History of Pelion, the heavenly mountain that includes all the beauty of the greek nature! Its higher peak is Pliasidi (1551m.). The eastern side descends steeply towards the Aegean Sea and the western one towards the Pagasitic Gulf.
Pelion is referred in the greek mythology as the pass of Gods and Heroes. It was hymned by the ancient Greeks for its thick vegetation and mystic beauty. Homer mentions it for the storms, Isiodos for the woods and Evrypides for the rough sea. Dikaiarchos and Pindar describe the weddings of Peleus and Thetis made in one of its tallest peaks.
The most famous pelioritic legend is the one with the centaurs. According to it, the centaurs were a tribe of creatures with a man’s head, arms and upper body on a horse’s body and legs. Centaur Chiron was considered the wisest and the strongest of all. He was a famous teacher, having great students like “Achilles” and “Jason”. They say that Jason cut wood of beech from Pelion in order to construct Argo the ship of Argonautic expedition. Chiron’s cavern is supposed to be near Pliasidi and the famous Centaurs’ cave in the village Mouresi.
The findings of ancient times are few. About ten small towns were built on Pelion’s slopes. Ruins of low importance are scattered all over the mountain. Columns of an unknown temple and geometric graves were found in Theotokou; ruins of walls in Paou, Lehonia and Keramidi and pottery shards in the Hill of Episkopi in Ano Volos.
After the twelfth century in Eastern and Western Pelion there were some villages and at the same time it was full of monks, who established on the slopes small monasteries. On the thirteenth century the monkish life was flourishing in Pelion and big monasteries were built in Makrinitsa, on Episkopi’s hill. Today, almost nothing has been saved. Only some architectural parts there are now in after byzantine temples, such as “Panagias” in Makrinitsa, “Agios Nikolaos” in Portaria and “Episkopis” in Ano Volos.
In the beginning of the fifteenth century the whole region of Thessaly was occupied by the Turks. Then a lot of Greeks from the whole area of Thessaly moved to Mount Pelion for security. Villages were being developed around the monasteries. The development of the pelioritic villages was a result of the privileges that the Turks had conceded to them. The region of Pelion was self-administrated and belonged to Valide-Hanum, Sultan’s mother. Sultan Mahmut visited Pelion for hunting (in one of his visits to the city of Larissa) and got surprised by its beauty, offering the region as a present to his mother.
The taxes that the villages of Pelion had to pay to the Turks were much lower compared to other parts of Greece. Significant consequence of this situation was Pilio’s economic development. The local products of handicrafts of that times were silk, olives and figs. Later they were producing shoes and other kinds of clothing. As the commerce was organised through agencies in Constantinopole, Smyrne and Moldavia, the products were being exported by ships, constructed in Mitzela and Trikeri, or on horses till Vienna and Budapest.
The inhabitants of Pelion became leaders of the economic revival of the occupied Greece. They were becoming rich not only economically but spiritually, while they were coming in touch with the more progressive Europeans. The result was a very important school and a rich library that were established in Zagora. Rigas Feraios, the most important representative of the Greek Renaissance, studied there. Milies, also, had an innovative school equipped with organs of physics and chemistry and a famous library, that still exists. Daniel Filippides and Anthimos Gazis, representatives of greek literature at that period, were coming from Milies. Together with Gregorios Constadas, Kallinikos III (Patriarch of Constantinopole) and Filippos Ioannou, they played an important role in the economical, political and spiritual activity of Pelion during the period of the turkish occupation.
During that time, in Zagora mercantile silk yarns and woolen fabrics flourished, while Makrynitsa developed trade and tanning.
Architecture & arts
The pelioritic villages are in such absolute harmony with the landscape, that look like grown out of the ground. Speechless witnesses of Pelion’s history are the famous mansions, which can be found in every village. Stone built, huge, with roofs made of pilioritic stone, they used to be the houses of the richest and the most important members of Pelion’s society. Gazing at them you still feel the glory of the past.
The beautiful architecture of Pelion is completed by the various old churches, hidden in the villages and on the mountain. In most of them you find really old, wooden temples and screens of unique beauty, handmade by unknown talented artists.
In Anakasia, at the house of Yiannis Kontos and in Alli Meria, at the bakery of Veletzas there are paintings of the famous greek painter Theophilos (1873 – 1934) you can find more information about him here. The wallpaintings and frescoes that decorate the interior of the pilioritic mansions or churches are inspired by the nature and the local way of life. In the churches apart from religious icons, we see frescoes with different themes and samples of sculpture on wood or stone.
Pelion can be considered as a museum of greek art and architecture. It definitely worths visiting!
*Main source has been the book of Kostas Liapis “Ores tou Piliou” (“Pilion Times”).