Paramythia is a picturesque little town belonging to the famed Municipality of Souli, which a cultural and historical magnet that draws Hellenes and non-Greeks from all over the world. Paramythia also sent some pretty renowned people into the world, like the founders of Bulgari luxury brand, who emerged from its silversmith industry, Sotirios Boulgaris having established his first workshop there.
The town’s name, which sounds like it’s rooted in the word ‘παραμυθη - fairy tale,’ ιs a corruption of the name of the church ‘Panagita Parigoritria – The Comforter.’
Located between the famous Acheron and Kokitos rivers – and roughly between the cities, of Ioannina and Igoumenitsa, about 12 miles from the Adriatic coast – Paramythia is also situated deep in the hearts of its residents and diaspora.
Giannis Karagiannis is proud to serve as its mayor. After a career largely with Piraeus Bank that included 10 years managing his hometown’s branch, his love for the area and a desire to contribute to its well-being moved him to turn to public service.
Of course, the conversation begins with the town’s environs, which tug at the heartstrings of all Hellenes. “This is the heroic Souli, for which we feel a special pride – it reminds us of our debt to our heroic ancestors.”
They also recognize a duty to the world today. “We are renowned, in Paramythia and generally as Epirotes, for our hospitality and warm hearts, people of ‘philotimo’. We look forward to people coming to meet us.”
Karaiannis explained that, “the locals have traditionally tended livestock. They continue to make their livelihood through the farm animals, and with recent progress in the tourism sector they are working on integrating the nurturing and promotion their products with agritourism.”
Greece and the EU are helping. The Egnatia and Ionia highways have fed the tourism boom, stimulating joint ventures such as centers of canoeing and kayaking, and bringing many to the area’s delightful walking paths.
“Paramythia is now just two-and-a-half and four hours from Thessaloniki and Athens, respectively – it used to take more than eight hours – and we are 20 minutes from the beaches.”
More and more people who were drawn to Epirus by its spectacular beaches are venturing into the interior to enjoy its natural beauty, delicious cuisine, and culture – especially its music, cuisine, and architecture.
Karagiannis noted that the famous school established by Sotirios Boulgaris is being restored and will become a cultural center with multiple museums and venues.
Athina Kalyvas, whose parents are both from Paramythia, loves her homeland because “it is one of the places where Greeks truly maintain the treasures of nature and traditional architecture, the man-made and natural colors that have not been lost to tourism or other interventions.”
She also delights in the unique traditional flavors of the area’s cuisine. “The farmers work the land in a pure, natural way that leads to authentic cuisine.”
Kalyvas is Secretary General for Tax Policy and Public Property at Greek Ministry of Finance, so, trained as an economist, she knows about striking balances.
“It has been demonstrated around the world,” she said, “that economic development can proceed hand in hand with the preservation of nature and the traditional character of a region. In Epirus they are not re-inventing the wheel, they are adopting best practices.”
Specializing in tax policy, she emphasizes that development must also proceed on the basis of a sound tax program. “Since the election of the New Democracy government, we have created tax incentives for attracting people and investment.”
The government has made it easier to change tax residences, which facilitates the development of the ‘silver economy’, attracting retirees, Greek and non-Greeks alike, from which she says Epirus will benefit greatly. “And from Agritourism – for which we have a golden opportunity since very nice hotels and rooms to let have been established, on the shores of Epirus and its interior,” she said.
An Autumn attraction is the Lampovos commercial fair, and Epirus has excellent skiing centers.
Distinguished artist Frederiki Pappas, whose book ‘Portraits of American Philhellenes’ brings to life through her paintings and well-researched text those crucial though all-but-forgotten heroes of the Greek Revolution, has also devoted paintings to her beloved homeland, which is loves to talk about.
“Americans must come to learn about the Souliotes – who helped inspire participation in the revolution –and extend a relationship that began in 1821. William Washington, nephew of the first American President who fought with the Greeks, married the daughter of Markos Botsaris captain of the Souliotes.”
She adds that, “Greek-Americans must come to discover the roots of their history and Greek mythology. Olympias, an Epirote princess, brought her son Alexander the Great to the Acheron River so the child would be infused with its magic powers.” And the Kokitos River, according to Greek mythology, was the place the dead are permitted an annual one-week vacation on Earth – a scene that inspired one of William Blake’s illustrations for Dante’s Inferno.
Lou Katsos, President and Founder of EMBCA, also has roots in Paramythia. He loves it for its rich history, noting that Dodona is one of the most famous ancient oracles. “Paramythia is a wonderful town,” he added, spotlighting its churches – but he loves it also as a center for the passionate Epirotic music.
The area is connected to the heroic events at Zalongo, almost 30 miles away which foreshadowed, in tragic fashion, the War of Independence. After the Fall of Souli to the ruthless Ottoman-Albanian ruler, Ali Pasha, on December 16, 1803 a mass suicide took place by women and their children in order to escape enslavement and rape.
Each year on May 30 special events, usually with the President of Greece in attendance, honor the memory of the Fall of Souli. This year they hope to present the annual ‘To antamoma ton Soulioton – the Gathering of Souliotes’ from all over Greece and around the world, including the United States. There are lectures and cultural events, presented by the municipality in cooperation with numerous organizations.
The date should be set by early June and people can learn more at www.www.paramythia-online.gr.