sunset in Athens
ATHENS SOUNIO
March 24, 2017
DELPHI MYCENAE OLYMPIA
March 31, 2017

METEORA

Metéora, group of monasteries on the summits of vertical rock formations in Thessaly (Modern Greek: Thessalía), Greece. The monasteries are located just north of the small town of Kalambáka, south of the village of Kastraki, and east of the Pindus (Píndos) Mountains in the valley of the Pineiós River. The name was derived from a Greek contraction meaning “suspended in the air.” Rising high above the Thessalian plain, the sandstone megaliths on which the monasteries were built average 1,000 feet (300 metres) in height, with several reaching 1,800 feet (550 metres). The rock masses were formed some 60 million years ago, their distinctive and varied shapes sculpted over time by earthquakes, rain, and wind.

Religious life in this region can be traced from about 1000 ce, when hermit dwellings were established in the lesser peaks of the rock mounds. The ascetics eventually joined to establish the Doúpiani monastery. At the base of the rock formation known as the pillar of Doúpiani is the chapel of the Holy Virgin, probably built in the 12th century. The first monastery erected on a summit dates from the 14th century, when Athanasios Koinovitis, a monk from Mount Athos, ascended the plathy lithos (“broad rock”) and built the first structures of the Great Metéoron. The Serbian king then in control of Thessaly granted the monastery religious privileges. In 1388 the king’s son and the hermit Ioasaf, a pupil of Athanasios, enlarged the Metéoron, making it the wealthiest and most prominent monastery in the area. In the period of Ottoman rule over Greece (1453–1832), the sultans left the Orthodox religion intact, and the monastic communities at Metéora thrived; several more monasteries were erected in the 15th and 16th centuries. During the last hundred years of Turkish occupation, these monasteries offered asylum to persecuted Greeks and independence-seeking rebels. The frescoes adorning the walls of the structures mark an important stage in post-Byzantine art.

The monasteries and crags of Metéora, Greece.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.Although 24 monasteries were built, each containing a church or two, monks’ cells, and a refectory, only 6 remain: Great Metéoron, Varlaám (also called All Saints [Áyioi Pándes]), Roussanou, St. Nikolas (Áyios Nikolaos), Holy Trinity (Áyia Triada), and St. Stephen (Áyios Stéfanos). Some still serve a religious function, though they are now only sparsely populated by monks and nuns. Since the construction of paved roads through the area in the 1960s, it has been visited annually by thousands of tourists and Orthodox pilgrims. The monasteries are accessible by bridges and stairs cut into the rocks, although before the 1920s ascending the rock columns involved the perilous enterprise of climbing ladders or being hauled up by ropes and nets. Conservation efforts have been ongoing since 1972 to counter overall decay and the destruction incurred during World War II, when the area was bombed. Ongoing threats to the structures include vibrations caused by low-flying aircraft and damage relating to the area’s frequent tremors and earthquakes.

Vegetation in the surrounding region is typified by pine and beech forests. Riverine zones provide refuge for gray wolves and otters, among other mammals, and the high cliffs are well-known habitats for the endangered Egyptian vulture and honey buzzard, as well as several species of eagle and falcon. In 1988 the monasteries and their evocative landscape were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

