Unique Santorini Experience at Symposion in Megalochori
Updated: Jun 22, 2022
Visitors come to Santorini for many reasons: to watch the sunset from Oia, to explore the Bronze Age ruins at Akrotiri, to take a boat tour out to the volcano, or to savor the local wine and cuisine. But you might not know about an absolute gem tucked away within one of the lesser-visited villages on the island called Megalochori (Greek for "Great Village"). It's called Symposion, and it's a fabulous cultural center that combines music and mythology within an absolutely enchanting space. I stayed a week on the island and the experience I had there was without a doubt the highlight of my entire trip, and I want to share it with you now.
The moment I crossed the threshold of the red gate and stepped into Symposion's dreamy courtyard, I had the feeling I was someplace special. There's an immediate serenity about the place, and the sensation is one of having suddenly stepped outside of time. Walk through the courtyard and you come upon an ancient-looking door surmounted by a decorative arch flanked by birds. Within the arch are 9 holes, as if the edifice itself were a kind of wind instrument. Yannis Pantakis, the musical director at Symposion, told me later that the moment he saw this he knew it was the perfect place for the center. "There are 9 muses in Greek mythology," he reminded me.
I arrived on a Saturday afternoon and was too late for the musical performance, but was nonetheless greeted with a smile by a kind young woman at the reception desk who promptly handed me a refreshing glass of pomegranate juice. Various musical instruments lovingly modeled after ancient construction techniques line wooden shelves. It was the first time I'd ever seen an actual lyre in person––a very ancient stringed instrument dating back to the Bronze Age. She led me into the main room to wait a few moments before being led back to Yannis' workshop. Filled with the soft scent of lavender, the interior is just as magical as the courtyard. I briefly took in the surroundings before meeting Yannis. It's impossible to transmit it with words or photos, but there is something truly mythical about this space.
After a few minutes I was led past the double wooden doors into Yannis' workshop, where he was busy putting the final touches on an ancient bagpipe he was constructing. "This is the best place I've seen in my entire life!," I blurted out before even saying hello. As mentioned before, time seemed to operate differently here. Perhaps it was only 15 minutes, or maybe it was 2 hours that I sat beside Yannis watching him work and listening to him share his thoughts. It was clear to me that I was in the presence of someone whose knowledge was galaxies beyond what you can learn from books alone. He struck me as a true mystic.
As he worked, we fell into conversation about mythology, the power of words, and the magic of music. I told him I was here in Greece to capture new experiences for my YouTube channel Tiny Epics. At some point I mentioned how I'd walked away from a nearly serious injury on the island of Naxos while hiking Mount Zeus, and had had other instances of good luck throughout my journey. "That isn't luck," he said meaningfully. "You're in the service of the muses and that doesn't go unnoticed."
I also met Yannis's charming wife Argy Kakissis, the managing director of Symposion who, I later learned, is the mastermind behind much of the look and feel of the space. Once you step foot inside Symposion, you not only see its beauty but you feel it too. The whole space is a real work of art. I was deeply moved by Yannis and Argy's passion, knowledge, and generosity. Before leaving, Argy invited me to return the next day to take part in the musical performance. Upon returning the second time, I was joined by a small group of visitors who, like me, had signed up for the musical performance online at the cost of €12 and €8 for guests between the ages of 8-13. Trust me–the experience is more than worth this small fee, and you can help support this wonderful center by leaving a tip in the reception area on your way out. Argy gave us all a tour of the fascinating structure and told us about its previous function as a wine-making facility which was built by a master artisan and winemaker named Zorzis Ioannis Saliveros who lived and worked on the premises at the turn of the last century.
I asked if I would be able to record the interactive musical performance for my YouTube channel and Yannis politely said, "No cameras. We'll be using our senses, not our lenses." I absolutely loved his response and happily stowed my camera away. I don't want to give away too much about the performance, because I think you should experience it for yourself when you come to Santorini. I will just tell you that everyone gets involved, and it's completely irrelevant whether or not you actually know how play an instrument. Yannis handed me a drum and I kept rhythm by beating the taut goatskin. It was primal, thrilling, and the most fun I had during my week-long stay on the island. One visitor got so carried away he used his own head to beat the tambourine Yannis had given him.
Yannis is a master storyteller, and he goes into some of the mythological origins of the instruments involving various Greek gods and goddesses like Athena, Hermes, Apollo, Zeus, and of course the 9 muses. Yannis doesn't merely transmit information, but really gets you involved. He asked us all some questions about Greek mythology, and a very bright-minded girl around 8 years of age knew every answer. It turns out her parents had planned their trip to Greece and flown half-way across the globe because of their daughter's love for mythology after reading the Percy Jackson books. She was chosen by Yannis during the musical performance to briefly become the god Apollo. He handed her a beautiful lyre made from a tortoise shell. As she gently plucked its strings, Yannis accompanied her with a reading in ancient Greek. It was a real moment of beauty, and an experience I imagine the girl will never forget. I know I certainly won't.
After the musical performance, I stuck around for a few hours. Yannis and I once again got wonderfully lost in conversation, this time in the garden, forgetting that the intense sun was beating down upon us until Argy kindly suggested we rearrange our seats to take refuge in the shade. At some point, I expressed interest in owning my very own lyre. "You are a digital Homer," he told me. "A bard without a lyre is like a samurai without a sword." Needless to say, the lyre you see me playing in the image at the top of this article came back with me on the plane back to Germany. Argy thoughtfully packed it with foam into my rucksack so I could safely bring it on board as carry-on luggage. It now hangs proudly in my living room, and is used when I feel inspired by the muses. I named her Calli, by the way, after Calliope (beautiful-voiced), the muse who presides over epic poetry.
Yannis poured us both glasses of delicious wine. We got into discussing the Iliad, Homer's epic about the Trojan War, which was famously sparked by the abduction of a very beautiful queen of Sparta. As Dionysus' wine took hold, Yannis' humor poured forth. "What lies halfway between Hell and Heaven?," he asked me with a smile. I paused for a moment, rummaging my mind for the right answer. "Purgatory?", I asked quizzically. "No. Hel-en!," he said. We both paused until I registered the mythological joke, and then erupted into laughter. If you're planning a visit to Santorini, make sure not to miss this magical experience. You can learn more about the various offerings and book the Mythical Music Presentation & Historical Tour through their website here: https://www.symposionsantorini.com
This short video on YouTube gives you an idea of what you can expect during the music presentation: