Off the Beaten Trail: In Search of St. Nicholas in Russia

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Velikoretsky St. Nicholas icon, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow



Santa Claus is not from the North Pole. He is based on Nicholas, the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Myra, Lycia. This Greek/Byzantine city today is called Demre, in the Antalya province of Turkey.

            I had the unique opportunity of visiting Russia in late September through early October 2015, seeing the Byzantine Orthodox civilization of the North.  I visited sites of  Byzantine civilization in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novgorod, the birthplace of Russian Orthodox Christianity. At Christmas 2015, there is a worldwide travel alert to Russia for a possible risk of travel due to increased terrorist threat (November 23, 2015).1   I managed to get out of Russia in safety.

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The Tretyakov Gallery has a St. Nicholas icon from the 12th-early 13th century.

A whopping 72% of the  Russian adult population identified themselves as Orthodox Christians in 2008.Every Greek family has a member or friend called Nick. Russian iconography that stems back to the 10th century gave me a new perception of this ethnically Greek saint.

My search for St. Nicholas began at St. Basil’s Cathedral (Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat)  Museum in Red Square, Moscow.  St. Nicholas of Velikoretskoye was in an illuminated case. It is a 16th century tempera on wood icon It shows St. Nicholas with scenes of his life.  In 1555 the icon was brought from Vyatka to Moscow. The name Velikoretsky  means “of the big rivers”.  St. Basils Cathedral is divided into ten inner churches. The southern church was consecrated in honor of  the Velikoretsky  St. Nicholas  icon.

St. Nicholas of Zaraisk, Tretyakov Gallery

We did not have the time to visit St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral in St. Petersburg. It is associated with the Russian Navy and has two churches. The lower St. Nicholas church is located on the first floor. The main shrine has a 17th century Greek icon of St. Nicholas with a relic.8  The Church of the Saviour on the Spilt Blood has an 1890’s St. Nicholas the Wonder worker icon. Our main focus in St. Petersburg was the Hermitage, Peterhof Gardens and Catherine the Great’s Palace.

The Tretyakov Gallery has a St. Nicholas icon from the 12th-early 13th century, Tempera on Wood. This is the earliest surviving Russian icon. This is the Novgorod icon painting style, when Christianity was beginning. St. Nicholas of Zaraisk with scenes of his life is of the Rostov-Suzdal School of the late 13th-early 14th centuries. The only full length fresco of St. Nicholas with an open gospel, 1108-1113 A. D.  is displayed in the Tretyakov Gallery.

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Only full length fresco of St. Nicholas with open gospel, 1108-1113 A. D., Tretyakov Gallery.

On a visit to the “Decorated Icon Exhibit” at Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow, and jeweled St. Nicholas icon was exhibited at the Fine Arts Center. The Cathedral is the largest Orthodox Church in the world. There is a side chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker with a prominent wall icon. “It is located in the south part of the gallery, for the country where St. Nicholas lived. Christianity came to Russia from the south, so the paintings in St. Nicholas’ side chapel illustrate the history of Christianity from the 3rd to the 9th centuries AD, before Russia’s’ conversion to it. It is here that one can see…..the theme of the Seven ecumenical Councils. St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, an ardent defender of Orthodox Christian doctrines, took part in the first Ecumenical council. That’s why these subjects are to be found next to those concerned with his pious life and Christian virtues in his chapel.”3         

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A jeweled St. Nicholas icon, Fine Arts Center, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow.

  The art of the Moscow goldsmiths in the 16th century is displayed in the Armory, Moscow Kremlin Museum. The art of fine enameling with large uncut stones is displayed in icons. “The folding icon of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker…is silver, but its cover is gold decorated with gems and pearls.”4

                We did not have the time to visit St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral in St. Petersburg. It is associated with the Russian Navy and has two churches. The lower St. Nicholas church is located on the first floor. The main shrine has a 17th century Greek icon of St. Nicholas with a relic.5  The Church of the Saviour on the Spilt Blood has an 1890’s St. Nicholas the Wonder worker icon. Our main focus in St. Petersburg was the Hermitage, Peterho  Gardens and Catherine the Great’s Palace.

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Side chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow.

            An eight hour round trip from St. Petersburg took us to Novgorod, near the Swedish border. “The Novgorod State Museum’s collection of early Russian painting is unquestionably one of the finest in the world…Highlights from the earliest period (11th to 13th centuries) include ..St. Nicolas of Myra in Lycia (St. Nicholas of Lipno). These are prototypical images of the 14th and 15th centuries. ‘St. Nicholas of Lipno’ icon painted by Aleksa Petrov in 1294 is the earliest dated Russian icon. The fact that it bears the artists’s signature gives it unique historical significance.” 6  A circular icon of St. Nicholas that is dated 13th-14th century? possibly 16th century is the first icon that came into view when we entered the icon section.The site shows St. Nicholas icons from the middle 13th to end of 16th century.

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Folding St. Nicholas icon, 16th century, Armory, Moscow

            Early Russian painting was one of the most significant achievement of this civilization. Byzantium with its capital in Constantinople had a unique splendor of artistic Christian art that impressed the Slavic tribes. The early Russians believed that they “knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere on earth. We know not how to describe to you. The only thing we are certain about if that God makes His dwelling among the people there and their service is better than in any other country. We can not forget the beauty.”7 The Russian icon for centuries has been striving to reflect the ideal beauty of the heavenly world. 8

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Circular icon of St. Nicholas that is dated 13th-14th century, possibly 16th century, Novgorod State Museum.

Nicolas, Bishop of Myra, has always been the most admired saint, according to the book, “The Russian Icon” by the editorial Board of the Russian Orthodox Church. He prays for all Christians, helps people in misfortunes, protects travelers and quickly defends those to whom injustice has been made. His veneration in Early Russia was almost as great as that of Christ and Mary. Numerous churches were dedicated to St. Nicholas. A large quantity of icons were created in his memory. Russian proverbs show a deep faith in his power.9 Our roots are in Greece, a country plundered by conquests. My 2015 Russian trip showed me that our Byzantine inheritance lived on after the fall of Constantinople with, as the next generation of my family says, “with the Greeks of the North”.


