The Heart Beat In Greece

Kostas Papastavros and his goats on the top of the Koziakas mountain, part of Pindus range on mainland Greece. Photograph: Vasileios Tsiolis

I appreciate the comment about the heart beat in Katy Fallon’s portrait of a particular form of pastoral life in northern Greece. It comes just as we start dreaming of making an overdue visit back to the country I would most likely choose to live, if not for Costa Rica’s strong pull:

Kostas leading the goats back to the family’s makeshift summer barn on Koziakas mountain

‘My heart beats up here’: Greece’s nomadic herders on life in the hills – a photo essay

For hundreds of years the Vlach herders in Greece and the Balkans have moved livestock to high mountain pastures for the summer months. But their numbers are dwindling as their arduous existence is threatened by soaring costs and a lack of state support

Kostas and Fotini walk with the family’s mare in front of the prehistoric cave of Theopetra village

Every spring in the Thessalian plains of central Greece, in the shadow of the mountains, an ancient and sacred migration of humans and goats takes place.

The brothers Kostas and Efthymios Papastavros, along with Kostas’s wife Fotini, herd their 800 goats up on foot to the Koziakas mountain from their winter pastures in the plains; a journey of around 30 miles which takes them two days.

The family are descended from the Vlachs, nomadic herders and breeders who have existed in the Greek and Balkan region for hundreds of years and practise transhumance – the act of seasonally moving livestock from one pasture to another.

The Papastavros’s day is long and arduous, starting at 5.30am, milking the goats by hand before putting them out to graze. Twice daily they will transport their raw goat’s milk along dirt tracks to plants for processing before returning home to rise early the next day to repeat the process all over again.

“My heart beats up here,” says Kostas of the mountain thick with pines, walnut, and chestnut trees. It is here on the mountain’s lush slopes where their flocks graze and drink from freshwater streams that the family spend their summers…



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