Up in the highlands of Zagori, where Pindos alpine meadow stretch out before you, that is where you will find the ancient routes of the herders and their flocks. Broad tracks which start from the summer pastures and lead down to their winter quarters in Thessaly and Macedonia. Hundreds of flocks, master-shepherds and herders once trod these paths, scattering in every direction the melodic accompaniment of bleats and tinkling bells.
Twice a year, once in the Autumn and again in the spring, these herdsmen, Vlachs and Sarakatsani, would set off from the mountains to the plain or back again. This move, and the communal pastures and their occupancy were always administered in accordance with an ancient customary law which both maintained the balance between the groups of stock raised and divided natural resources depending on the size and needs of different flocks. In addition to managing their livestock as capital the herders also engaged in other economically significant activities including cheese-making and weaving.
The pastoral life was a difficult one, as it depended on a number of unstable factors relating to the weather, the wild flora and the abundance or not of the natural resources. Despite all these difficulties, its contribution to the region’s economy and culture was fundamental. For centuries these group of people were constantly on the move and they were carry their lives and their families wherever they went, but also their songs, myths and customs. They served as intermediaries for the mountain culture, transporting goods and ideas and enriching the environment through its wise management. Their flocks carried seeds from place to place and contributed to the fertility of the land with their natural fertilizer. The livestock also attracted predators like birds of prey and wolves, thereby stimulating the development of populations of many species of wild fauna and contributing to the marvelous biodiversity of the region.
Nowadays, summer pastures are still to be found in Zagori and the surrounding mountains at altitudes above 2000 meters. Their footpath is marked by stone-built markers and their sheepfolds and enclosures are numerous and easily spotted. Someone can also visit a Sarakatsani sheepfold in Gyftokampos, while woven goods can be viewed and bought in Monodendri at the Rizareios Handicraft School, and if you are lucky, you might get to taste some of their cheeses in a home.