BY THE ARCHPRIEST GEORGIOS K. ΒLATHRAS
in the Holy Metropolis of Monemvasia and Sparta and
Secretary of the Board of Directors of the
Foundation ATHANASIOS MATALAS OF LACEDAEMON
Athanasios Matalas, (1) was born in the beautiful land of Karyes (Arachova) of Lacedaemon, on January 30, 1836, from the great Matalas family, with roots dating back to Byzantium and its shoots reached until the revolution of 1821, in which the Matalas family took part in and proved the nobility of their origin and the greatness of their own personal creation.
His father was Anagnostis Matalas. He received his early education in his village and continued in the Greek School of Agios Petros of Kynouria and Sparta as well as in the Junior High School of Tripoli. His restless spirit had a thirst for higher education and a broader range of studies. He studied at the Law School of the National University of Athens during 1859-1863, under the Professors Paparigopoulos, Kalligas, Soutsos, Rallis, Ioannou, Stroumpos and many others.
At the age of 26, Athanasios Matalas has already started his public life in a prominent position, which the young people of his time, but also ours, would justifiably envy.
For twenty years, from 1862 until 1882, Athanasios Matalas worked in the Greek Consular Service. In the beginning, he became Secretary of Consulate, next a Deputy Consul and then Consul, with a strong presence and important activity in the history of the diplomatic corps. In these positions, which for twenty years he adorned with his high morals, Athanasios Matalas, left the mark of his dynamic personality, his indomitable dynamism and his excessive patriotism. The Nation, recognizing his fruitful activity, honored him with the Order of the National Services.
He served for a short time as Secretary and Deputy Consul in Alexandria, Egypt and then in the beautiful city of Thessaloniki (1862-1863). The national activity of Athanasios Matalas culminated in those posts because, since the moment he was appointed to in the Nymph of the Thermaic Gulf, he worked tirelessly on the side of the enslaved Greeks to form pure Greek Communities, in order to self-govern, strengthen and prepare in every way to throw of the Turkish yoke but also for the preservation of the national morale, which was lethally threatened by the Bulgarian guerillas (komitadjis). He obtained permission to correspond with the local authorities in the Greek language and made efforts to neutralize the Bulgarian actions in the periphery of the Greek Consulate and to repel the Slavic propaganda. So when Athanasios Matalas was in the Greek northern territories, he continued the struggles that the Matalas people sanctified with their blood in the great Greek Revolution of 1821.
In 1864 he served in the Consulates of Chania and Heraklion of Crete and then, in 1864-1866, in the Consulate of Constantinople. In August 1866, Athanasios Matalas was appointed Deputy Consul in Soulinas of Eastern Rumelia, (2) where there was a large Greek community. There, he achieved tax exemptions for Greek ships, which greatly benefited Greek shipping. With the actions of Athanasios Matalas, a Greek Church was built in this city and a fundraiser was held among the Greek inhabitants in order to support the Cretan Struggle (1866-1869).
Athanasios Matalas ended his term in the Consular Service in Philippopolis (Plovdiv) (1874-1881, the city with the ancient Greek name and modern Hellenism in its heyday and creative fervor. In the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, the city of Philip was in danger. Athanasios Matalas, with his skillful diplomatic maneuvers, managed to prevent the entry of the Russian army into the city, thus rescuing the civilian population from bloodshed and destruction. Later, the name of Athanasios Matalas was given in one of the main streets of the city, in order to honor once again, as a minimum, the superior ethos and the indomitable will of the diplomat, who serves man as he should.
Athanasios Matalas also showed special interest in the general problems of Hellenism. Thus, apart from his activity in Eastern Rumelia, he has been credited with activities in favor of the Macedonian issue for which the “CENTRAL MACEDONIAN ASSOCIATION” awarded him with an honorary diploma in 1905.
Moreover, in 1910 it is testified that he addressed a memorandum to Eleftherios Venizelos “On the measures to be taken to improve the situation of the State”.
