Pelion. Passing through the entrance of the magical mountain. Portaria – Makrinitsa (book)
Pelion: the magical place
It’s perhaps unoriginal to say that Pelion is a magical place. But there is no characterization that best reflects its unique charm.
Perhaps it’s the unique combination of wonderful mountain and sea nature with an architecture perfectly integrated into them. If we add gastronomy, then the combination becomes even more unique.
The rich cultural heritage of Pelion is explained by history.
Pelion acquired the significance testified by its monuments during the Ottoman domination. As it always happened when a people conquered a country, the newcomers lived in the lowland fertile areas, while the conquered were forced to retreat to the mountains.
Here, this was particularly intense in relation to the rest of Greece. As Thessaly has the highest percentage of lowlands from all parts of Greece, a large number of Turks settled in its fertile plains.
The greater number of conquerors led to a particularly great oppression of the conquered. This made many of them leave the plain and settle in the mountains.
Pelion was especially appropriate because its nature is much less wild than that of the other mountains and many monasteries were already in existence since the Late Byzantine period. So many that Pelion was often called ‘Second Athos’.
The monasteries offered the inhabitants of the plain the opportunity to settle around them and work on their estates.
So, settlements were slowly formed around the monasteries, as was so often the case in Western Europe in the Middle Ages.
During the Ottoman domination, the increase of those who came here to work, in order to live under conditions of greater freedom, led to the particular development of these settlements.
In most cases, the monasteries closed at some point, and their memory would have been lost if the villages that were created around them had not taken their name. This is obvious in the case where the village has the name of a saint, but it also applies in other, less obvious cases.
Portaria. The entrance to the magical mountain
The visitor going to Pelion from Volos will first meet Portaria, one of the largest and most important settlements.
The village’s destruction by the conquerors during the German occupation deprived it of much of its architectural heritage. Moreover, the so short distance from Volos, which makes it one of the villages with the easiest access, has led to an intense tourist development.
Nevertheless, its privileged location in one of the most beautiful places of Pelion, with a wonderful view and a nature of amazing beauty that becomes one with it, has allowed it to remain one of the destinations that the visitors must have high in their priorities.
The original village was established during Slavic settlements in Greece. The village that was created then is mentioned in Byzantine documents under the name of Dryanouvaina.
One of the monasteries that were founded in the area during the Late Byzantine era was the monastery of the Virgin Mary Portarea, to which, apparently, Portaria owes its current name.
During the Ottoman domination, the name of the village was Portaría. It then evolved into an important commercial and craft centre, presenting a great prosperity.
Portaria at that time was famous for its silk woven fabrics and scarves, as well as for its big bazaar, which was perhaps the most important of Thessaly.
The great development of Portaria at that time is testified by the large mansions that survived, among the most impressive of Pelion.
Melina Merkouri square, central square of Portaria
Saint Nicholas, central church of Portaria. The stone reliefs in the sanctuary are very characteristic of the large churches of Pelion and demonstrate the development of the arts that came as a result of the economic development towards the end of the Ottoman domination
The 16th century Virgin Mary Portarea, unique remnant of the homonymous monastery of the 13th century that gave the settlement its name
One of the countless fountains of the villages of Pelion, behind the mansion ‘Despotiko’. The stonemasons that worked in Pelion came mainly from Epirus, which was a great centre of that craft
‘Despotiko’ mansion. The mansions with symmetrical façades date back to the end of the 19th century, when local traditional architecture incorporated elements of the classicism that already dominated the free Greek state, to which, moreover, Pelion was incorporated in 1881. These houses are called ‘Egyptian’, as their owners had made fortune in Egypt. Their characteristic feature is the triple-arch entrance, the central arch being a little taller
The rest of the article, in this book
About the author
Hello! I am Denis, an architect based in Athens, Greece. I teach history of art and architecture in higher education. That’s one passion of mine. The other one is hiking, in and out of town. If you follow me, I’ll share my discoveries with you.
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