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Mount Pelion is a densely forested natural fortress predominating the Magnesia Prefecture in the plain of Thessaly and overlooking the city-port of Volos. The entire area is a treasure trove of legends, myths, history, culture, tradition, and a paradise for the nature loving tourist, the archaeologist, the historian, the anthropologist, as it has since time immemorial been trodden upon by gods and goddesses, demigods and centaurs, titans and giants, nymphs and hamadryads, kings and queens, princes and princesses, heroes and warriors. It has also been the battleground of "Gigantomahia" [the battle of the giants against Zeus], the summer resort of the Olympian gods, the hunting grounds of divinity, royalty and nobility, the venue of mythical weddings and of the first beauty pageant between the fair goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.

A few kilometers west of Volos is Sesklo, where archaeologists have discovered Europe's oldest organized community with citadel, houses, walls, graves and many artifacts dating as far back in time as 6500-6000 B.C. In its heyday, in the mid-Neolithic period c. 5300- 4300 B.C., the community boasted 100,000 sq. meters of inhabited area and a population of several thousand. One can only wonder at the infrastructure and organization and culture required for the survival and progress of such a populous community that flourished and prospered over the late Neolithic and early Bronze periods to finally be abandoned in 1600 B.C. with the ascendancy of the Mycenaean era and the ensuing predominance of Iolkos, the forerunner of Volos -- the term being a corrupted form of Iolkos.

From Iolkos set sail the "talking" ship Argo with a crew of fifty demigods and princes under Jason's leadership in the 13th century B.C. Their mission was to reach Colchis in Aea at the eastern seaboard of the Black Sea and reclaim and bring back the Golden Fleece, a symbol of the opening of new trade routes. Along with the Golden Fleece Jason brought a wife, the sorceress Medea, king Aeetes' daughter, granddaughter of the Sun, niece of Circe, princess of Aea, and later queen of Iolkos, Korinth and Aea, and also slayer of her brother Apsyrtos and her two sons from Jason, indeed a tragic figure of a woman whose trials and tribulations were so artfully dramatized in the much staged Euripides' "Medea".

On Pelion took place the wedding of Thetis the Nereid to the mortal Peleus. Their son, the immortal Achilles, slayer of Hector of Troy, was instrumental in the successful launching of the Achaean expedition against and sacking of Troy or Ilium. The reason, we are told by Homer, was the abduction of the fairest of all women Helen of Sparta by Hector's sibling the dashing prince Paris, who had been the arbitrator in the quarrel of the three goddesses in the beauty competition held at Thetis' wedding reception. Paris had given the prize -- a golden apple thrown out of spite by Eris [Discordia], the only goddess that had not been invited to the wedding -- to Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love, who, in gratitude, arranged the romance with Helen. A beautiful myth to justify the Greeks' punitive expedition against the Trojans, who levied heavy tolls on all merchant ships passing through the Straits of Hellispont.

Mount Pelion was roamed by the centaurs, the most famous of whom was Cheiron, a great teacher renowned for his knowledge and wisdom. Practically all demigods, princes and heroes, including Hercules, Achilles, Jason and Asklepios [Aesculapius] had been instructed in Cheiron's cave not only in the art of archery, combat and leadership but also in the path of virtue, knowledge and compassion. He also passed on to his students his knowledge on the hundreds of herbs and plants of medicinal and pharmaceutical value that grew and still grow on Pelion today. As a matter of fact, Asklepios surpassed his master in the art of healing and curing diseases by far. He raised his own snake and became the god of medicine with the snake, the giver of both life and death, as his symbol as it is seen today in the caduceus, the symbol of medicime.

It was on the Aegean rocky coast of Pelion that in 480 B.C. Xerxes, the king of mighty Persia , lost 40 ships on his way to Salamis, where, in the greatest sea battle of the classical times, Xerxes' fleet along with his plans of conquering Greece and the Mediterranean were destroyed. Thus was opened the way for the conquest of the Persian Empire by the Greeks united under Alexander the Great.

Around the year 290 B.C. Dimitrios the Besieger, king of Macedonia, founded Dimitriada, which included Iolkos and Pagases, which by now had lost their past importance and glory. Dimitriada became the center of the Commonwealth of Magnetes. Dimitriada was sacked several times but it somehow managed to survive the raids of Slavs, Goths, Bulgarians, Saracens, Franks, Turks until 1600 A.D.

The sacking of Constantinople [now Instabul] in 1453 A.D. marks the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans, their gradual conquest of the Balkans and Greece, and the onset of the 400-year Turkish occupation. Thanks to its ideal geographical position and configuration of the ground, its inaccessibility and defensibility, its luxuriant vegetation and fertile soil, the abundance of water, timber and fruit of the earth, Pelion became one of the destinations for many of the thousands of intellectuals, educators, administrators, priests, monks, merchants, artists, craftsmen, free spirits, freedom fighters fleeing barbarism. They came and established settlements, villages, schools, libraries, churches, monasteries, businesses, navigation, new trade routes with renaissant Europe. And Pelion prospered and grew in autonomy and relative independence and in the 1700s and 1800s it came to be the wealthiest and most densely populated mountainous area of Greece.

And it became one of the bastions and champions of Hellenism by being an Ark that bred generations of progressive individuals who brought about the Greek Enlightenment by keeping the Hellenic language, history, culture, customs and Christian faith alive. Inspired poets sang Pelion's beauty and riches, and men of letters wrote paeans about it. Generations of stone masons created a unique architectural style, while painters, skilled craftsmen and hagiographers [painters of icons] decorated monasteries, churches and mansions with frescos, paintings, murals and wood and stone sculpture of at once charming innocence and spontaneity and unparallelled diversity and spirituality with themes and symbols drawn from the inexhaustible reservoir of the Greek lore, religion and real life. Great teachers, both lay and men of the cloth, taught at schools, or, in dark and dangerous times, in inaccessible caves where they gathered the children at the risk of loss of limb and life, thus creating the Secret School, which has a special place in the Greek psyche. What's more, some of them together with other ardent patriots were among those who first organized the Greeks' uprising against the Turkish oppression in 1821.

Today, most places on Pelion and its vicinity still have the same name they have had for millennia, thus preserving the continuity of their and the Greek culture's identity. Furthermore, Pelion has forged its own character and personality, which are unique in Greece. A rare blend of primordial energy in the elements and the soothing fruitfulness of a clement nature that manage the impossible in modern life: they slow down time. An irresistible effect, indeed. That is why Pelion has for decades been the secret resort for the few, both Greeks and foreigners, who have been fortunate enough to discover it and get so enthralled by and enamored of it that they keep coming back. For there are two types of Pelion visitors: the first timer tourist and the returning pilgrim. And then, there is the resident pilgrim.

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text: Kosmoglou Stefanos    

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