Thursday, 22 January 2009

Mamma Mia

Abba Musical Uses Skopelos and Skiathos as a Movie Set

Skopelos and Skiathos, two islands in the Northern Sporades, are filled with scenes that are familiar to move-fans as the settings for the hit film 'Mamma Mia!'.

There is no better way to advertise the beauty of a destination than to have it used as the setting for a hit movie. The little Greek islands of Skopelos and Skiathos, in the Northern Sporades, are good examples. Until the release of the box-office record-breaker Mamma Mia!, few people had even heard of these islands.

The engaging plot may not be the most complex, but the islands’ eye-catching landscapes are memorable enough to entice travelers away from the usual suspects of Mykonos, Santorini and Patmos – or to lure visitors who have never been to the Greek islands before.

The Mamma Mia! on-location filming was done on the islands of Skopelos and Skiathos, with some shots in coastal town of Damouchari in Greece’s Pelion region. The two islands are not far apart in the western Aegean Sea, east of mainland Greece.

The town of Skopelos, the main port and largest town of the island, was named a Traditional Settlement of Outstanding Beauty, the Greek designation for towns of particular architectural and historical significance. Its low whitewashed buildings are distinguished by their sloping stone or tile roofs and wooden doors and balconies.

Although the town and island have more than 350 churches and chapels, few are open to visitors except on their individual festival days; the oldest is the basilica of Agios Athanasios, begun the 11th century. The Monastery of Evangelistria is two miles out of town, but worth visiting for its setting and the view of the city. If you’re lucky enough to find it open, see the 14th-century gold-plated altar (four centuries older than the church) and the icons. One of the few monasteries to survive from the Venetian Age, the monastery of the Episkopi is west of the town of Skopelos. The churches are beautiful, and many have commanding views, so are worth visiting even when they are not open.

A ferry connects Skopelos to the closest island, Skiathos, the other major film location for Mama Mia. On Skiathos, like Skopelos, the main town has the same name as the island itself. In the 13th century, the island was part of the Venetian Empire, and its capital was protected by a Venetian-style fort called the Bourtzi, on a small island just off shore.

All that remains of Skiathos’s 19th-century shipbuilding industry – one of the Aegean’s formost ones because of the abundant tall pine trees that grew here -- is a small shipwright north of its capital, where they still build traditional Greek caiques. Skiathos has 70 beaches, one of which one in the southern end, called Banana, is bikini optional.

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