Kalavrita

KALAVRITA - Distance from Ermioni: 206 kms/3.5 hours 

Kalavrita (Kalavryta) is a small picturesque town located in the mountainous region of Achaea, in the Peloponnese.  It sits next to the river Vouraikos, South East of Patras and North West of Tripoli.  In summer it is a breathtaking village location, in winter it is a paradise for skiers. From Diakopto on the Northern coastline of the Peloponnese, between Corinth and Patras, Kalavrita can be reached by road or rail.  Most day visitors to Kalavrita prefer this journey by the narrow 750mm guage railway.  Built by the Italians in 1885, the train travels around 22 kilometres, taking just over an hour to reach Kalavrita at 750 metres above sea level. There are 3 train departures from Diakopto during the week.  The journey takes you through some amazing scenery, past high mountain peaks and breathtaking gushing mountain streams, along single-track bridges and through narrow rock hewn tunnels.

Kalavrita itself is historically remembered throughout all of Greece for the start of the Greek Revolution in March 1821, when Metropolitan Germanos of old Patras blessed the Hellenic standard in the church next to the Monastery of Agia Lavra.  This act ignited the revolt in the Peloponnese, that soon spread throughout Greece.  The Hellenic people fought a long bloody War of Independence against the Ottoman Turkish Empire which had enslaved the local population for nearly 400 years.  In May 1832, the country was recognised as an independent nation by the leading European powers with the Treaty of Constantinopole.  There is an annual re-enactment and celebration of the blessing and oaths taken by the freedom fighters outside the small church of Agia Lavra on 25th March, the day all of Greece (Hellenic Republic) celebrates its Independence Day.

The other historical date of infamy is the terrible massacre of all the male population over the age of 13, on 13th December 1943, by occupying Nazi troops.  Over 500 men and boys were taken up to Kapi Hill overlooking the village, and machine-gunned. The women and children of Kalavrita were gathered to the town's school (now the Holocaust Museum) and locked inside. The school was set ablaze with all the other village buildings.  It is said that a soldier took pity on the captives and helped the women and children to escape. Later they discoverd the fate of their husbands, brothers, sons, uncles, cousins and friends.  The site is now a memorial site dedicated to the memory of all the victims, their names and ages recorded on giant stone panels.  The school and cathedral were rebuilt after the war, with the church clock showing the time of murder and destruction, 2:34 pm.

Today, Kalavrita has become a wonderful village resort which attracts many day and weekend visitors throughout the year, and when the snow falls, Kalavrita converts into a winter ski resort, which draws thousands of skiers from all over Greece.  On leaving the railway station, you can walk up towards the main high street, past the Holocaust Museum and the main square with the cathedral church of Agioi Taxiarches (Archangels), fountain and chapel.  Beyond the square you will encounter numerous tourist gift shops selling local produce, hand-made arts and crafts, with a great choice of traditional tavernas, restaurants and modern cafes and bars.  There are also many hotels and guest houses within the town centre, for visitors that may wish to extend their stay in this beautiful historic location.

The Memorial Site of the massacre (Place of Sacrifice) is a pleasant 2 km walk away, situated on the outskirts of the town on Kapi Hill, and well worth a visit.  A small underground shrine comemorates each person that was killed on this sacred site, their names and ages inscribed on giant stone tablets close by.  Most of the victims were taken away for burial by their loved ones, however, some were buried where they fell.  496 men and boys were murdered that cold Monday afternoon, only 13 survived the massacre.

Following the fall of Greece in May 1941, Greek ELAS partisan resistance groups continued the fight against the occupying Italian troops, particularly in the mountainous regions around Kalavrita and surrounding villages.  The partisans relied on recruits, food, help and support from the civilian population to continue their struggle for freedom.  When Italy withdrew from the Axis Powers in September 1943, they were replaced with German Wehrmacht troops to continue the occupation.  In October 1943, after the battle of Kerpini, the partisans captured 83 German soldiers and held them as prisoners-of-war.  After ELAS refused to hand these soldiers back, the German army destroyed the village of Kerpini.  With this, ELAS executed their 78 German captives, with two survivors managing to report back on this tragic event.

The German response to this execution was the infamous 'Operation Kalavryta', where Nazi troops from Patras, Corinth, Kalamata, Tripoli and Pyrgos would converge on Kalavrita, destroying everything in their path.  When the Germans reached Kalavrita, they assured the local population that they would all be safe, as they were only searching for ELAS partisans and any German prisoner-of-war survivors.  After burning down 5 homes that belonged to known partisans, they left on Sunday 12th December.  However, early on Monday morning of the 13th, soldiers of the Wehrmacht 117th Jäger Division entered the town and everyone was ordered to assemble at the elementary school.   Soon after, all the men between 13 and 80 years were separated from the women and children and taken up to the nearby Kapi Hill. 

