The Vale of Tempe

The rockfall in the Vale of Tempe last week, which cut Greece into two, appeared like an evil omen at a time when nothing seems to be going right, and after many years of fragile well-being. But it is nothing other than the confirmation of the Greek landscape – the same one that has determined the history and character of the Greeks from antiquity right up to today. The ease with which Greece can be cut into two is the reason that ancient Greek civilization developed into city-states which alternately fought each other and formed alliances and, generally, developed their own form of government and their own history. The «Greek miracle» is, to a great extent, the offspring of the high mountains and their narrow passes. Tempe and Thermopylae were also the natural gateways that separated north and south and the battleground where the Greeks fought the Persians, Romans and every other invader. Lately, the farmers – like their own small armies – have exploited the terrain to choke Greece and impose their will on everyone else. While the rest of the country seemed to be developing rapidly, the narrow, very dangerous road passing through Tempe served to remind us that the Greeks are content to live with nature’s difficulties rather than make any serious efforts to overcome them. Only when 21 high school students were killed in a horrific accident in 2003 did efforts begin to locate an alternative route for the tens of thousand of cars, buses and trucks that pass through the gorge daily. Then suddenly the terrain imposed itself on us again. Now that our economy is sliding backward, our transport system is also returning to the pre-National Road era, to the narrow mountain routes of the Greek countryside.