It’s one of those notoriously hot Greek summer nights. You’ve been stuck in the house reading e-mails, texting friends, zooming colleagues and all you want to do is get out and leave your worries behind.
Enter “therino cinema” – one of the Greeks’ favorite pastimes.
At about the same time with the drive-ins of the 1950s and 1960s in the US, the “therino” or “summer” cinema was the mainstream outing for most of the Greeks. So much so that there were more than 540 open-air cinemas in Athens alone!
Every district had its own located usually in the back of massive apartment blocks with gravel on the ground and our absolutely favourite “director’s chairs”.
Some, like the Vox in Exarchiea (1938) or the Cine Paris in Plaka were located on a rooftop. Many of Greece’s outdoor cinemas – mostly in the towns and villages – also featured traditional Karaghiozis shadow puppet theatre before the main screenings.
Neighbours would gather when the sun set to watch their favorite movie outside and have an orange juice, a Coke or some ice cream.
Greece’s therino cinema has come a long way since the 60s. Many sadly closed down but there are still some in Athens and around Greece that have taken it up a notch.
So what do Greeks do at the therino cinema?
Well, most open-air cinemas screen the winter releases that many people missed. Nowadays, you can book your seat online and most therina offer discounts on Tuesdays or Wednesdays or for early screenings.
For the older generations, the therino is all about carefree summers and romantic dates.
But for the younger crowds, it offers a laid back break from gadgets and social media, giving you the chance to be among people, get some fresh air and as of late order a drink, some nachos, popcorn, ice cream or even pizza. There’s even the Kolonaki therino Athinaia known for its delicious tyropitta cheese pie.
The one in my neighbourhood, Ano Patissia, the famous Lila operating since 1967 has basil plants on every table, still has gravel on the ground and you can enjoy the film in the company of cinema-loving cats. I always envy the people living in the surrounding apartments who get to watch their favorite films for free every summer from their balconies!
Besides Athens, open-air cinemas are still the thing to do on the islands. Mykonos CineManto, Santorini’s Cine Kamari with a view to the sea, Cine Flisvos on the beach in Palio Faliron Flisvos Park along the Athenian Riviera known for its delicious souvlakia, Zephyros in a beautiful Petralona yard since 1932, and Cine Liostasi – part of the beautiful boutique hotel overlooking Ios island bay (and featured in the lead photo).
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Greece’s ‘Therino’ Cinema: The Story
Did you know that the first outdoor screening in Greece took place in the summer of 1900 at Syntagma Square on makeshift cloth screens? It was only a matter of time before Zappeio Park (in the National Gradens) behind the parliament building had its own cinema in 1904 – Aigli – which is still in operation today, followed by Cine Dexameni in Kolonaki (still working), Boboniera in the northern Athens suburb of Kifissia screening since 1918 and the Cine Thission with a gripping view to the Acropolis catering to film buffs since 1935.
By the late 1930s, there were more than 280 open-air cinemas in Athens, with Thessaloniki even boasting a floating version.
In the late 1990s, the government decided to assign Greece’s therina cinemas a protected status due to their cultural importance. In the last decade, Athens even hosts an annual open-air cinema film festival.
These family-run businesses not only served as a meeting point in the warm summers offering recreation and respite, but they also nurtured generations of culture-hungry Greeks who had no access to the world other than through film and music.
Besides offering a taste of yesteryear nostalgia, the therino is part and parcel of what Greek summer is all about. For most of us, summer is about the smell of the sea, the sun, the aroma of the honeysuckle or jasmine buds, the scent of the basil plant, outdoor get-togethers with our friends and, of course, the therino cinema under the moon and the stars in the heart of the city.
♬ I conclude today’s post with a song byviolinist Evanthia Reboutsika who told me that her childhood years in her father’s therino cinema inspired her to compose most of her works including this: “To Asteri ki Efhi” (A Star and a Wish) featuring Greek-American singer Elli Paspala.