Eleni Tzortzopoulou: ‘Kythera Migration Museum may be ready in three years’

By Ilias Karagiannis.

The citizens of Kythera lived and live on an island-crossroads of the Mediterranean. The arid landscape and, many times, adverse life forced the inhabitants to emigrate. From Smyrna and Alexandria to the United States of America and of course, Australia.

It is estimated that about 40,000 citizens from Kythera live in Australia. Tsirigotes – as you will hear them say with pride distinct in the timbre of their voice.

In recent years, there has been a tendency to return to the island, which has migration inscribed in its DNA.

For this reason, there is no more suitable place in Greece to create the first ‘Migration Museum’ than at Agia Pelagia of Kythera – the port from where thousands of Kytherians left in search of a better life for them and their families.

We have referred to this flagship initiative in an interview with the Mayor of Kythira, Efstratios Charhalakis, in The Greek Herald and we have also reported on the visit to the island of the Australian Ambassador to Greece, Arthur Spyros.

The “soul” of this initiative is a Greek Australian, Eleni Tzortzopoulou, who grew up in Sydney and now lives in Kythera.

“Today I could not live anywhere else other than Kythera,” Tzortzopoulou says passionately in her interview with The Greek Herald.

We spoke with her to find out when the ‘Migration Museum’ will be built in Agia Pelagia, what the organisation of the “Friends of Museums of Kythera” needs to implement the grandiose vision and how the community can help.

“If all goes well, the museum will be ready three years from now. It is an ambitious goal that we have since – as you well know – in Greece everything is delayed,” Tzortzopoulou reveals.

“The museum will be built in Agia Pelagia. The location is symbolic because it was the port of departure for most Kytherians, who took the path of migration.

“The building you see in the plans has, in addition to the museum, a large event hall, an open amphitheatre, spaces for training and seminars, and a rooftop garden for the realisation of events in the summer.

“It will be a place of culture and education that will have the most modern technology.

“Following the signing of the memorandum with the municipality of Kythera (19/6/2020), the competition for the architectural plans of the Museum and the final study selection was postponed entirely by our association, “Friends of Museums of Kythera” (FMK).

“We undertook the burden and care to raise the required money for the preparation of the studies until the issuance of the license, in the hope that all Kytherian society, local and diaspora, will strengthen the project – morally, financially and by depositing the valuable material on which the content of the museum will be based.”

Eleni Tzortzopoulou.

The birth of the ambitious idea:

A dynamic and active member of the local community of Kythera, Tzortzopoulou has been dealing with the problems of the island for many years.

For example, one of the actions she took together with other citizens of the island dealt with the Archaeological Museum, whose operation was suspended on January 8, 2006, when, after a strong earthquake hit the island, serious damage was caused to the building.

Since then the museum has remained closed, serving as a repository of antiquities and excavation tools.

“We dealt extensively with the museum which remained closed for about 10 years. A small group of people were interested and wanted to ensure its reopening,” she says.

“We also sent a letter to the Ministry of Culture wanting to offer solutions. The Kytherian Association of Australia with the then-President, Mr Kypriotis, was also strongly interested. The members of the Association also paid for the studies required to reopen the Archaeological Museum of Kythera. This was done in 2016 and we saw that many times it just needs coordination to achieve certain things.

“In 2019, we went to the Mayor of the island, Mr Efstratios Charchalakis and told him that we want to do something for Kythera. We wanted to create something meaningful.

“We had in mind a honey museum, which is a famous product of Kythera. The Mayor also had the Migration Museum on his list. So we agreed that we should focus on this project.”

More museum plans.

Thus began the idea of the ambitious project, for which the architectural plans have already been created, which The Greek Herald has in its possession.

The museological study is currently pending.

“The Hellenic Folklore Research Centre of the Academy of Athens will undertake the museological study that will give a scientific continuation when the museum works well,” Tzortzopoulou explains.

“In this direction, the municipality of Kythera, the Academy of Athens and our association signed a tripartite Memorandum of Cooperation.

“Our association will coordinate the funding and will cooperate with all the bodies for the implementation of the study.”

The planned site of the Kytherian Migration Museum.

The exhibits, the needs and the Kytherian Association of Australia:

Upon completion of the museological study, the project will then seek funding from European funds.

“Our mayor, Mr Charchalakis is very active and I believe that he will immediately find the funding for this project. We have the same passion as Mr. Charhalakis for this project,” Tzortzopoulou says.

Then, while the museum will be constructed, the creative stress of the “Friends of the Museum of Kythera” will shift to finding the exhibits.

“In this part we want everyone’s help. We have a very handsome office, allocated to us by the mayor on the river. We would also like the readers of The Greek Herald to send us their story, or their exhibit. A letter, a suitcase, a photograph, anything from their migration history.

“We intend to work on this piece with volunteer groups under the umbrella of the Folklore Department of the Academy of Athens to collect the exhibits.”

Tzortzopoulou hopes this summer, when the island will be flooded with visitors from abroad, to make the project better known as she reveals to us: “Money is needed for its completion. We’re going to make a fundraising effort this summer.”

“Already, several expats are helping us but other resources will be needed. A small contribution from all of Tsirigotes and our associations abroad will help to fulfil our goal,” she adds, stressing that she wants to have a closer relationship with the Kytherian Association of Australia.

“I would like to make a conference call with the Kytherian Association of Australia to inform them about our plans. To see the architectural plans and ask us any questions they want.

“I know that the leadership of the Kytherian Association has recently changed and it would be very good to have this communication. With the former president, Mr Alfieris, we were in contact. They intended, in fact, in Agia Pelagia, where the museum will take place, to build a monument of immigration.”

Recently, Kythera was visited by the Ambassador of Australia to Greece, Arthur Spyrou, who placed the visionary project under the auspices of the embassy.

“Mr. Spyrou’s visit gave us the visibility we lacked to make this initiative more known. The Ambassador of Australia was delighted with the idea of creating the Museum and gave the necessary impetus to the level of promotion to contribute to its creation,” Tzortzopoulou concludes.

Connect with the Friends of Kythera Museums


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