  3. “Cathedral Of Christ The Savior (Ivan Fiodorov Printing Company: Russia, 2005), pp. 25-9.
  4. S. Goncharenko and V.I. Narozhnaya, “THE ARMORY: A guide” (Red Square Publishers:Moscow, 2012), PP.36-9.
  6. N, Grinev, “NOVGOROD THE GREAT” (Ivan Fiodorov Art Publishers: St. Petersburg,2004), pp. 48-50.
  7. Editorial Board of the Russian Orthodox Church, “Russian Icon” (P-2 Art Publishers: St. Petersburg,, 2011) p. 1,
  8. “Russian Icon”, pp. 2-3.
  9. “Russian Icon” p. 9.

Links: Tretyakov gallery


Following Byzantine Footsteps: Mausoleum of Galla Placidia


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Chi Rho symbol and deer.

Daughter, sister, Mother of Emperors, captive of barbarians, incest, this was the life of Galla Placidia. Used as a political tool in royal marriages, she had a hard life. She lives on today through her Byzantine masterpiece of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Marta Chirico, our Ravenna guide, unfolded the glory of Galla Placidia’s Byzantine masterpiece created between 425-430 A.D.

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

The break-up of the Western Roman Empire was accompanied by wars, invasions, and immense dislocations of the social stability of Europe. Insecurity reigned. These were the Dark Ages from 400-800 A.D. Early Christian art survived in the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) at Constantinople and Ireland. Emperor Constantine in 330 A.D. transferred his capital east to Constantinople (Byzantium). Christian religious art began being attached to church walls. Early Christian art belongs to the church as the text of a book belongs to the paper on which it is printed. The Christian artist had an opportunity given to no other artist before him, the opportunity of creating a complete iconography of the visual side of religion, and not merely of illustrating (3)

The northern Italian city of Ravenna, situated on the Adriatic coast, south of Venice, is famous for both its late Roman architecture and its masterpieces of mosaic art, derived from its time as the capital of the Western Roman Empire (c.402-76), and later as an imperial Exarchate of the Byzantine Empire (c.540-750). Although many of its surviving structures have been heavily restored, Ravenna remains the most important site of Byzantine art outside Constantinople. The mosaic artist became the illustrator of a series of incidents for the benefit of an illiterate people.1

Galla Placidia (386 – 450 AD), sister of the Roman Emperor Honorius who had transferred the Capital of the Western Empire from Milan to Ravenna in 402 AD, built this little Mausoleum with a Greek cross plan around 425-450 as her own resting place. However, the mausoleum was never used for that purpose, because the empress died and was buried in Rome in 450.2

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St. Lawrence

The outside is Roman brick work with arches. “It is simple on the outside. But once inside we will see the oldest mosaics of Ravenna of Roman-Hellenistic style,” said guide Marta. “The dome has a golden cross turned towards the East, with a blue sky and golden stars. In the four corners are the symbols of the 4 Evangelists: St. Mark’s Lion; St. Luke’s Ox; St. John’s Eagle and the man St. Matthew. The windows are made of alabaster. Galla Placidia was not buried here.” I noticed all the saints and Jesus wore Byzantine garments with purple and gold, the sign of kings. Christ is ‘The Good Shepherd’ with a calm face, golden Roman tunic, purple mantle and big golden halo. The landscape has plants and flowers, giving a person a feeling of peace.” Looking at the sky in the dome gave me a feeling of hope. I bought a plastic place mat of the blue sky with stars so I will remember its beauty.

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The Good Shepherd mosaic.

The Greek symbol Chi Rho (meaning Christos) with Alpha and Omega Greek letters (I am the beginning and the End) was inspiring.

The three sarcophagi are of Galla Placidia, her son Emperor Valentinian III or her brother Emperor Honorius and her husband Emperor Constantius III. St. Peter with a key and St. Paul are dressed as Greek philosophers. Small fountains with white doves are drinking water. St. Lawrence with a determined face, carrying the cross of martyrdom on his shoulders is walking to put on a grill. The Greek key in bright colors decorates the arches. The mosaics are made of smalti, colorful glass and 24k gold metal leaf. It was listed with seven other structures in Ravenna in the World Heritage List in 1996. The UNESCO experts describe it as “the earliest and best preserved of all mosaic monuments, and at the same time one of the most artistically perfect”.4

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Blue sky with stars

Marta Chirico is a unique guide. She helped me see a lifetime wish: the mosaics of Ravenna. When I was writing my Master of Arts thesis in Byzantine history in 1973, I thought I would never go to Ravenna. I do not know Italian. Marta is a scholar who knows excellent English. Dr. Despina Siolas and Guide Marta Chirico helped me realize my dream of following the “Footsteps of Byzantium” in Ravenna. Marta created an itinerary that is not on internet tours. She recommended a great local restaurant to dine. I plan to write a series of articles based on my Ravenna experience with Guide Marta for a year.

We are honored to have this touring experience with Marta Chirico.



  3. Bustacchini, Gianfranco. RAVENNA. Ravenna: Salbaroli Editore, 2012. Print, pp. 22-25.

Link:  Marta Chirico- Ravenna guide. Email at








On the Road in Greece: Businesses in Tripolis

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Mr./Mrs. Sypsis preparing meats.


Small businesses predominant in the provincial city of Tripolis, in the middle of the Arcadian mountains. I visited Sypsis Meat Market to thank them for helping me in an accident. I saw the preparation of organic meats from the Arcadian mountains. Photos of calfs, lambs and wildlife from the mountains were displayed. Lilies and floral arrangements made this an unusual “Sypsis Meat Market” operated by Panagiotis and Dimitris at Sehiotis 16 Street. I watched the proprietors prepare a lamb. Fresh chicken breast, souvlaki, beef pork chops, fillets and roasts were displayed. Photos of the family were on the walls. That day Mr./Mrs. Sypsis, daughter and grandchild were visiting that day. A small-town atmosphere of warmth and friendship predominated.

