Did You Know What Other People Have to Say about Us?

“Vovousa lies right on the Aous River, whose milky green waters are spanned by a high-arched fourteenth-century bridge. On either side wooded ridges rise steeply to the skyline. Just downstream a stretch of riverbank meadow makes an idyllic camping site (turn left off the road onto the old path just past the Vovousa roadsign). That is, if the thought of bears in the vicinity doesn’t alarm you. I found three fresh prints in the riverside mud here, but the locals swear they are timid creatures and avoid contact with humans.”

The Real Guide: Greece (NY, 1989)

“Throughout the [Middle Ages], the Dinaric Mountains along the Croat Adriatic and its hinterland of Bosnia/Hum as well as Albania and Montenegro gradually accomodated some or many Vlach clan units called Katun(s). The Katunar or Premikur was the man in charge. Around their pastures the Vlachs organized an efficient system of permanent vigilance consisting of… special guards and an elaborate signal code to protect the people and their sheep from any threat.

“The locations from where the signals were emitted are still called varda or vardishte

“Documented in sources also is the unsurpassing ability of the Vlachs to serve in various capacities as caravan leaders, carriers, and suppliers of various goods, first the typical pastoral economy products: wool, sheepskin, dry or smoked meat, cheese, then later all other commercial products. The sources also use turma, the Vlach term for caravans.

“The economic needs of these early Vlachs were simple: The only item they needed from the outside world was salt for their sheep and for the preservastion of meat. In exchange for salt they offered their famous ‘Vlach cheese’ which eventually took the function of money and was gladly accepted everywhere not only in the Croat Adriatic cities and hinterland, but also in Albania, Italy and as far away as Slovakia.

“The Vlachs of these early migrations spoke their Vlach language, but gradually in the fifteenth century they became bilingual: they used the Vlach tongue at home in the mountains and the Croat Ikavitsa in their contacts with the people in Kotor, Perast, Dubrovnik, Split and all other Croat Adriatic cities, in its immediate environment of Dalmatia and in the extended hinterland of Bosnia and Hercegovina.

“…The Vlachs gradually abandoned their native tongue and spoke only ikavitsa. The Cici, living around Cepic Lake in Istra, are still bilingual as are some Vlach communities in Macedonia and Greece. Not having their own Orthodox Church, these early Vlach settlers in Croatia before the Ottoman conquest gradually and unobtrusively accepted the religion of their neighbors, Catholicism.”

–Vatro Murvar, Nation and Religion in Central Europe and the Balkans (Wisconsin, 1989)

“As with other minority languages of Greece, the Vlach language is a fading one. Metsovo is perhaps its last great bastion.”

Greece (NY, 1988)

“Whenever a stranger appears, Metsovo does its best to disguise its Vlach origin, and pretends to be purely Greek. An interesting paper by a Greek doctor, Mr. Spiridhon Sokolis, who practised there in 1861 shews how great a change has taken place in recent years. At that time with only a few exceptions none of the women or boys up to the age of ten knew Greek at all, so that Dr. Sokolis had to employ an interpreter. The men, however, could speak Greek freely as it was an essential language for commerce.”

–Wace & Thompson, Nomads of the Balkans (NY, 1914)

“Greveniti, Flambourari, Elatohori, and the beautiful Makrino…are all Vlach villages. The first three have basic inns (ksenones) or rooms and places to eat. All were badly depopulated, never having recovered from wartime destruction by the Germans, pursuing Resistance fighters. But what is left of them is very attractive: stone-roofed churches (especially in the monsatery of Makrino), vine-shaded terraces, courtyards full of flowers, and logs stacked for the winter.

“…This ancient pastoral way of life has the magic of the Homeric age about it. I had the good fortune to stay at a Vlach sheepfold near Mt. Grammos, in northern Epirus. It lies on a grassy plateau at the edge of a vast beech forest at an altitude of nearly 2,000 meters, within sight of the guard post on the Albanian frontier… It consists of five huts, rebuilt each year from the beech branches. Behind the huts an icy stream cascades 50 meters into a rocky gully. Above rises the summit ridge of Grammos, where violets, gentians, and saxifrages bloom among the collapsed dugouts where the Greek Communist guerrillas made their last stand in the 1946-49 civil war.”

The Real Guide: Greece (NY, 1989)

“…To the east of Kortsha [are] villages such as Pleasa, Morava and Stropan mainly inhabited by Farsherots who are shepherds and muleteers, and in addition a few families settled in the mixed Bulgar-Albanian town of Biklishta. These Farsherots are apparently newcomers and do not seem to have been settled in this district for more than two hundred years. Still as we have seen Pleasa itself has sent out colonies, as instanced by the Pleasa Farsherots at Almiros in South Thessaly. This shows how ineradicable the spirit of wandering is in the Vlachs.”

–Wace & Thompson, Nomads of the Balkans (NY,1914)

“Bassae and Sunium are the noise of the wind like panpipes through fluted pillars, Nemea the rumble of a column’s collapse. Naoussa is the thud of a falling apple, Edessa a waterfall, Kavalla the drop of an amber bead. Metzovo is a burning pinecone, Samarina a voice in Vlach, Avdela a stag’s belling, Grammos the breath of a hibernating bear, Tzoumerka a wolf’s howl.”

–Patrick Leigh Fermor, Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (London, 1966)

“In continental Greece north of Corinth the observant traveller is soon aware of communities of Greek-speaking transhumant shepherds know as Sarakatsani…Greek villagers generally refer to the Sarakatsani simply as Vlachs, that is sheppherds who, in step with the rhythm of the seasons, lead their animals alternately down to the plains and up to the mountains. The occupational reference of the word, Vlach, is an old one, already in use during the Byzantine period. But it may also be used, in its original and more specific sense, to describe Koutsovlachs, an ethnic minority group speaking a romance language akin to Rumanian, or the related groups of Albanian Vlachs who are trilingual, speaking the Koutsovlach language as their mother tongue and greek and Albanian for political and commercial reasons. These different connotations of the word, Vlach, have led to some confusion, which has been all the greater because many Koutsovlachs lead a transhumant shepherd life, identical in its general outline with that of the Sarakatsani. To the unitiated eye they mayt appear to dress alike, to build the same type of thatched hut, and many of their communities graze their flocks in areas of the Pindus mountains neighbouring on those used by the Sarakatsani. The result has been that many nineteenth-century travellers, and even some Greek observers, failed to realize the existence of the Sarakatsani and imagined that all ‘nomad’ shepherds were Koutsovlachs.

“But although many Koutsovlachs are transhumant shepherds, many are not. For instance, in the eastern half of the Zagori district in Epirus, the majority of the Koutsovlach villagers make their living from timber and agriculture. Probably since the sixteenth century a considerable number of Koutsovlachs have been established in their own villages in the high Pindus. They have pretensions to culture, and for generations sons of rich Koutsovlach families have been prepared for commerce, politics, and the professions. In these respects the Koutsovlachs differ from the Albanian Vlachs who, in so far as they continue to be recognized as ‘Albanian,’ are generally concerned only with shepherding. Some of these Albanian Vlachs have grazing areas close to the Albanian frontier which until 1930 they were able to cross in their search for winter pastures.”

–J.K Campbell, Honour, Family and Patronage (NY, 1974)

“A State which is incompetent to satisfy different races condemns itself; a State which labours to neutralize, to absorb or to expel them is destitute of the chief basis of self-government.”

–Lord Acton


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