All the women and children were then locked inside the school house.  At a given signal, the school was set alight and the men were machine-gunned.  In less than 3 hours, most of the town would be burned to ashes and only 13 of the the men would survive the Nazi's atrocity on the hillside.  The screaming women and children finally managed to flee from the flaming school house only to witness the burning town and their menfolk massacred.  In total, 696 civilians were killed during the whole 'Operation Kalavryta' reprisal, some say this figure was in excess of 1,000, with 28 communities (towns, villages and monasteries) looted, burned or destroyed.  Kalavrita suffered the most destruction and largest loss of life, it was the German army's largest single massacre in occupied Greece during the whole Second World War.  

The Holoucaust Museum is the building that was the original elementary school where the women, girls and younger boys were kept when they were separated from the men and older boys on 13th December 1943.  The museum is open from 09:00 until 16:00 Closed on Mondays and public holidays.  Located on the street above the railway station.  Tel: 269 202 3646.  Admission: 3 Euros. 

The Monastery of Agia Lavra is just over 5kms from Kalavrita at 960 metres above sea level, but check on the limited opening times if you wish to visit, as the Monastery is still in daily use by the resident monks.  The Monastery was originally built in the 10th Century, but was burnt down by various invaders throughout its history, the last destruction was on 14th December 1943, the day after the massacre in Kalavrita. The small church next to the Monastery is where Metropolitan Germanos gave his blessing to the Hellenic freedom fighters that gave their oath of 'Freedom or Death' in March 1821.  This started the Greek revolution against the occupying armies of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.  You will probably require a taxi to visit the Monastery if you decide to travel to Kalavrita by train.    

Odontotos rack railway timetable and ticket prices:  www.virail.com/train-diakopto-kalavrita   Check availability before travel.

Diakopto to Kalavrita:       Daily - 09:05 - 11:30 - 14:05       Weekends - 12:49 - 15:30

Kalavrita to Diakopto:       Daily - 10:17 - 12:43 - 15:28       Weekends - 14:03 - 17:23

Ticket price per person:   9.50 Euros one way  - 19 Euros return           Journey time: 1 hour 10 mins

Diakopto Train Station:     Tel: +30 269 104 3206       Kalavrita Train Station:    Tel: +30 269 202 2245

The DK8001 steam locomotive built by Cail, known locally as 'Moutzouris', which originally ran on the Diakopto-Kalavrita rack railway for many years, has now been fully restored and refurbished.  It has been put back to work on the line, offering visitors a unique opportunity to experience an authentic taste of a bygone era.

First built for the Greek government in 1896, the 'Moutzouris' steam locomotive will travel on the 750mm guage rack railway that runs the 22kms from Diakopto on the coast, through the Vouraikos Gorge and the old Mega Spilaion Monastery up to the small picturesque mountain town of Kalavrita, stopping en route at Zachlorou.

Location

Kalavrita (Kalavryta)
Greece
38° 1' 59.9196" N, 22° 6' 37.1664" E
Picture Gallery
Kalavrita - The Odontotos train station at Diakopto Kalavrita - Setting off from Diakopto Kalavrita - Crossing one of many bridges en route Kalavrita - The train journey passing through forest woodland Kalavrita - One of many mountain tops along the journey Kalavrita - Yet more arched bridges along the way Kalavrita - Odontotos train coming out of a narrow tunnel Kalavrita - One of many station stops along the journey Kalavrita - Spectacular mountain tops Kalavrita - Track going through narrow rock hewn tunnels Kalavrita - Breathtaking gushing mountain streams Kalavrita - Spectacular mountain track scenes Kalavrita - On the open high valley plain Kalavrita - Odontotos train arriving at the mountain town Kalavrita - Final train stop at Kalavrita station Kalavrita - Local passengers leaving the train station Kalavrita - The town's train station Kalavrita - Water fountain next to the cathedral Kalavrita - Cathedral and chapel in the main square Kalavrita - Cathedral of Taxiarches with twin clock towers Kalavrita - Main square view of the high street Kalavrita - Numerous tourist gift shops along the high street Kalavrita - Monument of the Massacre - Kapi Hill Kalavrita - View of the village from Kapi Hill Kalavrita - Some victims were buried where they fell in 1943 Kalavrita - The sacred cemetery on Kapi Hill  Kalavrita - The underground shrine to the massacred victims Kalavrita - Commemorating each massacre victim Kalavrita - 'Doleful Stony Mother' sculpture alongside the shrine Kalavrita - 'No more war' memorial at the Holocaust Museum Kalavrita - The Holocaust Museum Kalavrita - Holocaust Museum interior Kalavrita - Monastery of Agia Lavra Kalavrita - Blessing of the flag in Agia Lavra - March 1821 Kalavrita - Annual re-enactment of the famous blessing Kalavrita - Church and Monastery of Agia Lavra Kalavrita - Monument to the Heroes of the War of Independence Kalavrita - Famous Greek winter ski resort Kalavrita - Attracts skiers from all over Greece Kalavrita - Skiers always appear when the snow comes