If you’ve read many of my articles, you’ll know that I’m passionate about Greece, and my main area of study is modern Greek history. I was given the opportunity to go to Greece in order to study Eleftherios Venizelos, a politician in early 20th Century Greece. For more information about who he was and what he did for the country, just flick over to the “inspirational people” article I wrote about him, then come back here to find out what I did.
I went first to Athens, Greece’s capital city and main hub of government and politics. Then, I went to Crete, which was the island Venizelos was born on. Because Venizelos’ impact was so huge, I could have gone to Thessaloniki, the Dodecanese islands, or most of northern mainland Greece. This is because they were not a part of Greece until Venizelos brought them all under the Greece we see today. In that sense, you could say he was like a Greek version of Garibaldi. Unfortunately, time and money was tight, so no nationwide journeys for me!
After studying in Athens, Venizelos returned there in 1910 to take his seat as the Prime Minister of Greece. Between 1910 and 1914, he introduced lots of important reforms to Greece. For instance, as well as reorganising the army, navy and police to make them more efficient, Venizelos also introduced free and compulsory primary education for Greek children. This was hugely significant for the country, which was largely rural. Entire families living in cut off mountain villages would have had little access to reading and writing, but by giving all children access to this knowledge, these people had a better chance of making a better life for themselves. In Athens I saw a number of his personal items, and I asked many Greeks about what they thought of him.
I flew from Athens “Eleftherios Venizelos” airport (no prizes for guessing who that is named after!) to Venizelos’ birthplace and hometown, Chania in Crete. The main museum and research centre focused on Venizelos is here, but it’s a little way out of town. I visited his house, which has a fantastic sea view, and lots of history to go with it. Here, I saw the car in which he was shot at, his office, library, and even his bedroom. I was surprised to see that his personal bedroom was much smaller and much more basic than the guest bedroom, and even his bed was just a plain iron one. This was unlike the guest bedroom, which had a grand wooden one. For me, this fitted in with the personality of the man, as he wasn’t really a fan of unnecessarily grand things. However, it seemed he was happy to cater for his guests, who may have wanted that.
To round off the trip, I made the pilgrimage to his grave. He picked out the spot at the top of the hill, overlooking Chania town. It was truly beautiful, and as I stood at the foot of his tomb, I thought about what his reaction to today’s crisis would be. I wanted to tell him all of what happened to his beautiful country. I wanted him to know that he was very much respected and loved, even though it may not have felt like it at the time.
This gave me a funny feeling of closure. I was now face to face with the man I’d been studying for over a year. It made it all feel worthwhile – travelling there, spending my time at uni reading about him, traipsing around Athens and London looking for even the smallest scrap of useful information – like I was reading about this obscure topic for a reason. It just goes to show that even if you don’t think what you’re doing is important, to someone, somewhere, it is.
Image: Alice Barnes-Brown