Samarina: The beautiful Byzantine church in Messenia

Church of the Virgin Zoodochos Pigi Samarina

The Byzantine Church of Zoodochos Pigi Samarina cuts a striking figure set amidst a valley of rolling hills lush with olive trees

 

Lady of the valley:  There were lovely landscapes everywhere we looked while we drove through Messenia in late May. One of the most memorable and marvellous sights along the way was the Byzantine Church of Zoodochos Pigi Samarina, located between the villages of Ellinoekklisia and Kalogerorrachi. 

We first glimpsed the church from afar — from the top of an access road which winds down a wooded hillside to the clearing in which the 800-year-old shrine sits. From this vantage point, Samarina looks simply sublime: a beautiful Byzantine-style building surrounded by rolling hills and lush green groves of olive trees that extend for miles in all directions.  Although the distance offered a breathtaking panoramic perspective of the impressive monument and its pretty surroundings, we of course had to drive down to take a closer look.

Not surprisingly, the church was locked up as tight as a drum, and nobody else was around, so there was no chance of taking a peek inside. 

 

 

According to an information plaque on the grounds near the church, Samarina is considered to be one of the most beautiful Byzantine monuments in the Peloponnese. It was built in the 12th Century on what some sources claim was the site of an ancient temple that had been dedicated to the goddess Rhea. Originally, Samarina was a church operated by the nunnery of Osia Mary of Egypt. It later was renamed church of Zoodochos Pigi (Virgin Mary), but hundreds of years have passed since any nuns last occupied the building.

Amazingly, “Nothing is known about the monument’s history, while the silence of textual evidence in regard with such a monument is remarkable,” the plaque says.

 

Samarina church

A Messenian mystery: Historians say the church dates from the 12th Century, but they don’t know anything about its history.

 

The plaque describes Samarina as “a two-column, domed cross-in-square building whose careful cloisonné masonry next to the variety of decorative brickwork compose a highly artistic complex.”

Between late 2011 and the end of 2013, a rehabilitation and restoration project was carried out to recover the tiled roof, restore the decorative brickwork, and install new wooden doors. Inside, “the wall paintings were entirely restored and the marble templon screen was cleaned to retrieve its white colour and to preserve the traces of inlaid wax and mastic gum.” 

Nearby are ruins of other buildings, believed to have been monastic cells, along with a vaulted Byzantine cistern.

It would have been interesting to see the interior, with its freshly restored frescoes, but we had to make do with  viewing photos in a brochure I had picked up at Messana Hotel at Ancient Messini the day before.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed examining the building exterior, and exploring its serene surroundings. (I have tried to find the brochure and its images online, so I could post a link here, but so far haven’t had any success.)

If you’re passing through the area on your way to or from Ancient Messini, be sure to stop and take a look at Samarina. She’s a beauty.

Below are several more pictures of Samarina. You can view additional photos in my Samarina  church album on Flickr.

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Captivated by Kavala

Gregory Liotakis published this aerial drone film of Kavala in April

 

Aerial appeal: Up until the end of 2016, I was completely clueless about Kavala.

I had heard of it, and I knew it was a place in mainland Greece. But I didn’t know exactly where, and I would not have been able to tell you for certain if was a mountain village, a big town or a seaside resort. So of course I had no idea what it looked like or what was there.

That changed over the Christmas holiday season when storms dumped snow on many parts of Greece and I found photos and videos of Kavala while putting together two blog posts that I published in January — Greece in white winter glory, and Amazing winter wonderland scenes from Greece Part 2

Suddenly I was intrigued. Kavala looked quite appealing and attractive (and not just because it was dusted with crisp white snow.)  With a few quick Google searches, I learned that Kavala is a bustling port city of 57,000 residents in the region of eastern Macedonia and Thrace, and is considered one of Greece’s “prettiest” and “most picturesque” cities. Some websites described Kavala as a “gem” and a “jewel” often overlooked by tourists or simply not on the radar for most people visiting Greece.

 

 

Since I had shared an aerial video of Kavala here on the blog, links to other Kavala films have appeared frequently in the “Up Next” sidebar when I have opened the YouTube webpage.  Most have been aerial videos showing the city in warm weather months, and I have been impressed by the scenes of seafront, beaches, city squares and historic sites — including a castle and aqueduct.  As you can probably expect, Kavala has now earned a spot on my travel bucket list.

In case you’re planning a trip to the area,  or just wondering if it’s a place you would like to visit yourself, here are several Kavala videos that will help get you acquainted with the city.

 

Scenes from Kavala in a 2.5-minute film by JL Aerial

 

This nearly 3-minute long video by Aerial View shows the city’s historic castle and the impressive scenery it overlooks. 

