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Mariupol Regional Museum. Greek collection.

Irina Ponomarova

Professor, Donetsk National medical university

Olena Samoilenko

Associate Professor, Donetsk National medical university


Now Mariupol museum, like the whole city of Mariupol, is going through very difficult, disastrous times. During the Russian military invasion and assault of the city, the buildings and collections of Mariupol Museum of Local Lore suffered from enemy shellings. Numerous shell hits and fires have devastated most of the museum premises and its funds. The head of the museum, N. Kapustnikova, who went over to the side of the aggressor, speaking on Russian television, said that most of the exhibits had been destroyed during the hostilities. But according to the testimony of museum workers who remained in occupied Mariupol, the most valuable exhibits had been looted and illegally taken to the Russian territory. Their fate is currently unknown. The original works of Arkhip Kuindzhi have been taken out of the Art Department of the museum: the sketch “Red Event”, sketches “Autumn. The Crimea and Elbrus”. The paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky “Off the coast of the Caucasus”, by Nikolai Dubovsky “Night on the Baltic Sea”, “Sea”, by Hrigory Kalmykov “A. I. Kuindzhi, 1910 (Kuindzhi is feeding the birds)”, icons kept in the museum, works of arts and crafts, works of small plastic arts have also been stolen. As for the Greek collection, it included numerous exhibits, photographs and written documents. Among the rarest and most unique exhibits there were the charters diploma of Catherine the second and Alexander the first’s charter to Greek Christians expelled from the Crimean Khanate, documents of Mariupol Greek Court and a lot of other unique objects.

Mariupol is the place which was founded in 1780 by the Crimean Greeks. What influenced them, what made them exchange the blessed Crimea for the Azov steppes? There are a lot of different ideas about it. One can find numerous documents on this matter, but each researcher uses these sources to confirm his or her own theories. One should emphasize, that the Russian Empire was interested in deportation of the people who had lived there for a long time from the Crime. So, more than 18 000 Greek people left the Crimean Khanate for the Azov province. But the circumstances were not favourable: among the migrants different diseases were spreading, that is why a lot of people died. In the result about 13 000 Greek people arrived in the area of Azov. They occupied the territory of 8114 sq. km. (approximately the territory of the island of Crete); except Mariupol these Greek people founded about 20 villages.

For more than two hundred years, the Greek settlements in the area of Azov have kept their names, and their inhabitants have continued to carry their material and spiritual culture through the century, calling themselves “Mariupol Greeks”. In order to preserve the Greek artifacts, the idea of creating a museum near Mariupol began to be discussed in the XIX century, it stimulated the lively interest and wide support of the local people, during the first year they donated over 400 ancient unique objects to the museum. But as a matter of fact, Mariupol Regional Museum started its work in 1920 with the creation of the Greek ethnographic collection. After the closing and destruction of the church in the 1930s of the 20th century, some cult objects were brought to the museum’s funds: censers, chalices, crosses, liturgical books, etc. The great example of gold-embroidered workmanship of the Greeks is a shroud, dated from the 18th centuries. It was made of silk satin of red color. In the center there is a multi-figured composition “Putting in a Coffin”. Near the Lord’s coffin there are Virgin Maria, St. John the Theologian, angels. The distinctive feature of the shroud is the image of various flowers. The edges are decorated with troparion written it in the letters of the Greek alphabet. The shroud is a typical image of the Orthodox sanctuary and it points at strict canonicity.

Two Greek Gospels, published in 1748 and 1811, occupied a prominent place in the museum collection of liturgical books. Both books in velvet bindings with metal overlays are illustrated with numerous engravings. The rare certificate of the pilgrimage in 1726 was preserved in the museum. This is a slab with a votive inscription, brought by the Greeks from the Crimea, which was kept in Mariupol Church of the Nativity of the Virgin. Among the cult objects of Mariupol Greeks there are votive pendants (lat. votives − solemnly promised, dedicated to the gods), metal objects that show the figure or parts of the human body, symbols in specific styles. They were hanging from miraculous icons in the church in the hope of healing or as a sign of a promise. Among the Mariupol Greeks, votive pendants were used until the closing of the churches. A significant collection of votives was then assembled. Votive pendants in the form of a human leg, tooth, eye, star, etc. were presented in the funds of Moscow Art Museum. Today, the whereabouts of these precious artifacts are unknown.

