The Haridimos Shadow Puppet Museum in Athens, is a museum that keeps an important part of Greek cultural history alive. Karagiozis Shadow Puppet Shows were both pre-television era entertainment, and a way for Greeks to subtly poke fun at the ruling Ottoman empire. Anyone from the UK will instantly think of Punch and Judy.
About Greek Shadow Puppet Theatre
Shadow puppet shows played a hugely important role for Greeks during the years of Ottoman rule. They were a way to poke fun at the Ottoman empire, pass on information, recount history, and much more.
The main character in these shadow puppet shows was Karagiozis. Karagiozis is depicted as having a large nose, a humped-back, and with one arm longer than the other.
His character was someone who always tried to outwit society, but his attempts normally ended in comical disaster. This provided the perfect opportunity to create stories around current affairs, and the social situation under the Ottomans. Greek shadow puppets are social and political satire at its finest!
Of course, the ultimate irony, is that the name and artistry behind Karagiozis is Turkish. (Although, don't mention that to a Greek person, as they may get a bit peeved!).
To find out more about the character and Greek shadow puppet theatre, you might find this interesting >> Karagiozis.
Haridimos Shadow Puppet Museum in Athens
Visitors to the Haridimos Shadow Puppet Museum in Athens will notice almost immediately that it is not signed. Well, certainly not in English.
It is tucked away on the left hand side of the The Melina Mercouri Cultural Centre. This is not signed in English either, so I have included a picture below.
Once inside, again, you will find that nothing is described in English. In a way, this is not massively important. One can easily appreciate the artistry behind the puppets.
It is even fairly easy to work out what the overall subject matter is about. Apart from the main figure of Karagiozis (sometimes written Karaghiozis), you can spot the caricatured figures of Turks from the ruling Ottoman elite.
I was given the instant impression, that this was a way for Greek people to poke fun at the Ottoman empire.
Greek Puppet Theatres
As someone who knew little about the cultural history behind Greek shadow puppet theatres, I spent just 20 minutes there admiring the artistry.
Ultimately though, this museum really is for Greeks. They will already have the cultural background to know what the puppets are about, and the stories behind them.
In one or two generations, this knowledge may be lost though. This emphasizes the importance of this museum, as it helps keep cultural history alive. Something I have come to realise is essential for society during my time visiting all the museums in Athens.
Further Information about the Haridimos Shadow Puppet Museum in Athens
The Haridimos Shadow Puppet Museum in Athens is located in the Melina Mercouri Cultural Centre, 66 Iraklidon & Thessalonikis sts, Thissio.
The closest metro station is at Thissio. Entrance is free.
The general opening hours are 09.00 until 14.00 and 17.00 until 21.00 everyday except Mondays and Sundays. You may wish to call them on 210 3452150, 210 3414466 if you want to make sure they are open when you wish to visit.
The Haridimos Shadow Puppet Museum in Athens is just a short walk from the Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos.
Further note – There are in fact three shadow puppet museums in Athens. I will visit the other two at some point in the future!
You might also be interested in these other blog posts about Athens.
1 thought on “Haridimos Shadow Puppet Museum in Athens”
Good one Dave! You inspired me to look into this a bit more…
It looks like the origins of the Karagiozis character go back to around 1360s, in Bursa (Turkey) and the characters came to Greece in the early 1800s. Actually, Karagöz has been in the official UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage for Turkey since 2009 https://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00011&RL=00180.
However, the whole concept of shadow theatre is way older, going back to as early as the 2nd century BC. It seems that shadow theatre was very important in places like India, Java and China, where shadows were of significant religious importance, as they were connected to the kingdom of the dead. So, the first shadow figures were created in an effort of the living to communicate with their dead. They were man-like figures made out of leather, with big hands, deformed faces and big noses, and they symbolised the people’s souls, but also gods, daemons, heros, warriors, princes and peasants. Later on, shadow theatre made its way to Turkey.
According to a legend, the person who brought the shadow theatre from China to Turkey was a Greek guy, whose name was Mavromatis (=Karagöz)… According to other historians, it was the Gypsies that brought the shadow theatre from India to Turkey, through Iran, which partly explains why the first people who gave such performances in Greece were gypsies.
However, the fact that this type of theatre originated as a way to connect with the dead, can take us back as far as the Eleusinian mysteries!!! And here is why: At the time of Alexander the Great, the hellenistic civilisation was being spread across Asia. Part of the civilisation was the religion – and, at that time, this meant worshipping the gods through mystic cults. It looks, therefore, that the origins of shadow theatre are really difficult to define!