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Culture

Robert McCabe’s Iconic Takes of Greece (Photos)

September 2, 2022

Santorini and Mykonos are synonymous with idyllic beauty, overcrowded, narrow streets, colorful beaches, and a high spirit nightlife. Millions of people gather at Greece’s dynamic island duo each year for a summer defined by perfection.

But these two islands have not always been this way, as captured by veteran U.S. photographer Robert McCabe. Simplicity, peacefulness, and tradition reigned in Santorini and Mykonos during mid 1950s.

McCabe’s first photographs of Greece were taken in 1954 when he visited with his brother. Initially, the trip to Greece was only supposed to last two weeks, as they had plans to go to Egypt and then back via Italy and France, however they were so intrigued by the natural beauty of the country that they decided to cancel the rest of their itinerary. He later returned to Greece in 1955 and 1957 to photograph the Cyclades for National Geographic.

“When I first visited Santorini with my brother in 1954, we were the only foreigners on the island,” said McCabe, now 88. “There was no airport and no electricity. To call the outside world you had to queue to use the island’s only telephone, and water didn’t come from a tap, it was delivered by a man on an old four-wheeled carriage,” he told The Telegraph.

The Aigaion moored in Yialos below Fira. Photo by Robert McCabe

The photographer shared his life between America and Greece for 70 years as he wanted to explore every corner of the breath-taking Mediterranean country. McCabe’s Greek photographs have been part of multiple collections as well as published books. His aim during his stay in Santorini and Mykonos was to capture the Vanished Era as titled in both his books on the two islands.

The introduction of his Mykonos book says: “My first visit to Mykonos was in the summer of 1955. From the vantage point of those days on that magical quiet island with one 12 passenger bus and a plethora of donkeys it was absolutely inconceivable what would happen over the ensuing 60 years. On the day I arrived there were some 15 visitors on the island. In 2018 on a typical summer day the island expects between 120,000 and 140,000 visitors.”

Mykonos. The twin churches of Saint Barbara (door on left behind the cypress tree) and Saint Fanourios (door on right). On the far left, behind the tree (now gone) are the chapel of Saint George and the Three Wells. Photo by Robert McCabe

During his quest to discover the hidden gems of Greece, he also visited other islands, taking a glimpse into the Greek lifestyle. Particularly, McCabe spoke to The Telegraph about the people’s tradition of warm hospitality saying, “it’s a very family-oriented society, which is definitely something we’ve lost in the UK and the United States. They are devoted to their children, and their traditions – in Patmos, where I now spend much of my time, it’s like there’s a religious celebration for every day of the year.”

Reflecting on Mykonos and Santorini’s overload of visitors today, McCabe noted that even though things are not the same as they use to be, tourism brings benefits too. “Agriculture was difficult, war had left them in a very bad state, and subsequently islanders were being forced to sell their family homes, or simply abandon them, and leave,” he said, adding, “tourism, despite the negative aspects, has been a wonderful thing for the economy, and helped keep the islands occupied,” he told The Telegraph.

The church of Vangelistraki, probably dating from the 1600s. In 1965 the cross atop the church was replaced by a belfry. Photo by Robert McCabe
1955. A view from Kamnaki toward Saint Anna’s beach with the small chapel of Saint Anna visible behind the beach. On the right is the historic Delos Hotel. Photo by Robert McCabe
Mykonos. Little Venice, a landmark on the island today, with three young fishermen at work. Photo by Robert McCabe
Mykonos. At Spitalia above the stone laundry basin a woman dries her laundry in the Meltemi wind. Photo by Robert McCabe
Dancers at a Mykonos baptismal festival at Saint Panteleimon Monastery. Photo by Robert McCabe
Santorini. The Nomikos family home rebuilt after the earthquake of 1956. Photo by Robert McCabe
Mykonos. At the Old Port, boarding the Agio Eleftherios for Delos, with a handheld hand rail for security. Photo by Robert McCabe

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