Yianitsaroi and Bules

We present you the greatest event of the town of Naoussa. Gianitsari and Boules. We will take a journey through time, colors and art so as to see how our tradition brings us closer and how our everyday lives throw us apart. This issue is more pertinent than ever as the need to get closer is imperative.

Moreover let’s see what one of the biggest pillars of this custom has to say.

Perhaps for the first time you watch step by step this unique for our land custom.

We'll see how the ancient mysteries mingle with Christianity and also how the East and the West meet together.

How time loses its power…

This effort would be fruitless and futile without the catalytic contribution of one of the masters of the custom. We refer to Mr. Takis Baitsis who generously and patiently gave us not only the opportunity to photograph the proceeding, but also the knowledge to live the ritual together. I felt like a citizen of Naoussa. We had to borrow passages from his book for this article. The italics (italics) is our roaring intervention. Although there is so much to be said we will let the pictures speak for themselves. We would like also to thank his son Michalis Baitsis for translating the greek script.

The power in unity

There's so much color variation as well as natural quality and attention to detail.

Looks as if they are all one family. True brothers
The custom of Yianitsari and Boules is held according to strict prescriptions. The performance of this ritual requires disciplined obedience to certain rules, for example only men are allowed to participate. There exists many other prescriptions, especially concerning the wearing of traditional disguises, the strict execution of the performance with traditional music and dance, and the existence of a certain itinerary that the troupe should follow. At this point it is worth referring firstly to the contribution of the instrument players to the custom. The only instruments that accompany the troupe are a “zournas” and a “daouli”; people call them a “couple” [“zygia” (“ζυγιά”, “ζευγάρι”)].


Only young, unmarried men can be disguised as Yianitsari and Boules. In older times, after the Christmas period, the men who wished to partake in the custom began to try to acquire the appropriate costumes, the silver coins and jewelsfor the occasion. Today the costume of Yianitsaros consists of the following items: a “condela”, a “fustanela”, a “pisli”, a “zounari”, a “seliachi”, stockings and, especially for those who come from Ipirus, a red fez with a black tassel.

So we begin with the preparation of Gianitsaros...

We are in Mr. Baitsis’ house, fortunate enough that elder Gianitsaroi, who decorated the whole ritual with more stories and memories, have attended.

Papakonstantinou Dimitrios
Τriantafyllou Georgios
 Mr Papaconstantinou is the only survivor of the congregation of 1954, while Mr. Triantafillou was the first leader of a troupe after the Second World War.

Tryfonas Baitsis will disguise once more this year as Yanitsaros. He and his brother are really lucky to experience this custom in its whole splendor.

The preparation

Yianitsaroi wear long snow-white stocks called “betsfes” which cover the legs from the heels up to the tights. Their colour contrasts with the black colour of the “boudetes”, which are garters decorated with tassels. Yianitsaroi also wear short white socks, (called “skoufounia” which are made of wool).

Placing voudeta
Kondela(back view)
 A “condela” is a white shirt with wide sleeves. The front, collar and cuffs of the shirt are embroidered with red or white thread in a fishbone pattern.

Thorough as always, Mr. Baitsis sees to his son’s “condela” as his father did with him many years ago.

The most characteristic item of the Yianitsaros’ costume is the “fustanela”, which is a kind of Greek kilt. The kilt reaches the middle of the thighs (this length differentiates this “fustanela” from the one worn in southern Greece which is longer). The number of the folds (called “laghiolia”) of the “fustanela” worn by Yianitsaros differs from 250 to 400, depending on the financial status and the shape of the wearer.

 They wear leather shoes with a black tassel at the front, called “tsarouchia”.


ΤA “pisli” is a type of waistcoat made of velvet or imported woolen fabric of superior quality. It is embroidered with golden threads.

Moraitiko zounari

A “moraitiko zounari” which is worn around the waist, is made of silk and is coloured with a natural dye extracted from violets. The edge is decorated with tassels.

Second to the mask (“prosopos”), the most impressive elements of the Yianitsaros costume come the silver and other jewelry.

