In the north of the Aegean island of Karpathos, the village of Olympos is home to one of the rare women’s communities in Greece that has shown resilience to tourism and standardized lifestyles.
In her workshop located in one of the alleys of Olympos, which has a population of only 300, Rigopola Pavlidis works on her sewing machine.
“Here, the women are in charge,” she says proudly, as her husband Yannis nods as he paints icons.
Al-Sitiniyah added sarcastically, “My husband does not know how to do anything without me, not even declaring taxes.”
Women have a fundamental role in Olympus society, due to a system of inheritance from Byzantine times.
Despite the Ottoman occupation of it from the year 1538 and then the Italian presence on the island between 1912 and 1944, Olympus still maintains its privacy.
This village, isolated from the rest of the island, has always withstood changes to the extent that the first paved road was built in the eighties of the last century.
Every summer, thousands of tourists visit the scenic area.
“The inheritance system was very progressive compared to the rest of Greece,” explains Yorgos Tsampanakis, a historian from Olympus of Karpathos, between the islands of Crete and Rhodes in the southern Aegean Sea, noting that “the mother’s inheritance went to the eldest daughter.”
Being the eldest daughter in her family, Rigopola Pavlidis inherited 700 olive trees.
She jokingly says, “The families did not have much to divide among all the children (…) If we left the inheritance to the men, they would have forfeited it!”
After marriage, the men move in with their wives.
One of the issues in which the dominance of women in society also emerges is the issue of transmission of first names.
Tsampanakis explains that “the eldest daughter bears the first name of her grandmother on the maternal side, in contrast to what exists in the rest of Greece, where the eldest daughter is given the name of her paternal grandmother.”
He added, “Many women still call themselves their mothers, not their husbands.”
Beginning in the 1950s, the immigration of men to the United States and other European countries prompted women to take over farm management on their own.
And in Avlona, a farming village near Olympus, Anna Lintakis, 67, enthusiastically picks artichokes to prepare an omelette that she serves in her small restaurant.
“We had no choice but to work (…) and it was our only means of survival,” she says.
A few years ago, Lentakis ran the Olympus bar in the village of the same name, and her daughter Marina is now in charge of it.
Marina says, “I like to say that the man is the head of the family and the woman is her neck, as she is the one who directs the decisions that the man makes.”
As for her daughter, Anna, who is 13 years old, she knows that she will take over the management of her family’s business one day, and she says, “It is my grandmother’s legacy and I will be proud to manage it.”
However, this system of inheritance only benefits the eldest daughters in the family.
Alain Chablosse, a member of the Geographical Foundation in Geneva who has previously conducted a study on the issue, notes that “the young girls have to remain on the island in order to be in the service of the elders, and as a result a kind of social class has been created.”
Georgia Fortina, the youngest daughter in her family and not yet married, does not feel that society on Olympus is progressive enough.
And the women of Olympus traditionally wear an embroidered dress, which is aprons with a cloth with roses, a shawl on the head, and leather shoes.
These garments, considered real treasures, are part of the dowry.
Women also prepare bread in stone ovens.
And Irene Chatzibaba (50 years old), who is the youngest woman on Olympus, wears this dress every day.
“I taught my daughter embroidery,” says the worker in the field of bread production, adding, “With the exception of the holidays, she does not wear this dress that does not fit with modern life.”
However, her mother, Sophia (70 years), who holds a cup of coffee skillfully, is concerned about this, and says, “Our clothes have become mere folkloric manifestations during the holidays… Our world is in the process of disappearing!”