One of the most characteristic and beautiful elements of the Greek and even more so the Athenian summer are the mythical summer cinemas. Those which the Italians call
“cinema sotto le stelle”, meaning “cinema under the stars”.
(Cinematography, the documentation of movement is a pure Greek word evolved into cinema – cine – kino in international vocabulary.)
The summer cinema possibly originated in Egypt as a development of the shadow theatre.
In Greece and especially in Athens it is already popular before the war when silent movies became talkies, one of the most affordable means of entertainment. Athenian summer cinemas bring back unforgettable memories of summer nights surrounded by potted plants and their aromas, gravel under the feet of the audience, limelights and water fountains. Occasionally a cat strolls in front of the movie screen and chases her shadow in the dark. Songs from loud speakers fill the gaps during the intermission while the canteen owner serves his customers and sometimes tries to sell his ware to the seated spectators by shouting “lemonádes” (lemonades). The ultimate freedom of outdoor smoking, the waning moon, the illuminated windows of the surrounding houses and apartments, the youngsters who watch free of charge from their balconies, a chance for them to watch “restricted” films without parental control.
This unbelievable atmosphere became a song and escorted our happiest days.
Over the years many Athenian cinemas have disappeared, lost in the past, victims of the television or suffocated by the modern apartment buildings. Fortunately, some persisted and survived keeping the myth alive:
• the “Cine Paris” overlooking the Acropolis, in Philomousou Etairia square next to the bust of Chatziapostolou, composer of the Athenian operetta complements the old neighborhood of Athens surrounded by neoclassical houses, or
• the Theseion near the temple of Hephaistos next to the ancient Agora with a view towards the sacred rock is like a bright ship sailing into the night.
For the visitor the Athenian cinema can be a unique experience because films are not dubbed but subtitled. The Athenian audience is uplifted with reruns of all-time classics and when the screen shines with Audrey Hepburn’s glamour and Cary Grant’s charisma, Givenchy costumes and Mancini music, immortality is guaranteed.
All this magic takes place in front of the “othóni” (meaning “screen”). An ancient word for linen, cloth. A screen where unbelievable moving pictures hypnotize the viewer.
We wish you a pleasant evening and…don’t forget to glance at the moon.
Author: Haris Mentzelopoulos
Licensed Tourist guide