On the front of the costume coins dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th century are attached. The silver ones are of Turkish, French or Austrian origin. They are suspended from chains, the end of which is decorated with a cross or an amulet (“chaimali”). Today, by simplification, these coins are sewn onto a waistcoat. Necklaces called “ghiourdania” or “ bairia” are attached to the upper front part of Yianitsaros’ coctume. In bygone days all these jewels were neatly sewn onto the costume on the eve of  the Carnival period.

The haimalia just like the jewels are of many kinds. It is said that first ones had Holy Rood inside.
                                                                                                   Tokadia with silver chains

Uncle-George gets lost in bygone glories. 


Takis Baitsis leaves the sewing and rests recalling times long gone, and  enriches the audience with his knowledge, giving his turn to Uncle George to recall his own memories.

Everything has to be sewn on the vest of the Yianitsaros with patience and attention. As you can see they are both very happy.


The most costly jewel is the so-called “kiousteki” which decorates the back of the Yianitsaros’ costume. Some of them are made of thin silver wires and stones that form geometric or floral patterns. Others consist of flat silver pieces, the surface of which bears figures of saints or the representation of the church of Saint Sofia in Constantinople. “Kioustekia” are also adorned with the motif of the double-headed eagle and chains of the byzantine type. There are also other jewels that are used, like the “paiantzides”, which are manufactured with the same technique as “kioustekia”. Their shape resembles a spider. They are worn on the back of the costume or on the kilt (“fustanela”).

A few more minor adjustments and the silver jewels are almost ready.
“Tokadia” and “kopsiades” are decorative buckles with little chains and bear motives in nielo, and stones. These ornaments can be also used to decorate the back of the costume, instead of a “kiousteki”. Besides the fact that the jewels described above have a certain symbolism, they are mainly used to make a strong impression on the spectator. This is the reason why Alexis Pittakis used to say that the most handsome Yianitsari were those who wore a large number of jewels. Butchers and fishermenwho traveled a lot due to their professions had the opportunity to acquire the most beautiful jewels.

The attendees are watching  with reverence
Travelling to the past
 Stiching the “Moraitiko zounari”.

Tryfon bears “seliachi”.

The sword (“pala”) awaits the steel hand of the Yianitsaros, so that they can become one.

Suddenly the doorbell rings and there comes a young Yianitsaros. Is none other than the grandson of Uncle George Constantinos Tzouvaras. The watchful eye of his grandfather finds the first flaws and he rushes to help.

As you can see Constantinos is not fooling around… He is really “loaded”.

Grandfather and grandson together. And now I am  asking you, is there a greater joy? ...

Past, Present and Future in one moment.

He has so much to tell him .... but is young Constantinos ready to listen? ... Only time will tell.

We proceed to the most special point of the preparation… the mask (“prosopos”)
It will be described separetly so as to keep the flow of the custom as well as becauce there’s so much staff to mention about it.

So that we never forget...

The elder take pride in the young.

There is always some time to enjoy their lads.

Parents of Tryfon are happier than ever.They did everything right .

Aproaching to the end of the preparation, we get to the climax, which is none other than the placing of the mask. Not that easy.

Takis Baitsis places the procopos onto his  sons head.

Last adjustments before the presentation. They put on the characteristic jewel on the forehead of the mask which helps to distinguish each person from his brothers in this ocean of colors and designs.


Father and son. Yes! Tradition lives and goes on...
Yianitsaros is now ready. Relatives, acquaintances and strangers are always welcome in the homes of the participating Yianitsaroi and they are all full of admiration.


For those who have stood up to this point, we inform you that the long journey begins now. The call, the introduction of the Yianitsaros to the troupe, the Boula, the way to the Town Hall and the itinerary.

Waiting for their "brother".
Approaching... approaching...

His “brothers” are approaching from afar. Anything I say is not enough. Watching them from the balcony I shuddered to my bones. The raising of their heads was like a thunder strike. That’s how much imposing and majestic is their presence.

The melancholic sound of the “zournas” come from a distance accompanied by the drumming of the “daouli”. They play a tune to a free rhythmic pattern known as Zalistos or Proskynima, the “homage” or “pilgrimage”. To the sound of this song which will be played until the troupe is complete, the Yianitsaros rhythmically shakes his body in a way that causes the coins on his chest to sound.

