The culture of Greece has evolved over thousands of years, beginning in Mycenaean Greece, continuing most notably into Classical Greece, through the influence of the Roman Empire and its successor the Byzantine Empire. Other cultures and states such as Latin and Frankish states, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetian Republic, Genoese Republic, and British Empire have also left their influence on modern Greek culture, but historians credit the Greek War of Independence with revitalising Greece and giving birth to a single entity of its multi-faceted culture.
In ancient times, Greece was the birthplace of Western culture. Modern democracies owe a debt to Greek beliefs in government by the people, trial by jury, and equality under the law. The ancient Greeks pioneered in many fields that rely on systematic thought, including biology, geometry, history, philosophy, and physics. They introduced such important literary forms as epic and lyric poetry, history, tragedy, and comedy. In their pursuit of order and proportion, the Greeks created an ideal of beauty that strongly influenced Western art.
Cinema first appeared in Greece in 1896 but the first actual cine-theatre was opened in 1907. In 1914 the Asty Films Company was founded and the production of long films begun. Golfo (Γκόλφω), a well known traditional love story, is the first Greek long movie, although there were several minor productions such as newscasts before this. In 1931 Orestis Laskos directed Daphnis and Chloe (Δάφνις και Χλόη), contained the first nude scene in the history of European cinema; it was also the first Greek movie which was played abroad. In 1944 Katina Paxinou was honoured with the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for For Whom the Bell Tolls.
The 1950s and early 1960s are considered by many as the Greek Golden age of Cinema. Directors and actors of this era were recognized as important historical figures in Greece and some gained international acclaim: Mihalis Kakogiannis, Alekos Sakellarios, Melina Mercouri, Nikos Tsiforos, Iakovos Kambanelis, Katina Paxinou, Nikos Koundouros, Ellie Lambeti, Irene Papas etc. More than sixty films per year were made, with the majority having film noir elements . Notable films were Η κάλπικη λίρα (1955 directed by Giorgos Tzavellas), Πικρό Ψωμί (1951, directed by Grigoris Grigoriou), O Drakos (1956 directed by Nikos Koundouros), Stella (1955 directed by Cacoyannis and written by Kampanellis). Cacoyannis also directed Zorba the Greek with Anthony Quinn which received Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film nominations. Finos Film also contributed to this period with movies such as Λατέρνα, Φτώχεια και Φιλότιμο, Η Θεία από το Σικάγο, Το ξύλο βγήκε από τον Παράδεισο and many more. During the 1970s and 1980s Theo Angelopoulos directed a series of notable and appreciated movies. His film Eternity and a Day won the Palme d'Or and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
There were also internationally renowned filmmakers in the Greek diaspora such as the Greek-American Elia Kazan.
Greece has a continuous history of native dances reaching from antiquity till the modern era. It began in the Mycenean period.
Ancient Greeks believed that dancing was invented by the Gods and therefore associated it with religious ceremony. They believed that the gods offered this gift to select mortals only, who in turn taught dancing to their fellow-men.
Periodic evidence in ancient texts indicates that dance was held in high regard, in particular for its educational qualities. Dance, along with writing, music, and physical exercise, was fundamental to the commenced in a circle and ended with the dancers facing one another. When not dancing in a circle the dancers held their hands high or waved them to left and right. They held cymbals (very like the zilia of today) or a kerchief in their hands, and their movements were emphasized by their long sleeves. As they danced, they sang, either set songs or extemporized ones, sometimes in unison, sometimes in refrain, repeating the verse sung by the lead dancer. The onlookers joined in, clapping the rhythm or singing. Professional singers, often the musicians themselves, composed lyrics to suit the occasion.
Byzantine instruments included the guitar, single, double or multiple flute, sistrum, timpani (drum), psaltirio, Sirigs, lyre, cymbals, keras and kanonaki.
Popular dances of this period included the Syrtos, Geranos, Mantilia, Saximos, Pyrichios, and Kordakas . Some of these dances have their origins in the ancient period and are still enacted in some form today.
Dancers from Crete.
