|Pelion, view to the south from Schidzouravli peak (1450 m.)|
IntroductionPelion stands out among the mountains of Greece. Although it is not very high (its highest peak, Pourianos Stavros, measures 1624 m.), because of its geographical position collects a lot of snow in winter. This results in plenty of spring water, creating high potential for human settlement: Pelion is the most densely inhabited mountain of Greece. It also remains overgrown with vegetation, just as it was in antiquity, as mentioned in poems of Homer and Hesiod. Its position inbetween two seas, the Aegean sea and Pagasitic gulf, means that mountain and sea are always very close. Not many ski centers are only a few hours of walking time away from a beach, like Pelion Ski Center at Chania.
|Pelion, Papa Nero beach at Agios Ioannis|
Near the sea or the mountaintop, in dense beech, chestnut and oak forest, mediterranean maquis vegetation or olive and apple orchards, lasting from one up to eleven hours, circular or trekking from one village to another, Pelion has it all for everybody in terms of walking, except only for alpine zone at high altitudes. Skiing, mountain biking, canyoning, climbing, horseriding, diving, swimming, sailing, caving, collecting herbs and mushrooms, all these activities and more are exercised in the Pelion area.
|Pelion, walking on the kalderimi Lafkos-Milina|
There are three major myths in reference to Pelion: the myth of Centaurs, Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece and the Weddings of Peleus and Thetis.
Centaurs were mythological creatures living in Pelion, with the head, arms and torso of a human and the body and legs of a horse. Their character was primitive, violent, impulsive and lusty. They lived in caves, hunting wild animals armed with rocks and tree branches. Centauromachy (the battle between Centaurs and Lapiths) is a favorite theme in ancient Greek temples: invited to the wedding of their half-brother king of Lapiths, the Centaurs got drunk and attempted to carry off the bride Hippodameia and the female guests. In the ensuing battle they were wiped out. Centauromachy is a metaphor for the imposition of human civilization over the lower, primitive appetites of humankind.
|Centauromachy (from Parthenon marbles)|
Not all Centaurs were the same, though. Chiron, son of god Cronus and nymph Philyra, was wise, peaceful and civilized, the superlative among Centaurs. He knew the secrets of nature and mastered medicine, music, archery, hunting and prophecy. He was the teacher and mentor of many heroes of myth, including Jason, Peleus, Αsklepios, Aristaios and Achilles.
Jason accepted the challenge and asked the skilled shipwright Argus to build a ship for the long journey. At the port of Pagasai, from where Argo sailed, Jason gathered a ''dream team'' of heroes, the Argonauts, including Heracles, Theseus, Nestor, Peleus, Orpheus, Castor and Pollux, Telamon, Philoctetes, Euphemus and the Boreads Zetes and Calais (flying sons of Boreas, the North Wind). The only woman in the crew (though not certain) was Atalanta.
|The new Argo at Volos harbour|
At Colchis, king Aetes asked Jason to perform certain tasks. He had to yoke the bulls that breathed fire and plow a field, then sow it with dragon teeth. All that would have been impossible without help from Aetes` daughter Medea, who fell in love with Jason. Being a sorceress, she provided an ointment that protected from the bulls` flames. She also warned Jason that an army of warriors was to sprout from the dragon teeth. Before they attacked him, he threw a rock into the crowd and, unable to discover who did it, the angry warriors killed one another. Then Jason sprayed the dragon with a potion Medea distilled from herbs, driving it to sleep, and took the Golden Fleece.
|Jason and Medea taking the Golden Fleece|
|The new Argo sailing|
|Thetis trying to escape Peleus|
The three goddesses, after bathing in the spring of Ida in Crete, appeared before Paris, offering him gifts for favour: Hera offered ruling power and wealth, Athena skill and wisdom; but Aphrodite offered him the love of Helen of Sparta, wife of king Menelaus, the most beautiful woman on earth. Perhaps inevitably, the young prince chose to give the apple to Aphrodite, thus setting the scene for the Trojan War.
|The judgement of Paris|
There are testimonies of human presence around Pelion from prehistorical times. The acropolis at Sesklo and Dimini near Volos were inhabited from Neolithic period (5th millenium BC) until the Mycenean era (12th century BC). Latest data identify the Mycenean settlement of Dimini with the ancient city of Iolkus. Some other ancient settlements around Pelion were Pagasai, Amfanai, Olizon, Neleia, Koropi, Spalauthra, Orminion, Kasthanea, Glafyrai.