Sypsis Meat Market

Beverage bars are springing up all over Greece. Graffiato: A. Emporter snack bar is a modern café where persons go to hang out and share the latest news. The couches and décor were modern. A comfortable experience to hang out with friends. A person can spend 1-2 euros and get out of the house to socialize. I tried “Mountain Tea” that was organic. The herbs were collected from the Mainalos Mountains. Refreshing and an energy booster, I bought mountain tea from Arcadia and the Lasithi Plateau. I continue drinking mountain, buying it from a local Greek Foods store.

Graffiato: A. Emporter snack bar

The locals patronize pizzerias. My cousin Pitsa Gerou Macarouni took us for two years to her favorite place: La Bottega. An immaculate pizzeria with scenes of Italy. The food prices range from 2 to 8 euros. We had Macaronada Carbonara (spaghetti with ham) and Pizza Margarita (pizza with peperoni). We had a relaxing view of the Tripoli Avenue. Salads, different varieties of Pizza and pasta with meat, pork and fish combinations. This is the new eatery of Tripolis.

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Macaronada Carbonara (spaghetti with ham) of La Bottega

A traditional Greek taverna is “Kapaki Sto Kapaki” on the main Avenue of Tripolis. Traditional beef, pork, chicken, souvlaki, grilled and baked dinners are served. Prices range from 6 to 10 euros. I ordered grill chicken fillet with lemon and rice. The atmosphere gives the person a feel of Old Greece.

Pizza Margarita (pizza with peperoni) of La Bottega.

Nothing can compare with a homecooked dinner in a traditional Arcadian house. Prof. Spiros Vardouniotis invited us for dinner in his Tripolis home. Evangelina Vardouniotis, his wife, prepared a Greek salad, beet salad, kasseri and feta cheese, baked chicken, corn, with crusty traditional bread, topped with a house wine and local beer.  The enjoyable evening concluded with a surprise bouquet of flowers waiting for me at the Mainalos Hotel. Their son and our godson, Dr. Alexios Vardouniotis, ENT Surgeron, sent a lavish floral arrangement for my birthday. This is Greek hospitality!


Window shopping showed the cosmopolitan culture of the European. Elegant evening gowns were on models. I enjoyed seeing a culture totally different from urban life.



Sypsis Meat Market, T. Sehioti 16, Tripolis, tel. 2710232652, email – La Bottega

Graffiato Snack Bar- Sehiotis Tasou 15- Platia Petrinou – telephone +30 2710221710

Kapaki Sto Kapaki taverna- Sehiotis Tasou 39, telephone,




Following Byzantine Footsteps: Interview with Father Nicola Madaro


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Father Nicola with the tourists.

History is written by the victors. – Winston Churchill

St. Nicholas Feast Day is approaching on December 6th, 2017. We had the honor of interviewing a Nicholas. Professor Father Nicola Madaro at St. San Giorgio dei (“Saint George of the Greeks”) Church in Castello, Venice, northern Italy gave us a glimpse of Byzantine civilization. The Church was the center of the Scuola dei Greci, the Confraternity of the Greeks in Venice. Prof. Father Nicola is a Greek Orthodox priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy and Malta, a diocese of the Church of Constantinople that was established in 1991 as the Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy and Exarchate of Southern Europe.1

Archdiocese of Italy and Malta.

Dr. Despina Siolas, my unofficial travel agent/guide said, “Contact the Archdiocese in Venice that we want a tour of St. George Church.” To be frank, I expected to give a donation. I did not expect a warm response, because I am not a “Benefactor”, real estate magnate, high powered, wealthy American or part of the Greek Orthodox Church of America elite.

The Byzantine Empire is a sensitive topic to persons of Greek Orthodox roots. The Greek point of view is that Constantinople (Istanbul) was the main European defense in the East.

Father Nicola Madaro.

She kept forces out of Europe for over 1100 years. It was their own Western Christian brothers, primarily from Venice, that destroyed this vital Hellenism outpost during the 1st-4th Crusades in the late 1100’s to 1200’s. With the Fall of the Eastern Roman Empire on Tuesday, May 29, 1453, the Eastern Orthodox Christians had a new ruler: The Ottoman Sultan. The Byzantine princes became the clergy of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The only light for enslaved persons was Medieval Russia, who kept Byzantine civilization alive in Eastern Orthodoxy.

Eastern Romans (Byzantines) escaped to Venice, in the 1300’s and 1400’s. The Greek Orthodox Church of Italy holds the traditional seat. On Saturday evening, Oct. 14th, 2017, we had the opportunity of learning about Byzantium from Prof. Father Nicolas Madaro. He is a respected professor in Venice, instructing Venetian youth in classics. He gave us a tour of the historic Church and Archdiocese with a warm smile. He did not expect a donation. “It is my pleasure to meet with you today.” Unbelievable! He blessed us with the hands of St. Basil the Great and St. George. Father Nicola’s blessing worked, having an exceptional tour Venice, Aquileia, Ravenna and Florence. We visited his office in the Archdiocese and saw photos of the late Patriarch Athenagoras and a portrait of Bishop Athanasios Valerianos. We went for refreshments at Bar Pasticceria di Chiusso Pierino, a Venetian café overlooking a cobble stone road.

“I am from Kato Italia (Southern Italy), he said. “I am from a middle-class business family. At 30 years old, I became a Greek Orthodox priest. Few become Orthodox in Italy. My name Madaro is Greek for the White Mountains of Crete. My ancestors are Cretans, who lived in Italy. I am a Byzantinologos (Byzantine historian) who teaches Classics, Ancient Greek and Latin history in High School.” We explained our roots were from Western Anatolia “Asia Minor” and the north east Aegean islands. Prof. Father believes “the Mikrasiates (persons from Greek Asia Minor) took their faith with them that remains alive with them in the Greek Orthodox Church of America.”