Greece is one of the few places in Europe where the day-to-day role of folk dance is sustained. Rather than functioning as a museum piece preserved only for performances and special events, it is a vivid expression of everyday life. Occasions for dance are usually weddings, family celebrations, and paneyeria (Patron Saints' name days). Dance has its place in ceremonial customs that are still preserved in Greek villages, such as dancing the bride during a wedding and dancing the trousseau of the bride during the wedding preparations. The carnival and Easter offer more opportunities for family gatherings and dancing. Greek taverns providing live entertainment often include folk dances in their program.
Regional characteristics have developed over the years because of variances in climatic conditions, land morphology and people's social lives. In later years, wars, international pacts and consequent movement of populations, and even movements of civil servants around the country, intermingled traditions. People learned new dances, adapted them to their environment, and included them in their feasts. Kalamatianos and Syrtos are considered Pan-Hellenic dances and are danced all over the world in diaspora communities. Others have also crossed boundaries and are known beyond the regions where they originated; these include the Pentozali from Crete, Hasapiko from Constantinople, Zonaradikos from Thrace, Pyrehios from Pontos and Balos from the Aegean islands.
The avant-garde choreographer, director and dancer Dimitris Papaioannou was responsible for the critically successful Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games, with a conception that reflected the classical influences on modern and experimental Greek dance forms.
Modern Greece Music
Mikis Theodorakis, popular composer, tried to introduce the bouzouki into the mainstream culture.
A range of domestically and internationally known composers and performers across the musical spectrum have found success in modern Greece, while traditional Greek music is noted as a mixture of influences from indigenous culture with those of west and east. A few Ottoman elements can be heard in the traditional songs, dhimotiká, as well as in the modern bluesy rembétika music. A well-known Greek musical instrument is the bouzouki. "Bouzouki" is a descriptive Turkish name, but the instrument itself is probably of Greek origin (from the ancient Greek lute known as pandoura, a kind of guitar, clearly visible in ancient statues, especially female figurines of the "Tanagraies" playing cord instruments).
Famous Greek musicians and composers of modern era include the central figure of 20th century European modernism Iannis Xenakis, a composer, architect and theorist. Maria Callas, Nikos Skalkottas, Mikis Theodorakis, Dimitris Mitropoulos, Manos Hadjidakis and Vangelis also lead twentieth-century Greek contributions, alongside Demis Roussos, Nana Mouskouri, Yanni, Georges Moustaki, Eleni Karaindrou and others.
The birth of the first School of modern Greek classical music (Heptanesean or Ionian School, Greek:Επτανησιακή Σχολή) came through the Ionian Islands (notable composers include Spyridon Samaras, Nikolaos Mantzaros and Pavlos Carrer), while Manolis Kalomiris is considered the founder of the Greek National School.
Modern Greece Religion
The Greek Orthodox Church, largely because of the importance of Byzantium in Greek history, as well as its role in the revolution, is a major institution in modern Greece. Its roles in society and larger role in overarching Greek culture are very important; a number of Greeks attend Church at least once a month or more and the Orthodox Easter holiday holds special significance.
The Church of Greece also retains limited political influence through the fact the Greek constitution does not have an explicit separation of Church and State; a debate suggested by more conservative elements of the church in the early 2000s about identification cards and whether religious affiliation might be added to them highlights the friction between state and church on some issues; the proposal unsurprisingly was not accepted. A widely publicised set of corruption scandals in 2004 implicating a small group of senior churchmen also increased national debate on introducing a greater transparency to the church-state relationship.
Greek Orthodox Churches dot both the villages and towns of Greece and come in a variety of architectural forms, from older Byzantine churches, to more modern white brick churches, to newer cathedral-like structures with evident Byzantine influence. Greece (as well as Cyprus), also polled as, ostensibly, one of the most religious countries in Europe, according to Eurostat; however, while the church has wide respect as a moral and cultural institution, a contrast in religious belief with Protestant northern Europe is more obvious than one with Catholic Mediterranean Europe.
Greece also has a significant minority of Muslims in Eastern Thrace (numbering around 100-150,000), with their places of worship guaranteed since the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. The Greek state has fully approved the construction a main mosque for the more recent Muslim community of Athens under the freedom of religion provisions of the Greek constitution.