Pelion was chosen as a summer residence by the 12 Gods of Ancient Greece and they would come down to it every summer from the neighbouring Mt. Olympus. In that age, Pelion was inhabited by the robust Centaur tribe, which were human from the waist upwards and horses from the waist downwards. They were warriors, leaders, party animals, poets, they liked good food and liquor and this is how they reigned over the mountain and the sea. The most famous of them was Chiron, the first herb healer, mentor to Hercules, Achilles and Asclepius, the father of medicine. Wood was cut from Pelion’s forest to make the ‘Argo’, the war ship in which Jason and the famous heroes known as the Argonauts sailed to the Black Sea to get the Golden Fleece. Due to the thick vegetation and its inaccessibility, the area remained sparsely populated for most of the historic years while in the rest of Greece the Parthenon was being built and Alexander the Great was conquering the known world.
The area came out of obscurity again when it was inhabited more systematically during the 12th century by monks, who created a ‘holy mountain’ with many monasteries. From the 15th century, when the area of Thessaly was conquered by Ottoman Turks, it becomes a hideout for residents of the lowlands and islands, who wanted to live with greater autonomy. During the 17th century the 24 Pelion villages were governed by the mother of the reigning Sultan of the time, to whom they paid an annual tax. During this regime they developed residentially and economically. The result was that they became the richest and most populated mountainous area of Greece during the 17th& 18th century. The area produced silk and wool, as well as olive oil, olives and timber. Their products were exported by special ships to the larger ports of Europe and the East. The economic growth brought with it corresponding cultural growth, with the establishment of schools and libraries and attracted the elite among intellectuals in Greece to teach there.
The industrial revolution and the development of rayon led to economic decline and to the emigration of the richest traders to Egypt. The Egyptian Pelion people now maintained the area with remittances that were sent for the building and maintenance of mansions and the construction of public buildings, donated to the community. The area was integrated into the new Greek nation in 1881 and fell into economic and population decline, going through two world wars, one civil war and natural disasters (earthquakes). In the early 60s it was chosen for its natural beauty and promoted by the government as a tourist attraction. Hotels were constructed and during the ‘80s many old mansions were restored and converted to guesthouses. Ever since, it’s been walking on thin ice between the progress that tourist money brings and the maintenance of tradition which is required for tourism to be viable, with the green forests high above and the blue sea down below playing a major role. Pelion belongs to all of us, both to those of us who live on it and to the thousands of Greeks and foreigners who visit it each year. And it demands our respect for it to remain green and be washed by a clean blue sea forever.