Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Magouliana, High In The Peloponnesus

It was while we were burying my father-in-law, Ted, at Arlington National Cemetery eighteen months ago that my wife’s family started organizing our trip to Greece. Ted was a disabled veteran of WWII whose father immigrated from Magouliana (Mah-GOOL-yah-nah), a small, high-mountain village in the Peloponnesian Peninsula of Greece. Ted never wanted to visit there even though he could have afforded to, but his wife did. He was proud of his Greek heritage, spoke the language, and attended a Greek Orthodox Church in Lowell, Massachusetts. He liked to hang out with other veterans at the Greek/American Club in Lowell, but he considered himself an American. Like his father, wanted to cut ties to the old country. His widow, however, did not consider a trip there to be disloyal to America.
Roseann at her father's grave in Arlington, VA

The only road in to Magouliana

Four days into our Greek tour, we were leaving the area of Mycenae from where King Agamemnon set off to conquer Troy. We drove inland to Vytina, a mountain ski town closest to Magouliana and big enough to have a few hotels. There we stayed the night. Nearby Magouliana has only one tavern and no hotels. There’s only one road in and out and it has the highest elevation of any inhabited village in the Peloponnese. The views are spectacular from inside a high semicircle cut by nature out of a mountainside. I wondered why they built their houses so far up instead of in the small valley below. Then, surprisingly, I discovered the village was originally built even further up around the very top of the slope. That village, however, was destroyed by the Turks when they invaded in the 15th century. They forced villagers to rebuild it on the present site. Turks occupied Magouliana and the rest of Greece for four hundred years until they were driven out in the mid-nineteenth century. I learned later that the war for independence began right there in Vytina and Magouliana. Now I have an idea about where my wife’s sometimes fiery nature may have originated.
High in the Mountains

Beautiful setting

Our licensed guide was an older woman from Athens named Dora. She’d been guiding groups around Greece for forty years and had never heard of Magouliana. Neither had she heard of my wife’s maiden name of Kosiavelon. A clerk at Ellis Island had substituted the “n” at the end in place of the original “s” when her grandfather, Athanasios Kosiavelos was processed through in 1902. There are still people by that name living in Magouliana and they’re relatives. Ted’s widow had done extensive genealogical research and contacted some of them. One branch lives in Athens but maintains a vacation house in the old village. Although they didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Greek, we were able to communicate through our guide, Dora, who was wonderful. The language gap didn’t seem to matter much though. Warm feelings went back and forth in spite of it.
What language barrier?

Dora helps translate

Greek mountain hospitality

We were all treated to a mega-dose of Greek hospitality at their home high on the mountainside. They fed us three kinds of meats, homemade baked goods, vegetables, desserts made from walnuts grown on their own trees, and wine they made from grapes they also grew themselves. We were all quite moved by their warmth and graciousness. There had been about 2200 people in the village when Athanasios Kosiavelos left for New York via Naples, Italy in 1902, but fewer than 300 now. Athanasios had four brothers, but only the oldest stayed, inheriting whatever property the family owned. We found the house where Athanasios lived, which is only partially occupied now and had formerly housed a grocery store run by his family.
Roseann at her grandfather's house

Checking out her grandfather's church

Dora explains why so many young men left around 1900

My wife, Roseann, wasn’t sure what to expect and feared finding a poor, backward village with similar people, but that wasn’t the case at all. It appeared quite prosperous and the spectacular location enhanced the charm of the people still living there. The emotional greetings of the Kosiavelos relatives moved me in ways I did not expect because I’m only an in-law. They opened up the now unused church and school so we could see where Athanasious worshiped and became literate. There’s another church in use now and the village’s two remaining students are bussed to Vytina. 
Referring to the family tree

Magouliana in 1900 when Athanasios left for America

In the center of town was a statue of the man who led the mid-nineteenth rebellion against the Turks from Magouliana, but I couldn’t decipher his name because it was printed in the Greek alphabet. Much of the fighting in the Greek civil war following WWII also took place in the area, a struggle which ended in victory over communist forces. The village, like the country, had seen many changes in its long and storied history. I was proud that my children and grandchildren are descended from the warm and courageous people who called it home.


CJ Johnson said...

What a fantastic story! You truly have a great gift, thank you for using it to tell this story. You captured the texture of these events completely. You have my gratitude, respect and admiration.
CJ Johnson, youngest (step)Son of Ted Kosiavelon, Fellow traveler on this Glorious trip!

Glenn said...

Thanks for documenting the trip, Tom. I have been asked what the best part of the trip was. It was the people; the people in our group, and the people we met.This is how memories are made.

Unknown said...

Tom, you did a wonderful job of retelling our adventure. I am only a friend who had the privilege to join in the reuniting of long lost relatives. I found the experience to be very emotional and can only imagine the heightened emotions blood relatives had encountered during this experience. The family is blessed to have you document this for a lifetime of generations to enjoy. The Kosiavelos experience is one I will never forget! Thank you!!

rhondajo said...

Thank you for sharing this warm and wonderful story and for posting the photos!

Anonymous said...

OK, the church was kinda' wicked impressive.
I always sorta' wondered about all those (well maintained) tiny road/trail side shrines in the land of "the gods".