The great cities of the ancient world such as Rome and Athens are but babes in relation to the cities and towns of Thessaly in central Greece.
The area of Larissa, the capital of Thessaly, has been continuously occupied since the Neolithic Age, and areas to the east have discoveries dating back to the Paleolithic period. Thessaly today is the province of central Greece and its borders vary little from those of the ancient times, while some towns have disappeared and others have been formed, yet the geology and geography remain.
The Thessaly plain is bordered on the south by mountains and lakes of Karditsa. To the west stand the giant monoliths of Meteora supporting the fabulous Byzantine monasteries. To the north soars Mount Olympus and its range. To the south east are the waters of the sea with Volos and the ancient Thebes, the founding towns for Jason’s adventures.
So the people of Larissa and Thessaly have much to remember and to be proud of as the source of civilisation in Greece. They have been people who took advantage of working the rich soils of the plains and worshipped their gods on the mountains.
Some 30 years ago a competition was held for the design of a museum to record the ‘passing of time’ in the Thessaly and particularly the Larissa area. The museum construction was completed ten years ago and the museum was completed in 2013. It is a fresh museum though the pine trees in the park outside date from up to 40 years ago, so fresh that there is not yet a museum shop, photographic book or catalogue. But this Diachronic Museum of Larissa tells the story of the region as the different tribes, peoples and conquerors came and went and left their imprint.
The museum is articulated into 11 sections of archaeological findings injecting geographical and cultural history into the time line. The spaces, beginning with the Paleolithic, leaps to the Neolithic and slides into the bronze age before meeting the grand classical and Hellenistic periods. The arrival of the Romans is followed by the advent of Christianity and then the relatively long Byzantine period.
Each space opens eyes as the culture of the period and region are described in an easy to comprehend style that creates interest and the visitor must be impressed by how the human race developed being cultivated by the environment of this region. Time is compressed as we delve into the past with a seemingly logarithmic progression. One million years of Paleolithic, ten thousand of Neolithic, one thousand, one hundred years, we record the changes of the peoples and the development of technology and lifestyle as we race towards the twenty first century AD.
One of the most striking exhibits is the range of fine ceramic bowls from the Neolithic Age, up to 8,000 years ago. These decorated bowls were fired in open ovens at about 850 degrees. The Thessaly area is renowned for its horses since antiquity and we are reminded that the magnificent stallion of Alexander the Great, Bucephalus, came from here.
We move forward to the period of Turkish control and are captured by the town of Ampelokia that for less than one hundred years after the mid 1700’s was the first cooperative in the world, and a grand success. Yes, many others were formed more recently, and Ampelokia failed due to several mainly external forces, but its existence brought great wealth to the town and prosperity for all the population showing that a non-capitalist model can create wealth. The catalyst for this was a naturally occurring scarlet red dye that was not affected by the sun. It is erythrodamon, known as rizari.
Today, driving though the plains of Thessaly in October, you are struck by the many fields of cotton being harvested and every road has a white border of cotton blown from the wagons used to cart the harvest. The wealth of Ampeloki came from dyeing this cotton with their rizari dye and exporting the spun dyed cotton through their agents in major European cities. The market expanded more rapidly than the supply and the producers agreed to form a cooperative to more effectively address the market place. Unfortunately aniline dyes replaced rizari in the 1800’s but history may yet tell us that rizari was the better product.
Not just for the dye is the Diachronic Museum of Larissa a truly absorbing experience, nearly every exhibit has a story that captivates. While holidaying in Thessaly, don’t rush past Larissa to Meteora, Olympus or Philipp’s tomb, take a day or more in this town and enjoy its truly expansive history and its museums, including the statue and small museum remembering that Hippocrates died in Larissa.
While enjoying a coffee, look up Antonis Karakonstantakis on Fb, meet him and start your collection of fabulous stone mosaics from the slopes of Mount Olympus.