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Kalavryta makes its first appearance in history in 776 B.C. under the name Kynaetha. The name shows the love for hunting that the inhabitants of the area used to have (Kyon-theo) and we can explain it easily, as this is a mountainous area where prey used to abound. The historian Polyvios named the people Kynaetheis and Pausanias Kynaethaeis.
The people of Kalavryta, descending from Arcadia, followed the Christian faith during the Persecutions by the Corinthians. In 362 A.D. an icon of the Virgin, painted by St. Luke, was found in Mega Spilalon and a monastery of the same name was founded, while in 961 A.D., the monastery of Agia Lavra was founded near Kalavryta. The ancient and modem history of Kalavryta has made the town famous in Greece and abroad.
The town's present name first appeared during the Frankish Occupation in the area (1205) and probably comes from the beautiful cold springs (Kales Vryses) that can be found near it. In 1208 the castle of Kalavryta was built, a strong Franchise fortress, capital of the Barony of Kalavryta which was divided into 12 Knight feuds. The area stayed under the control of the Franks until 1330, when it was liberated by the Byzantine Generals of Mystras. It remained free until 1460 when, though bravely defended, it was conquered by the Turks.
In 1687 the area came under the control of the Venetians, in 1715 again under the Turks until it was made free during the Revolt of 1821.
During the long Turkish occupation, the people of Kalavryta kept their Greek identity, ran schools, developed their economy and thanks to the 2 great monastery centers of the area -Agia Lavra and Mega Spilaion- kept up a vigorous morale and national sentiment, so they were able to play a very important part in the 1821 national Rising.
The 1821 Revolt and Modern Years
Some of the most important events of the national Revolt of 1821 took place in this area of Peloponnese: in January 1821, the first secret assembly was held in Aegion, in which the leading men of Kalavryta singled out. In the beginning of March
of the same year, a second assembly was held, presided by the bishops Paleon Patron Germanos and Prokopios of Kemitsa, where the decision to rise officially against the Turkish empire was taken. This historical decision was put to practice in the holy monastery of Agia Lavra (Saint Lavra) where many elders as well as chieftains had gathered. The struggle for independence began 'for the holy faith of Christ, and the freedom of the Country.
On March 21st 1821 Kalavryta is liberated from the Turks; It was the first Greek town to enjoy freedom after about 400 years of enslavement. The situation changed, however, in 1826 when Ibrahim, at the head of great numbers of Turkish troops, started incursions in the area (May 1826, September 1826 and June 1827): He set the monastery of Agia Lavra and Kalavryta on fire (the monks and inhabitants had refuged onto Chelmos). Then, he persecuted and killed the undefended non-combatants (more than 1000 people) and in the next year 1827 he attacked the monastery of Mega Spileon, but lost the battle, defeated by the brave monks and warriors.
After the Independence, Kalavryta drained by its contribution to the Struggle and suffering from Its many losses, people and supplies, started to decline. The population decreased, activities waned. After 1920 though, development was resumed in all fields. The inhabitants of the city and area increased and since Kalavryta became the capital of the country (eparchia) services of all authorities (court-houses, Head of Police, Banks, Public Services, High School, summer seat of the bishop) were established, while a lot of hotels served the many visitors of the beautiful place.
German Occupation and Holocaust
Short in duration but very intense and cruel in consequences was the new occupation of Greece under the Italians and especially the Germans (1941-1944): Starvation, imprisonments, executions and destruction. Not only did the Greeks manage to beat the Axis armies, for the first time, in Albania, causing universal sensation and admiration but also, when they finally retreated (April 1941), they organized a national resistance force against their conquerors. The first resisting centers were organized in the area of Kalavryta. Only in 1943 did the German armies organize three operations against the resisting forces. (August 29th, October 17th, December). During the first two, a lot of destruction and murders took place. However, the third of these operations will forever remain in the memory of the Greek people and their history.
On December 6th 1943 the German armies came to Kalavryta from Tripolis, Patra, Pyrgos and Aegion. At first they reassured the frightened inhabitants about their intentions only demanding from them to hand in their guns and setting a airfew after 4 p.m. They also forbade any departures from the town. Then, they burned down the houses of those who had taken part in the national resistance.
