PHOTOGRAPHY: KALE 2006 /Present
Looking at the map of Greece and the distance I had to cover to reach my destination, which was the small town of Didimoticho, I realized how long and tiring my journey would be. I didn’t know much about this small town. I only knew its geographical position some history to it and the stories I had heard about some ‘Troglodytes’ that lived there.
Didimoticho is a small town located in the eastern part of the Prefecture of Evros. The Evros Prefecture is the northernmost of the prefectures of Greece. It is located in the northeastern part of the region of Thrace, and borders with Bulgaria and Turkey at the Evros River, an historical and natural border between Europe and the east.
The town was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and in the year 1361 it became the first capital of Europe sporting the first mosque in the Balkans. Today, Didimoticho has roughly nine thousand inhabitants out of which approximately two thousand are Greek Muslim and another even smaller minority, are the immigrants of Greek origin from the former Soviet Republics.
Didimoticho, today, finds itself right on the expanding edge of Europe. For example, some years ago, Bulgaria entered the European Community as a full European member state, while Turkey is a candidate.
This geographical crossroad, where different cultural identities meet is the subject of my project.
I would like to approach this subject by exploring, understanding and photographing a very particular microcosm composed of just a few families, those of Muslim background.
A large number of these Greek Muslims live in racially segregated ghettos, which stand in severe contrast to the surrounding area. These inhabitants speak both the Greek and the Turkish language.For most of them, life is a daily struggle. Many families live in the caves (kalé) just below the ruins of the Byzantine castle hill walls, which encircle the town. “Kalé” is an isolated cluster of dwellings dense with colorful rugs, animals and satellite dishes; a micro-world suspended in time and space.
Being segregated and without any formal education they are unable to voice their grievances and are destined to struggle in order to procure their basic needs. Less than half of the children go to school. Yet, in this unfavorable context, some families have managed to preserve a positive environment; a tiny, self-sufficient island of tight social interconnections.
Today, only five families remain in the Kalé caves, compare to the 52 families that lived there until 1993.
Most of the families from the Kalé hill, have gradually moved to new houses and within the next year this minority group, which represents the last survivors of a larger ancient world, is also waiting to be relocated to new houses on the outskirts of the town.
As of March 2006 when I started my journey to Didimoticho, my intention has been to get to know these families and the problems which have arisen from their geographical and religious isolation.
My goal is to use photography in order to capture their multifaceted cultural identity and to witness its transformation on the moving border between the western and the eastern world.