Once upon a time there was a Bishop traveling between Epirus and Thessaly in winter. Passing the Katara mountain passage (at an altitude of 1690 meters!) he fell into very bad weather and died in the snow. Before he died he left a curse on the place (with his last breath…) which remained through centuries as a name for this difficult crossing (Katara means curse in Greek).
I remembered this Bishop’s story when I was crossing the Katara passage , having been tired of counting turns aftern turns, as if not driving a jeep but a cage coaster. It was then that the Via Egnatia modern highway was just a bunch of construction areas within the cliffs of Pindos mountains …
I forgot all the endless turns watching the impressive village called Metsovo, laying among the full of snow peaks of Pindos mountains, surrounded by numerous saddles and mountain passages
Metsovo was built just on the key passageway of the caravans (during the Turkish Occupation), between Epirus and Thessaly. During the centuries of Ottoman rule Metsovo took awesome perks to guard the passages and keep them open.
The inhabitants of Metsovo (called Metsovites) were mostly sheperds till the 14th century. With the privileges given by the Ottomans the village grew very much , it was also very much developed and filled with beautiful stone mansions. So the Bishop’s Curse (at Katara passage) was ultimately a blessing for Metsovo.
I was reading a book about the village’s history, inside the sweet autumn light that was coming through the windows of my hotel. Sultan Murat II was the first Ottoman ruler that gave privileges to Metsovites to guard the passage of Zygos (the Katara passage, before the Bishop’s story…). That first happened in 1430. For centuries Metsovites renewed confidence in the respective Sultan and he, from his side, had to tax them down and give them unbelievable privileges for an occupied place then.
Ali Pasha, the Governor of Epirus region broke this rule in 1795 cutting off many of those privileges that the village kept for centuries. Since that time many Metsovites (including tycoons like Averof Tositsas, Stournaris) left Metsovo and seek prosperity to Egypt and Europe.
“Venetsemou kamp’ri” means “Lets go to the square…”, in the local language (actually is the Vlach language, Metsovo is a Vlach village). This is just exactly what Bill Varsanis, a local historian, told me and escorted me to a nice stroll in the village’s neighborhoods. The square always has big traffic problems. The underground parking lot is always full with local cars and parking is huge adventure for any visitor.
“Here was the Castle…” Bill told me pointing to the hill with the pine trees above the square. “It was built there since 1668 and burned down in 1854 along with the village, after a battle with the Turks…”
We ascended to the most picturesque corners of the city. We passed by the mansion of Tositsa’s family (undoubtedly the most beautiful building) walking in the cobblestone streets admiring the modern village. We saw older ladies chatting in the Vlach language, wearing their traditional clothes and besides them young and pretty girls, wearing trendy boots, holding school books over their chests and new cell phones at their ears.
We admired much the Averof mansion. “It was the birthplace of Vasiloarchontissa, a noble woman of old times” said Bill. Who was the lady? “Daughter of tycoon Nicholas Averof. She was kidnapped in 1884 by the robbers Thimios Gakis, Taco Vangelis and Fleggas. She was released after 17 days, after ransom was paid – 10,000 golden pounds – and a bag full of silver coins. I listened to Bill’s stories; he also said an old Vlach folk song about the story of the old lady. Difficult language though. I cannot translate it…
We climbed to the top of the village, into the strong smells of the fireplaces, watching the last old mansions. Some of them were collapsing that time …
Whew .. I was thirsty after all that trek. I drank a little water at the Fournika fountain, the oldest of the 110 springs that existed in Metsovo.
One of the many couples that visit Metsovo, was kissing under the pine trees in the small park of Pichtos; Metsovo it is romantic destination , really popular among couples.
– What do you think he is telling her?, I asked Bill smiling.
– “Te Mutu agapeskou. I love you very much, in Vlach language” he answered.
Of course …
Where am I?
Metsovo is one of the major mountain destinations in Greece. The journey to this point was once an entire adventure. Today the Via Egnatia modern Highway made it simple, secure and fast. The fastest route is via Grevena city (but beware of the poor bears that sometimes enter the highway!).
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