Tag Archives: Thessaly

ON THE OLD HIGHWAY

 Yesterday we drove to Larissa and took the old highway for a portion of the trip. Now there’s a new highway linking Athens and Thessaloniki, part of the E75.

The old road is more interesting – we passed here through some of the fertile farmlands of the Thessalian plain – but the new road is faster and more convenient, and a great deal more expensive what with all the tolls that are springing up more swiftly, it seems, than the poppies.

Alexander the Great must surely have seen mile upon mile upon mile of these bold blooms when he marched his men through Thessaly, astride his horse, Bucephalus, bred on Thessaly’s great plains.

It thrills me to drive along a route that Alexander himself was familiar with, though he’d not recognize it now. But then again, he surely would, for the mountains still rise as they did between Macedonia and Thessaly.

And Olympus, its snow-capped peak often draped in a cape of cloud, would have been given particular attention by him, for Alexander revered Zeus and the rest of the Olympian gods. They must have followed his progress far below their legendary home, as they lay about sipping the wine Dionysus took such great care of.

Enough of the history lessons! Feast your eyes on the poppies whose ancestors flourished unseen for aeons before Man ever came to Thessaly.

(Moi, we missed you!)

 

PERSEPHONE’S BACK!

We have had a winter of everyone’s discontent. It’s rained, and rained, and rained some more. We’ve had terrible flooding here on the Pelion. Some of the worst ever in parts. Great destruction. Millions of euros of damage. There seems little chance now of seeing a bridge back in Kalamos given how very little money there is in Thessaly’s coffers. 

This morning the sun has made a valiant effort to revive people’s spirits. The cats are enchanted – butterflies, bees, beetles and all manner of airborne flitters to chase, not to mention racing to ambush each other and unwary critters. Try as I might I can’t get a decent photo of the antics, so fast do they all move.

But the spring flowers are more composed. The first of them are beginning to appear. Slowly. Gently. Nodding a brief hello. Secure in the knowledge that before long they’ll begin to explode upon the scene they will dominate for a while, changing roles, giving way to new performers in differently colored  costumes, as they retire from center stage assured that they will reprise their roles again and again in new performances.

Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, snatched by Hades to be queen of his underworld, has returned to the earth, as she does each year to bring  spring to winter-weary mortals. What a mismatch her parent’s union was! Her mother is the goddess of the harvest; her raucous, thundering father’s behind all this ghastly weather we’ve been having. Well, you can’t choose your parents, but Persephone does all she can to make up for her egotistical father and we’re grateful. She stays but a little while before she’s obliged to return to her underground kingdom.

Rain is forecast again for tonight. And wind. Lots of it. Persephone probably won’t be too thrilled about that, but her father hates to be upstaged and hasn’t yet ordered Boreas, his god of the wind, to skulk back to the north. And Chione, the goddess of snow, daughter of cold Boreas, still lingers on Mt Pelion. Persephone’s resourceful though and won’t be intimidated – she’ll triumph over all of them before long.

 

PLATAMONAS CASTLE

We spent a couple of days this week in the Pieria region of Central Macedonia with friend Dave and the indomitable Tex, a Greek sheepdog rescued here in Pelion. Central Macedonia is one of Greece’s thirteen administrative regions; we are in Thessaly.

For those who might be interested in the ongoing row between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), which claims Alexander the Great and wishes to be called Macedonia, I offer the following links, picked randomly among the great many that a Google tour will suggest.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macedonia_naming_dispute
http://www.mfa.gr/en/fyrom-name-issue/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/27/AR2009072702653.html

Needless to say, I support the Greek view.

The castle, depending upon whose version of events one decides to follow, was built by the Crusaders at the beginning of the 13th century. Other sources maintain it was Byzantine, and built in the 1100s or perhaps even earlier.

Given its prominent position it was of strategic importance in controlling movement through the Vale of Tempe, which linked north and south, and in monitoring sea invasions. Pirates plundered the region repeatedly, as they did The Pelion.

Phillip 2nd, father of Alexander, marched his men along the Tempe valley on his way to Athens, and while no defensive castle existed at the time, there were certainly other structures. We don’t know precisely what, but work continues on the site and evidence is mounting that the ancient city of Herakleion was sited here.

New Tempe Tunnel Entrance

Long before Phillip, Xerxes trotted his troops through Tempe during Persia’s second invasion of Greece. Leonidas and his men fought to the death at Thermopylae in a vain attempt to stop him getting through the pass. Xerxes and his army then continued south to Athens where the Persians were decisively beaten at Salamis.

The castle was never destroyed, but has fallen into ruin over the centuries. It’s a rather fine example of medieval fortifications with all the bits and pieces one usually associates with such structures: towers, crenellations, loopholes, cannons – the whole nine yards. (Ron points out that the cannons to be seen dotted about the castle grounds are later than anything that would have been used by Crusaders.)