He explained “there are few Greek Orthodox priests in Italy. I was the first ordained Italian Greek Orthodox priest since 1500 in the city of Nafpactos. I wanted Orthodoxy, returning to the faith of my ancestors. I read the Greek Fathers. The Orthodox faith is the true early Christian faith. I spent time at Mount Athos. There are 11/2 million Orthodox that are increasing, primarily from the Balkan countries. I studied Philology and Economics at the Kapodistrian University in Athens.’

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St. Nicholas, Novgorod National Museum.

Prof. Father Nicola made it clear that “we respect all races and persons. Protestants are coming to Orthodoxy, the true church. Orthodox worshipers are increasing. We are like America, encompassing all Orthodox nationalities. It is very expensive to come to church in Venice. Using the vaporetto can cost 7 euros for a Sunday visit. I am dedicated to Orthodoxy. If one is a priest, his pension is from God. The church is our life, our ministry.”

The scholar enlightened us on Constantinople. “When the Ottoman Turks took Constantinople, there were 500,000 persons. In 1204 A.D. it was the largest city in Europe, Rome, Paris, Vienna were villages. Constantinople was “The City”. From the mid-5th century to the early 13th century, Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe[6] and it was instrumental in the advancement of Christianity during Roman and Byzantine times.2

“The empire was not known as Byzantine,” he said. “It was the Roman Empire. There was only one Roman Emperor acknowledged in the West. He was not called the Byzantine Emperor. In 1439, John Palaeologus came to Florence. He was respected as the ‘Emperor of the Romans’. The Doge (Duke) of Venice was part of the Roman Empire. Venice’s support of the Angeli Emperor and his non-payment led to the Fall of Constantinople in 1204 to Venice and the 4th Crusade. When the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, there was nothing left. The 1204 Fourth Crusade took all the treasures. The Crusades weakened Constantinople. The city might have still been around if the Crusades did not weaken her. Byzantium, the term was created by the West. The persons considered themselves Romans.”

When I returned to America, I researched the name Byzantine. “The term ‘Byzantine Empire’ was evidently coined in the 16th century by a German historian editing a collection of East Roman historical documents. It became pervasive because it provided a neat way for early-modern writers who cared a lot about Scipio, Cicero, and Caesar — but not so much about Commenus, Chrysostom and Photius — to focus on the Roman antiquity they cared about and to jettison aspects of the Roman heritage they found distasteful. The ultimate example of this is Gibbon, whose attitudes pretty much created the negative stereotypes that go with the word “Byzantine” in English.”3

“Constantinople, the jewel of the East, was the symbol of this resilience and ability to win against all odds. The Fourth Crusade gave Byzantium the death blow to her inner strength from which she never recovered…Nicetas Choniates, who was an eyewitness to the 1204 Crusade stated ‘The time when the enemies went into Constantinople, the crusading army didn’t have respect for anything. The enemy entering into the city did everything bad that exists in this world…The Ottomans for all their barbarity and ruthlessness, were merciful, compared to the Western Christians.’”4

“Be proud you are Greek,” he said with conviction. “We must remember our Greek spirit in Western Civilization. We must transmit Greek civilization through the Orthodox Church. We must keep the faith and civilization in all persons of all backgrounds. The bible is in Greek and must be kept alive.” As Mark Batterson says “I’d rather be biblically correct than politically correct.”

“Anaxagoras was the first person to give a correct explanation of eclipses,” Prof Father Nicola explained. “Nicolaus Copernicus studied Aristarchus of Samos who identified the sun as a central unit orbited by a revolving earth. Copernicus changed civilization (during the 1500’s) and rediscovered Greek learning in ancient texts.” None of this information was reported on the summer eclipse coverage on a PBS special.

Father Nicola gave us valuable advice on our island excursions. “Torcello has a Byzantine Cathedral, Santa Maria dell ‘Assunta (Panagia) that dates to 607 A.D. You will enjoy seeing it. Visit Burano that has a museum. Murano is an island known for glass.” After our interview, Prof. Father Nicola helped us walk through the narrow streets to the Bisanzio Hotel.

The internet had an important presentation on Father Nicola’s views on “”Peace in Eurasia. The possible contribution of the Orthodox Churches”. He expressed that “First of all, most Orthodox Christians live in the Eurasian continent; Over the last thirty years almost all countries of Orthodox tradition have undergone profound changes, lived or still living the drama of war. Our Orthodox Christian Church today can still say a lot about the development of the human person and the affirmation of peace in the world. Wars, undoubtedly, disturb our Christian conscience. But they disturb mostly when they are waged against Orthodox brothers. For this reason, I believe that Orthodox churches can offer their own contribution to peace. Peace between Orthodox, but also peace in the Eurasian continent and, if possible, in the world.”

His theme is “Modern wars are also very different from those of the past, in many ways much more insidious and effective than those we have read in school in history books. They are economic wars, cultural wars, asymmetric wars. … It is necessary to fight with anti-Christian propaganda, which denies human dignity. I am referring not to the actions of individuals, but to the pounding propagation against the Christian ethical models, carried out scientifically by those who control a great part of mass media…. It has rightly been observed that after the Cold War, we are now living the Fourth World War, made of asymmetric and local wars. The Orthodox Churches can help by avoiding this war from taking aspects of a civil war of the Orthodox nation.  All the existing problems must find a solution based on justice, law and dialogue, without even resorting to the threat of using force.”5

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Concierge, Gabriel Brunelli explained “Professor Madaro is a good and an active professor,” to Despina Siolas, Md/Ph.D.