|Interior of Mycenean tholos tomb ''Lamiospito'' at Dimini near Volos|
At the hill of Goritsa next to Volos lay the ruins of a hellenistic city built in 4th century BC, which was abandoned a few decades later and even its name still remains unknown. In 294 BC, king Demetrios of Macedonia founded the city of Demetrias at modern-day Pefkakia near Volos. Ruins of its walls, the palace, water system and the ancient theatre can still be seen today. Demetrias became the favourite residence of the kings of Macedonia and later was the capital of Magnesian Alliance and an episcopal see under Roman emperor Constantine. The city was finally abandoned during the late byzantine period (13th-14th century AD) or even earlier.
|Walking on the ruins of the walls of ancient Demetrias (in winter) opposite Volos|
During the byzantine period, the inhabitants of Demetrias moved to the nearby Castle of Volos (some remains of it can be seen at the city hill of Palea) for better protection from barbarian raids and pirates. Slavic people raided and eventually settled down in Pelion, as testified by a multitude of Slavic names still surviving, like Zagora, Goritsa etc. The name Golos (later Volos), of Slavic origin too (from gol=naked or golosh=seat of administration in Old Slavonic), is first mentioned in written archives of late 13th century. The basis for several eminent Pelion villages (Zagora, Makrinitsa and Portaria) was set in 12th century, around the monasteries of Sotira, Oxeias Episkepseos and Drianouvena respectively. Other Pelion villages also developed following that example. Pelion was full of monasteries at that time, very much like the Athos peninsula, like a second ''Holy Mountain''.
|Monastery of Agios Lavrentios, main church built 1378 AD|
The Ottoman Turks seized the Castle of Volos in 1423 AD and all Christian people living there were forced to abandon it and move higher up the mountain. Indeed, during the Ottoman period (15th to 19th century) the Turks preferred to settle down at fertile low grounds, such as those of Lechonia and Argalasti, leaving to the Christians the mountainous slopes of Pelion, more difficult to cultivate, that were of no interest to them. The developing mountain villages remained essentially self-governed, being required to pay an annual tax and left otherwise in peace by the authorities. That privilege layed the ground for the thriving of Pelion, reaching its climax in 18th and 19th century.
Groups of skilled stone builders from Zagori region of Epirus, Northwestern Greece came and built the mansions, monasteries, bridges, fountains and kalderimis (cobblestone paths) that we admire today. Products (mainly olive oil, olives, fruits, chestnuts, silk, timber) were carried by mules through the kalderimis down to the sea (every village had its own beach used as port) and shipped to the major ports of East and West. Zagora was famous for its excellent ships. On donations by wealthy merchants, higher schools were founded, like Ellinomouseion in Zagora and the School of Milies.
In 1881, Pelion along with the whole region of Thessaly was swiched from the Ottoman Empire to the young State of Greece. The modern city of Volos outside the castle had been founded just forty years before, when wealthy merchants were granted permission to build houses and churches outside of the castle by the Sultan himself in Constantinople (Istambul), provided of course that a significant sum of money be deposited to the Sultan`s personal account. Thanks to its position as the main port of Thessaly for importing and exporting goods, and to the subsequent building of much needed port and railway infrastructure, the young city of Volos thrived under Greek rule.
At the end of 19th century, it was decided to build a narrow railroad of 60 cm gauge (Decauville type) from Volos to Pelion villages, originally scheduled to extend up to Zagora. Evaristo De Chirico, an Italian engineer, father of the eminent surrealist painter and sculptor Giorgio de Chirico (who was born in Volos), was put in charge of the project. Starting operation in 1895, the rails finally extended up to the village of Milies in 1903 and the train remained in regular service until 1971. Since 1996, it operates again as a heritage railway for tourists during the summer season (April to October) -a must for all visitors.
The ravages of 2nd World War, the ensuing Greek Civil War and the massive earthquakes of 1955-57 all took their toll. Civilians were executed and villages were burnt down by the German occupation forces (Milies, Drakia, Agios Vlasios, Kanalia etc.- the village of Ano Kerasia still remains in ruins). Volos lost to the earthquakes most of its fine neo-classical style urban mansions, sadly replaced by blocks of flats. Following the development of mechanised transport, many of the old kalderimis and paths were destroyed and converted to roads. The villages of Pelion faced a post-war economic decline, mitigated by the gradual rise of tourism from the 70`s and on.
Nowadays, Volos is a lively modern city of about 150.000 inhabitants, seat of the University of Thessaly, and Pelion seems to strike a balance between land cultivation and tourism. Provided that its strong assets are being protected and used to advantage, Pelion should be able to justify its calling as a ''paradise'', bearing always in mind that no paradise on earth can be perfect.
|Old traditional Pelion mansion|
|Ellinomouseion school at Zagora (on the right)|
|View of Volos from the hill of Goritsa|
|Τhe train of Pelion over the metal bridge near Milies station|
|Hatzikyriazi mansion, Volos (lost to the earthquakes)|
|Pelion, beech forest above Makrinitsa in early November|