro Gyzi Festival 2009 lasts from 1st to 23rd of August and the entrance is free. Many events have been organized and we can say that this festival has become a tradition for Santorini, after so many years that it is organized.