On my last day in Venice at the Bisanzio Hotel our concierge, Gabriel Brunelli explained “our hotel is named Bisanzio for the Byzantine Empire. My daughter Eva, who is now 18, had Professor Madaro as a professor in her first two years of High school. He is excellent in history. He is good and an active professor.” Father Nicola is a beloved teacher to the students and parents of native Venetians. His smile and welcome to average American tourists impressed us. He wouldn’t let me pick up the bill for refreshments. “Come back and visit us in Venice.”



Links: Venetian, Florence, Ravenna excursion album by Dr. Despina Siolas. – Nicola Madaro: “Peace in Eurasia. The possible contribution of the Orthodox Churches “Peace in Eurasia” by Father Nicola Madaro




St. Spyridon Church, Corfu

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St. Spyridon

Seeing St. Spyridon Church was a deeply moving experience.

The Church of Saint Spyridon is situated in the heart of Corfu town just behind the Liston. Originally the church was built in San Rocco square but in 1590 was built at its present location.

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St. Spyridon Church

IMG_4342 (661x1280) (232x450)The exterior of the church is typical of the Venetian architecture and its bell tower is the highest point in the town ensuring it can be seen for miles and when approaching by sea. The bell tower built in 1620 is plain and squarely profiled in an Italian style which resembles the Greek Church St. Giorgio’s Del Greci bell tower in Venice but with a red dome. Underneath the bell there is a clock with Latin numbers and gold pointers.IMG_4293 - Copy (1280x695) (450x244)

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St. Spyridon Church

The top of the church is divided into 17 parts with golden frames painted by the artist, Panagiotis Doxaras, in 1727. However due to humidity these initial painting were destroyed and in 1852 the top of the church was restored by the artist Nikolaos Aspiotis.IMG_4306 (1280x659) (450x232)

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St. Spyridon Church

Saint Spyridon, who is considered the keeper of Corfu and his remains can be found in the church behind the Alter, housed in a shrine made in Vienna in 1867. His remains are carried around the town of Corfu four times a year to celebrate his miracles (


The Late Dimitra Kustas: A Woman Who Saved Families

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“When President Kennedy sent his historic message to Congress calling for a complete revision of the immigration law, he decided it was also time to revise the book (A Nation Of Immigrants) for use as a weapon of enlightenment in the coming legislative battle. He was working on the book at the time of the assassination. It was decided that it should be published posthumously. This legacy should not be denied those comitted to the battle for immigration reform.” – From the Introduction by the late ROBERT F. KENNEDY.

Post Greek Civil War and Junta (Military Dictatorship) Greece offered no opportunity for advancement of 90% of the population. A middle-class society was in a minority. The Elite lived well. A young Greek American widow did an extraordinary action in the late 1960’s: she began the immigration of her two sisters and their families to America. A quiet, hardworking single mother from Paleopyrgo, Arcadia, Greece, Mrs. Dimitra Kustas had a remarkable story. A forty-day memorial will be held for Mrs. Dimitra Kotsiou Kustas on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at the Kimisis Greek Orthodox Church of Poughkeepsie, New York.

How many lives did she save? Countless, through an unselfish action that few would undertake in 2017. Not only did she give a future to her sisters’ families, but their grandchildren and future great grandchildren. These families are adding to community life through their work ethic, service to the community and Greek Orthodox Churches of Astoria, Whitestone, Flushing, Poughkeepsie and Kingston, New York.

Mrs. Dimitra Kustas always had a smile. She was a widow for fifty-three years in La Grangeville, New York. A businesswoman in several fields, her children Constance (Connie) and William (Bill), graduated Ivy League colleges. This was an unheard-of achievement in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

In 2017, persons complain about the expense of bringing a family through legal immigration. Back in the 1960’s, it was just as difficult. Mrs. Kustas was an independent, Arcadian woman, from the region that had the 1821 Greek Revolution leaders. Her nephew, Dr. john G. Siolas, said “our aunt applied in 1960 to bring her sister Constantina, my mother and her family to America. It was refused. The restriction laws for Mediterranean countries did not allow immigrants. Every application had to follow an order. My father, George, was upset, because he sold some of his properties in Paleopyrgo to cover expenses. John F. Kennedy made a proposal to revise the immigration law for Mediterranean countries. It was passed after his death. Thia Dimitra reapplied for legal immigration in 1966 for our family. My mother, Constantina Kotsiou Siolas family immigrated to Poughkeepsie, New York. All except myself. I had to serve in the Greek Air force at a NATO base with the United states Army. It took six years of our family to legally immigrate to the United states of America.”

In JFK Kennedy’s landmark work “A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS” he wrote “Because of the composition of our population in 1920, the system is heavily weighted in favor of immigration from northern Europe and severely limits immigration from southern and eastern Europe and from other parts of the world. An American citizen with a Greek father or mother must wait at least eighteen months to bring his parents here to join him. A citizen whose married son or daughter, or brother or sister is Italian cannot obtain a quota number for an even longer time….I recommend that there be substituted for the national origins system a formula which takes into account 1) the skills of the immigrant and their relationship to our need, 2)the family relationship between immigrants and persons already here, so that reuniting of families is encouraged and 3) priority of registration…It should be modified so that those with the greatest ability to add to the national welfare, no matter where they were born, are granted the highest priority.”1

The strength of our nation is secure because of individuals such as the late Mrs. Dimitra Kustas. Her courage to take on the responsibility of immigration for her family saved lives. It allowed her sisters’ families to create Greek-American families of their own. Her courage and independent spirit will be retold by each generation surviving the families she saved in the 1960’s. Each time a child is born to these families, they will thank you, in thought and by word. Mrs. Dimitra Kustas represents the finest of Americans that form the backbone of our country. May Her Memory Be Eternal. (Η μνήμη της να είναι αιώνια).



  1. Kennedy, John F. A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS. New York: Harper Torch books, 1964. Print, p. 103.

Link: – obituary


AHI Board Honored HNA and Paul & Linda Kotrotsios 20171112-CMP_6362

AHI president, Nick Larigakis and the Board Members of AHI presented with a Citation to Paul Kotrotsios, Founder and Publisher of the Hellenic News of America on the 30th Anniversary Celebration stressing the importance of the Greek American Media in Print.

