On this day in 2001, Dimitris Dragatakis, the Greek composer, died suddenly at the age of 87. Born in the village of Platanousa in Epirus, Dragatakis’ parents belonged to a generation which fully preserved the folk music tradition as an element of the family’s daily life. The eldest of seven children, Dimitris showed keen interest from a young age in the natural sounds and musical traditions of his birthplace. Following the completion of his basic education, as well as a series of violin lessons for one year in neighboring Ioannina, Dimitris’ father took him to Athens at the age of 14 in order to study music at the National Conservatory. Manolis Kalomiris, the founder and director of the Conservatory, recognized Dimitris’ talent and at the same time understood the financial difficulties he faced. He provided Dimitris with the financial aid and support to complete his studies at the Conservatory. Dimitris became one of Greece’s most important modern composers. He won a number of awards, including the Maria Callas award from the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation and the prestigious J.A. Papaioannou award from the Athens Academy in 1999.
On this day in 1997, Lockheed Hercules C-130H of the Hellenic Air Force crashed in the Pastra Mountain near the Tanagra Air Base because of bad weather conditions, killing all five people on board. The military aircraft was engaged in a mission to transfer soldiers from Tanagra to Pieria in an effort to help with the discovery of a 42-passenger Ukrainian plane which went missing on approach to Thessaloniki on December 17th of the same year.
On this day in 1818, Amalia, the wife of King Otto of Greece was born in Oldenburg, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg. Amalia served as the first queen consort of Greece from 1836 to 1862. In the early years of the new monarchy, Queen Amalia won the hearts of the Greek people. Her beauty and vivaciousness (her fair hair and complexion were a novelty in Greece), along with her modern fashion sense, brought progress to the impoverished country. She worked on social issues and was involved in the creation of gardens in Athens. The gardens, now the National Gardens of Athens, were commissioned in 1836 and developed over the next 25 years. Amalia wisely realized that her style of dress should emulate the style of the Greek people. She created a ‘romantic folksy court dress’ which eventually became the Greek national costume (named in her honor). However, as Amalia became more politically involved, she became the target of harsh attacks – and her image suffered further as she and the King proved unable to provide an heir. Amalia and King Otto were eventually expelled from Greece in 1862 after an uprising. They spent the rest of their years in exile in Bavaria where it is said that they decided to speak Greek each day between 6 and 8 o’clock to remember their time in Greece.
On this day in 1963, there was a great fire on the Greek ship Lakonia, in which 128 people lost their lives. The passenger ship had begun an 11-day Christmas cruise of the Canary Islands (sailing from Southampton, England) with a brief visit to the Azores first. On the fourth night of the voyage, while the ship was about 180 miles north of Madeira, a steward noticed a fire that was spreading quickly toward the passenger cabins. Alarms were sounded but it was said that they were too soft to be heard by most of the 1,022 people (including 646 passengers and 376 crewmen) on board. All but 21 of the passengers were British citizens, while the crew members were mostly Greek and German. Evacuation was hampered by the overcrowding of lifeboats and the loss of several boats to fire. Some passengers were able to reach the water via the gangways and rope ladders while two ships, alerted by distress signals, managed to save most of the others. After an investigation, eight of the ship’s officers were charged with negligence.