Zagorochoria History

The history of Zagoria starts a long time ago, although the area and its inhabitants were not known by that name. Between 2500 and 2000 BC, there were ancient tribes collectively known as Pelasgians, that witness the old wall remains in the villages of Vitsa, Skamneli, and Asprangeli, all of them in the central part of Zagoria. The descendants from these inhabitants formed pastoral tribes, and they inhabited the area from 2000 to 800 BC. However, little is known about them.

On the other hand, from that century on, some Corinthian colonists established themselves along the coast of Epirus, the mountains on which side Zagoria is settled. But a long time passed until the southern Greek culture was given to the Epirote tribes, as it occurred from the 5th century on, by the initiative of King Tharypas. Around this time, from the 9th to the 4th century BC, Zagoria was part of the ancient kingdom of Molossoi, which was also an Epriot tribe, living in the North. This tribe gained control over the whole Epirus in the late Classical period.

Today, the ruins of the Neolithic settlement of Molossoi can be found close to the village of Vitsa. This location is also important because of the characters related to it when it comes to both real history and in mythological terms. For example, the mother of Alexander the Great, Olympias, was born in Molossida, the main town of the empire, placed in front of Konits, a town near the Albanian border, where the rivers Aoos Voidomatis, and Sarantaporos join together.

Regarding the relationship of Molossoi to mythology, its eponymous character, Molossus, is said to be the son of Neoptolemus, son of Achilles from Troy, and Andromache, the wife of Hector Troia. In general terms, the geographical features of Zagoria influenced its history, as the fact of being mountainous and with a difficult access gave it certain stability, in contrast to the rest of Greece, which went through a lot of different dominations along the centuries. Free from the massive invasions, its inhabitants did not suffer any substantial changes in terms of number or composition.

Local tribe: the Sarakatsans

The Sarakatsans, another group with remote origins were an example of this, as they are said to descend directly from the population of the Neolithic period. In fact, they are thought to be part of the purest Greek populations and might be descendants from the original pastoral tribes of Homeric Greece. During their military interventions, they used to take huge mastiffs educated for war, and they were widely known for this fact. Regarding their activities, they also used to be shepherds, and its descendants remain until today. Although they used to be a nomadic population, and nowadays they live in scattered communities along the area, some of them are still shepherds and use the ancient methods, like the one of moving the sheep to higher grazing grounds during summer.

Medieval times till today

Going ahead in time, we come to the Byzantine Empire, during which Zagoria enjoyed some security, a feature that caused some groups of Greek soldiers to choose this area in order to build villages and settle down. Later on, during the later Ottoman invasion, it occurred very much the same: the area of Zagoria was never really conquered, although Epirus fell to the Turks in 1430. This was because there was a tax agreement in which Zagoria could keep its autonomy and administrative independence. In addition, the Turks ware also banned to come into the area as long as the arrangement was respected.

That way, the statutory rules were added to the geographical features of the area and made of it a safe place where to look for shelter. Since the area of Zagoria was never damaged by the Turk, it prospered in economic terms, and a great number of merchants with connections to Russia, Romania, and Constantinople chose this area during the Ottoman rule.

During the 18th century, this blossoming was on its highest peak, as several schools and churches were built, the area was decorated in an elaborate way, and medicine reached a good development, as the herbs from the gorge were used for making prescriptions. In our days, some remains of these can be found mainly on Skamneli, among others. However, the nice and peaceful history of Zagoria is reflected on the charm of all its villages, which testify the old splendor that surprisingly still remains until our days.