Drama Cultural Route

2500 YEARS OF HISTORY IN ONE HOUR First part - a brief history of the City of Drama



THE TOWN OF DRAMA is first mentioned by its name in the second half of the 12th century in the written record of a pilgrimage by the Spanish-Jewish Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela. Several suggestions have been made over  time as to the origin of the name “Drama” (deriving supposedly from words, such as “Daravescus”, “Dirrama” or “Dragma”), some of which are related to the region’s abundant water sources or to the small size of the town  throughout its history. However, the etymology of its name remains obscure.  According to the archaeological data, the history of Drama begins in the Middle Neolithic Period (5th  millennium BC), though excavations confirm that the first farmers and stockbreeders settled in the wider area  from as early as the 6th millennium BC. The prehistoric “town” was located at the site of today’s commune of Arcadikos. The reconstruction of a Neolithic abode with its pottery, tools, jewelry and statuettes at the Archaeological Museum of Drama gives a clear picture of the daily life of that period. 
  The Middle Neolithic dwellings of the Arcadikos settlement were rectangular, single-roomed and made of bricks, mud and tree branches. The pole holes found by the excavators on the floor of these dwellings prove that the multiple poles were characteristic of these constructions. The floor was made of trampled clay. More than ten such settlements have been located thus far in the region of Drama. The settlement of Sitagroi, one of the best-studied prehistoric archaeologi-cal sites, has yielded remnants of houses, cooking hearths, ovens, tools, animal bones, charred seeds and fruit, and numerous ceramics. The variety of utensils and objects used by prehistoric folk is truly impressive.
  The settlements of the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age have not yet been systematically excavated. However, the artifacts from the tombs of Potamoi, Exochi and from the burial ground of the “Industrial Area of Drama” provide important information. During these periods, the region of Drama had established relations with the Balkan hinterland, as well as with the Aegean coastline.
  Early Geometrical Style ceramics discovered in the tombs of the “Industrial Area of Drama” and in a cave of the region of the village Potamoi belong to the Archaic Period. These ceramic artifacts show that during the 7th century BC Drama established commercial relations with the Greek colonies of the Macedonian and Thracian coastlines.
  The ancient town seems to appear in its present location around the late 4th century BC. The presence of ancient Thracians in the District of Drama is verified by literary and epigraphic sources. After the inclusion of the region into the Macedonian Kingdom by Philip II, Drama came under the strong influence of such major Greek urban centers as Amphipolis and Philippi. Coins of the Macedonian Kings, Thessaloniki, Pella and Amphipolis circulated in the area of Drama.
  Viticulture appeared in the area of Drama from the Neolithic Period onward. From the 4th century BC up to the Roman Period, the town of Drama and its region worshiped the god Dionysus (Latin Liber Pater), who was the god of wine. In town, there existed an organized sanctuary dedicated to Dionysus, where announcements of royal edicts were made with special inscriptions. Greek and Thracian names were found in the dedicatory inscriptions of  the sanctuary. The Dionysian sanctuary of Drama continued to function normally till the 4th century AD, when Christianity prevailed definitively. Two valuable busts of Dionysus are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Drama. One of them, found in Drama, is of outstanding craftsmanship, belongs to the Hellenistic Period and represents the god at a mature age, bearded, with a crown of ivy and vine branches on the head.  In 1991, in the area of the village Kali Vrisi (District of Drama) excavations brought to light most important discoveries. A 34x16m rectangular building was found, with well-preserved masonry at sufficient height above the foundation on the whole length of its perimeter. The fragments of a large jar, ritual jars and other specific objects confirm that it was indeed a sanctuary of Dionysian worship.  In the Roman Period Drama was a village (“vicus”) dependent on the Latin colony of Philippi (founded in 42 BC), which explains the numerous Latin inscriptions that are continually brought to light. Indeed, many inscriptions have been found in churches or on walls of houses. This was confirmed by two Frenchmen, the archaeologist L. Heuzey and the architect H. Daumet, who visited Drama in 1862. The town was an important road post situated on the Roman main road that linked Philippi to Herakleia Sindike (Tzoumaya). On Middle-Age Itineraries, that echo older Roman Bust of Dionysus (Hellenic Period) Segment of the Byzantine walls road maps, Drama wrongly bears the name “Daravescos”, which, in reality, belongs to the Thracian (Hedonian) town with the name Draviskos (Prefecture of Serres). The plain of Drama was scattered with villages, settlements and rustic villas. An important settlement seems to have been at the site of nowadays Kalampaki (Prefecture of Drama), located on the route of the “Via Egnatia”.