L- R Dimitri Halakos, Dr. George Tsetsekos, Leon Andris, Linda Kotrotsios, Dr. Spiros Spireas, Costas Alexakis, Paul Kotrotsios holding the Citation, Nick Larigakis, Gus Andy, Louis Katsos and Aphrodite Kotrotsios, Co-Publisher 



Chairman & Honorees and Sponsors cutting the Cake HNA 30th 20171112-CMP_6437

Cutting the Cake from Yiayia’s Bakery    L-R Dr Micharl Papaioannou, Nancy Papaioannou, President of Atlantic Bank NYCB, Loui Katsos, MC of the Evening, Aphrodite Kotrotsios Co _Publisher of the Hellenic News of America, Paul and Linda Kotrotsios, Dino Vogias, Chaipersons of the event and Benefactors, Drs. Amalia and Spiros Spireas, Dr. Konstadinos Plestis, Sophia Stavron, Dr Thomas Phiambolis and Jimmy Athanasopoulos of the LIBRA Group.

Honoring Dr Phiambolis All the Doctors in the Room20171112-CMP_6298

Honoring Dr, Thomas Phiambolis a fine cardiologist of Lankenau Heart Institute with All the Doctors present at the Milestone Event.

L-R  Dr. Aris Michopoulos, Dr. John Paitakes, Dr. Panos Stavrianidis, Dr. Ilias Iliadis, Dr. Angelo Karakasis, Dr. Anthony Skiadas, Dr. Maria Caras, Dr. George Galanis, Dr. Panayiotis Baltatzis, Lou Katsos, MC of the event, Dr. Spiros Spireas, Chairman of the event, Paul Kotrotsios, Founder & Publisher , Dr. Thomas Phiambolis, Honoree, Dr. Konstadinos Plestis, Dr Maria Plestis, Dr Roxane Hionis, and Co – Publisher of the Hellenic News of America Aphrodite Kotrotsios

paul kotrotsios 20171112-CMP_6305 (1)

HNA Founder and Publisher Paul Kotrotsios












By David Bjorkgren, Editor

Special to the Hellenic News of America    

Elegance ruled the evening as guests gathered Sunday, Nov. 12, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Hellenic News of America.

It was a feast of the senses, a fitting tribute to the newspaper, the man and the family that have helped link the Greek American community together for three decades.

Delicacies from Greece and fine dining greeted guests as they talked about their common heritage within the beautiful interiors and the formal European style designs of The Merion Event Center in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. The evening concluded with music by Greek musician Dimitris Basis.

Guests came from Greece and all over the United States, from all professions and business backgrounds to share in the newspaper’s success, a demonstration of the networking energy and determination of founder and publisher Paul Kotrotsios.  Assisting him along the way has been his wife, Linda, and his three daughters; Aphrodite, who is a co-publisher; Stavroula and Ioanna.

“Continuing the Hellenic legacy” was the theme of the anniversary gala.  The formal ballroom buzzed with the energy of that idea. People came to celebrate the newspaper but they also celebrated themselves.

“This night is very special to my heart as it marks 30 years of dedication, faith and perseverance of my family’s oath to the Greek Diaspora of the United States of America,” began Aphrodite. “Hellenic News of America is more than just a newspaper covering the news of our community. It’s a platform where Hellenism comes to life.”

The newspaper was the first monthly bilingual newspaper of its kind. From its 12-page humble beginning in 1987 serving the tri state area, it has grown to 64 pages, reaching an international readership in print and on line.

“It’s so hard to believe that this newspaper that was brought to life in my parent’s basement has developed into a unifying force for Hellenism.  It is such an honor to work alongside my father as he undertakes this herculean task of uniting, promoting, informing and inspiring the Greek diaspora in America,” Aphrodite said.

Paul Kotrotsios came to the United States from Greece in 1979 with a degree in economics from the University of Thessaloniki. He went on to earn a Master’s degree in business from St. Joseph’s University in 1984. His parents endured war, starvation and migration, working three jobs a day so he and his late sister could receive a good education with hopes of a better future.

“Along his course, he realized there was a communication gap between Greece and the Greek Diaspora in America, so he sought several ideas on how he could pay it forward and connect the two countries,” Aphrodite said.

Working in the 1980s as a general manager of a Greek radio network, Paul met with Dr. Michael Papaioannou who was a business associate at the time. “I vividly remember our first discussion with Paul in starting a paper. Topics to be covered? How to keep the Hellenic ideals in America. How to recognize and inform the Greek American community and how to educate the non-Greeks on who we are… ”, Dr. Papaioannou told the gala crowd. Soon after, the Hellenic News of America was born.  “From that time I had no doubt that Paul’s passions, enthusiasm and education would make this dream a reality and he did it.”

Dr. Papaioannou was one of nine Greek Americans honored at the gala by the Hellenic News of America for their accomplishments. Today, Papaioannou serves as an expert at the International Monetary Fund and is a visiting scholar and professor at the LeBow School of Business, Department of Economics at Drexel University.

Chairman of the anniversary event and keynote speaker was Dr. Spiros Spireas, Ph.D., owner, founder, chairman and CEO of Sigmapharm Laboratories in Bensalem, Pa.    Dr. Spireas, who has also served as past president of the American Hellenic Institute Foundation, came to the United States in 1985 from Kalamata, Greece. He spoke of the importance in continuing the connections between Greek Americans. “The question is, is the new generation going to continue that?” he asked. “Somehow we have to keep institutions like newspapers, Greek TV, churches. We have to keep these organizations alive and the challenge we have as a community is to do that. To you Paul and your family, I wish you another 30 years,” he said.

Other voices weighed in.  Guest speaker Appo Jabarian, publisher and editor of USA Armenian Life Magazine who traveled from California talked about the common bonds between Greeks and Armenians.