Yianitsaros greets his brothers. There comes perhaps the most emotional moment of custom. The departure. Yianitsaros salutes his family. The salute is unique and usually done with a handshake and three leaps each of which has a special meaning.

The mother looks at her son while he crosses himself at the threshold of the house. This point is particularly moving as she is aware that her child will go to the mountains, to defend the land and might not see him again.

The three leaps.
“I’m taking leave along with the other Yianitsari 
and you will never see me again!”

The greeting is  identical between them.
Thereafter they will move on, in pairs of two, to meet the next celebrant.

The tradition and the unity shine, leaving behind the dark, the wreckage, the abandonment....

Reconciled, hand by hand.

You can not see Yianitsari as carnivals. Nothing but a strong, irrefutable message of unity and peace.

In pairs as remembrance of the ritual during the Ottoman period, they lean back and shake imperiously. They do not surrender to the Ottoman ruler, unlike Boules who are bowing down to the ground.
I really wish for everyone to wake the "Yianitsaros" inside them. The one, who is willing to make sacrifices for the common dilemmas and is determined to preserve his character and dignity.

On the way to pick up the Bride (“Boula”) .. Outside the offices of the group “Yianitsaroi and Boules” one meets two women from Naoussa in their traditional costume.

The young ones are trying to imitate the elder throughout the day.

The elder set an example in the future and continuity of the tradition. The young try to grow up following in the steps of the former.

Perhaps the most exciting capture of the custom while bridging time and family. 
Aknowledging the  attempt of the young Yannistaros, giving him a pusth to continue and surpass his masters.

Young as he is. Still, he is now one of them. His gives high fives and does not stop anywhere.

At the Town Hall

The leader of Yianitsari and the Bride enter the Town Hall. They pull off their masks, so as for the mayor to see that they are “good guys”, peaceful citizens and most of all above any suspicion. It is time for the “zournas” player to start playing the “Rhoido”, the only song to which the Yanitsaroi dance flourishing the handkerchiefs tied to their hands. “There in Rhoidos, in Rhoidopoula a Turk fell in love with a Greek girl.” Is the verse of the song which is carefully chosen as to deceive the Mayor-“Mountiri”. 

The crosstalk between the Mayor and the Chief of Yianitsari today is as follows:
Leader: Mayor we ask permission for the troupe to start.
Mayor: It's all as it should?
Leader: Absolutely. You can see.
Mayor: You have my permission.

Responding the Chief's call.

The chief salutes jumping on his feet and the Bride kisses at first the mayors hands and then everyone else’s. Everyone donates money. Subsequently the Bride wanders around giving treats to everyone.

Leader: Begin brothers!

The dancing begins. The zournas player starts playing the "Thourio" of King. The swords are drawn from the scabbards.

The itinerary

The itinerary followed by the troupe, always dancing, is specific and done within the limits of the old town. The first stop is “Triodi”, followed by “Kamena”, “Pouliana”, “Batania”, “Kioski” and "St. Georgis”. The armed dancers stop in every neighbourhood, make a circle and those living in that neighbourhood dance first. The “zournas” and the “ntaouli” players play each time different songs, specific for each neighbourhood. This way, nothing is the same, as defined by the custom.

At about 17.00-18.00 pm the troupe reaches “Alonia”. Here everyone gets rid of the mask. In older times only those living nearby could put it off. The rest of the troupe would be revealed in the last dance at “Kamena”.

The “zournas” is on fire, triggering the dancers who, possessed by the spiritual and intellectual fury of the struggle, come to the peak of the act. It’s the time to draw the mask, reveal their true selves and the rebels to blend in with the delirious, by the sounds of the “zournas” crowd, and get lost among it.


The troupe and the crowd have become one.


The Boula

There is one or two Brides in each troupe. Her sole dance is “Makrinitsa” danced outside the town hall. It is in this dance that the children and women fell into the falls of the river Arapitsa so as not to be enslaved by the Turks.

