This Week in History: July 9th to 15th


Makarios at the royal palace in Tatoi, Greece. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Aristotelis Sarikostas)

July 9th:

On this day in 1956, the island of Amorgos as well as other islands in the Cyclades were shaken by a 7.7 magnitude earthquake. The damage on Amorgos was significant, as was the damage on the neighboring island of Santorini. It was the largest earthquake in Greece in the 20th century (up to that point). The shaking of the earthquake and the destructive tsunami that followed demolished 529 houses, left 53 people dead and 100 others injured.

July 13th:

On this day in 1965, Photis Kontoglou, the Greek writer, painter and iconographer, passed away at the age of 69. Raised by his mother and his uncle, who was an abbot in a nearby monastery in Aivali on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, Kontoglou spent his childhood in the monastery, around the sea, and among fishermen. In 1913, he enrolled in the Athens School of Fine Arts. Around the time of the outbreak of World War I, he decided to leave the school and journey through various European countries. After returning home to Asia Minor, he and the rest of the Greek inhabitants of the region were driven out of their homes. After many ordeals and hardships, Kontoglou arrived in Athens. Starting in 1923, he spent some time at Mount Athos where he discovered the technique of Byzantine iconography. In 1923, he became the curator of Byzantine Icons at the Byzantine Museum of Athens and two years later, he was appointed as Professor of Art History and Painting at the American College. Kontoglou is most famous for his painting and church iconography (including the Kapnikarea Church in Athens, the monumental fresco of the Ecumenical Patriarchs of Constantinople, and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity in Charleston, South Carolina). According to Nikos Zias, a professor of the history of art at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Kontoglou managed to “shake the pond waters of the immutable prosperity of the interwar period and shape the Greek national consciousness.”

July 15th:

On this day in 1974, the Greek junta sponsored a coup d’etat by Greek army officers in Nicosia seeking to achieve ‘enosis – union’ with Greece. President Makarios III was overthrown and fled to England. He was replaced with radical nationalist Nikos Sampson – for two days. Five days later, Turkey, concerned about the imminent possibility of a unified Greece and Cyprus, sent in its troops with the supposed aim of protecting the Turkish Cypriot community and realized its long-time plan to partition the island. The Turkish Cypriots occupied the northern third of the island, while the Greek Cypriot community held the southern sector as the legal government of the Republic of Cyprus. The Greeks of the island angrily condemned Turkey’s illegal occupation, while Ankara claimed the Turkish Cypriots welcomed the protection offered by the troops. The coup on Cyprus quickly dissolved and Greece’s military junta collapsed. Reunification talks between the two communities have occurred on more than one occasion, but as we all know, nothing has come to fruition as of yet.