The Holy Mount Athos is an autonomous and self-governed territory of Greece. It occupies the whole of the third peninsula of Halkidiki, about 50 km in length and having a breadth of 8-12 km covering an area of 330 square kilometers. In the centre of the peninsula of Mount Athos rise a long range of hills and mountains, culminating in Mount Athos itself,2,033m above sea level. The boarder of this monastic state, where it meets the rest of Greece, is marked by an imaginary line drawn from Francocastro on the western coast across to Cape Arapis on the opposite coast, passing close it the foothills of the mountain “Megali Vigla” (Megas Zigos). Until the 3rd Century BC, many small Greek towns existed on the peninsula of Athos, principally colonies originating from Chalkida and Eretria. The most important of which were Sani, Ouranoupolis, Thisson, Kleones, Dion, Akrathos and Olofixos. Later, these towns declined or were destroyed.
Today on Mount Athos there are 20 monasteries, 17 of them are Greek: Megistis Lavras, Vatopediou ( Greek Cyprian ), Iviron, Koutloumousiou, Agiou Pavlou, Dionissiou, Xenofontos , Stavronikita, Gregoriou, Konstamonitou, Esfigmenou, Doheariou, Karakalou, Xiropotamou, Pantokratoros, Simonos Petras, Filotheou. One monastery is Russian (Agiou Panteleiminos), one is Serbian (Hilandariou) and one is Bulgarian (Zografou).There are also 14 skites and many kellia, kalives and kathismata.
Mount Athos is governed by the “Holy Community” a council of representatives from the 20 monasteries with the participation of the Greek State through its representative in Karyes, the capitol city. The executive organ of the “Holy Community” is the four-member “Holy Epistasia” headed by the “Protepistate”. Responsibility for spiritual matters comes under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, while matters of public order and safety come under the representative governor of the Greek state
The Garden of Virgin Mary
According to the tradition, Virgin Mary was sailing accompanied by St John the Evangelist from Joppa to Cyprus to visit Lazarus. When the ship was blown to Athos peninsula, it was forced to anchor close to the present monastery of Iviron. The Virgin walked ashore and overwhelmed by the wonderful and wild natural beauty of the mountain, she blessed it and asked her Son for it to be her garden. A voice was heard saying “Let this place be your inheritance and your garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved”. From that moment the mountain was consecrated as the garden of the Virgin Mary or Mother of God (Perivoli tis Panagias) and was out of bounds to all other women.
Historical documents on ancient Mount Athos history are very few. We are sure that monks were already there since the 4th century. That period both Christians and pagans were living there. After the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the 7th century, many monks from the Egyptian desert tried to find another place and some of them came to the Athos peninsula. . In 866, John Kolovos built the first monastic center, the Great Vigla. This monastery was consolidated by royal golden bulls (decrees).Since then, Mount Athos became the land of monastic life.
In 958 AD, the monk Athanasios the Athonite arrived on Mount Athos from the Monastery of Xerolimne in Asia Minor. In 962, the big central church of the “Protaton” in Karies is built. In the next year, with the support of the Emperor Nicephoros Focas, the monastery of Great Lavra was founded, the largest and most prominent of the 20 monasteries existing today.
The first organization of the monastic way of life becomes true with the charter (Typikon) of St Athanasios, which resulted to the interference of the state through John Tsimiskis who gave the Charter (Typikon) that is still in force today. Initially there where only individual monasteries but later on they were organized into a monastic state.
From Byzantium the Orthodox faith spread to the Balkans and monks from these lands arrived on Mount Athos to establish monasteries. Georgian monks founded the monastery of Iviron (976), Serbs the monastery of Chilandari (1197) and Bulgarians the monastery of Zografou (1270).
The first two centuries of this period, more than 180 monasteries were founded with over 20.000 monks. Later on, most of them were destroyed by the Crusades and the Pirates.
Even the emperors themselves built monasteries. The Balkan Christian Kings also took notice of Mount Athos .The Russians founded and supported monasteries. Russia, under the governance of the Tsar, provided great economic aid to the St Panteleimonos monastery.
The Athoniada college was founded in 1748, a philosophic and theological school for the whole of Greece, initially run by Neofytos Kafsokalivitis and then by Evgenios Voulgaris (1753).
Mount Athos was autonomous. This right was initially granted to it by Nikiforos Fokas and John Tsimiskis and was preserved down to the era of the Turkish domination. The inhabitants of Mount Athos submitted to the Turkish rule and they were therefore treated favorably.
In 1821 it was taken by the Turks and the revolution of Chalkidiki was drowned in blood. Then the Turks left a guard that the monasteries had to support. The occupation of Mount Athos by the Turks lasted until 1830.
In 1926, Mount Athos became a self-governing part of the Greek State in accordance with the constitutional decree of Lozanne (1924).According to it, depends on the Patriarchate of Constantinople and is supervised by Greece.
Among the mountains of Pindos and Antichasia rise the rocks of Meteora, the most important monastic city after Mount Athos.
It seems that the first hermits settled at the cavities of the rocks during the 11th-12th century seeking spiritual redemption. Here, a lot of people continue to come looking for spiritual calm and peace. The impressive landscape creates awe to the visitors, while thanks to its unique character Meteora is included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
The visitor can encounter more than seventy Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches in every corner of the city and its outskirts. Of unique architecture and decorated with wall paintings of exceptional art transform the area of Kastoria into a living museum of Byzantine culture making it into one of the most favorite religious destinations in Greece.
The archaeological treasures of the glorious Macedonian Kingdom of Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II, as detailed by Herodotus, invite you to a unique trip to meet them closely, bringing up in light a piece of the lost prestige of the Ancient Macedonian capital of Aigai.
The excursion travels you back to three fundamental periods of the Greek History: the Ancient Greek, the Byzantine and the Modern one. Ancient spirit, tradition and devoutness are revealed against the backdrop of the natural beauty and the view of the Macedonian plain that travels the eye till the end of the horizon. A road trip to the land of ALEXANDER THE GREAT.
Don’t miss this experience!
Aigai was the name of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia. The city was founded by Perdiccas I, the first king of the Macedonians, in the 7th century BC and expanded substantially in the early 5th century BC, when Alexander I was the King of the Macedonian kingdom. At the end of the century, during the reign of Archelaus I, Aigai hosted famous artists and intellectuals of the time, who were inspired and embellished the city with their works. Among them, the painter Zeuxis decorated with beautiful frescoes the royal palace and the tragedian Euripides who composed at Aigai his last tragedies: the “Archelaus” and “Bacchae”.
Philip II, king of the Macedonians, and Aigai during the next century reached the peak of their heyday. The glorious king and father of Alexander the Great called in the palace courtyard intellectuals from all over Greece, and proceeded with the construction of brilliant new buildings that significantly upgraded the aesthetics of the city. Although Pella was proclaimed as the new capital of the Macedonians since the time of King Archelaus I and the great religious festival in honor of Zeus was moved to Dion, Aigai remained the burial place of kings and the place where sacred ceremonies and big celebrations of the Macedonian kingdom took place.
Alexander the Great started from Aigai his campaign in 334 BC to conquest almost all of the known world at the time. The multigold Aigai were also chosen by the great commander as burial place of his murdered father, Philip II, two years earlier, in 336 BC, in a grand funeral ceremony in his honor. Aigai continued to flourish for two more centuries, and continued to be inhabited until after their conquest by the Romans in 168 BC, until it finally falling into the oblivion of time.
The name Vergina was given to the area two millennia later, in 1923, in honor of the legendary Queen Vergina, the last Greek woman governor of the region and offspring of the family of Paleologus before Veria was finally conquested by the Ottomans in 1433. The modern town of Vergina was inhabited by locals and refugees from Asia Minor and Bulgaria, very close to the foundations of the ancient Macedonian kingdom. Under the feet of the new residents, unbeknownst to all, the tomb of one of the greatest kings of Macedonia and of the entire ancient world was hidden among other findings, waiting to come back to light after twenty three centuries.
The historic moment for the world cultural community came in 1977 and 1978 when, during the excavation directed by archeology Professor Manolis Andronikos, first the tomb of Philip II and then the tomb of grandson and his son Alexander the Great, Alexander IV were discovered undisturbed, untouched by any human greedy hands. Both the father and the son of Alexander the Great had a tragic end: Philip was stabbed and Alexander IV was poisoned by usurpers of the throne. Their tombs were left as a legacy in modern times, a sample of the splendor of the era in which they lived both Macedonian kings, rescuing and highlighting the erstwhile glory of the kingdom of ancient Macedonia.
The “Star of Vergina” – the sixteen radii sun and symbol of the Macedonian dynasty – is positioned on the urn containing the cremated remains of Philip II. This is the most exciting finding of the excavations, which continues to this day, and brought to the surface many offerings of gold. Along with the smallest urn the twelve radii star, and the wreaths of oak leaves and fruits. The museum in its current form presents a clever “trick”: the burial buildings are boxed for their protection while they are pointed out, and the hill – the “Great Tumulus” – has been filled with soil so that it looks as it was before the excavations.
The “tomb of Persephone” and a fourth grave that is believed to have belonged to King Antigonus Gonatas, with impressive Doric entrance, are the rest of the tombs in the hill that can be visited, except of Philip II and Alexander IV, which were however looted. The “tomb of Persephone” is decorated with a magnificent fresco on the abduction of Persephone, the goddess Demeter’s daughter, by Hades, the evil god of the Underworld.
UNESCO declared the museum and the archaeological site of Vergina as World Heritage Sites in 1996 including them on the list.
The ancient city of Pella “stole” the glory of the city Aigai at the end of the 5th century BC, when the Macedonian King Archelaos I had proclaimed it the new capital of his kingdom. In ancient times, Pella was seaside and was called the “Greatest of Macedonian cities” by the great historian of antiquity Xenophon. In the years of King Philip II, the city continued to flourish, reaching its peak in the years of Alexander the Great, who made the brilliant capital of his kingdom known through his conquests throughout the world known at that time.
Pella remained the capital of the Macedonian kingdom until it was destroyed by the Romans, and then the capital was looted and its treasures were transferred to Rome. In the modern museum of Pella, which was inaugurated in 2009, there are on display many objects from the private and public life of the people of ancient Pella, from their religious buildings and their burial sites, as well as exquisite floor mosaics.
The two most impressive of them, the mosaic of deer hunting and the mosaic with the kidnapping of Eleni by Theseus – the largest till today known mosaic depiction in Greece – are located in the archaeological site, at the spot where they were found, and are open to the public during the summer.
During the Athens Sightseeing tour our professional guide will present us – passing by – :
- The Panathenian Stadium
- The National Picture Gallery
- The glass Runner
- The Megaron Concert Hall
- The National Archaeological Museum
- The National Theatre
- The National Historical Museum (Old Parliament)
The Syntagma Square
- The Plaka Area,
- The Downtown shopping center
The Flea marketThe St. Nikodimos Russian Orthodox, The St. Paul’s Anglican, The House of Parliament (ex Royal Palace), The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Evzones), The Iliou Melathron Numismatic Museum (H. Schliemann’s Home), The St. Denis Roman Catholic Cathedral, The Open Market, The Omonia Square, The Neoclassical Building of Central Bank of Greece.
- The Academy of Arts & Letters
- The National Park (ex Royal Gardens)
- The University of Athens
- The National Library
- The Presidential Residents (ex Royal Palace)
- The Change of the Honor Guards,
- The Zappio Congress
- The Temple of Olympic Zeus
- The Hadrian’s Gate
- The Asclepieum Medical Center
- The Areopagous (St. Paul Acts XVII on Mars Hill).
After the city tour we will visit with our professional guide the world known “The Acropolis of Athens” (5000 years old), the Propylaea, Temple of Athena Nike, the Parthenon or Temple of Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin), the Erechtheum, Theatre of Dionysus where all famous dramas written by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides were first performed, the impressive Herod Atticus’ Odeum.
During the guiding tour at The Acropolis of Athens we will be introduced about the mystery and the history of Parthenon – Our guide will narrate us of the Athenian Democracy – which developed in the Ancient Greek city-state of Athens 3000 years ago – in the Pnix Hill where democracy was first born.
Alistrati cave is one of the most beautiful caves in Europe.
Its passages are 3 km long, approximately 1 km of which can be visited.
The guided tour lasts about 1 hour during which the visitor can encounter huge stalactites up to 18 metres in length, in a variety of colours and shapes.
According to myths surrounding the cave, Hades, god of the underworld, after kidnapping Persephone led her to the ravine where the Gates of Hades were.
The cave is located 50 km SE of Serres, 25 km SW of Drama and 55 km NW of Kavala.
The cave of Petralona “embellished” with stalagmites and stalactites is located in the west foot of the Katsika (Goat) mountain and in an altitude of about 300 meters from the level of sea. It was found in 1959 by the inhabitant of Petralona, Mr. Philippos Hatzaridis and it became well known all over the world in 1960, when the skull of Arhanthropos was found by another inhabitant of Petralona, Mr. Christos Sarrigiannidis.
The systematic excavations of the Cave began in 1965 by the founder of the Anthropologic Company of Greece, anthropologist professor Aris Paulianos. His researches proved that the Arhanthropos is about 700.000 years old, and this makes him the “oldest” European. This age was determined after the detailed analysis of stratigraphy (until today 28 geological layer have been revealed), and after studying the primitive and Paleolithic tools as well as the palaiofauna that were discovered in almost all the layers. Among the fossils of animals that have extinct the following are included: lions, hyenas, bears, panthers, elephants, rhinoceros, megakeroi, bison and various species of deer and hippo, and also 25 species of birds, 16 species of rodents and 17 species of bats.
In order to verify the age, the contribution of nucleonic is very important. The materials that have been dated are bones, argil, stalagmites and ashes. These are fire traces – the oldest ones that human have ever lighted.
Taking pictures and video is not allowed, because the cave is a research place and because intense light (various lights, flash, e.t.c) can cause serious damage to the interior part of the cave (stalactite and stalagmite).
At the centre if the town of Neo Prokopio dominates the majestic church of Osios Ioannis the Russian, which is one of the most important pilgrimages not only of Euboea, but also of Greece.
Neo Prokopi was founded by Greek refugees that came to Chalcis from Prokopi in Cappadocia in 1924, during the population exchange after the Asia Minor Catastrophe. They brought with them the relics of Osios Ioannis the Russian, that was kept at the church of Agios Vasileios in Prokopi, having survived in the past the plundering and vandalism of the Turks.
To honor the saint’s memory the refugees constructed the present day church at their new homeland. Its construction begun in 1931 and its inauguration took place in 1951. Since 1962 it has functioned as a charitable foundation with important spiritual, social and charitable work.
The church is large in dimensions, cross vaulted with a dome, narthex and two bell towers. A dominant position interior in its interior has the marble construction that covers the silver reliquary with the saint’s relics, which is decorated by relief representations from his life and his miracles. At the church they also keep important portable icons, some of which came from Cappadocia. Among them what stands out is the oldest known icon of Osios Ioannis, which dates from around 1790 and depicts him at a young age.
For accommodating the numerous visitors that come here from various places, the church possesses a large hostel that was inaugurated in 1989 by the Metropolitan of Chalcis Chrisostomos. Furthermore, is possesses conference halls, auxiliary areas and a museum, while it hosts conferences, speeches and other events.
The church functions as a pilgrimage and on the 27th of May, day of the memory of the saint, a majestic procession of his shrine takes place.
At the centre of the city of Corfu dominates the church of its patron saint, Agios Spyridon, an important post Byzantine monument with works of art from important artists, but also the point of reference to the religious life of the island in modern times.
The church was constructed between 1589 and 1594, in the period of the Venetian Occupation, and was renovated in 1670. It belongs to the type of aisleless wooden-roofed basilica and is simple on the exterior, with influences from the West. Characteristic is the very tall, tower-like steeple, which was constructed in 1590 and is identical to the church of San Giorgios dei Greci in Venice.
At the church’s interior what is impressive is the “ourania”, the illustrated flat roof, the first example of this type in Corfu. It was created in 1727 by the important painter from Corfu Panagiotis Doxaras, and consists of seventeen sections, which depict scenes from the life of Agios Spyridon inside gold frames. Then initial icons were destroyed by humidity and in 1852 they were restored by the painter Nikolaos Aspiotis. Other important works are the Crucified, of the 17th century, which is attributed to the famous Cretan painter Emmanuel Tzane Bouniales, as well as the icon of Agias Loukias, work of the painter from Corfu Spyridon Sperantzas, in 1772.
Also remarkable is the marble screen, of 1864, from marble from Paros, with icons of the painter from Corfu Spyridon Prosalentis, and the marble pulpit. Of special value are the elaborate sacred items which are donations from wealthy people of Corfu, mainly as a commemoration of the miracles made by the saint, like the oil lamps that were dedicated in 1716, when the people of Corfu were saved form the Turks. From the most precious items of the church is the luxurious silver reliquary with the relic of the saint, which was constructed in Vienna in 1867.
The history of Corfu is connected to Agios Spyridon and the people of the island honor him in grandeur many times through the year.
The church celebrates on the 12th of December, but there are celebrations in memory of the miracles of the saint, on Palm Sunday, on Good Saturday (salvation of the people from famine), on the 11th of August (salvation of the people of the island from the Turks) and on the first Sunday in November.
According to the inscription on the reliquary, they were given to the monastery by Vatopaidi Monastery of Mt. Athos in 1552.