Since the early beginning of the touristic development of Meteora, most of its visitors who come here to admire the famous monasteries and the impressive rock landscape, one thing tend to ignore the most and that is its local people. It is people who largely influence the surroundings and people at the end of the day are the ones who write the history of each place they reside.
Going far back into time when history itself becomes legend and legends into myths, Homer tells us the story of our people in the Iliad. Our ancestors were present onboard the 30 ships of the Machaon and Podalirius who took part on the war of Troy. And alongside the 2 sons of the “father of medicine” Asclepius our people fought on the walls of Troy! Our people from Meteora, who latter witnessed the golden age of classical Greece and formed their own city state under the name of Eginion, made their own coins and built a temple dedicated to Apollo on the present day church of Virgin Mary in Kalampaka. It was the same people of Meteora who contributed many of their horses to form the fierce Thessalian cavalry, the finest cavalry of Greece riding next to Alexander the Great.
And under the commandment of Alexander they fought and died on the numerous battlegrounds, fighting to subdue the great Persian Empire. Granicus, Issus, Gaugamela. These proud Thessalians stood alongside their great King all the way to the high mountains of Hindu-Kush, witnessing the edges of the then known world and reaching the doorsteps of Himalaya. Many years later, the people of Meteora saw the countless roman legions marching with their generals and passing through Pindos Mountains narrow passes on their way to either Italy or to the east.
And then a new religion came and the gods of the old all but changed; but in reality the change was not that deep. In most instances only the names of the shrines and the names of the old rituals and of the paganistic festivities changed. But even then, what was considered at the time to be a new building or a new construction, most of them were all based upon the same old recycled marbles and stones they took from the now laid ruined temples of the old gods like our Virgin Mary church. The same people who built the magnificent ancient temples of Greece they were now building Christian churches and monasteries to worship the One true God.
And the name of our town was also changed from its ancient Eginion to its middle ages name, the name of Staggi. The humble people of Meteora helped the first monks to build their monastic communities high up on the rocks. They provide shelter to many Byzantine Emperors and the princes who all came here to pay their respects to the monasteries and the many hermits who used to dwell among the caves of the area.
Those hermits lived here in a complete isolation, constantly praying day and night, maintaining an almost absolute disregard for their biological needs, either for cold, hunger, or disease. Their only purpose in life was to connect with the Divine powers and attain enlightenment. Nothing else mattered for them. We can only imagine what kind of spiritual giants and Saints must have walked among the people of Meteora during that times! Many of the hermitages are still visible even today inside the caves.
And in years when crops were not that good and monks of the monasteries high up on the rocks suffered, it was the local people who provided them with what they needed to sustain themselves.
And then the Ottoman Turks came and the name of our town was changed yet again to Kalambaka! “Kale-bak” in Turkish it means strong fortified position. That’s how they named our town and we gave them a good reason to do so. Within the dreadful Ottoman rule, thousands upon thousands of our people perished on the numerous revolts and the local uprisings. Like the one in 1808, when Efthimios Vlahavas who was born in a village just few km away from Meteora, gave a hopeless battle for freedom against the Ottoman Turks next to the monastery of Ypapanti. Today’s visitors can still see his statue standing beside the monastery of Ypapanti to commemorate his sacrifice for freedom.
And it was this urge for freedom so cherished by our people, that when again upon the calling of faith to rise up one more time to defend our freedom and democracy during the 2nd World War, our people answered the call. Without allies we stood all alone and fought the invading forces of Axis for 6 whole months. And it was the ordinary people from Kalampaka, Trikala, and Kastraki who like the Spartans in Thermopylae before them, they manage to stop an entire Italian offensive on the early spring of 1941 on the Albanian front.
Our people fought nonstop for 17 consecutive days in the battle for the anonymous hill 731. Less than 700 men of the II/5 Thessalian battalion stood up against the assault of an entire Italian Corps of more than 100.000 soldiers. And from those 700 less than half survived the offensive. And yet despite the overwhelming odds, despite our people being vastly outnumbered and outgunned, somehow almost miraculously they manage to hold the line till the end and rise from this hell victorious. Even though the price they had to pay was very heavy.
Men who survived upon their return told stories that when they were fighting up there on the anonymous hill 731 on the spring of 1941, they all had this gut feeling that along their side were fighting all the great heroes of our past. Achilles, Odysseus, Themistocles, Leonidas, they were all there with them up on that hill. Even today some of them they still swear of seeing apparitions and hearing the battle cries of ancient hoplite warriors encouraging them over the trenches not to lose courage and to keep fighting. And they gave fascists a hell of a fight to remember. Those are some of the real stories behind the monuments, the real history of my people.
Eons have passed, like waves of time constantly breaking upon the thick rocks of Meteora and all that remains are those rich memories of people’s myths, legends and the stories told from mouth to mouth to each generation that comes; ensuring that way the continuity and the feel of unity among our people, the people of Meteora.