On December 13th, at dawn, the bells started to toll. An order was given to the terrified people to gather at the schoolyard carrying a blanket and food for one day. They locked the women and children and the elderly citizens in the school, taking the young and the men to the place of execution, a field outside the town. They reassured them that they wouldn't hurt anyone but, at the same time, smoke started to come out of the houses of Kalavryta. In a few minutes the whole town was on fire. The men, who knew now that they were going to die, first witnessed the destruction of their homes and went through the agony for the future of their families in the school.
The agony and emotional torture lasted for 3 hours! At half past 12, two flares were shot in the sky from the town center. That was the signal. Then Tener, the head executioner, gives the order, and the machine-guns which were placed before the people start to breathe fire and death. More than 1000 men, priests, teachers, judges, civil servants, tradesmen, clerks, farmers and other simple people fall on the field of Kapis, bleeding, one on top or next to the other. The German soldiers walk among them and finish off the ones still alive. Out of 1,000 only 13 lived, wounded, and related in detail this big catastrophe which left its marks upon the town of Kalavryta on the ill-omended day of December 13th 1943. And all this happened as reprisals for the murder of some German soldiers, killed by the national resistance forces.
The Women of Kalavryta
Inside the building of the Grammar school, the women, children and elderly citizens of Kalavryta lived terrible hours of agony. As they were watching their houses burning they were mourning their husbands and sons as they knew what would happen to them. Then, they saw smoke coming from the basement of the school and a cry was heard 'They will bum us down; they have set the school on fire to bum us alive'. Scenes of frenzy followed that would come out of a well-made film...
The strongest of the women try to escape from the windows. Others, clutching their children move towards the exit of the building. But this is locked and carefully guarded. Yet, the guard takes pity on the women and children in danger of bumming alive. When the door subsides, he doesn't prevent them to run away from the building which is now in flames, and be saved. In this way a lot of innocent women, children and elderly were saved from horrifying death.
The winter was cold and heavy -by all means-. It is hard to describe what these women -heroines- went through, in order to recognize their dead, mourn for them, bury them and also feed and warm -in what ways really- their children and older citizens in a devastated ghost town?
The German Nazis, after setting fire to the big monasteries (Agia Lavra and Mega Spilalon), also burned down 24 more villages of the district and their churches, killed many priests and monks and 500 inhabitants too, they plundered houses and took whole flocks of sheep. Then, they returned to their camps satisfied, leaving mourning, disaster and fire behind them...
This, most recent sacrifice of the people of Kalavryta stands out in the long line of struggles for freedom. Both 1821 and 1943 are milestones in history. The first against the Turks, the second against Hitler's Nazis. Both had to do with heavy bloodshed but, this is what Greeks have done through their history. They always "guard Thermopile".
The Metropolitan Church of the Assumption of the Virgin
The Metropolitan Church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin dominates the central square of the town. It was built before the year 1750. Its impressive size shows that Kalavryta cherished a flourishing economy during that time. In 1826 (May 4) it was burned down by lbrahim's army. There have been serious attempts to repair and restore it after 1853, while in 1930-31 it was decorated both inside and outside. Unfortunately, the 'civilized' German Nazis this time, set it on fire again in 1943.
From the destruction of the church's interior the Holy Gospel, which was lying on the Altar, was saved in a miraculous way. Its pages were burnt at the edges but it was not seriously damaged. Since then it has been used only during the December 13th Holy Mass, in memory of the great massacre and destruction of Kalavryta. Another worth mentioning sight, is the stopped clock on one of the bell towers. The time it shows,
2.34', is the minute that the clock stopped on December 13th, in order to remind the time of the disaster to everyone. In the middle of the bell-tower a marble plate was placed later, written in Greek and English, saying:
During the last decades, thanks to the care of ministers, churchwardens, faithful Christians and donations of many known and unknown people, the Metropolitan church of Kafavryta has been thoroughly renovated on the inside and outside.
As a result, it presents itself as a true ornament of the city and is the center of its religious life.