In the mountains of Northwest Greece Sacred Natural Sites constistute distinctive features of the cultural landscapes of the area. These are either groves or groups of ancient trees around chapels or sacred forests. Their establishment and maintenance is often interpreted as the management of natural resources and ecosystems through religious rules. Sacred trees and groves are associated with taboos about cutting and potential supernatural punishments to trespassers. These locally-adapted management systems still serve today as protective forests against natural hazards, while in the past they could also regulate the use of natural resources for the community, serving very often as a last resort in times of need. Sacred forests are little known outside the communities, which have preserved them as sacred. These communities suffer today from abandonment and as a result the area of Zagori and Konitsa, where these forests occur, are among the least populated areas of Greece. At the same time taboos are fading along with the older generation and the knowledge about them is getting lost.
The University of Ioannina has worked during the last years on an interdisciplinary project entitled “Conservation through Religion: the Sacred Groves of Epirus” (“SAGE”, 2012-2015), aiming to study the bio cultural value of these sacred forests in the context of effective conservation. Detailed work on the area resulted among others to a proposal to the Greek Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs proposing that the Sacred Forests of the villages of Zagori and Konitsa be included in the Intangible Cultural Heritage list (UNESCO, Greece). The proposal presented on March 2015 in a special organised event in Ioannina with many other proposed elements of the area of Epirus and on the 17th of July 2015 it has been approved for inclusion in the National Inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Dr Kalliopi Stara