“As a founder and publisher and managing editor, I feel with Mr. Kotrotsios and I know what kind of challenges the publisher goes through in order to keep his publication going like Duracell batteries,” he joked.  The Lebanese Armenian American talked about growing up with Greek and Armenian music in his household. “Now I continue to grow up with issues concerning our two peoples, cousins, Armenians and Greeks,” he said, referencing the problem of Turkish-occupied territories in their two countries.

“I am a deep believer that Hellenism, like Armenism, has a world mission so we must keep the torch lit in the hearts and minds of the Greek Americans and the Armenian Americans together and we must continue the journey together,” he said to applause.

The night also offered many philanthropic opportunities, silent auctions and a paddle raise, all to generate funds for the New York Ronald McDonald House, Greek Division; the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Scholarships, AHEPA’s Hellenic Relief Fund and the Disaster Relief Fund: Lesvos, Greece.

The Hellenic News of America and the Mid-Atlantic Greek American Foundation also continued a tradition of giving away scholarships at the gala to high school and college students of Hellenic descent who presented winning essays this year on two themes:   “The significance of the ‘OXI DAY’ for the Greeks and the world” and “The importance of the Greek American Print Media as the intercommunication means to our communities.” Six students received scholarships to help them with their education and offer opportunities to study abroad for a semester in Greece.

Louis Katsos, president of the Eastern Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance in Queens, New York, served as master of ceremonies for the evening.  Katsos introduced the nine Hellenes and Philhellenes that were honored for outstanding work in their fields.

This year’s recipients included Professor Marina Angel, Temple University Emerita for her work to improve social justice for women and minorities. Judge Ourania Papademetriou of the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia, a former student of hers, accepted the award on her behalf.

“My best wishes to the Hellenic News of America on this important anniversary. Enjoy yourself. I’m sorry I’m missing a great party,” Professor Angel relayed in a message read by Judge Papademetriou.

“I just wanted to add that Professor Angel is a leader in legal education. She has educated generations of attorneys by example that have gone on to the highest level of legal profession throughout the country,” Judge Papademetriou added. “We are honored to have her part of our Hellenic American community.”

Eleni Bousis received the Philanthropist of the Year award for her dedication to providing quality care programs for elders and their families. She relayed her greetings to the crowd in a pre-recorded video.

“To my dear friend Paul Kotrotsios, congratulations for your foresight in perpetuating Hellenic principles, ideas, faith and culture and being the voice of truth. Thank you for enlightening us with the inside stories within our communities in philanthropy, education, political reviews and individual triumphs and accomplishments,” she said in the video.

Archon Michael Psaros was named Person of the Year in Business and Philanthropy for his dedication to the Orthodox faith and his philanthropic interests. Psaros is co-founder and managing partner of KPS Capital Partners, LP who also serves on the Board of Directors of Georgetown University, creating the “Michael and Robin Psaros Endowed Chair in Business Administration” at the university. He also serves as treasurer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the board of trustees of Leadership 100. He is a benefactor of the St. Nicholas National Shrine in New York City at Ground Zero and The Washington OXI DAY Foundation.

    “My family and I are blessed, honored and humbled to receive the Person of the Year in Business & Philanthropy from the Hellenic News of America.  We congratulate all of the distinguished award recipients, including my dear friend and brother Archon, John Koudounis. AXIOI!  I congratulate the Hellenic News of America for celebrating its 30th Anniversary. The Hellenic News is truly a unifying force for Hellenism and Orthodoxy throughout the United States and for our omogenia worldwide.  I commend Paul and Aphrodite Kotrotsios, and the entire staff of the Hellenic News of America for their vision, faith, philotemo and commitment to our people.  May Almighty God grant the Hellenic News of America another 30 years of excellence and service. Me sevasmo, elphitha kai agape,” shared Mr. Michael Psaros.

John Koudounis received the Investor of the Year award for his dedication to investing in Greece.  He is CEO of Calamos Investments with over 28 years of experience in financial services.

Nancy Papaioannou, president of Atlantic Bank, NYCB received the Women in Leadership Award for her dedication and leadership in banking. She is the first woman to lead Atlantic Bank since its inception in 1926.

“We have treasures that follow us,” she told the crowd in accepting the award. “We are Greeks and this, no one can take it from us. We need to be united because one cannot go far but together we can go far. We can work together and make Greece the best country in Europe.”

Dr. Michael G. Papaioannou was awarded for his dedication to the world economy. He was the Deputy Division Chief at the Debt and Capital Markets Instruments, Monetary and Capital Markets Department of the International Monetary Fund until July 2017. While there, he served as a special adviser to the Governing Board of the Bank of Greece.

Dr. Thomas Phiambolis received the Distinguished Professional of the Year award for his dedication to the advancement of heart health. Dr. Phiambolis established a Cardiac CT Angiography program for Main Line Health and now is the director of that program. More recently, he has established the Advanced Lipid Clinic for Main Line Health and initiated the new cholesterol program with PCSK9 therapy.

Chris Diamantoukos, AHEPA Supreme Governor Region 3 received the AHEPA of the Year award.  His AHEPA Initiation was in 1999, serving as president and secretary of Camden Chapter No. 69 before joining the 5th District Lodge.

Markos Papadatos was recognized for his role as a senior editor and power journalist and has been a vital part of the Greek American music and entertainment community in New York.  He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music including Aerosmith, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Dame Vera Lynn, Olivia Newton-John, Donny and Marie Osmond, and Martina McBride among countless other noteworthy individuals in the United States and in Greece. Other interviews include Olympic caliber athletes, actors, and magicians, including Greek-American magician Criss Angel.  In 2017, Markos won “Best Twitter Account from Long Island” for @Powerjournalist in the Arts & Entertainment category in the “Best of Long Island.”

“A journalist is only as good as his reading audience,” he said, thanking Paul and Aphrodite for giving him a platform and paying tribute to his work. Then he added, “I wanted to thank my biggest inspiration in life, my biggest champion, my mom who is here tonight. Thank you for raising me as a valuable member of the Greek American community.”

