For over a decade, the folks in the Peloponnesian town of Leonidio pay tribute to their prized possession: the eggplant (or Tsakoniki Melitzana) with one of the most interesting festivals in Greece. Unique to the region, the slender, light purple seedless eggplant is appreciated by chefs far and wide for its tender flesh and subtle sweetness.
In July, this year (2023) on July 6-9, the Tsakoniki eggplant takes center stage. In the words of the Leonidians who are actually Tsakonians: “Kaour ekanate… Oreyi ta Tsakonia e Athripoi ini xerounte na tsouni, na zioi tsai, na glegioi” (Welcome! The people of Tsakonia know how to eat, live and party.”)
And that’s exactly what they do at the annual Melitzazz Festival paying tribute to the Tsakonian eggplant, which the European Union recognized as a product of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in 1996.
Hundreds head on down to the village and its port every year to sample the delicacies featuring the homegrown eggplant and to enjoy the music and dance. Past events have featured everything from flamenco music, choreographies and lessons, to belly dancing, percussion ensembles, Gypsy jazz bands, Balkan-jazz brass instrumentalists, traditional Cypriot music, DJ sets and much more. This year, the Meliatzazz Festival will teams up with Italian sister city Martano – part of the Magna Graecia region in Southern Italy.
Reviving Tsakonia Traditions
Nestled between the captivating Parnonas mountain range and the deep blue Myrtoan Sea, the busy little town of Leonidio, home to some 7,000 people, is the capital of the Tsakonia region, notable for its cultural and linguistic particularities. The Tsakonian or Tsakonic Language, said to date back to antiquity, is spoken to this day in Leonidio and the surrounding region.
Very few traditional Greek songs (demotika) have come down to us in the Tsakonic dialect primarily due to the small and scattered rural populations. As access to most of the villages (Kastanitsa, Pera Melana, Agios Andreas, Sapounakaika, Vaskina, Sitaina, Prastos, Tyros) in the Tsakonia was poor, most of the songs are sung a cappella (without the accompaniment of instruments). It was usually at the weddings of the village’s most affluent that one would see instrumentalists including clarinet, violin and laouto players. The main instrument in the region was the “dilivira” (or six-hole reed flute) played in yesteryear by the shepherds.
“Pouantza pete negoute” (Oh Birds Flying to Tsakonia) is a characteristic “Kleftiko”, or traditional demotika song speaking of the achievements of the rebels during the 400-year Turkish rule. This song refers to the participation of the Tsakonian villagers in the Battle of Dervenakia in July 1822. These songs are also known as “Tragoudia tis Tavlas”, slow tempo songs “of the table” as they are meant to narrate a story and are never danced.
The snake-like dance “Tsakonikos” (also known as the Dance of Theseus) is believed to date back to antiquity and signifies Theseus’ venture out of the Labyrinth. According to myth, Theseus and his companions danced the “Geranos” a similar dance in order to prepare for the feat.
►This year’s Melitzazz Festival takes place in Leonidio on July 6-9.
Quick Links to Plan Your Visit to Leonidio, Greece for the Festival
►Book the accommodation that suits your needs in Leonidio at the best prices.
►Travel to Leonidio in the comfort of a car. Rent from the folks who do it best.
►Leonidio is the perfect place to do some climbing. These folks will take you to the right spots.
►You could also stay in the seaside town Tyros.