The modern history of the towns of the Thriasian Plain is directly linked to the community of Arvanites who flourished during the Ottoman period on the plateaus of Mount Pateras. The famous Kountoura was one of the largest villages in Attica in the pre-revolutionary years and its inhabitants contributed decisively to the success of the Greek War of Independence. During these years, the people of Kountoura gradually began to abandon their native semi-hidden valleys to take advantage of the opportunities available in the fertile lands of the Thriasian Plain.
Some Kountouriotes decided to settle near their traditional cradle. The southern side of the hill of Prophet Elias attracted the attention of shepherds, who built their sheep sheds here in order to overwinter their animals. The nearby fields also provided plenty of food for their flocks in the summertime, after the harvest, so a permanent settlement was established. Eventually, this community became known as Magoula.
Magoula was born today
The growth of Magoula is a definitive proof of the industriousness, honesty and stubbornness of its inhabitants. In the early years, life was hard. The sheep pens and the houses were poorly built, the streets were narrow and rugged, and there was no running water or sewerage or public street lighting. Whenever it rained, stones and mud from the hill of Prophet Elias filled the rudimentary streets. At least the rain washed away all the manure that filled every corner. The founding of the community was a cause for celebration: men and women spent days shovelling, painting and whitewashing their walls in order to beautify Magoula for the first meeting of the community council on March 31, 1914. During the celebration that followed a local singer gave expression to the locals’ love for their community: “Magoula was born today full of flowers“.
The monuments of Magoula
The major monuments of Magoula are located in the central square. The stone church of Hagios (Saint) Dimitrios dates back to the last centuries of Ottoman rule. The imposing church of the Ascension of the Saviour was built in the late 19th century and bears several similarities to the church of Hagios (Saint) Georgios in neighbouring Eleusis. Nearby is the marble column listing the names of the people of Magoula who died in the wars of the 20th century. The real story of Magoula, however, is written on the walls of the old houses that are scattered among the apartment buildings.
Each wall has a story
The traditional houses of Magoula were built of stone, a cheap and abundant material. The walls were thick as protection from the heat and the cold. Most houses had a single floor. The presence of a second one was proof of economic prosperity. Each room had its own window and an effort was made to ensure that all of them faced south to take advantage of the light and warmth of the sun. On the north side, there was usually only one window, which was opened in the summertime in the hope of allowing the cool north breeze to alleviate the terrible heat. The roofs were covered with tiles and stood on thick tree trunks, which the owner had cut and brought from the neighbouring pine forests.
Flowers and thorns
The yard was equally important. The houses were built to satisfy the needs of their owners and the animals that supported the family. The surrounding walls were about a meter high (so that the people inside could still see what was happening outside) and were crowned with wild thorns for protection from would-be “climbers”. Each yard had a stable for the larger animals, a hen house, a cooking oven, a feed store and a vegetable garden. There was also a cistern to collect rainwater, the only source of drinking water for a long period of Magoula’s history. The wall was usually covered with climbing shrubs and vines (especially jasmine) while on either side of the large main gate there were always flower pots as proof of the housekeeping skills and elegance of the girls of each family.
When the priest kicked the door
The house was built with personal work by the owner and the craftsmen he had hired. However, the family did not move into the new house whenever at will. They had to wait for the feast day of Hagios Dimitrios. After the church service, the priest came to the newly built house, sang the famous “Open the gates” hymn, kicked the door and entered the house. He was always the first person to walk through the door and only then did the owners bring in the furniture, while their fellow villagers offered practical gifts (chickens, dogs to serve as guards, hay for the animals etc.).
In the early 20th century there were more than a hundred stone houses in Magoula. The industrial development of the Thriasian Plain after the Second World War, the improvement of living conditions, the subsequent population increase and the appreciation of land values had dramatic consequences for Magoula. Vegetable gardens and stables became obsolete, while the stones were replaced by cement as traditional houses were demolished to make way for apartment buildings that provided all modern amenities. The few survivors, however, still fascinate visitors to Magoula and remain the custodians of a community that knows how to deal with the adversities of life with optimism and tireless hard work.