Vassilis Tsitsanis (1915-84) penned wonderful melodies, wrote lyrics that spoke directly and emotively to the listener and was a master of the bouzouki. During his lifetime the Greek folk singer reached out to a broad public and today he continues to gain new fans from every walk of life.
The town of Trikala in central Greece, where Tsitsanis was born in January 1915, has for years been trying to create a museum befitting one of Greece’s greatest rebetiko composers and singers – the artist who defined the future of Greek music in the 20th century.
Housed in a 16th century Ottoman bath house which served as a prison in more recent times, the Vassilis Tsitsanis Museum – Research Center has finally been completed and is slated for inauguration this month. It will open with a temporary exhibit that is set to be enriched with more material in the months to come.
“We had to open now because the program we were receiving funding from was about to end,” says the new institution’s vice president, Vasilena Mitsiadi, who is currently the acting president. She explains that some work is still ongoing and that once the museum is in full working order it will showcase a permanent exhibition on Tsitsanis with memorabilia pertaining to his life, including items donated by his family.
The new museum comprises four halls of roughly 100 square meters each – the same size as the cells that once housed 70 prisoners.
The first hall will feature audiovisual material and a chronology of career landmarks such as Tsitsanis’s collaborations with Marika Ninou, Sotiria Bellou, Grigoris Bithikotsis and, of course, Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis, both renowned composers who were inspired by the rebetiko master.
“The second hall will include material from an exhibition curated by Costas Hadzidoulis on the 25th anniversary of the composer’s death which he has donated to the museum. The same hall will also have an interactive display allowing visitors to listen to songs from old vinyl records, including some original versions, on the telephones once used by inmates to talk to their visitors. This is the most impressive part of the collection, especially for younger visitors,” says Mitsiadi.
The third hall will be used for various functions and events, while the last room is all about the history of Trikala, the Ottoman baths and the prison, which closed in 2006 – along with songs written by Tsitsanis about the prison experience.
The permanent exhibition is expected to be completed by the end of this year with personal items belonging to the composer that have been listed for preservation by the Culture Ministry’s Directorate for Modern Cultural Heritage. The objects include gramophones and cameras, among others.
The research part of the museum is also responsible for storing all of Tsitsanis’s recordings in digital form and putting together a collection of books.
“The hamam that was discovered during construction work is part of the visitor experience,” says Mitsiadi.
The prison was built directly above the Ottoman baths in 1896, according to research conducted by the 19th Ephorate for Byzantine Antiquities. The existence of the baths was discovered thanks to an archaeologist working at the site who noticed that one of walls on the ground floor was particularly thick while conducting an inspection so that the site could be transferred to the ownership of the Trikala municipal authority.
The hamam is thought to be one of the biggest in the area and had two entrances, one near the Koursoum Mosque leading into a steam room for men, and the other that led into an area strictly restricted to women.