Muleteers were paid to carry goods and people across the Ottoman Empire. Across most of the Balkans, the only way to travel long distances over land was using mules. Metsovo’s muleteers were among the most important carriers in Ottoman territory.
At the beginning of the 19th century, French traveller Pouqueville points to the residents of Metsovo and of Zagori as the most active muleteers in the European market of the Ottoman Empire.
Each muleteer owned between three and ten animals, including one horse. The horse, which bore slightly less weight than the mules, carried the muleteer and his personal items which would have included his cape made of goat wool, a leather bag containing a hammer, horseshoes and nails and a pair of sacks. One of the sacks was filled with barley for the mules and the other one contained bread, roasted meat, cheese and, most importantly, a wooden flask full of wine.
Metsovo – Malakasi. Horse on a track, early 20th century. (Μargaret Hasluck)
Towns communicated with each other through an extensive road network in which arched bridges played a major role. The merchants’ caravans travelled across the Balkan peninsula and central Europe, opening up new channels for communication as well as the exchange of products and ideas.
In the early 17th century, the trip from Ioannina to Bucharest lasted 212 hours (26-30 days). Metsovo was the first stop for caravans travelling into Europe and the Balkans.