The costume of Boula differs in many respects from that of Yianitsaros. At first it should be made clear that Boula is a man disguised as a woman something that the custom has in common with the ancient rituals. Boula’s head is decorated with flowers, tulles and ribbons and her mask is painted red on the cheeks and bears, like the one of Yianitsaros, a golden spot on the forehead. Small silver coins worn over the bosom are indispensable ornaments of the Boula’s costume.

On the way to Batania

With the exception of the long dress with the hoop skirt, all the other garments that Boula wears, form part of the local traditional feminine costume: the “saltamarka” is a sleeved waistcoat worn by women on the day of their wedding, the “trachilies” are fine silk plastrons, the silken fringed girdle, over which the “kolania” or buckles are worn and the gold embroidered belt.

The handkerchief


Prosopos (the mask)

It is of special importance and one of the indispensable parts of the disguise. During the destruction of Naousa in 1922 all the moulds for its fabrication were lost for ever. Yet, for the celebration of the Carnival period in 1823, Yiannis Blatsiotis, an old artisan, managed to make a new mould as beautiful as his daughter, Aspasia. It took him the whole winter to make it as perfect as the ones that were lost.

This mould was later given by him to his relative Aristeids Tzitziouros, who thereafter became responsible for the part of the custom that had to do with the masks.

An antiquity  prosopos

A “prosopos” is fashioned from a thick cloth covered by a layer of stucco. The mask is then lined with beeswax in order to keep the face of the wearer cool. The moustache is made of horsehair and tar. The colors used to render the characteristics of the face are mixed with egg yolks. It is known that these materials are exclusively used in the manufacture of masks up to the present.

It is worth mentioning that the openings in the mask, corresponding to the eyes and the mouth of the wearer, are so small that Yianitsaros and Boula can only, with great difficulty, breathe and see. The reason for this is that big eyes and big mouth are considered to be ugly.

Enjoy the beautiful combinations and variety of colors.

The color of the “prosopos” is snow-white; the cheeks are rendered with red paint. White symbolizes death in nature and the death of Greek nation, while red denotes an awakening,one that will gradually move the hearts of the enslaved people. The yellow spot on the forehead was applied only to the mask of Boula at first (since it is a trait borne by married women in the East); it is eventually incorporated into the mask of the Yianitsaros as an ornament as well as the symbol of the death of slavery. The symbolic use of these spots is attested by old people. What one can be sure of is that similar colors were used on ancient masks of the same fashion and size.

The Boula

Perhaps the masks’ origin is one of the worship of the ancient god Dionysus (the mask of Satyrs and Maenads or the "mask" of the actors in drama). On the other hand, it could be of “oriental” charm as given off by the white color, the lips and the two slits in the eyes’ place.


The long walk to the custom of Yianitsaros and Boula ended with a stop at “Kamena” neighborhood where, due to weather conditions, the shoot was extremely difficult.

The spree concludes on the first day of Lent known as “Clean Monday”. After the last dance at “Kamena”, it is time for the separation. While all Yianitsari and Boules stand in a circle, they put the instrument player in the middle, hit him symbolically to the head with the broad side of the sword and, lifting him, they shout "Pantaxios, Mitro kai tou xronou!" Thereafter in the same cycle, they all hit the ground with the peak of their swords saying

“Anything we did or didn’t say will stay here!”

In this way,they apologize for any misunderstandings created during the day. Then, after shaking hands between them and with the crowd, they head to their homes.

Bersos Zafiris, one of the most formidable young dancers with great abilities, but above all, longing to be one of the best Yanitsaros.

So we conclude with the youth...
We truly  hope, that this simple presentation will stimulate your curiosity and will bring you closer to the tradition and to our fellow man. Niaousta will be here every year waiting for you. Open your arms and embrace it.

We wholeheartedly wish, for the young children to continue this custom with, if not the same, an ever increasing enthusiasm. And the elder ones to keep supporting them.

The way home...

Once again this year he managed to be himself.
We wish for his every day to be full of life and love for others, always remembering how hard he holds his companion’s hand, how careful and nimble is his every move. Also, for the sword of morality to eliminate his every concern, the love and power for his freedom to be always nearby. In the end we are all brothers and the sun shines the same for everyone.

