In an emotionally-charged inauguration ceremony in Souli, Epirus, attended by local dignitaries and members of the Tzavelas family wearing traditional dress, the former house of legendary 18th century Souliote chief Lambros Tzavelas officially opened its doors to the public as a museum.
Renovations on the “Tzeveleiko,” as it is known, began back in 1985. Mr Lambros Tzavelas, the 7th consecutive descendent of the chief, made it his life’s goal to restore the ancestral home. The family now hopes the museum will be a key attraction for visitors to the area, and a focal point for festive events.
Following the opening ceremony, the fireplace in the beautifully restored stone house was rekindled by descendants of the legendary chief for the first time in 218 years, breaking the curse of notorious Ottoman ruler Ali Pasha, who captured Souli in 1803.
In an interview, Konstantinos Tzavelas, son of the Lambros Tzavelas who started the renovations 36 years ago, talked about his father’s desire to restore the building to its original form with the aim of “smoking” the chimney, thus breaking the curse:
“This was a desire that my father had from a young age. Ever since his grandfather, General Lambros Tzavellas, a hero of the Balkan wars of 1912-1913, told him about the achievements of our great grandparents in Souli.”
Attending the opening ceremony was the former deputy minister of defense Alkiviadis Stefanis, who spoke passionately about the famous 18th century leader and the proud history of the Tzavelas family and descendants:
“Lambros Tzavelas was the patriarch of the legendary Souliote family, many of whose members fought for the supreme goals of freedom and independence, making the Tzavelas name synonymous with courage and patriotism.”
Born in Souli in 1745, Lambros Tzavelas became a leading figure in the Souliote struggles against the ruling Ottomans in the later 18th century, and especially for his resistance to Ali Pasha, the Ottoman Albanian pasha in Ioannina and ruler of the Ottoman empire’s European territories.
The Souliotes of the mountains of central Eprus were renowned for their military prowess and resistance to Ottoman rule in the decades before the Greek Revolution of 1821. Establishing a “confederacy” of some 60 villages in the late 18th century, they were a constant thorn in the side of the ruling Ottomans.
In July 1792, Ali Pasha attacked the region of Souli with a combined army of 10,000 Turkish and Albanian troops to subdue the rebellious population. At the Battle of Kiafa, the Souliotes fought with such ferocity that the Ottomans were forced to retreat, leaving behind thousands of dead and wounded. Despite the resounding victory, Tzavelas himself was badly wounded and died three years later.
Ali Pasha finally captured Souli in 1803, famously cursing that Souliote fireplaces would never “smoke” again.
The Tzeveleiko museum, located at the foot of Mount Voutsi and operating under the auspices of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Thesprotia, houses historical relics from the Tzavelas family dating back to the 18th century, including paintings of the hero’s descendants, traditional costumes, manuscripts, and weapons. Outside the museum, the busts of Lambros Tzavelas and his wife, Moschos, who died in 1803, look back at the house.
This article first appeared in Greece-Is.com, an English-language publishing initiative by Kathimerini.