Toward the end of the evening, Paul Kotrotsios was presented a citation from the American Hellenic Institute and the American Hellenic Institute Foundation. Board members assembled to present the citation.

“Paul Kotrotsios and his team at the Hellenic News of America certainly exemplify the principles in order to do this in the Greek American community for 30 years and that means to have integrity, to have passion. You need passion to work on any issue, especially in the Greek American community. And he does it with excellence. That and so much more, we tip our hats to you tonight, to congratulate you because you do provide an invaluable service to the community. It’s been a great pleasure to work with you and your team for all these years…” said Nick Larigakis, president of the American Hellenic Institute.

The founder of the Hellenic News of America had the last word. . .

“Honored guests, thank you.  What is written remains. What is said is forgotten. For 30 years, in the Greek American community, we feel very proud to have contributed to the cultural shape of our community by promoting our Hellenic heritage and writing the history of Omogeneia. This venue that started 30 years ago is solidly based on the support of its subscribers, advertisers and sponsors and friends like you,” he told the enthusiastic guests. He described the newspaper as a “mirror” of the Greek American community and American society in general. He pointed to its successes, using the annual Hermes Expo to bring together American and Greek businesses. “In 2018, the US will be the honored country at the Thessaloniki Fair and the Hermes Expo and the Hellenic News of America will play a role again in organizing not only a trip to Greece but making sure our American compatriots will be engaged with business people in Greece and the region,” he said.

“In our 30 years of commitment to the Greek American community, we hope you will join us in solidifying the presence of the newspaper into the next decade and beyond.  Thank you for helping us contribute to the historical vault of the Greek American Community, by promoting and empowering the ideas and traditions of Hellenic American friendship. Thank you for sharing the dream.”

Listen to coverage from our friends at COSMOS FM NEW YORK


Following Byzantine Footsteps: Wedding at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George in Venice

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Beaming Bride Alexandra Georgios with her groom on her wedding day at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George in Venice.

“The beginning is the most important part of the work” – Plato.

Our positive beginning of following Byzantine footsteps in Northern Italy began at a Greek Orthodox wedding at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George in Venice, known as San Giorgio dei Greci. We arrived in Venice on Saturday October 14th, staying at the Bisanzio Hotel in San Zaccaria station, near the church. A sunny, autumn day was our introduction to a Greek Orthodox Cathedral with a bright colored icon of Jesus in ancient Greek clothing stretching his hand to all who enter the doors with Greek columns. Alexandra Giorgios from Vrakas (Central Greece), explained “we wanted to be married at St. George Church in Venice. My family came to witness our marriage.” Niki, her sister, and best friend, Viki, were part of her bridal party. Rev. Nicola Madaro with the church cantor performed an inspiring service in Greek

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The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George in Venice, known as San Giorgio dei Greci.

“The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George in Venice is the oldest and historically the most important church of the Orthodox Diaspora. For centuries it has been one of the most splendid Orthodox temples in the world.

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The impressive Venetian canal by the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of San Giorgio dei Greci

Despite the close ties of Venice to the Byzantine world, the Greek Orthodox Rite was not permitted in Venice for centuries. Finally, in 1539, after protracted negotiations, the Papacy allowed the construction of the church of San Giorgio, financed by a tax on all ships from the Orthodox world. The church was completed in 1573 and became the center of the Scuola dei Greci, the Confraternity of the Greeks in Venice. Since 1991 the church of Saint George has served as the Metropolitan Cathedral of the new Archdiocese of Italy and Exarchate of Southern Europe.”1




Links: Venetian, Florence, Ravenna excursion album by Dr. Despina Siolas.





On the Road in Italy: Venice during the Oct. 22nd Referendum




The Catalonia separatist movement was on the minds of Venetians from Oct. 15th to Oct22, 2017 in Italy. On our way to the Bisanzio Hotel at San Zaccaria station, blue collar Venetians expresse3d their views on the upcoming Referendum. “Catalonia, Spain, is correct to want independence from the central government in Madrid. Venice has tourism that brings in all tax funds. We give the most taxes to Rome. What do we get in return? Nothing! We want more of our tax money to stay in the Veneto region. Our tax money should be used more to improve Venice. We do not want independence like Catalonia. We want more autonomy. And a say in our economy.” This was my introduction to the Venetian point of view.

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Venice Italy with Church of Saint George (San Giorgio Maggiore) on the Venetian lagoon.

Spain has moved ahead to suspend Catalonian autonomy after a referendum vote. The week prior to the Oct. 22nd Referendum, we heard “This is Venice! Everyone wants to be here.” Wherever we shopped for cell phone sim cards and eating in a restaurant with a 3-euro service sitting charge, excitement was building up over the upcoming Referendum vote. On October 23rd we were staying at the Olimpia Hotel Venice. The white-collar hotel staff described the election results accurately.

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Mariners on ALILAGUNA water shuttle expressing viewpoint of Venetian autonomy. Photos by Despina Siolas, M.D./Ph.D.

“Veneto President Luca Zaia hailed the results, which were delayed slightly by a hacker attack, as an institutional “big bang” …Turnout was projected at around 58% in Veneto, where support for autonomy is stronger, and just over 40% in Lombardy. The presidents of each regions said more than 95% of voters who had cast ballots had, as expected, voted for greater autonomy…”

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Venetian lagoon.

The two regional presidents, (Lombardy and Veneto regions) both members of the far-right Northern League, notably plan to ask for more say over infrastructure, the environment, health and education. They also want new powers relating to security issues and immigration – steps which would require changes to the constitution.” 1 This is the sentiment expressed by Venetians.

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Venetian mariner wants more control of taxes from Rome.
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Oct. 23rd Olimpian Hotel staff, Venice, explaining Referendum results.



  1., Venetian, Florence, Ravenna excursion album by Dr. Despina Siolas.