Defence Tower

Water Cistern

The cistern for water storage would have served the defence tower – all protected by a high wall. Presumably for a last stand?

Good advice!

 

 

 

 

 

TAGS: FYROM, Macedonia, Phillip 2nd , Alexander, Platamonas, Thessaly, Pelion, Byzantine, Crusaders, Vale of Tempe, Athens, Xerxes, Persians, Salamis, Thermopylae

 

 

 

 

 

 

GOATS GALORE

Thessaly is often referred to as “the bread basket of Greece” as its great plains allow for extensive agriculture. The region has been known since ancient times for sheep and goats, with nomadic tribes shepherding their animals to grazing grounds according to the season, although many nomads have abandoned their traditional migrations in favour of a more settled lifestyle.

The horses used in the Trojan War were said to have come from Thessaly, where wild horses may still be found. It’s probable that nomads clinging to the necks of horses gave rise to the notion of a half man, half horse who came to be called a Centaur. Imagine a remote and stormy landscape, fog swirling around rugged peaks, winds sighing and shrieking their unearthly noises through the valleys, and suddenly a horseback rider appears!

Goats are important to the local farmers, many of whom keep large flocks of these animals. It is not uncommon to see them being herded to fresh grazing lands, and as goats eat just about anything, the prudent villager has to be on the alert when the unruly animals pass along the road lest some choose to munch on garden plants.

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This is a rural area; the farmers work long, hard hours, often out in the open at the mercy of the weather, and subject to all the problems associated with raising animals.

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I always enjoy being caught up in these mini-migrations, and I find it very amusing when the occasional irritable townie vents his frustration and raises his blood pressure because he’s held up for a few minutes.

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The herders, some on horseback, call out to each other as they battle to drive the churning mass onward, but goats do roam and are easily distracted. Herdsmen on foot leap about as nimbly as the goats, using their sticks and crooks to urge the animals back into line.

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The noise! Shouting, chanting, whistling, the constant honking of car horns still don’t overpower the clanging and the clinking and the tinkling of the bells each goat wears.

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And then, suddenly, it’s over. The road is clear. The last animal has been hurried off to open land.

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And all the while Mt Pelion, summer home of the gods and stamping ground of the Centaurs, gazes silently over the Peninsula where, driving home late at night, after a jolly evening with friends and a glass or two, you might just find yourself chasing centaurs through the olive groves.

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In the Land of Jason

Jason, so the Greek myth tells us, set sail from Volos in search of the Golden Fleece. My window looks out over the Pagasitic Gulf down which he steered his fragile wooden boat, the Argo, with his sailors at the beginning of their great and wonderful adventures. Above is Mt Pelion, home of the fabled Centaurs – half man, half horse – among whom the wisest was Chiron, tutor of the young Jason.

Mt Pelion

Mt Pelion

On June 14th, 2008 a replica of the Argo left from Volos on what was originally intended to be the same course as that taken by Jason, but was instead heading to Venice as the Turkish authorities refused permission for it to pass through the Bosphorus. The building of the replica is itself a fascinating story: all tools used were made by hand exactly as the ancient originals were; traditional shipbuilding techniques were employed; wood was sourced and handhewn on Mt Pelion; no modern method or equipment was used.

Crew Boarding the Argo

Crew Boarding the Argo

On the morning of the launch we rose early to drive to Volos seafront, and great was the excitement! I’ve posted some of the photos we took, but a quick search of Google will yield far better ones, as well as videos. When the order was given to raise oars, a shiver ran through the crowd, which seemed to be holding its collective breath. Children scampered about, some were hoisted onto shoulders for a better view. Eyes anxiously scanned the sky for cloud, and nervously glanced at the huge ferries through which the tiny Argo would thread her way. Then came the call to dip oars! An enormous shout went up, a tumult of voices roaring encouragement. Boats of all sizes sounding their horns. Hands waving, hands clapping, hands shaking flags and not a few hands wiping tears.

First Voyage of the New Argo

First Voyage of the New Argo

Historians and archaeologists believe that the Jason myth is based on fact, for there were indeed many adventurers who sailed in search of gold in the areas around the Black Sea. A sheep’s fleece is still used in some parts to sift gold from sluice water, and long is the history of fleece and the wool produced from it. I have rather a large stash of wool, for I love to knit, and my very own Jason who travels about quite a bit. Jason is a glass head on whom I once placed a hat I was knitting in order to take a photograph, and who now serves to record various hats and other bits of my knitting. Here he is, gazing down on Volos from one of the mountain villages.

Volos

Volos, Thessaly, Greece