Athanasios Matalas, in parallel with his consular service, successfully engaged in commercial operations. Already, while serving in Philippopolis, he succeeded in importing Greek yarns to Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia while at the same time he was trading tobacco, timber and grain.
He continued his commercial operations when he returned to Greece in 1882 and settled in Piraeus.
From then on, however, Athanasios Matalas, who in the meantime had acquired a large fortune, limited himself to his flour mill business, located in Nafplio, and turned his activity to public works.
Later, the Nation needed his valuable services again and Athanasios Matalas found himself serving successively as Prefect of Argolidokorinthia, Fthiotidofokida and Arcadia for many years (1895-1899), where he left indelible traces of his presence in those areas which he served with missionary zeal and admirable dignity, so that his example, as a Public Servant, occupied the Greek Parliament, where the late Corfiot Prime Minister Georgios Theotokis, praised the tireless and successful Prefect.
He had many years of strength and determination left in order to serve his homeland, which he loved so much and longed for during the years of his involuntary emigration.
In 1900, he was elected Mayor of Oinounta and served the area for four years. Here, his creative breath embraced all sectors, to such an extent that everything testifies to his beneficial presence up until today, since he showed great activity for the whole Municipality, especially for his birthplace Arachova of Lacedaemon.
The main areas of his activity were transport, education, agriculture, mainly forestry and local government.
Thus, during his tenure, roads of about thirty kilometers were built with the personal work of the residents of the Municipality of Oinounta, such as the roads Vresthena – Arachova, Vasaras – Veroia, Arachova – Βarmpitsa – Vamvakou, Arachova – Βakourou Hani (they were among the first paved roads in Laconia).
In 1882, Athanasios Matalas arranged for the establishment of a Greek School in Arachova, which he maintained for a year at his own expense. The study of elements of ancient Greek began in this school. The studies had a three-year duration, between the Elementary School and the Junior High School. In 1886, moreover, he proceeded to build a Primary School in Agia Paraskevi, Arachova.
Athanasios Matalas’ special interest in forests and arboriculture is also evident from his efforts to persuade the inhabitants of Βarmpitsa of Lacedaemon to plant chestnut trees in their land and from the appointment of a guardian of the Arachova forest, whose salary was paid by the late Matalas during the period 1898-1909 and has been paid by his Foundation since that day.
His own initiative also includes the establishment of self-government committees in the Communities and Settlements of the Municipality of Oinounta, Vresthena-Arachova – Varvitsa – Vamvakou – Megali Vrysi – Vasara – Veroia and Koulouri, in 1900.
Athanasios Matalas, who – as already mentioned – had served as a consular official in the communities of the irredentist Hellenism and Greek diaspora, strongly believed in the institution of a self-governing community, as is apparent from the letter of Ion Dragoumis, a warm thimiot of the same idea, to the Member of the Parliament from Lakonia Georgios Fikioris, who also believed in the institution of self-government. In 1905, Athanasios Matalas had submitted to the Ministry of the Interior a draft law on Communities.
Athanasios Matalas was distinguished as a private individual in many areas of activity for the benefit of his motherland of Lacedaemonia. He managed to evolve the art of weaving carpets in the Oinounta area, he was founder and for 15 years (1898-1912), the sponsor of the annual sports association of Sparta, and he worked tirelessly, but without success for the rail connection between Sparta and Tripoli.
In 1909, he became President of the union “UNION OF LACEDAEMONIANS IN ATTICA.” (3)
In 1910, he took part as a representative of Arachova in the Panhellenic association of productive associations, which was founded on March 28 of that same year.
The capstone of Athanasios Matala’s efforts and the culmination of his love towards Lacedaemonia was his Testament (27 March 1919) (4). With this Testament, which is a wonderful sermon of love for man and youth, the late Testator established the “Athanasios Matalas of Lacedaemon Foundation” and set forth, with the resources of his great wealth, the grant of scholarships, for education in all branches of science, in order to educate young people from Lacedaemonia and those who originate from the Matalas family. He even fixed grants for the Doctor, the Vicar, and the Forest guard of the Forest of the Community of Karyes, thus wanting to help his hometown and fellow countrymen.