NAFPLIO
The city of Nafplio was the first capital of the modern Greek state. Named after Nafplios, son of Poseidon, and home of Palamidis, their local hero of the Trojan war and supposedly the inventor of weights and measures, lighthouses, the first Greek alphabet and the father of the Sophists. The small city state made the mistake of allying with Sparta in the second Messenian War (685-688BC) and was destroyed by Damokratis the king of Argos.
Because of the strength of the fort that sits above the bay, the town of Nafplio became an important strategic and commercial center to the Byzantines from around the Sixth century AD. In 1203 Leon Sgouros, ruler of the city, conquered Argos and Corinth, and Larissa to the north, though it failed to successfully conquer Athens after a siege in 1204.
With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, the Franks, with the help of the Venetians captured the city and nearly destroyed the fortress in the process. In the treaty the defenders of the city were given the eastern side of the city, called the Romeiko and allowed to follow their customs, while the Franks controlled the Akronafplia, which was most of the city at the time. The Franks controlled the city for 200 years and then sold it to the Venetians. The Venetians continued the fortification of the upper town and completed their work in 1470. That same year they built a fort on the small island in the center of the harbor called the Bourtzi. To close the harbor the fort was linked by chains and the town was known as Porto Cadenza, meaning Port of Chains. During this period people flocked to the safety of the fortified city in fear of the Turks and forced the expansion of the city into the lagoon between the sea and the walls of the Akronaphlia. The new additions to the city was surrounded with walls and many major buildings were erected including the Church of Saint George. But these new walls didn’t matter because in the treaty with Suleiman the First, Nafplio was handed over to the Turks who controlled the city for 100 years and made it the primary import/export center for mainland Greece.
In 1686 the Turks surrendered the city to a combined force of Venetians, Germans and Poles, lead by Vice Admiral Morozini and this began a second period of Venetian rule in which massive repairs were made to the fortress and the city including the construction of the fortress in Palamidi. When the Peloponessos falls to the Venetians, Nafplio becomes the capital. But after just thirty years the Turks once again take control of the city, almost totally destroying it, looting it and killing almost all its defenders. Most of the survivors chose to leave and the city while the Turks built mosques, baths and the homes in the eastern style which can still be seen.
In April of 1821 Greek chieftains and Philhellenes surrounded the city of Nafplio and liberated it from the Turks under the leadership of Theodore Kolokotronis. Nafplio became the center of activities which would result in the formation of Modern Greece. In 1823 it becomes the capital of the state which is then recognized by the world powers (England, France and Russia) in 1827.
In January of 1828 Ioannis Kapodistrias is recognized as the first governor and arrives in Naphlion. In 1831 King Otto is chosen as the first King of Greece but a month later Kapodistrias is murdered in the Church of Agios Spiridon.
In 1833 King Otto arrives amid great fanfare to the city of Nafplio where he remains until 1834 when the capital of Greece is moved to Athens.
In 1862 there is a rebellion in Nafplio against the monarchy. A siege by the royal army follows. The rebels are given amnesty in 1862. In 1834 Kolokotronis is jailed in the Palamidi fortress. After the capital moves to Athens, the city of Nafplio becomes of less importance. But it still continues to attract visitors to this very day because its history is virtually the history of modern Greece and because every occupying power has left its mark.
The city of Nafplio is like a living museum.
It’s also as lively as any city in Greece.

EPIDAVROS

Epidaurus was a major city in Ancient Greece famed as a centre for healing. Inhabited since prehistoric times, Epidaurus thrived as a sanctuary devoted to the healing deities including Apollo, Asklepios and Hygeia and contained hundreds of spas, the remains of many of which can be seen today.

The main sanctuary area, called the Asklepieion, contains two such spas where a variety of healing rituals took place, including hypnosis. This was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. There is also a shrine to Asklepios and the remains of rooms for patients. 

Probably the most impressive of the sites at Epidaurus is the fourth century BC theatre, which was built to accommodate approximately 15,000 people and still extremely well preserved.

While the most of the sites at Epidaurus were constructed in the fourth and fifth centuries BC, when the city was at its peak, some of them date back as far as the Mycenaean period and others were also adapted later by the Romans. The theatre is one example of such refurbishments and one of the best-preserved theaters in the ancient world and the scant remains of its city. Though it hasn’t been in operation since 426 A.D., the theater still has perfect acoustics.

Overall, Epidaurus is an absolutely vast, fascinating site set over three levels and offering an insight into Ancient Greek life. There is also a nearby Epidaurus Museum, exhibiting artefacts from its excavation. This impressive site features as one of our Top 10 tourist attractions in Greece.