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Carnival is usually associated with colourful parades and fun. The people of the small town of Naoussa in Northern Greece, though celebrate the old custom of ‘the Janissaries and the Boules’. It is uncertain whether this custom, celebrated in mid-February, during Carnival owes its birth to the ancient Dionysian masquerades or to the ottoman influence.
During the time of the Ottoman dominion, there used to be the “devsirme”: Ottoman army officials roamed the villages of the empire recruiting the best youth as janissaries, the special forces of the Ottoman army. The pain would be great for the poor parents who would see their children taken away, never to come back. In places like Naoussa, some people used to dress the most stout and good-natured boys as girls – the Boules – to deceive the Ottomans.
Nowadays, following a precise ceremony, the young boys are dressed as Janissaries and Boules wearing the characteristic mask that they call Prosopon, the Face, and dance around the streets of Naoussa in the sound of the Ntaouli, the drum, and the Zournas, the fife. BOREAS organises special tours to attend one of the most impressive popular celebrations and explore the immense Greek folkloric wealth!
‘The Janissaries and the Boules’ is a special folk tour! The popular celebrations only take place on festivities once a year and they attract people from various places. Especially the ‘Boules’ is one of the most spectacular and famous customs of Greece. We are not limiting ourselves to just attending the celebration, but we are visiting museums and archaeological sites in the surrounding region, trying to connect this happening to its geographical and historical ambient:
Upon arrival at Thessaloniki, depending on flights schedule, we take a tour through the second biggest city of Greece. Thessaloniki was founded in 315 b.C. by king Cassander of Macedonia, brother-in-law of Alexander the Great and reached the peak of its glory in the ancient times under the Romans. Under emperor Diocletian it became one of the four capitals of the Roman empire. Thessaloniki has been second capital of both the byzantine and the ottoman empires and a very important city for the Sefardi Jews, who arrived here from Spain in 1492.
Along the tour, we are visiting the complex of Caesar Galerius’ imperial palace with the Rotonda and Galerius’ Arch. Among the byzantine churches of Thessaloniki, all of them recognised as heritage of mankind by the UNESCO, we are visiting the Hagia Sofia, the Acheiropoiitos and Hagios Demetrios, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. Passing by the Roman forum, we head for the Folklife and Ethnological museum of Thessaloniki, where we can experience the wealth of the local popular culture. At the end of the visits, transfer to the hotel, accommodation, dinner and overnight stay in Thessaloniki.
After breakfast, we leave Thessaloniki and start to cross the big plain of the region of Macedonia. The village of Meliki, in the middle of the plain is homeland of scholar Giorgis Melikis, who studied Greek popular culture and created the Mask museum. Through the collections of the museum, we are discovering the various traditions that exist throughout the region and connect the popular happenings, celebrations and events to the ancient Dionysian cult. In Meliki we may also have the opportunity to assist to the event of the Kalogeros, brought here by the refugees from Asia Minor after 1922. After the visits, departure for Naoussa. Accommodation in the hotel, time at leisure, dinner and overnight stay in Naoussa.
Breakfast and departure from the hotel. The bouloukia, groups of dancers, receive the permission from the mayor of Naoussa to start the event: they wander through the streets of Naoussa from house to house, representing the ancient celebrations as they have known by the elders. They end up at the main square of Naoussa in a great celebration. Locals and visitors enjoy the local Xinomavro wine, dance and enjoy! By the afternoon, we are visiting a local winemaker to learn about the local Xinomavro wine and its production. We will find out how winemaking is deeply connected with local culture and then visit the nearby location of ancient Mieza, where Aristotle, the famous philosopher, held his school to educate the young Alexander. Return to the hotel, time at leisure, dinner and overnight stay in Naoussa.
After breakfast, we leave Naoussa. Our first stop is Veria, an important Macedonian city that grew big and important also in the byzantine and the ottoman times thanks to its location on the Egnatian Way, the road axis built by the Romans to connect the Adriatic Sea to the Bosforus. From Veria we are reaching Vergina, ancient Aigai, first capital of the Macedonian kingdom and later sacred city and place of burial of the Macedonian kings. In 336 b.C. king Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, was assassinated and buried here. His tomb came to light in the 70’s, full of stunning, rich findings in excellent state of conservation! After visiting the Great Tumulus museum, we are making our way towards Thessaloniki. Upon arrival, accommodation in the hotel, time at leisure, dinner and overnight stay in Thessaloniki.
Breakfast and departure from the hotel. Depending on the schedule of the flights, we are visiting the museum of byzantine culture of Thessaloniki. Departure towards the international airport of Thessaloniki, in good advance for check-in. Arrival to the airport and end of services.