  In the Byzantine Period, Drama was a “polichnion” (small fortified town), which developed in the shadow of Serres and Philippi, two neighboring cities with a brilliant history. From the 9th to the 13th century Drama gained commercial and strategic importance and is then referred to as “Darma”, “Dramme” and “Trahmis”. Its population counted approximately 1,500-2,000 inhabitants. 
Among them was a flourishing Jewish colony mentioned by Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, who travelled through Drama prior to 1173. Other notables were also linked to the Middle Age Drama: curopalate (imperial court official of the highest rank) Alexios Maniakis, the imperial family of Comneni (Alexios Comnenus, illegitimate son of Manuel I Comnenus, 12th century) and the Palaeologan Dynasty.
  The Franks ruled the town and its region from 1206 to 1223. In 1224 Drama was included in the State of Epirus by Theodore Dukas-Comnenus.
  We know that during the period 1224-1230 Georgios Kinnamos was governor of the Castle of Drama.
  We also know that Empress Irene Palaelogina (Yolanda of Montferrat), lawful owner of the region by feudal right of inheritance, died in Drama in 1317. She was buried at the Castle and it is supposed that the small church of the “Taxiarches” (Venizelos Street) was her burial chapel. The successive occupations by Franks (Geoffrey Villehardouin, Boniface of Montferrat, Eric of Flanders, 1206-1221/2) and by Serbs (Stephan Dusan, king of Serbs, Caesar Voichnas, 1344/45-1371), as well as internal ten-sions among the Byzantines gave Drama strategic importance and made it a military and religious center (“thema” and metropolis respectively).
  The Turks definitively conquered the town around 1383/84. Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi gave a picturesque description of the town in the last quarter of the 17th century. According to the traveller, the Christian population continued to live within the Byzantine walls, while the Turks had settled in the area outside the walls (the “varoş”). The arrival of new Jewish settlers (Ashkenazim and Sephardim) attests to the town’s commercial importance. The staple crops of the broader region were rice, cotton and, to a lesser degree, sesame and fruit. Flax was also cultivated, of which famous linen fabric was woven. The thread mills and dyeing workshops grew in number. At that time, the number of inhabitants reached 5,000-6,000.
  The 18th century marks the peak for Drama. The farming of tobacco progressively replaced that of rice, which was then no longer economically profitable, and by the end of the 19th century tobacco had become the most important crop. The soil and the climate are among the factors that explain the considerable rise in production. Superior quality tobaccos were called “başı bağlı” and “basma” and were exported to Germany, Russia, Italy, Austria-Hungary, the Danubian Principalities and the United Kingdom. Drama and its region were exporting their product from the harbor of Kavala. More and more firms were established in Kavala, but also in Drama, such as the Ottoman Monopoly Regie, Commercial Co, M. L. Herzog & Cie.
  The Greek population experienced a new blossoming beginning in the 1880s, when merchants and craftsmen from Epirus settled in town. The population then reached 6,000 -7,000 inhabitants, one fourth of which were Greek Christians.
   Mahmud Dramali Pasha was an important personality of the Ottoman Period in Drama. He was born ca. 1780 in Drama. He spent his childhood at the sultan’s palace in Constantinople, where he won the favor of the Valide Sultan (queen Mother). He was educated in various military camps and became an excellent soldier. He managed to become governor of Drama thanks to his powerful connections. He was ambitious and lived in great wealth. In June 1822, Dramali -as a “serasker”, i.e. head of the largest Turkish army, which had until then been used to suppress the Greek revolution, suffered a crushing defeat at “Megala Dervenia” of Corinth by Theodoros Kolokotronis. He died in November 1822 in the besieged Corinth.
