film / photography / interviews / history
"Ta Argyreika" is a project that documents the history and the remains of an abandoned village in Pelion, Greece, called Argyreika.
I have visited the remains of Argyreika many times in the past. It is a place that always delivered me a very special feeling; it is loaded with a melancholic energy that waits, quietly, to be discovered.
In the year of 2019, I visited the abandoned village once again with my father Vangelis but this time I followed him with my camera as he shared his memories of him living there as a child.
With a happy face but with a sad look in his eyes he remembers, every spot has its story. He talks to me, to us, about a life that history forgot to mention.
This is the first edition of "Ta Argyreika" / project II. There are many more things there that are worth to be documented and many more people willing to share their story in an attempt to keep their memories alive.
Argyreika was the "winter village", this is how Vangelis calls it, of Vyzitsas residents. Both villages are built on the slopes of mount Pelion, known best as the residence of centaur Chiron from the Greek Mythology.
They would move there around the 30th of October, after they finished picking the apples that where mainly growing on the hight of 600m to 800m above see level. This is also the hight where Vyzitsa is located, on 650m to be more specific, as we can also see on the following map.
In Argyreika, that is located on the 300m, therefore it also offered a mild winter climate, they would pick the olives from December to, sometimes, until March and make olive oil by using big olive presses which where located also there. The olives where the main occupation and even today, the area produces big quantities of them.
People would start leaving Argyreika again after the Easter, in April and they would move back to Vyzitsa, in the mountain that had a mild summer climate, to work there and take care of the apples.
The only reason that someone would go to Argyreika during summer was to water the trees if the weather was too dry. Of course, there were also three or four families that lived there the whole year, as there where also some families that wouldn’t leave Vyzitsa in the winter because they didn't own a house in Argyreika.
Click here to get a view of Argyreika on google maps.
"Everything would move here, the cafes, the groceries stores, the church with the prist, the school, the community office. Life would appear in this place again."
They would load the horses with their belongings and use a cobblestone path called "Kalderími" (Greek: Καλντερίμι) that connected almost every village in Pelion; it was a route of four to five hours.
All of their services would move to Argyreika as well, the school with the teacher, the church with the priest, the community office with the "president" of the village and his secretary. The groceries store would cell the necessary products again and the cafes would serve coffee and "Tsipouro", a traditional, strong, alcohol drink.
Life would appear and it would be like they didn’t missed a day.
Also a very important role in the development of the village and the olive oil trade had the train.
It was a steam train, often called "Moutzouris" by the locals that would ride on the Pelion railway, constructed in 1903, a 600 mm narrow gauge railway line, part of Thessaly Railways. It connected the city of Volos that had a big harbour with one of the biggest villages of Pelion, called Miliés .
On its passage it would make stops in some villages and among them was Argyreika, it would bring the goods and trade the products of the locals but was also used as a charter train.
Vyzitsa did not have this comfort and it was a very isolated place until the cars and the electricity came in the 70s.
In Argyreika, electricity came in the 80s and it was about that period of time when people stopped moving from the one village to the other every year. They started owning cars so transport got easier, also the traditional olive oil presses became too expensive and people did not have money to invest on new facilities.
Apples became a more profitable product, a fact that led people to stay in Vyzitsa and make it their permanent residence. The train stopped riding in 1971 because of cost-saving measures and almost all the areas that where benefited from it slowly died.
As everyone would move to the Argyreika, so would also do the community office with the "president" of the village and his secretary. Except from all the paper work that was mainly about the olive oil trade and other negotiations, it was also a post office. Sometimes older people would go there because they couldn’t write and read and ask the secretary to write a letter to their children that where abroad.
Vangelis also remembers that, as a child, he would go there, sit at the secretary’s office and they would let him play with the typing machine. Sometimes he would also get carbon, something that he had never seen again in his life.
A typical house there had two or three rooms on the first floor. The ground floor was used as a cellar, for keeping the food, the olive oil and other things cool during the summer months. Sometimes the cellar was split in two rooms an in the other room they kept their animals like goats and horses. Some more wealthy families owned a warehouse, that was built close to the house, where they kept big wooden barrels with the olives that would get traded later on the year. The house, had a small kitchen and fire place; the stove where they cooked some meals like stuffed tomatoes, potatoes, bread and meat and the toilet where located on a distance of ten to twenty meters. The toilet, as Vangelis mansions, was just a hole in the ground, "a natural cesspool". Three walls where built around that hole, a sack was used as a curtain-door and a bucket with water as the cistern.
The cafe and the store
The village had also five cafes and three of them were also groceries stores. Each neighbourhood had its own cafe because the distance was otherwise too big.
People would gather around eight in the evening, play cards and drink Tsipouro while negotiating for the olive trade, the workers and others things that were important to discuss about. That kind of socialising, was an integral part in their businesses and that explains why, at a cafe, you could only find men in the evening.
There was also a cafe that was near the train stop where people would sit, drink coffee and eat a Loukoumi (traditional, cubed jelly sweet) while waiting for the train.