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The time and the place

The exhibition focuses mainly on the Melian society from 1850 until about 1930.

In this period the population increases significantly: from 3.604 inhabitants in 1861, to 4.201 in 1879, 5.393 in 1907, and 4.941 in 1928.

The island's prosperity is mainly a result of the reach mineral resources and of shipping.

Agriculture is comparatively limited.

Minerals and ores are being transported to Piraeus by Melian diesel sailing ships that return...


From the old...

In 1967 the Melian association in Athens decides to establish the Folk & Historic Museum of Melos. For this purpose, the house of Filippos Ikonomou family is bought, situated at a privileged spot at Plaka. Zafiris Vaos, a Melian folklorist, undertakes to set up a collection and stage an exhibition. He aims at presenting "the Melian house of the 19th century". Setting the example himself, he invites his fellow-islanders to donate family heirlooms to the museum. At the same time, other objects are bought to complete the collection. The objects - coming from mansions, urban and rural houses - are exhibited in the rooms of the house according to their function. In time the collection is enriched, but the objects get crammed in the existing space, the exhibitional view of Z. Vaos is no longer perceptible. The need to rearrange the exhibits and conserve the objects becomes an imperative. the new museum

A team consisting of museologists, an architect and art conservators undertakes the re-exhibition project. The team aims at presenting aspects of the island's social, economical and cultural life at the turn of the 20th century. In keeping with the spirit of the old exhibition, selected objects from the collection are presented in the rooms of the house according to their use. The objects are invested with concise texts and visual material.

The point is not to represent exactly a specific Melian house type. Starting from often heterogeneous objects, the purpose is to enlighten aspects of the inhabitants' lives: their indoor and outdoor activities, foreign influences, their dietary and clothing preferences, their entertainment, their relation to nature. The whole attempt aspires to offer stimuli from a way of life different from our own, as to the space arrangement and the local resources exploitation.


The exhibition focuses mainly on the Melian society from 1850 until about 1930.

In this period the population increases significantly: from 3.604 inhabitants in 1861, to 4.201 in 1879, 5.393 in 1907, and 4.941 in 1928. Large part of the population is congregated around the capital, Plaka, at the foot of the castle, while many families already live in Adamas, the port. The population is invigorated and partly reorganized by successive waves of refuges, from Chios and Crete in the 1820's and 1830's, and later from Asia Minor. The coexistence of old and new inhabitants initially causes problems to be gradually resolved, as visitors and struggles become common.

The island's prosperity is mainly a result of the reach mineral resources and of shipping.

Agriculture is comparatively limited. On the contrary, the production of gypsum, millstones and salt, controlled by state monopoly, is very lucrative, as the island supplies markets both in Greece and abroad. At the turn of the 20th century, the exploitation of manganese, sulphur and kaolin deposits boosts the local economy, creates new jobs and new social contents.

Minerals and ores are being transported to Piraeus by Melian diesel sailing ships that return to the island loaded with merchandise. At the same time, experienced Melian sea-men and engineers work at the Suez Canal, thus providing a comfortable living for their families back on the island.

The presence of many European ships in the island's harbour, mainly during war operations, creates new economical prospects for many islanders. For example, during World War I, the demand for local hand-woven material by the crews of Franco-English ships brings about an unexpected flourishing of weaving!

Trade and shipping reinforce the bourgeoisie, who thus consolidates its position next to the island's nobility. However, the majority of the population are fishermen, farmers, labourers and craftsmen.



Reception room, the mirror of the family

The reception room was the central and more spacious room in the house that, in contrast with the auxiliary areas, was especially trim: the furniture, lamps, tapestries, carpets, embroideries and other articles adorning the room reflected the social and economical status of the family. The reception room ("sala") was the public room of the house. It was the scene of all important events in the life of the family - like matchmaking, engagements and funerals. Here the family hosted its guests, organized parties and sometimes "soirées". Soirées were evening parties that took place in almost every village on Melos, mostly during the carnival period. Leading figure of the soirée was the violinist, who played accompanied by a lute player. The violinists usually engaged a coffee house, tavern or, occasionally, the reception room of a spacious house.

Groups of friend were gathered to listen to the music and dance all night long. Customarily, in soirées couples would dance two by two. However, one could shout "Hold!" and interrupt their dance in order to replace one of the male partners, often leading to misunderstandings and fights.


The loom room supports home economies

The loom and its paraphernalia, the cushion and the bobbins for making lace, and the sewing machine had their place in every household. Everyday and best clothes for the family were made in the loom room. Here were also made all the textiles that covered and adorned every surface in the house; the daughter's trousseau - passport to her marriage - was made here too. Bed sheets, blankets, towels, swaddling clothes, tablecloths, curtains, carpets, shepherbs' capes, made of cotton, sheep or goat-wool, were woven on the loom - also called "krevataria" since it could easily be transformed into a bed. ("krevati"). Preparing the loom was a hard task that required great experience and patience, and was usually carried out by four people. The degree of difficulty depended on the size and, mainly, on the pattern of the textile.

In the beginning, the weaver had to be concentrated on her work, but as she got used to the pattern she could talk or sing while weaving. When working on easy patterns such as simple stripes, a weaver could weave up to 6 meters per day, while on difficult ones she did not weave more than 20 cm.

Underwear and working clothes, either of cotton or wool, were sewn at home, by hand or sewing machine. However, more formal clothes for holidays or weddings, as well as noble or bourgeois clothes were made by professional tailors. They were elegant clothes with rich adornments and accessories. They were made of luxurious materials, and followed the European bourgeois fashion. Creating such clothes was a special event: each one of them could be worn by two or three generations! Most of the clothes, as well as bed sheets and tablecloths, were adorned with linen, silk or cotton bobbin-lace made by the housewife. Easy to use and carry, the bobbins and pillow gave the housewife the opportunity to work in company, inside the house or out in the courtyard.

Weaving and lace production often went beyond home economies. For many women that were not well of, it was a means to make a living, since these products could be sold to both locals and foreigners.


In the kitchen the fire is burning

Coffee mills and roasters; mortars and grindstones; kneading troughs and rolling pins; baking pans, coffee and cooking pots; safes for preserving food; small and big jars; jugs, dishes, cutlery; a whole little world of clay, metal and wood utensils, in various forms and sizes, used by the housewife for cooking, storing and preserving the products - a task hard to carry out without electricity. The kitchen is at the same time a storeroom, a workroom and the place of everyday family gathering. Central position in this simple room occupies the fireplace with its chimney, where the cooking fire burns and the coals for the heating of the house and the ironing of the clothes are prepared. In another corner of the kitchen is built the basin, equipped with a drain to carry away the waste water.

Meals change during the year, becoming richer on holidays and extremely plain during fasting periods. Still, eating habits always follow nature's tempo, since recipes are based on seasonal products available on the island: wheat, olive oil, wine, pulses, vegetables, fruits, fish, seafood and meat.

The products of the island are not only used for food. Practical doctors use them to prepare traditional remedies and nostrums that cure diseases or simply relieve people in their metaphysical fears. Those nostrums are chiefly made of various medicinal herbs - fennel, parsley, cress, chamomile - combined with other substances such as honey, beeswax, olive oil, sulphur, cumin and castor oil.

The lower classes of the island, who do not trust scientists, doctors and pharmacists, resort to these nostrums for any kind of affection: snake bites, diarrhoea, insomnia, even to help a woman get pregnant.


Bedroom, the cradle of the family

The use of every room in a house is determined by the needs of the residents. At the turn of the 20th century the need for individual sleeping rooms has not yet arisen, privacy being a notion unknown to the majority of Melians. Therefore, there is only one bedroom in the house, the "kamara", intended for the married couple. Children sleep here too as babies, but as they grow, all brothers and sisters sleep together in a separate room, if there is one, or on a special wooden platform somewhere else in the house. If each place in the house reflects different human qualities or situations, the bedroom is connected with marriage, the foundation of each family. The symbols of marriage, the wedding wreaths, are kept in the bedroom in their special case next to the icons of the saints that protect the family.

Marriage is one of the most important landmarks in life, since it marks the transition to a new situation. Preparations for this transition begin years before and go along with the preparations of the trousseaux that the bride and groom bring to their new home.

The trousseaux of the newly-weds, as well as clothes and house-hold linen later acquired by the family, are kept in the bedroom inside drawers, chests and wardrobes. Special delicacies and valuables, such as fruit preserves and fine services, are kept in a cupboard that can be locked.

In the bedroom we also find the basin and ewer on the washstand, for everyday washing of the hands and face. There is no separate room for bathing; it is not considered as necessary, since people see hygiene in a different way than today. Wiping of body parts, as well as changing and washing underwear is enough to remove sweat and dirt. Bathing takes place only on special occasions, sometimes in hot springs; it is a ritual connected with healing, entertainment or sexual pleasure.


The winepress room and its multiple functions

A proper home should have its winepress, its cistern and its oven (Z. Vaos, "Traditional viniculture of Melos and wine")

The winepress room is at the same time storeroom, sometimes even bedroom. Built on whitewash and porcelain clay, it is the only place in the house where mice cannot nest. Therefore tools, vessels and provisions are kept here. If the family is large and the house is too small, the children can also sleep here, on a wooden platform. The winepress room fulfils its main function during the "vedema", the crushing of the grapes. A few days before men clean and disinfect the wine barrels, and women whitewash the winepress ("patitiri") and the vessel ("dochio") where the grape juice, the must, will flow.

They also wash all the utensils for the "vedema", the funnel used to fill the barrels and the pitcher used to measure the must. The treader ("patitis") undertakes to crash the grapes, treading heavily on them with quasidancing moves and under the influence of wine. Next, the grapes are being squeezed once more in a mechanic press to extract what is left of their juice. The must is kept in barrels until it becomes a mellow dark red wine. The grape peels do not go to waste, since they are the raw material for a strong spirit, the "tsikoudia". The first must is also used to make sweets: a kind of must jelly ("moustalevria") and grape juice syrup ("petimezi").  




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