Angelos Sikelianos (Greek: Άγγελος Σικελιανός) was one of the leading 20th century lyric poets of Greece. He was just as important as Cavafy and Seferis, the other Greek poets of his time. He was nominated five time for the Nobel Prize for Literature between 1946 and 1951, the year of his death, without however receiving the Prize.
Born in Lefkada on 28 March 1884, Angelos Sikelianos went to Athens to study Law in 1900, but never graduated. Instead, he began to travel extensively and to concentrate on his poetry writing, which was inspired by Greek history, religious symbolism as well as the idea of universal harmony. He travelled to Italy and then Paris where he met his wife, Eva Palmer, a rich American heiress. They married in the US in 1907 and returned to Athens, Greece in 1908. Their son, Glafkos, was born in 1909. During this period, Sikelianos came in contact with other intellectuals such as the writer Nikos Kazantzakis and the poets Kostas Kariotakis and Kosti Palamas. Their friendship was very close, especially with Nikos Kazantzakis. Sikelianos published his first collection of poems, ‘Alafroiskiotos’ (Greek: Αλαφροϊσκιωτός – The Light-Shadowed), in 1909, revealing his lyrical powers. The collection was a hymn to Greek nature. It had an immediate impact on the critics and was recognised as an important piece of work.
Nikos Kazantzakis & Angelos Sikelianos
His wife, Eva Palmer (Greek: Εύα Πάλμερ), who had studied archaeology and choreography, was interested in all aspects of classical Greek culture such as the theatre, dance, music and folk art. She had common ideals and interests as Angelos Sikelianos and therefore buying the piece of land in 1912 in the area of Sikia Corinth on which they built their villa to house their dreams, did not need a second thought. They were both mesmerised by the natural beauty of the pine forest leading to the crystal clear waters of the sea below. Sikelianos designed the villa, which had a combination of architectural styles: the façade with ancient Greek columns, the domed windows that referred to the Byzantine period and the Venetian influence with the balconies. Besides the well-known intellectuals that stayed at the villa, King Paul and Queen Frederica of Greece also stayed there, enjoying the Corinthian sunshine. During WWII, the German and Italian armies took over the villa, and later the Greek guerrillas set up their headquarters there during the civil war that followed.
Eva Palmer and Angelos Sikelianos wanted to use their villa as a base for the revival of the ancient Greek Delphic Games held in Delphi, also known as the Pythian Games, which honoured the god Apollo. The Festival was to be a means of communication and the bringing together of people on an international scale. The programme of the two-day Delphic Festival included a tour of the archaeological site and the Museum of Delphi, Byzantine and Greek music, dance, a performance of the ancient Greek play, Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, talks on folk art and the art of weaving, reciting the hymn of Apollo and finishing off with a torch relay along the sacred way (Greek: Ιερά Οδος – Hiera Odos) by the athletes. The first Festival, held in 1927 and the second in 1930, were both funded by the Sikelianos couple. The endeavour was eventually discontinued as it led to economic problems and finally to the separation of the couple, with Eva Palmer leaving for the U.S.A.
The villa was put up for sale and was bought by Ioannis Mantzoufas, a Professor of Economics at Athens University, and the son-in-law of the Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas. In 1951, it was bought by Spyros Typaldos, a Greek ship owner, who saw the villa as an extension of the hotel that he had built on the adjoining block of land. It was the first organised tourist area in Greece. In 1986, Melina Mercouri, the Minister for Culture, had the villa characterised as a cultural heritage site. The villa is open to all visitors free of charge so that they can walk through the rooms and browse the poet’s books, sit on the terrace and enjoy their breakfast or a cup of coffee. The house consists of three levels: the ground floor, the basement and the first floor. Sikelianos would sit in his office next to the ground floor terrace and write his poems or meet his friends. He would also sit on a bench in the courtyard under a large pine tree, which is still there today.
This year, as part of the Delphic Cultural Heritage Days 2021 organised between 11 June and 11 July, certain events of the International Festival ‘Angelos Sikelianos’ took place there. It was part of the celebrations for the 70 years since his death in 1951. The Delphic Cultural Heritage Festival aims to become a permanent International Literal Forum promoting the Delphic Idea that the Sikelianos couple began so many years ago.