The iconic first Greek tourist poster of 1929. The Parthenon depicted by Nelly’s (published by the Greek Tourism Office).
Below, a pictorial rendering of the spa town of Aedipsos, published by G.N.T.O in 1934 (G.N.T.O publication).

1961, “Synthesis” Freddie Carabott.

1955 «Castella», Giorgos Vakirtzis.
Below, 1956 «Hydra», Yannis Moralis.

1963 «Synthesis Mosaic», Michalis Katzourakis.
Below, 1963 «Architectural Synthesis», Freddie Carabott.

1962 «Synthesis» Relief of a trireme, Michalis Katzourakis.
Below, 1963 «Trireme», Michalis Katzourakis.

1963 «Greece», Freddie Carabott.
Below, Athens Festival 2003, Yannis Moralis.

1981 «Window» Layout K. Vittou, Photographer N. Desyllas.
Below, «Paros Parikia» Layout M. Mandreka, Photograper St. Niflis.

A characteristic image from the award-winning G.N.T.O promotional campaign “Greece – A 365-day destination” launched in the 2017-2018 season.

The high art of the Greek tourist poster

Text: Yannis Ragos

From sightseeing to modern tourism

From the 1920s onwards, the tourism industry has gradually emerged as one of the most critical pillars of the Greek economy, as well as, by and large, a factor of change for the physiognomy of Greece. All along this journey, some of the most prominent Greek visual artists, photographers and graphic designers have shaped, to a large extent, the (timeless) image of the country to the world.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Greek state recognized the need to methodically manage the ever-increasing number of foreign visitors (“periegetic” – exploring– “travellers”) roaming around the country. For this purpose, the “Office for Foreigners and Fairs ” was set up in 1914, and later, in 1922, upgraded to a Service with the aim of “attracting […] foreigners and prolonging their stay in Greece”. However, while the phenomenon of tourism (a word that came to replace the traditional notion of “periegetic travelling”) was on the rise, in 1929, the Greek National Tourism Organisation – G.N.T.O (“EOT”) was founded, undertaking, among other things, the specialized and systematic promotion of Greece abroad through the development of tourist posters, the release of special editions, and the placement of appropriate content in widely-read international press publications. In the same year, the “Greek Tourism Office” published its first dated poster featuring the iconic photograph of the Parthenon captured by the lens of famous Greek photographer Nelly’s (Elli Seraidari).

The most prevalent themes in the 1930s were related to the beauty of the Greek landscape, the enduring relevance of the ancient and Byzantine monuments (the Acropolis of Athens, Delphi, Olympia, Mount Athos, Meteora, etc.) and the country’s cosmopolitan destinations (Mykonos, Corfu, Hydra, Andros, etc.), while the turn of the decade ushered in the promotion of Greek spa towns, portrayed as directly competitive with their European counterparts. The posters were mainly paintings and their creators were prominent visual artists, such as Doris (M. Papageorgiou), S. Polychroniadis and M. Vitsoris.

The post-war era
Naturally, the outbreak of World War II had a major impact on tourist activity. The liberation of Greece from the Germans in the autumn of 1944 raised new expectations despite the unfavourable political and social context (such as the impoverished population and the civil war). Distinguished Greek painters (P. Byzantios, S. Vassiliou, G. Moralis, L. Montesantou, P. Tetsis, G. Kosmadopoulos, and others) took it upon themselves to portray the country as an ideal tourist destination: the word “Greece” dominated the posters, while the themes depicted everyday scenes of Greek life, idyllic mountain- or seascapes and “summery” imagery (the Greek light, fishing boats, windmills, and so on), which the artists rendered almost idealistically.

In 1951, the need for a stable and organized promotion of Greek tourism led to the re-establishment of the G.N.T.O (it had been discontinued in the late 1930s). In 1955, the Festivals of Athens and Epidaurus (“Epidavria”) were launched and integrated into the remit of the G.N.T.O, as among their aims was attracting foreign visitors who were to attend artistic events “inspired […] by Greek history, mythology and literature”. For the first time, in addition to significant painters, great photographers, including S. Meletzis, N. Tombazi and D. Harissiadis, also participated in the creation of posters. At the same time, acclaimed visual artists, such as G. Anemoyiannis (also a set designer), G. Faitakis, A. Papailiopoulos and K. Linakis, fashioned the posters for the cultural events of the Athens and Epidaurus Festivals, and for the “Sound and Light” show, combining in their pictorial compositions the memory of ancient Greece with the modernism of form.

Between 1960 and 1967, photography would manage to secure a dominant position, with painterly composition not giving way altogether. The innovative element though was the sweeping entry of graphic design, effected through the collaboration of the G.N.T.O with three emblematic figures of the Greek design scene: F. Carabott, M. Katzourakis and A. Katzouraki. Their artistic practice was typified by bold graphic design choices that incorporated the tone of advertising and the communicative assertiveness of the time. During the same period, photographers N. Stournaras, N. Mavrogenis and N. Kontos, and designers such as E. Aperghi, V. Liaskas and I. Svoronos were also active, while the contribution of painters of the likes of S. Vassiliou and G. Manousakis, as well as G. Vakirtzis –who drew on his experience in designing giant movie posters– was precious.

After the dictatorship
The “golden era” in the creative development of the domestic tourist poster was abruptly disrupted by the dictatorship (1967-1974), during which Greek tourism entered a period of stagnation and the artists’ choices, with only few exceptions, reproduced the “sun and sea” stereotype.

In the 1970s and the 1980s, the G.N.T.O scaled up the country’s international promotion, opting mainly for colour photographs –which by now had completely replaced the one-time pictorial or geometric artwork– featuring popular themes: high-profile tourist resorts (later, lesser-known Greek destinations, such as Kefalonia , Kastellorizo, the Small Cyclades islands and Samothrace, were added in order to highlight the diversity of the Greek landscape), well-known archaeological sites, Byzantine mosaics and icons, folk art craft (e.g. embroidery) and thematic posters (yachting , beaches, and so forth).

In the 1990s, the promotion of Greece abroad was further intensified, now through organized campaigns (with the first one, “Greece – Chosen by the Gods”, being launched in 1991) co-developed with leading advertising agencies.

The new era
In the 21st century, with the advent of the internet in the field of tourism promotion, among other domains, the Greek tourism promotion “model” has now essentially shifted to digital campaigns, whereby a modern rendition of an array of Greek destinations is communicated with the aid of new media (e.g. animation).

In short, for almost a century, tourist posters have been documenting the trajectory of Greek tourism with clarity and precision, and along with that, the artistic and ideological currents at play in each era. Today they constitute an invaluable corpus of visual art which is recognized as a particularly significant chapter in the history of both Greek tourism and modern Greek art.