Historical Facts about Zagora
The Pelion peninsula and especially its east side have been inhabited since mythical times. Most of the villages, on the northeast side of Pelion, were originally seaside villages. The inhabitants were mainly seafarers and to a lesser extent farmers with land extending up the mountain. Very often they became the target of pirates and sought protection higher up on the mountain. As a result new villages were formed, preferably near monasteries on the Aegean side of Mount Pelion. Zagora, today the largest and most important village on Pelion was probably founded in a similar way.
The very first building erected in today’s Zagora was the monastery "Metamorphose of the Saviour", the "Sotira Monastery", which was founded in 1160 AD by Cristian Emperors and was given large areas of land which supported a large population of monks. An accidental fire destroyed it in August 1887. Around the monastery the first houses were constructed by the inhabitants of old Zagora, and as it seems, it got the name Sotira-Zagora (Saviour-Zagora) as a statement of being a new settlement. Slowly as time passed and Zagora developed and flourished, new settlements were created and the neighbourhoods of Saint George, Saint Kyriaki and Saint Paraskevi were added to the original settlement.
The new Zagora took shape by the end of the 16th century, and soon started to develop. Agriculture and trade flourished. Zagora was important in the silk trade (30-40 tons per year) and exported to Venice, Dalmatia, Germany and other parts of Europe. During this time smaller local industries developed as well. Wool was imported from different areas of Greece (Levadia in Beotia delivered almost all of its annual production of wool to Zagora) and was mixed with local qualities, spun and woven in the famous ‘workshops’. Specifically the “Zagorian Shepherd’s Coats” became famous all over the Greece.
Due to the trade of all these products, Zagora developed a fleet of ships, which used the nearby anchorage of ‘Horefto’. They crossed the Mediterranean Sea to all important European ports, as well as to Constantinople and Smyrna (now Izmir). The “Zagorian Ships” were celebrated in hundreds of verses and songs, still sung by the inhabitants of Zagora. This way the east side of Mount Pelion became an important industrial and trading centre.
During the Turkish occupation there were two schools in Zagora. One operated in the cells of the Sotira monastery where basic skills of reading and writing were taught. It was simply called “The School” and it is not known when it was founded.
The other called “Ellinomouseio - Museum for the Greeks” (the word ‘museum’ derives from the Greek word ‘muse’), was founded around 1702 in the monastery of Saint John Prodromos. This school became famous for its dedicated teachers and distinguished students who were trained, not only in the Greek language, but also in mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, philosophy, history and foreign languages. This school was taken under the wing of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople and the Patriarch Kallinikos III. He and an important and rich Zagorian merchant, Yannis Pringos, who was settled in Holland, donated important books and money to the school, which were indispensable for succesful learning. Those books were the foundation for today’s library of Zagora, which was later supplemented with books and funds by numerous well-known people who originated from Zagora. Among the students of this school were personalities from politically and culturally important families of Greece-it is worth mentioning Anthimos Gazis, Rigas Ferraios and Filippos Ioannou.
Many important personalities in Greek history originated from Zagora, people who were outstanding in literature, science, commerce and philanthropy. Along with the Patriarch Kallinikos IIIand the great merchant from Amsterdam Yannis Pringos were the Lapatsi brothers, governors of Moldavia, Moses Kritsky, the founder of the Kritsky School in Zagora, Nikolas Kritsky, vice-admiral in the Russian Navy and donator of large sums to the Greek government and to student funds. There was John Kassavetis, founder of the Zagora school for girls, (the first one on Pelion peninsula), the famous Basdekis family, who were distinguished soldiers and arms dealers, Filippos Ioannou, known to be “the Greek philosopher of the 19th century”, who was also Queen Amalia’s Greek language teacher, and professor of systematic philosophy at the State University for more than forty years.
Among the significant people coming from Zagora was Nikolas Kostis, professor of pharmakology and gynaecology at the State University of Greece. He was also the private physician of Queen Amalia and King Otto. Last but not least Theodor Afentoulis, who was professor of pharmacology and later also of medicine at Athens University and Alexander Pantos, the founder of the Pantios University of Athens, as well as many more.
Other imporant benefactors of Zagora, in particular, and of Greece, in general, are found among Zagorians who prospered in Egypt, which is another significant and glorious chapter in the history of the village. Restlessly and with dedication they supported the development of their hometown in fields, such as agriculture, industry, trade, science and literacy, while offering support to Zagora, as well as to the Greek state in general.
Even today the village of Zagora is of great significance, especially in the field of agriculture due to the famous “Zagorin” apple. The local Agricultural Cooperative was one of the first cooperatives in Greece (founded 1916) and is the main contributor to Zagora’s recent prosperity.
The beauty of Mount Pelion has remained untouched despite tourist developments, and the unique combination of mountain, forest and the Aegean Sea make Zagora one of the most beautiful resorts in Greece.
Text: Vassilis Agiopetritis
Translation in English: Akrivi Georgaki