The coast of Western Greece runs across many different subcultures and ecosystems along the Ionian Sea. From Preveza in the north to Ancient Olympia in the south, the western areas of the country were intimately involved in the history and shaping of Greece. Now connected by a modern marvel of engineering, the Rio-Antirrio Bridge, exploring this side of Greece is quicker and easier, the bridge passing over the Gulf of Patras.
The largest city on this side of the country is Patras, located in the larger region of Achaea in the Peloponnese. In the early 19th century, this western city and its smaller neighbors became leaders in a movement that would change Greece forever.
Since antiquity, Western Greece has been the site of successful societies, trade routes, and legendary events. It is incredible to know that some of the most world-changing events happened in these regions of Greece at sites that we are still able to visit and explore them today. One such event is the Olympic Games, which continues to unite the world in a representation of our common humanity and friendship. The land is mountainous with sporadic forests throughout and low lying valleys of olive trees near the coast. There is a sea-border in almost every direction and life is really influenced by the sea, but also the lakes and rivers that pop up between the tall mountain peaks. Life flourishes here and nature presents her most beautiful work.
Now is the perfect time to explore the history of Western Greece, as it was the scene of pivotal moments in the fight for Greek Independence. Two hundred years later we are sharing our acknowledgements and celebration of the large cost our ancestors paid to ensure our freedom today. High up in the mountains of Achaea in the Western Peloponnese is the Agia Lavra Monastery. A place which has endured a great deal of tragedy but through that has become a symbol of Greek resilience. Originally founded in 961 AD by the monk Eugene Askitis, the monastery is still used and cherished today. The structure, built on the ascending mountain Helmos overlooking the town of Kalavryta, has been destroyed and rebuilt a handful of times throughout history, the cause of destruction usually being conflict or war. But what should be more emphasized is how each time this happened, the monastery was built up again with cornerstones of love and pride for Greece. Within its walls the monastery houses a small museum that is filled to the brim with ancient relics and writings depicting important moments in Orthodox history.
Of these artifacts, one of the most symbolic is the flag that waved above the monastery when the fight for Greek Independence began. The Banner of the Revolution as it is called was raised by the Bishop Paleon Patron Germanos on March 25, 1821, thus forever solidifying this important holiday. What began that day would seal the fate of our ancient nation. Bishop Patron Germanos articulated the country's present state when he declared `Freedom or Death' as he blessed those preparing for the revolution. This moment ignited a fire in the hearts of Greeks and non-Greeks everywhere, luring them to come across oceans to fight for freedom. According to historical record, this day was also the Bishop's birthday. Perhaps it was what a birthday represents, the gift of life, that reassured Bishop Paleon Patron Germanos this was finally the time to act.
From this day in March of 1821, revolts against the Ottomans began to take shape throughout Peloponnesos. Kalavryta, the town situated in the valley below Agia Lavra Monastery, was officially the first town to be liberated from Ottoman rule. A small army of fighters was formed, and men from the area assembled to besiege the nearby Ottoman fortress. After their success, the effort was officially declared a revolution. Greeks would no longer allow oppressive intruders to control their ancestral home. Kalavryta became the first free Greek city in hundreds of years after great struggle.
Over a hundred years later in 1943, Kalavryta and Agia Lavra Monastery would again have their faith and resilience tested. During WW II Nazi soldiers occupied various strategic stations throughout Greece. In Western Greece, strongholds could be found around Achaea. In retaliation against a revolt by Greeks, Nazis incited a massacre of the residents of Kalavryta and the destruction of the monastery. Horrific acts of murder and arson threatened to destroy the town and the holy structure, but as they had done before, they rose up and rebuilt. Now every year on March 25, a big celebration is held at Agia Lavra Monastery and a there is a reenactment of the interaction among revolutionaries and their call for `Freedom or Death'. The tree which served as the stage, still stands tall and proud at the entrance gates into the monastery.
Western Greece and specifically the west Peloponnese has become the historic center of the revolution for Greek Independence and the modern Greek state. While the capital city Athens rules in the east, its flourishing could not have happened without the sacrifices in the west. Along the west coast in the beachfront area of Navarino, world-powers sailed in with their navies to assist Greek Revolutionaries in their courageous fight for freedom. The antiquities and ruins of Western Greece, like those of the compound at Ancient Olympia, highlight why the support for the Greek Revolution poured in. People the world over admire and preserve the stories and ideas of Ancient Greece. Whether it be ancient triumphs like establishing bouts of peace to present the Olympic Games, or modern day revolutions against tyrants, Western Greece has been at the heart of it. During this bicentennial celebration of Greek Independence, let us remember the small towns and institutions that played a leading role in uniting Greeks and taking back what was rightfully ours. Although these parts of Greece are not as widely advertised and popular as more touristy destinations in the country, they hold the key to our creation. It speaks to the Greek spirit and faith that the revolution for Greek Independence began in a holy place of worship.