Category: Monuments & historic sites (page 1 of 14)

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

 

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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Views of Viotia

This film by Sheep Productions includes aerial views of some of the scenic towns, lakes and mountain areas in Central Greece’s Viotia region

 

Introductory visit: If all goes according to plan, we will be spending several days in the Central Greece region of Viotia during the final leg of our upcoming trip to Greece. 

Truth be told, I had never heard of Viotia (also often spelled Boeotia) by its name until very recently, though I have long been aware of some of the top attractions in the area — including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Delphi, Mount Parnassus, and the town of Arachova.

But then the Viotia from Above video was brought to my attention, and after studying a map I realized we could arrange to spend two or three days in the area en route from Central Greece to Athens.

Viotia from Above runs just over two minutes and shows scenic drone views of two towns (Livadeia and Arachova), Kria Springs and Yliki Lake, the countryside at Lafysti, plus Mount Parnassus and Helikon Mountain. 

 

Viotia region of Greece

The Viotia region is highlighted in pink on this Google map

 

After watching that clip, I found My Unique Arachova (below), a video posted by the Aegli hotel in Arachova. It runs for two and a half minutes and shows scenes from the town and surrounding area; mountain biking and skiing at Mount Parnassus; mountain and landscape scenery; and an aerial view of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

Together, the two films enticed me into adjusting our travel plans so we can pass through Viotia after a road trip in the western Peloponnese and a visit to Kefalonia island.

 

 

While won’t be doing any skiing at Parnassus, it seems clear there will be plenty of other things to keep us happily occupied in and around Arachova and Delphi — and anywhere else we might get to in Viotia. I’m sure we will wind up wishing we had considerably more time to explore the region more thoroughly, but our short stay will give us a taste of what’s there (and I’ve already been told by several people that the local food is divine) and what we will be able to see during a return visit on another holiday.

In case the videos pique your own interest in visiting Viotia,  you can find some helpful general information on the Viotia page of Greece.com.  Also worth a look is the article Arachova: A Cosmopolitan Greek Mountain Experience from the travel, culture and gastronomy website Greece Is.

 

You’ll see scenes from the town of Arachova, Mount Parnassus, Delphi and other places in Viotia in this video by YouTube contributor aegli-arachova.gr

 

Falling for Nafplio

Nafplio Greece

The Old Town of Nafplio rises on the north side of a steep peninsula, directly beneath fortification walls and buildings of Acronauplia — one of three castles situated in the historic town.  Nafplio was the capital of Greece from 1821 until  the country’s Parliament relocated to Athens in 1834. 

 

Fast favourite: It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was pretty darned close.

Within minutes of arriving at Nafplio and walking from the waterfront car park into the historic Old Town area, we couldn’t help but wonder why it had taken us so long to finally visit what is widely considered one of the prettiest and most romantic towns in Greece.  In person, Nafplio looked more beautiful and impressive than it did in the countless pictures and videos we had seen, and the Old Town’s historic ambiance instantly made us feel comfortable and welcome.

As we wound our way down narrow lanes and alleys then up steep stairs to our hotel, we felt eager to drop off our luggage so we could get out and about to explore our scenic surroundings — even though we were sluggish and jet-lagged from our overnight transatlantic flight. Napping would have to wait — we didn’t want to waste any time getting acquainted with Nafplio!

After going for lunch with a friend and wandering around the town, we realized we were falling for Nafplio — in a big way. We had been there only a few hours, and yet Nafplio had quickly charmed its way into our hearts. By dinnertime, we were telling our friend how Nafplio had already become one of our favourite places in Greece. We had suspected that we were really going to like Nafplio — she had long assured us we would — but we’d never expected that we were going to love it so much, or so fast.

 

 

 

That was late May 2016 and, after more than a dozen years of island hopping holidays that usually concluded with time in Athens, we were making our first foray into the Peloponnese. We had scheduled Nafplio for the first full week of our vacation itinerary, but were concerned this might be too long. Would there be enough attractions and activities to keep us interested and occupied for seven days?

Although I had read hundreds of online travel reviews and commentaries describing Nafplio as ideal for a daytrip from Athens, an overnight stay, or a weekend getaway, I couldn’t recall anyone recommending it for a week-long stay. But we didn’t get bored for a minute, and when it came time to depart for our next destination, we realized there were still quite a few sights and attractions we didn’t manage to see.  We even felt a tinge of regret to be leaving with so much left unexplored. For us, one week in Nafplio simply had not been long enough.

Now, nearly a year later, we continue to talk about how much we loved Nafplio, and we often discuss what we would like to see and do whenever we go back.

 

That was late May 2016 and, after more than a dozen years of island hopping holidays that concluded with time in Athens, we were making our first foray into the Peloponnese. We had scheduled Nafplio for the first full week of our vacation itinerary, but were concerned this might be too long. Although I had read hundreds of online travel reviews and commentaries describing Nafplio as ideal for a daytrip from Athens, an overnight stay, or a weekend getaway, I couldn't recall anyone recommending it for a week-long stay. But we didn't get bored for a minute, and when it came time to depart for our next destination, we realized there were still quite a few sights and attractions we didn't manage to see.  We even felt a tinge of regret to be leaving with so much left unexplored. One week in Nafplio simply wasn't enough!

Behind this palm tree at Syndagma Square stands the first Greek Parliament building. Towering above it on the hilltop are the clock tower and a stone fortification wall of the Acronauplia fortress.

 

So what exactly did we like about Nafplio? It would be difficult to name just one or two main reasons, since there were so many appealing characteristics and elements that combined to make Nafplio such a perfect vacation destination for us.  But I can easily describe the Nafplio features that rank among our favourites.

There’s the Old Town, of course, which fascinates with its colourful streets and buildings, attractive parks and squares, historic sites and monuments (including three castles), and an extensive selection of shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. 

We also enjoyed the long waterfront walkways, the scenic coastlines offering plenty of places to swim in the tempting turquoise waters of the Argolic Gulf, and the exhilarating views of hills, mountains, sea and sky.

I describe those features, and others, with a series of photos on page 2 of this post. Click here to see and read more about why we fell for this amazing and enchanting place. 

 

If you haven’t been to Nafplio before, this 10-minute video will show you exactly what you would see if you were to wander the Old Town’s charming streets, lanes and squares. The film was published in February 2017 by YouTube contributor Le Monde en Video

 

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