Tall, verdant mountains surround the fertile plain of Thessaly, separating it from the rest of the Greek mainland. Mt. Olympus and Mt. Orthrys are set at the northern and southern boarders respectively, while in the west the Pindus mountain range forms a natural barrier separating Greece’s largest agricultural region from Epirus. To the east stands the majestic Mt. Pelion, which is the only Thessalian outlet towards the sea.
The road and rail networks of Greek mainland run straight through the flat land of Thessaly. Larissa, which is the largest city in the region, occupying a central position, serves as an important transportation hub. Fast motorways connect this city directly to Athens, Thessaloniki and the rest of the administrative centres in the region.
History & Culture
The ancient Thessalians were prudent enough to remain outside of the murderous wars that were ranging for centuries between the Greek city-states. However, this did not spare them from the Macedonian conquest. They remained integrated in the Macedonian Kingdom throughout its struggle against the Romans. During that time their cities suffered immensely from the destructive rage of the Roman legions that finally succeeded in subduing the region, transforming it into a Roman province in 168 BC.
In Mediaeval times, the region was invaded by the Huns and Goths (4th century), followed, from the 6th century onwards, by Slavic tribes and the Bulgarians. After the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders in 1204, Thessaly became a ceaseless battleground between the Frankish lords, the Epirot despots, and the Emperors of resurrected Byzantium. In addition the Serbs, who added themselves to the list of Thessaly’s claimants until the year 1396 when the Turkish armies marched in encountering little resistance, invaded the area.
About that time, the Byzantine monks formed monastic communities in Meteora, the numerous perpendicular rocks that are a unique geological legacy of the region.
The Turks remained in power until 1881, when the Ottoman Empire, during the Berlin conference, was persuaded to cede the province to the Greek State.
Sightseeing & Monuments
Most visitors to inland Thessaly head directly to Meteora, one of Greece’s most recognizable sights. Here, among the woods, the gorges and the picturesque villages rise numerous imposing monoliths that reach for the sky. Twenty-four Byzantine monasteries have been clinging to the tops of the tall gray rocks for over six hundred years, challenging and inviting pilgrims from all over Greece to this center of Christianity. On the foothills of the Meteora range lays the town of Kalabaka, which is also famous for its Byzantine churches.
Wandering around the valley and the surrounding mountains, one will come across numerous traditional villages, spas, old churches and antiquities. Especially picturesque are the villages scattered on the peaks of the Agrafa mountain range, while in the district of Trikala can be found the ruins of the ancient sanctuary of Asclepius. Around the town of Farsala, in the district of Larissa, are places of great archeological interest; the ruins of ancient Farsala, which according to a myth was the birthplace of the Greek hero Achilles, the Nymphean cave, which was a sanctuary of the god Pan and the Nymphs, and a Prehistoric vaulted tomb. The rich findings from the archeological digs in this area are exhibited in the museums of Volos, Almyros and the Louvre in Paris.
People & Lifestyle
The large farm plots of Thessaly, having always required collective labour, have led people in this region to learn to depend on each other in order to perform their tasks and earn their living. Thus it was only natural that in Thessaly were created the first organized farmer partnerships and co-operatives in Greece. In the 18th century the people of Ambelakia near Larissa founded a pioneering industrial cooperative for producing, processing and exporting red thread and yarn. The cooperative had agencies in most of the countries of Europe and 6.000 members. Today the cooperative tradition continues as Ambelakia’s women participate in the development of the area through a state-assisted venture that combines customary rural living with tourism.
The Thessalian rich agriculture has spurred a lively intellectual activity: Important figures like the language reformist Alexandros Delmouzos and various educational institutions in this region have played a key role in the modernization of the Greek state, with the introduction of novel ideas that were much disputed in their time.
Sports & Leisure
The region has a long established equestrian tradition. For thousands of years Thessaly has served as the breeding ground for Greece’s finest horses. Ancient Thessalians passed so much time of their time mounted, that southern Greeks believed Thessaly to be inhabited by Centaurs, the legendary half-man, half-horse creatures.
Besides horse riding, the region’s flat verdant plains and rolling hills make it an ideal terrain for cycling excursions. For water sports head east, to the popular resorts of Platamonas and the highly reputed resorts of Pelion. Finally, mountain climbers and trekkers will have the chance to try their stamina and skills on the steep southern slopes of Mt. Olympus, in the scenic region of Meteora and other mountainous locations of Thessaly.
Gastronomy & Shopping
The shopping centre of Larissa is the most important in the region and among the best in Greece, offering a huge variety of goods at the best possible prices. The local traditional products include various handcrafted goods, fabrics and cloths. A wide range of dairy products is produced in several parts of Thessaly with rich pastures, while the town of Tyrnavos is famed for its ouzo production. If ouzo is not strong enough for you and you feel like forgetting your cares and troubles for a while, try a little of the potent local brew, called “tsipouro”.
The local cuisine is excellent, making full use of the rich traditional tastes. Juicy meat (preferably lamb) with spinach, placed in ceramic or metal utensil called “gastra” and cooked in the hearth is truly exceptional. A pie called “plastos”, made from corn flour, cheese, eggs and leak is the favourite food in the mountainous Karditsa district, while trout is also popular in communities near lakes and rivers like Kefalovriso in the Larissa district. Finally, while at the village of Ambelakia, try some of the local delicacies and the superb red wine, to which the town owes its name (“Ambelakia” meaning grape vines).
At about the same time (20th to 30th of May) the neighbouring town of Karditsa hosts “Karaiskaki” folkloric celebrations with dancing, parades and pageantry, honoring the lives of the guerrillas who fought against the Ottoman rule. Quite interesting is also an old Easter Monday custom in the village of Rentina, in the Karditsa district, called the “bairakia”. The priests lead the litany of the religious banners, while the pious villagers outbid each other in money for the honour of holding them.
Nightlife & Entertainment
During the winter Larissa is very popular with young people who gather in its lively center to enjoy the city’s various entertainment opportunities. Besides numerous bars, music clubs and cinemas the city hosts the Thessalian Theatre, which has a quite successful history and has promoted many worthy artists.
In the summer, when temperature in valley is high, people head to the refreshing water of the popular beaches in the coast of Platamonas or in Magnesia. At this place beach bars are in abundance and the fun never ceases.
Thessalian experience in co-operation and their team spirit are valuable assets in organizing gatherings of any nature. Many parts of Thessaly command the necessary facilities, capable of upholding conferences, meetings, seminars and exhibitions. Many hotels in the coasts of Magnesia, in Platamonas as well as in the city of Larissa are excellent for these purposes.