Let this custom, filled with bravery and pride, be an example for us, and allow ourselves to look at the beauty around us.
Every day.
Without ornaments. 
Without masks.

Among the prominent pillars of the group Yianitsaroi and Boules as well as the folklore wealth of Naoussa in general is Mr. Takis Baitsis who tirelessly provides his rich knowledge. It would be a crime not to mention his name or not to share with you his opinions and his work.

Heartfelt thanks for his hospitality and for the permission to publish the ceremonial preparation of Yianitsaros. But most of all, thanks for his ability to bring us the custom spotless, in its ideal execution. "Foreigners" as though we were, we felt citizens of Naoussa there.



Takis Baitsis was born in Naoussa in 1955. He has been dealing with history and folklore of Naoussa since he was a kid. His articles were published in various local newspapers and magazines and the newspapers “Macedonia”, “Kathimerini” and “Ethnos”. He used to edit the magazine “Vounisios Aeras”. 

When eighty-yea- old throws his shoes and dances transforming into a child, you can only be excited.

When everybody next to you is crying and is dressing you like a Yianitsaros, is mentioning old memories and stories, is speaking to each other after years of misunderstandings and is mentioning all those who were in their heyday in such times, but now are no longer with us, you can not stay unmoved.

Perhaps the passersby, and whoever does not live into the custom do not to feel anything. Perhaps they just admire the costumes, the posture, the dance.

But those who were Yianitsroi and Boules, saw it in a different way.

You don not dress as a Yianitsaros, you become one.

Works that he released are:

  • The folk songs of Niaousta. 1977
  • Konstantoulis, the folk poet of Naoussa. 1982
  • Gianitsaroi and Boules of Naousa. 1986 Edition
  • Gianitsaroi and Boules of Naousa. 2001, 2nd Edition
  • Gianitsaroi and Boules of Naousa. 2010 Edition
  • The cucle of life and the folk songs of Naoussa. 2003
  • Naoussa, industries of yesterday. 1997
  • E.O.S. Naoussa, 1932-2002 seventy years of fighting and racing. 2002
“Boules of Naousa” 2000 Edition Lyceum of Greek Women Athens
“The traditional costumes and folk songs of Naoussa 2005 Edition Lyceum of Greek Women of Naoussa

Takis Baitsis  dressed as Yannitsaros

All the above material can be found in the wonderful edition
Gianitsaroi and Boules of Niaousa. 2010 c edition ISBN: 978-960-86772-3-4

As an epilogue we mention some his words, an excerpt from the recent publication of the book.

Many ideas have been brought up and written down about the most thrilling proceeding of our city, opinions about the origin, the name and the clothing of it. If only we could find the time machine that would take us back to the first appearance of it, in order to answer many questions. This option unfortunately is impossible. Thereby, we are going to have to count on hearsay evidence, written and oral and try to serve the proceeding as faithfully as possible.
It is true that it’s basic characteristics, its ritual, the period it takes place and the route have all been followed up till now and I need to believe that things will continue the same way.
Observed interventions when it comes to clothing and music, some do it laxly, considering them to be “ethical evolution”, in my opinion the greatest respect to all these we have inherited is behooved. Additionally, I do not absolutely agree with some other interventions over the way it is presented every year to the audience, done to promote tourism. People should follow and respect the proceeding and not vice versa.
I also believe that some basic ifs and ands to participate in the proceeding is the knowledge around it, the induction to it. This is why I enjoy that much the children that participate in it and while growing up they do not give it up, but live with it, protect it and transmit it later on their own children. The occasional participation with few convincing rendering in prosecution from people who do not know its story, appears to be organizers’ success (Municipality’s, associations’, etc.) but I do not think that this contributes to the proper maintenance of this huge tradition of ours.
So, the protection of the proceeding of Gianitsari and Boules is a duty that we, people of Naoussa have to handle. We are the ones that serve it and have to make this protection a goal to its future existence with respect and awareness.
Centuries ago, we inherited something greatly unique. Let’s legate it clear and in its entirety to the future generation.

Takis Baitsis
March 2013

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