This Past Week in History

Alexandros Ypsilantis statue in Athens. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Alexandros Z0ntanos)


December 8th:

On this day in 1966, a Greek ferry, “The Heraklion,” sank in the Aegean Sea during a raging storm of the type once attributed to the anger of Zeus. It is estimated that more than 200 individuals lost their lives in the sinking – but the actual number still remains unknown since at that time, many passengers bought their tickets after embarking onto the ship. The 17-year-old ship weighed nearly 9,000 tons was on its regular route from the fabled island of Crete to Athens’ port of Piraeus. The ship was manufactured in Glasgow to operate the UK – Burma route. It was eventually sold to the Aegean Steam Navigation Company and transformed into a passenger/car ferry. The Greek government eventually investigated the tragic sinking and found the corporation that owned the ship guilty of negligence on several counts. The company was also charged with manslaughter and forging documents. In 1990, the city of Hania, Crete erected a modern sculpture named “The Monument of the Hand,” memorializing the victims who lost their lives in the tragedy.

December 9th:

On this day in 1929, John Cassavetes, the Greek-American actor, director and screenwriter, was born in New York City. Cassavetes has been called one of the pioneers of American cinema-verite, as well as the father of the independent film movement in the United States. He was the son of Greek immigrants and grew up between Greece and Long Island. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Art, the school where he first laid eyes on his future wife and co-star, Gena Rowlands. To this day, Cassavetes is one of the few filmmakers in the history of the Academy Awards to be nominated for directing, acting and writing awards. Some of his best known works include: Faces (1968), Husbands (1970), and A Woman under the Influence (1974). His children, Nick, Zoe, and Xan carry on their father’s legacy and are all filmmakers as well.

December 12th:

On this day in 1792, Alexandros Ypsilantis, a Greek resistance fighter and nationalist politician, was born in Constantinople (Ottoman Empire). He was a leader of the Filiki Eteria, the secret organization that coordinated the beginning of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. In 1821 he raised a revolt in Moldavia, proclaiming the independence of Greece. Unfortunately, he lacked the necessary support and was eventually defeated by the Turks and imprisoned in Austria. Nevertheless, his uprising, together with the successful Greek rebellion in the Peloponnese, marked the beginning of the Greek War of Independence. Ypsilantis eventually died in Vienna, at the very young age of 35. It is said that his last wish, that his heart be returned to Greece, was fulfilled by his dear friend, Georgios Lassanis, who took it back to Athens where it remains embedded in a small church behind the Maximos Mansion.

December 13th:

On this day in 2003 it was announced in Copenhagen that the European Union would be enlarged. The Danish Prime Minister at the time, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, declared that a “new Europe is being born,” as the EU’s then 15-member club grew by 10. Cyprus was among the 10 states (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia were the others) that eventually became official members of the EU nearly 1.5 years later. Some have said that this expansion marked ‘the definite end of the Cold War.