 

This “official” video by kavalaDimofelia shows top historic sites and attractions and near Kavala 

 

This is a Kavala time lapse video published by Theo Kavala

Where to eat and sleep well in Mavromati

Messana Hotel in Ancient Messini

Street view of Messana Hotel in Mavromati. The boutique-style hotel has seven rooms, and serves a wonderful breakfast featuring dishes made with products grown locally and in the Messenia region.

 

Ithomi restaurant in Mavromati

Ithomi Restaurant in Mavromati has an inside dining room and a large open-air terrace, both offering views of the countryside and the archaeological site of Ancient Messini.

 

Good eats, good sleep: As I related in my previous posts Moments in Mavromati and Admiring the Arcadian Gate, Day 1 of our 2017 spring holiday got off to a great start with visits to historic sites in Ancient Messini and some scenic walkabouts in Mavromati village.

Our busy afternoon of sightseeing and exploring wound down with a fabulous dinner at Ithomi Restaurant, followed by a very restful night of sleep in our comfy, quiet room at Messana Hotel.  

Thanks to a delicious breakfast at the hotel, our Day 2 got off to an excellent start as well.

Please turn to page 2 to read and see more of the hotel and restaurant.

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Moments in Mavromati

Mavromati village in Messenia

Houses in Mavromati, on the lower slopes of Mount Ithomi.

 

View from Mavromati village

The view from the main road in Mavromati

 

Verdant vistas: First stop on our spring holiday was Mavromati, a small mountain village that overlooks the historic archaeological site at Ancient Messini.

Although we spent less than 24 hours in the village and nearby area at the beginning of a road trip through the western Peloponnese, we were impressed with what we got to see and experience — as I described in my previous post, Admiring the Arcadian Gate.

Just as enjoyable and memorable were the beautiful views and landscape scenery at Mavromati.

 

 

From a variety of vantage points in the village as well as from our balcony at Messana Hotel, we loved looking at the verdant vistas that spread out below us. There was much to see: the sweeping views included tree-covered mountains and rolling hills, the historic ruins of Ancient Messini, and a valley extending all the way to the coastal city of Kalamata,  30 kilometers to the south. We could even glimpse the Messenian Sea.

 

Mavromati location on Google Maps

This Google map pinpoints the location of Mavromati and Ancient Messini in the western Peloponnese region of Greece

 

Please turn to page 2,  where I’ll show and tell you more about Mavromati.

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Admiring the Arcadian Gate and walking atop the 2,300-year-old wall at Ancient Messini

Circuit wall at Ancient Messini Greece

A segment of the 9.5-kilometer-long stone wall that was built in 369 BC to protect the ancient city of Messini. We walked sections of the circuit wall between three of its lookout towers. 

 

Arcadian Gate at Ancient Messini

The circuit wall was built with two gates — one on the east side of Ancient Messini and one on the west. This toppled stone lintel is a striking sight at the western portal known as the Arcadian Gate.

 

Arcadian Gate at Ancient Messini

The Arcadian Gate has two entrances, each at opposite ends of a large circular courtyard. This is a view of one of the curved walls inside the courtyard.

 

Ancient Messini archaeological site

Part of the extensive archaeological grounds at Ancient Messini, which is described as “one of the most important cities of antiquity” in a listing on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites webpage.

 

buildings at Mavromati village

Mavromati is a small village that overlooks Ancient Messini from the lower slopes of Mount Ithomi. We stayed here for one night during our brief visit to the area in May.

 

Wall walking:  Suffering from jet lag and lack of sleep after a 9.5-hour overnight flight to Athens, we didn’t expect to see or do much during the first day of our vacation in the western Peloponnese region of Greece in late May.  We definitely didn’t anticipate walking around a village and historic sites for a few hours in hot temperatures and blazing sunshine. But since we had less than 24 hours to see Ancient Messini, we resisted the urge to take a nap in our hotel room, choosing instead to explore as much of the area as we could while our energy and enthusiasm lasted.

Our early afternoon arrival gave us an opportunity to wander the quiet streets of Mavromati village, admire the unique design of the Arcadian Gate, walk along sections of a two thousand year old fortification wall, view parts of the Ancient Messini archaeological site, see an historic monastery, and enjoy the fresh air and countryside before tucking into a delicious Greek dinner at a taverna near our hotel. We didn’t have enough time or stamina to visit all of the area’s fascinating attractions, but we enjoyed everything that we did get to see — and loved every minute of being back in Greece. 

Please continue reading on page 2, where you’ll see more photos of the impressive Arcadian Gate, circuit wall, and Ancient Messini.

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