Xanthi – The Path of Life

Today the clouds have lifted to reveal a much brighter outlook than yesterday. My first mission is to take advantage of this break in the weather and walk along the Path of Life, a picturesque park running parallel to the Kosynthos River.

The trail is about 6 kilometres long and the entrance is a short distance from the Xanthi campus of Democritus University of Thrace. Following Vasilissis Sofias Road from the Old Town, I reach the Samakov Bridge which spans the River. At this time of year, it can be best described as a partially dry river bed. It is littered with boulders that have been carried down from the mountains and shaped by the force of the river when it is in full flow.

The source of the Kosynthos River stems from the Rhodopi Mountain range. Looking at the map it seems that two sources join together at the Kosynthos River Bridge 8 kilometres north of Xanthi.

The hillsides on either side of the river are swathed with pine trees. Clusters of brightly coloured beehives are nestled amongst the base of the trees where worker bees are industriously producing one of many favourites – pine honey or as I like to call it – Meli Pinus!

Along the path, I meet an elderly gentleman walking slowly with the use of an aid. We greet each other and after a few pleasantries, he begins to tell me a little about the path. With the man’s limited English and my even more limited Greek I understand that the path was created by a local man and that the path we were standing on used to be water. This really piqued my interest, though if you Google Xanthi Path of Life, the results consist of a raft of Tripadvisor reviews.

I’m a curious person by nature and decided to apply my sleuth-like prowess to find out a bit more. My first clue comes from a concrete structure divided into sections, each housing a piece of metal artwork. On one of my walks around Xanthi Old Town I had already seen a similar piece entitled Orpheus and Eurydice. Of course, the signage was all in Greek but with the help of Google Translate, I could see that it was associated with an organisation called the Speech and Action Network (SAN). Underneath the concrete structure within the stonework, there were the same words “Δίκτυο Λόγου και Πράξης”.

By putting the Greek words in Google, I came across some interesting articles that provided me with the answers to my questions. In 2010 philologist and writer Thanasis Moussopoulos and three associates had the idea of creating a network in Xanthi. During this time, the Economic Crisis had already taken a grip on the country. Times were tough and a sense of helplessness pervaded the lives of many. What Moussoplulos and friends hoped to achieve was an example of citizen-led social action. A means of turning aspirations into reality and putting the fate of the town into their own hands. They had no intention of getting involved in politics but just wanted the politicians to listen. From that, the Speech and Action Network was borne. The griffin became their symbol, the mythical creature half lion and half eagle represented the combination of Speech and Action, the soaring of the mind and momentum.

A man called Michalis Dermetzopoulos conceived the idea of the Path of Life. The founding members of the SAN met with Mr Dermetzopoulos and discussed the possibility of working with him to bring his ambitions to life. They spoke at length about their childhoods spent swimming and fishing on the shores of the Kosynthos River. They shared memories of climbing the rocky river banks to the waterfall and how these childhood experiences were etched in their memories. This was too good an opportunity to miss.

Mr Dermetzopoulos’s idea was to create a municipal garden that would provide a diverse habitat for nature and a place where locals and visitors alike could enjoy the beauty of the landscape. This would be no small undertaking because the path was originally a waterway that carried water – possibly to an old mill or it may have been some kind of flood defence. Google hasn’t been very helpful in ascertaining which. However, the idea was fully embraced by the community who were certainly up for the challenge.

Local institutions and volunteers came together to transform this unused space into what we see today. Stone slabs were laid over the waterway creating a stable and safe path along the river. The route was planted with shrubs and trees to create a diverse habitat for wildlife. Local artists created incredible installations bringing the path alive. To enrich the cultural opportunities of the town, a small theatre was built to facilitate outdoor theatre events. The Network gathered dozens of musicians, poets, visual artists and creators. Students in the schools became involved and local businesses contributed in any way that they could making this a true community project.

In June 2011 the inauguration of the Path of Life took place in a fantastic celebration of the community and the arts. The SAN is now an integral part of the Kosynthos Festival that takes place in July, the culture week at the Old Town Festival in September, the great Culture and Literature Day of Xanthi and Thrace in December and a poetry festival that takes place in the local schools in Spring. What an incredible legacy borne from the desire to make a better life for the people of Xanthi.

In 2015, the late poet, writer and one of the founding members of the SAN Giorgos Kotoulas, presented his play “The Two Sides of a Tobacco Leaf – Xanthos and Xanthippi. The play tells the story of young lovers Xanthippi, daughter of a tobacco merchant and humble Xanthos. Despite their differences in background they met and fell in love. Away from the disapproving eyes of their respective families, they would meet in secret in the Cave of Love. Having decided that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together they decided to marry. To their utter dismay, the monks refused their request. Left with no option they went to the Cave of Love and took their own lives, binding them together forever in death. Legend says that Xanthippi was reincarnated as a bird and to this day can be seen flying along the shores of the Kosynthos River accompanying more fortunate lovers.

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