Before the start of the war, Mariupol Museum of Local Lore had more than 5,000 photographs. Most of the photographs date from the late 1920s and can be classified according to the following topics: anthropological types, agricultural implements, crafts, housing and decoration, clothes, family life, beliefs, musical instruments and dance. The museum collections contain negatives on which the objects and phenomena of the traditional culture of Mariupol Greeks are demonstrated.

As for the statistical material, it was fixed in the materials of Mariupol Greek Court and documents called “Revision Tales” in connection with the 1782, 1795, and 1811 censuses in Russia. The cases of the Mariupol Greek Court – the administrative, police and judicial body of the Mariupol Greeks also contain rich historical and ethnographic material about the city of Mariupol and Greek villages.

During the 1930s, the head of the museum I.P. Kovalenko developed a program for studying the Greek population of Mariupol district (now the south of Donetsk region). Several ethnographic expeditions were organized to Greek villages: Yalta, Urzuf, Mangush, Sartana, Makedonivka, Stary Krym, Cherdakly, Chermalyk, Mala Yanisol, Laspa, Karany, Starognativka, Kermenchyk.

The nature of the collected ethnographic material is eloquently described in the report of I.P. Kovalenko regarding the Greek exhibits: “... large collections were acquired: a) carpets of various designs; b) rugs; c) woolen fabrics (dyed), plain woolen fabrics; d) linen fabrics with original designs; e) silk and linen towels, embroidered with an original pattern: double-sided type “marama”, “ishleme yuzbez” and “tokhma yuzbez”; f) colorful patterned fabrics of the “tokhma” type for decorating the walls of the house, laces, other women's handicrafts. The department has a rich collection of artistic local “Ikanycha” Easter eggs; a collection of bread products of various types; a rich collection of exhibits of religious and family use; a collection of women’s headpieces decorated with silver, copper, stones and pearls; a collection of wedding clothes; a small collection of household and household items; a huge collection of amulets – fetishes to prevent various diseases; a collection of original copper dishes. The prominent place is occupied by the collection of handmade religious items made of Crimean silver and objects of worship sewn with gold, silver and silk.

The active collecting work made it possible to create an exposition of the ethnographic department, to prepare the Greek section of the Exhibition of Achievements of National Policy in the Ukrainian SSR, and also to send a collection of embroideries to the International Exhibition in Cologne.

The object of cultural and scientific interest was the tableware that incorporated elements of Turkic culture. Mainly, exhibits were presented at Moscow Art Museum. Copper dishes brought from the Crimea were used quite actively among Greek residents, in particular, jars on high pallets. Food was prepared in large cauldrons at public holidays “fairs”. The particular interest is provoked by the ornamentation of the sides of the plates, the elements of which are medallions with inscriptions in Greek and dates. At the end of the 1930s, as the part of Sovietization, the processes of destroying ethnic culture began, so cheap clay and metal dishes produced in the USSR were brought to the village. Greek household items were destroyed as non-modern.

The exhibition of traditional clothing was especially interesting for the researchers. Body shirts, headdresses − periphtars, handkerchiefs, blankets and numerous ornaments were stored in the funds of Moscow Art Museum.

The most striking element that distinguished Greek women from representatives of other nations was the headdress − periphtar (Greek: περι means “around, from all sides; phtal derives from the ancient Greek: κεφαλι − head). It was very popular from the Crimean times till the beginning of the 20th century and was inherited from generation to generation. Researchers from different times managed to accumulate a collection of these headdresses in Moscow Art Museum. All the periphtars are only in light colors, embroidered with gold or silk in a yellow-brown color scheme, the edges are decorated with tassels. Girls received this headdress as a dowry and wore it on the eve of the wedding, wore it during the first year of marriage, on holidays, during the rites of the family cycle. It was very popular since Crimean times. A narrow cloth, about 3 meters long, tightly fitted the head, one end of it was attached to the back of the head, the other went around the neck, it was thrown over the shoulder, and went down along the back.

The complex included a variety of main ornaments of the periphtar. A traditional detail of the headdress was the khanyar (< Greek: χαλινάρι – bridle) – an exquisite decoration, which represented a strip of precious fabric, embroidered with pearls and metal pendants or silver coins. The ornament was worn along the cheeks near the ears and under the chin and tied with ribbons at the back of the head. Sometimes the mandlychi (

In addition to the above mentioned exhibits, women’s jewelry was presented at Mariupol museum: earrings, bracelets, rings, engagement rings, mother-of-pearl necklaces with a cross. Traditional Greek clothing was supplemented with a belt. There were belts made of gold or silver brocade with metal buckles, i.e. “Caucasian”, or made entirely of metal. Metal belts consisted of interconnected plates or plaques, decorated with openwork carving or embossing, semi-precious stones or multi-colored glass, enamel. Belts of this kind were not produced in Azov region, they were mostly brought from the Caucasus. In addition to three piece belts and two-piece metal belts, the museum has a belt made of narrow vertical strips of mother-of-pearl sewn to a fabric lining. Belts were supplemented with metal buckles, which were quite massive and fastened with a hook. Most often, they are round, almond-shaped, oval, made mainly of silver, decorated with grains, enamel, and hammering. The silver buckle from the museum collection is made using blackening, scanning and metal carving techniques. Several silver bracelets and rings from the museum collections are also of Caucasian origin.

Embroidery samples have always attracted attention. When the Greeks moved from the Crimea, they brought the most widespread type of craft − the production of patterned fabrics and embroidery. The steady preservation of weaving and embroidery traditions was due to the fact that ornamented textile products were a mandatory attribute of everyday life, as well as religious, family and calendar rites. During the 19th and early 20th centuries traditional features, technology, types of compositions and ornament, which were inherited from generation to generation, were preserved and it is evidenced by the things collected in the museum.

In the presented exhibits, the embroidery is made on home-spun linen fabrics. The art of embroidery includes several main types: - "miklama" - embroidery with gold or silver, most often found on wedding napkins, tokhma, periftars, when finishing the neck, chest section, shirt sleeves; "Ishlime" is dull two-sided surface without previous flooring; “tell” is embroidery with a narrow silver or gold plate; “pool” is embroidery with sequins, stones, pearls, beads; “bukme” is embroidery with gold or silver lace or colored silk. The modern name of this embroidery is “tambourine” (from the name of the shape of round hoops − tambour − drum). This type of embroidery was widespread in the Middle East. Art traditions of Mariupol Greeks have deep roots. Despite the borrowing of certain techniques and compositional schemes from the peoples of the Crimea, the Caucasus and Asia, the Greeks preserved a deeper layer of the culture of gold sewing − shared with the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula, which were the part of the Byzantine Empire.

The most widely represented decorative wall towels – “mandil” and carpets – “tokhma”, with which the Greeks decorated their homes. Towels are characterized by a floral or geometric ornament made with gold or silver embroidery, a dull two-sided surface without previous flooring, a narrow silver or gold ribbon, gold or silver lace, and colored silk.

In general, it should be taken into consideration that embroidered things are diverse in technique, level of execution and functions. According to the nature of embroideries on woven products, they are divided into two main groups: with floral ornaments (stylized flowers) and with geometric patterns.

The Greek collection of the museum was of great interest to researchers. The practical significance of the study of museum objects of the museum and their descriptions gives us the opportunity to investigate the receptivity and changes in the traditional culture of the Greeks during the XIX-XXI centuries, reinterpreted and adapted to local specifics. The results of the research will contribute to the enrichment of the source base for reflecting the ethnic processes taking place among the Greeks of the Azov region. Together with other sources, they will provide an additional opportunity for scientists to trace genetic, historical and cultural connections and will help to fill the missing links in the ethnic history of this people.