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Syrrako is located at an altitude of 1,200 meters at the foothills of Peristeri Mountain in eastern Epirus. In the beginnings of the 15th century it was inhabited by Vlach-speaking Greeks and developed a strong livestock and wool products trade. During the 17th century, its fame as an important productive and commercial centre of clothing products, had surpassed the Balkan borders and had travelled all over Europe.
Syrrako was known among the markets of Italy, Spain, France and Austria for its qualitative woollen woven, such as long-haired handmade blankets, socks and dimity clothes, as well as for its recherché capes. A large number of merchants from Syrrako got rich from their sales in Naples, Venice, Trieste, Vienna and Moscow.
The intense commercial activities brought notable wealth and thus prosperity, education and development in the village. Ioannis Kolettis was born in this village in 1773, and later became Greece's first constitutional prime minister after its liberation from the Turks. Costas Krystallis the poet was also born there in 1868, but he died too young, at the age of 26, because of tuberculosis.
Syrrako was not only known for its commercial and livestock development, but also for its mores and customs, as well as for its tastes, especially concerning its well-known pies with spinach, chard, parsley, dill and other kinds of mountain weeds.
Its musical and dancing tradition is also famous, with its slow and sacramental Vlach dances. The dancers used to wear heavy coloured costumes and dance in very careful moves, combining humility and manliness, modesty and grace, simplicity and pride. As they usually say, "A golden eagle is as good as a partridge".
Tailors and breeders
Two social classes developed in Syrrako, the tailors (fabric traders) and the breeders. The communication among them was more about financial transactions and less about their social relationships.
The breeders, who possessed an important primary livestock, didn't enjoy the proportional financial rewards and social recognition. Their life in the sheepfolds and the pastures was hard and didn't allow them to educate themselves nor claim any social axioms. The tailors and the merchants on the contrary, lived posh lives and offered their children multilateral education in Greece and abroad, which consequently led to their climb on the highest levels of the country offices.
The intense social and financial transformations of the 20th century though, and especially those that happened during the decade 1960-70, affected both of the classes. The retailers and merchants were trapped in their own family oriented business mentality, which resulted to their outflanking by the powerful, flexible and impersonal companies, which don't care about borders and social stereotypes.
The decrease of the trading activity resulted to the breeders' entrainment in the massif of Tzoumerka, not being capable of trading their products. The rough roads and the justifiable reluctance of the younger ones to breed animals, meant their irreversible shrinkage.
Some time ago, Syrrako used to work like a small independent country's miniature, with its own services, clinics and schools. It was not being supported only by the obviously weakened Greek state, but it also accepted some important benefactions by rich men living in Syrrako.
Nowadays, it looks like a huge architectural museum, which lacks of life, though. Fortunately, some young people, who were born in Syrrako, turned their ancestors' amazing mansions into hostels of a high functional and aesthetic level. This led more and more people to visit the village during the summer but also during their Christmas and Easter vacation.
The tourist bloom is not uncontrolled in Syrrako, because every kind of building and architectural violation that afflicts the settlement's traditional character is forbidden. There are no cars in the village and the only way to enter it is by walking along an amazing stone path a few hundreds of meters long, with bridges and streams, which is already a tourist attraction. The visitors leave their cars outside the village, at a point where they can hardly be seen or obstruct the settlement's view.
The Sirens of evolution
At this time, there's just one breeder in Syrrako, who has to deal with the huge problems of disposing and transporting his products. Thank God there are the tourist hostels that give life to the village and demotivate its conversion to a ghost village. As long as the church and the sheep's bells keep ringing, this Vlach masterpiece remains proud and dazzling.
The efforts that have been made in order to turn the village into a tourist resort are respectable, as long as people keep in mind that Tzoumerka Mountain is an important shelter for wild life. The opening of a large highway, that will be a branch of Egnatia highway and will give life to the nearby villages, will dangerously incommode the life of the rest of the organisms living at the same place where people do. If bulldozers compete with animals and plants, the latter will surely lose the fight.
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS