Greek Shadow Theatre data file / base

Current state. Rationale of the project

Since the end of the 19th century, the Shadow Theatre began to change into a popular theatre which became very appreciated in Greece after undergoing a Hellenistic process from the Ottoman Shadow Theatre (Patras – Athens). That was due to the fact that main characters, repertoire and themes were adapted to the new social reality.


During the interwar period, since the first post-war decade, this kind of theatre kept on adapting to all social demands. It gradually evolved into a purely Greek popular theatre genre, managing to resist the competition of similar performances of the time and ending up by becoming the most important theatre in the Greek world. It is the most productive period thanks particularly to some charismatic Karagkiozopektes, who, respecting the tradition, introduced innovations, developed a satirical speech and enriched the repertoire with topics related to national wars (epic drama), Greek history, classic theatre, mythology, fables, life of Saints and Modern Greek and international literature among others.


Since the second post-war decade, we could talk about the decline of this theatre. That is due to the loss of its traditional audience, which is why it turned into the most characteristic children’s theatre. As a consequence, classic heroes were not so important anymore and the dramatic and epic repertoire was reduced.


End of the 20th and 21st century: The Shadow Theatre managed to avoid its disappearance and gained a new energy. The repertoire was enriched, different forms of art were accepted and the Shadow Theatre was understood as a learning activity. Thus, it attracted again some adult audience. The significance of the Shadow Theatre gradually increased and became one of the most important means of cultural transmission, education, cultural awareness and tourism promotion. Besides, at the same time, it started to become a subject of study and research itself. That was due to:


  • Awareness at a state level for local self-management, education and cultural institutions, etc.
  • Interest in promotion and study
  • Organization of informative and scientific meetings
  • Huge informative bibliography
  • Creation of public and private museums, archives and theme collection (about a Karagkiozopektis or a family of Karagkiozopektis)
  • Positive intervention at a state level in the sphere of museums (Folk Art and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia and Thrace)


However, the situation is still very difficult for the Shadow Theatre, since shows have no impact on people and due to the lack of:


a) Specific objectives, programs and policies for the Shadow Theatre promotion at an international level and, primarily, in the sphere of arts and scientific research.

b) A central museum and an educational institution in charge of the dissemination, promotion and study of this kind of popular theatre by means of technologies and audiovisual aids.

c) A great theme archive and a library to facilitate the work of researchers.

d) A complete database with all data stored on a file system, audiovisual aids and all publications.


In 2010, those professionals, semi-professionals and amateurs who worked around this kind of theatre, as well as the general public, had to face upset and surprised the news about the recognition of Karagöz as Turkish Intangible Cultural Heritage. The decision of UNESCO was clearly due to the fact that the application submitted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Turkey was the only one that a government had ever submitted. However, there is a basic principle for Intangible Cultural Heritage recognition, according to which there cannot be an exclusive recognition if a tradition is a cultural object which belongs to different people. In this case, there is no doubt that it is a popular expression cultivated among all the people that used to live under the multicultural Ottoman Empire, and as a consequence, it represents a common cultural object. Furthermore, it can be very easily confirmed that, for a century and a half, the Shadow Theatre experienced in Greece its biggest rise, unlike the rest of the countries in the Mediterranean East coast and in Southeast Europe, where it plunged into decline until its complete disappearance after the foundation of each State-nation. Waiting for a reaction of the Greek State for the Greek Shadow Theatre to be recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage, it shows up the need for a complete scientific documentation and a right promotion of this performance in Greece and primarily overseas.

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