Staged Authenticity

The term “staged authenticity” is one used by tourism and cultural resource management researchers to define a way that traditional cultures are presented (i.e. staged) to outsiders. It can be manufactured by tourism professionals (in theme parks, performances and such), but it can be the way that locals perceive what tourists want to see and experience – like tartan, bagpipes and whisky in Scotland. Real life and culture is often hidden or relegated to areas that tourists are not likely to venture. This concept was brought home to me when we visited the village of Metsovo, high in the Pindos mountains.

A view of the village on a cloudy day.

Like similar articles promoting tourism, an article entitled Metsovo: The Jewel of Epirus that appeared in Greece Is, a culture and gastronomic magazine, is not wrong: Metsovo is a unique place. The article just doesn’t give you the whole picture. According to any number of local guides, the village suffered financially in the recent past. But, in the 1970s a local patron – Evangelos Averoff – helped to turn the village around by encouraging tourism. It was highly successful and the village now flourishes, but success comes at a price. Forty plus years on, this small mountain village sports a number of hotels (including some small boutique hotels and spas) and even more studio apartments that must have been transformed from basic rent rooms. Visitors flock from all over, some stay in the village accommodations, but many more are bussed in on tours. Somehow the huge coaches navigate the narrow cobbled roads. The central plateia (square) and the streets radiating from it have been taken over by souvenir shops all selling the same items and – of course – cheese for which Metsovo is known. There are numerous cafes, bars and restaurants (heavy on grilled meat and local cheeses). And signposts helpfully direct the mass of tourists to destinations designed for them.

One of the many tourist shops in the main Metsovo square selling the same items.

But, walk away from this staged setting and you will see it is a wonderful and real village. Yes, it known for its cheese production from the Tositsa Dairy Foundation. The cheesemaking cooperative in the village centre sells Foundation products. As you walk around the village you can hear snatches of Vlach, a Romance dialect associated with this part of the world. Many of the older inhabitants still wear traditional costumes, not by design, but simply because this is what they wear. The old stone houses and cobbled streets are great to explore. The village also happens to have one of the highest vineyards in Greece, the Katogi Averoff winery at the edge of the village. And, all around the wooded “bear” mountains provide beautiful scenery.

A very early morning stroll on the edge of the village of Metsovo, modern day shepherd and his sheep – not staged!
The same sheep tucked up in the shepherd’s garden for the evening.
Morning light shines on the chapel of Ayios Georgios in the Averoff Garden, a 10 acre botanical park of Pindos tree specimens near the heart of the village created in 1913 (the date Epirus joined the nation state of Greece).
The Averoff Winery sandstone slab rooftops on a rainy day.
Old stone and wood houses in the village – one with a little vegetable garden.
Old friends on a volta (an early evening stroll).

My initial impression of the village upon entering the plateia was one of disappointment. However, after exploring further along the edges, it became clear to me that there was an authentic (unstaged) Metsovo that is well worth visiting and exploring. This phenomenon is not unique to Metsovo or even to Greece. We’ve experienced it in many other countries. An example particularly comes to mind – the Tuscan town of San Gimignano where busloads of tourists are shipped in to experience the walled town, its towers and to shop for ceramics, wine, oil and local saffron. The crowds fill the town often to bursting point. There we found it best to go early in the morning to shop at the local market set up in the square or to buy our bread where the locals did. Don’t be put off, but look beyond the venues staged for tourists.

9 comments

  1. Hi Deb
    The village looks wonderful But yes it is such a shame that it all becomes focussed on stuff for the tourists. It’s a conundrum isn’t it ? How to make money and be authentic Not really possible I guess.

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    • It is a conundrum. How to make a living (as tourism is one of the main sources of income) and how to preserve the authentic village culture. I haven’t figured it out, but one thing I would change would be to introduce more traditional crafts – authentic ones like their intricate woven fabrics and woodworking rather than mass produced standardised tourist souvenirs.

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  2. Most touristed places will have a central area for the bus coaches and day visitors who only get to see the ‘staged’ version of that town and who get to eat the ‘prodotti tipici della zona’. Tis is true especially for most towns in Italy, Scottish towns with their tartan and cashmere, Bruges with its mussels and waffles, the list goes on and on. And walk one kilometre away from all the gewgaws and newly cobbled roads, you will find authenticity.This Greek village looks beautiful away from the centre, Traditional woven crafts would come at some cost I imagine. Would the day tourists be prepared to pay for something intricate and hand woven?

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    • Metsovo is very beautiful and I am very glad we persisted to find the authentic behind the staged version. Crafted items would come at a cost. I was just suggesting that they expand on the general tourist stuff they sell – something for everyone’s pocket. Also, it occurred to me that if only artisan products were sold, only a few would profit, thus causing inequality within the village. I do, however, agree that buses could be parked outside the village and visitors walk in. It would certainly solve some of the traffic problems!

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  3. I am deterred by high traffic tourist areas and always seek a more engaging experience wherever I go, both here and overseas, but it’s tough for the locals to maintain a lifestyle and an income. I guess staging satisfies most. Metsovo looks beautiful

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    • Metsovo is very beautiful (beyond those tourist traps – though they have an odd beauty, too). I am much happier exploring areas that have fewer people, but there are those places you’d like to see that are very popular. I guess going at less busy times is one way to combat this, but also to seek beyond the staged setting. I couldn’t imagine what the place would be like in peek summer season – June-August. After the initial shock, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

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