Giorgos Papagiovanoglou was originally from Sungurlu, a town located between Ankara and Cappadocia. He was a merchant trading in the wool produced by an endemic breed of goat known as the Ankara (or Angora) goat, whose fleece is used to produce the expensive mohair fabric. The Turkish-speaking merchant traded mostly with England, where he also deposited his savings. At the outbreak of the Asia Minor conflict, Giorgos Papagiovanoglou found refuge in Constantinople, leaving behind his two sons who reunited with the rest of the family later.
After selling their entire wool stock, they arrived in Thessaloniki carrying a great amount of household effects and relying on their savings in English banks to rebuild their life. They resettled in a large Turkish house in Terpsithea Square in Ano Poli which they eventually bought. In 1931, they tore down the old house and built a new one designed by Maximilian Rubens, a renowned architect of Thessaloniki. Papagiovanoglou changed the family name to Papaioannou and bought commercial real estate in the Vardaris neighbourhood which he rented out.
Vasilis Papaioannou, Giorgos’ son, was born in Sungurlu in 1903. When he left for Thessaloniki, an annotation was made on his Turkish passport next to ‘Reason for travel’: ‘Il ne peut pas retourner’ (‘he cannot return’). In Thessaloniki, he dealt in building materials and married a local belle, Tarsi Vlisidou, who was originally from Prusa and had grown up in Chalkidona (Kadikoy), a district in Constantinople.
In 1943, she gave birth to twins. After sundown, there was a curfew and a blackout in the German-occupied city. Using the lantern that the Papagiovanoglou-Papaioannou family had brought along with them form Sungurlu, Tarsi and a neighbour lit their way towards the Anagnostaki clinic on Agia Sofias Street where Tarsi gave birth.
Odysseas Papaioannou, one of the twins born that night, grew up in Ano Poli in the house of Terpsithea Square. He grew up rich surrounded by great poverty and the resulting tension profoundly shaped his personality. He left the family home for a few years, but returned to it, restored it, and preserved a number of the household items brought to Greece by his grandfather’s family. Among them, a tapestry decorated with oriental themes.