During the Macedonian Struggle (1902-1908) Drama had the good fortune to have as metropolitan bishop Saint Chrysostomos Kalafatis, who later became metropolitan bishop of Smyrna and an Orthodox Christian martyr. Chrysostomos was born in 1867 in Triglia (district of Propontis) and showed from a young age his wish to become a clergyman. He was unanimously elected metropolitan bishop of “Drama Philippi and Zichna” on 23rd May 1902, and kept his throne untill 1910. During this time, he faced the terrorist activities of the Bulgarian revolutionary committees as well as the Rumanian propaganda of that time, developed a Greek national movement in Drama and himself took the command of the fight against the Bulgarian bandits. He built the imposing “School of the Orthodox Community of Drama” and organized his flock, in order to be ready to efficiently confront the multiple pressures and threats it was subjected to. The Turkish administration was annoyed with his activities and removed him twice from his position. In 1910 he was appointed metropolitan bishop of Smyrna. During the 1922 National Disaster, he refused to abandon his flock, although he had the opportunity to leave and save his life. He was handed over to a raging Turkish mob and was brutally lynched on 27th August 1922.Detail of the Ottoman fountain‘‘Ekpaedeuteria’’: School of the Greek Orthodox Community of Drama Statue of the metropolitan bishop of Drama Chrysostomos
Drama was first occupied by the Bulgarians in October 1912 during the First Balkan War and then freed by the Greek army on 1st July 1913 (Second Balkan War). During World War I, the town underwent a second painful Bulgarian occupation (1916-1918) and was conceded again to Greece with the Treaty of Neuilly (1919). After the 1922 National Disaster, Drama was flooded by thousands of refugees coming from the region of Pontοs (Black Sea), Eastern Thrace and Asia Minor, while the Muslim population left for Turkey, in keeping with the implementation of the Population Exchange Agreement (Treaty of Lausanne, 1923). With their ambition and hard work, the new residents contributed to the economic development of Drama, not only within the city but in the rural regions as well. The population of Drama doubled from 1905 to 1928, and reached 32,000 residents; the tobacco production in Macedonia nearly quadrupled in the same time period. In 1930 the important building of the “Greek Tobacco Institute” was constructed on the Eastern outskirts of Drama for the scientific study of and research on the optimum growing conditions of tobacco. 
  During World War II, Drama endured a third cruel Bulgarian occupation. In late September 1941, an uprising of the Greek population against the Bulgarians broke out in Drama and several villages of its region. This uprising was in fact the first in Greece and the second in Europe massive act of resistance against the forces of the Axis (Germany, Italy and Japan). Under the pretext of reprisals, it was followed by a blind slaughter of innocents in Drama and nearby villages, such as Doxato, Koudounia, Choristi, Hadriani, Prosotsani, Kallithea, etc. During this same period, the Greek-Jewish population of Drama, which had been for centuries an integral part of the town’s economically dynamic population, was wholly exterminated by the Nazis with the complicity of the Bulgarians.
Today, according to the 2011 census, Drama counts 44,823 inhabitants. One of its most characteristic features remains its abundance of water and lush vegetation. It has always had many entertainment facilities and this tradition is still carried on today, with its many pastry shops, cafés, taverns, nightclubs and others. 
The town also features institutions of higher education in Forestry, Oenology and Land Architecture (Technical Institute of Kavala). The annual “Greek and International Short Film Festival” is a significant cultural event. Exhibitions, lectures, performances, conferences and various musical and theatrical events are organized throughout the whole year. Its cultural activities are supported by dozens of cultural, philanthropic, athletic and nature loving associations. 
  The contemporary history of Drama is also closely linked to the successes of the local football (soccer) team “Doxa Dramas” (founded in 1918), which particularly impressed the whole Greek public in the 1950s and 1960s.
  The town’s present shape is, to a large extent, the result of the building activity that began in the 1970s. However, many important parts and remnants of the Byzantine, Ottoman and Post-Ottoman Periods have been saved in the historical center of the town.

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