In the area of Kassandra
Perched on a wisely selected location overseeing the plain, was an architecturally and organizationally exemplary city of the Classical times. Since the first years of the excavations carried out in the 1920s, it offered valuable information about the urban planning of settlements in the area with building blocks, wide, parallel thoroughfares, public areas and, generally, a perception of the Hippodamian urban planning concept. To avoid the summer heat we suggest that you visit the site early in the morning, as you will have to walk a lot. When you reach the northern hill, you will see up and close the way the city’s daily life was organized 2,500 years ago. Each block consisted of 10 houses with a shared, internal courtyard, running water and a sophisticated drainage system. To find the site, drive from Nikiti towards Nea Moudania and after you get past Kalyves Polygyrou, you will see the relevant sign on you right.
The cave of Petralona
It is located at the western foothills of mount Katsika, just outside the namesake refugee village of Petralona, 20 km northwest of Nea Moudania. The cave of Petralona has impressive stalagmite rooms, but what makes it so special is the fact that a human skull, protected in stalagmite material, was discovered in it. It is 250,000 years old (500,000 or more years old, according to others). It belonged to a man aged 30-35, too old for his time as the average lifespan did not exceed 25 years. The findings suggest that humans and animals used the cave as a shelter for 700,000 years. Besides the skull of Archanthropos, bones of animals gone extinct from Chalkidiki were also discovered, such as bears, cave lions, rhinos, hyenas, deer. The decoration of the stalagmites in the cave makes it figure among the most beautiful caves in Europe. The “dwarf” stalagmites that have been developed on the floor of one of the rooms stand out. Next to the cave, you will find the Anthropological Museum of Petralona. Tel. +30 23730 71671.
The canal of Poteidea
Poteidea was a Corinthian colony of the 7th century BC and it played an important role in the Median Wars. Its apostasy from the Athenian Alliance was one of the causes of the Peloponnesian War. We do not know exactly when the canal was opened. What we know is that it was 1,250 m in length and 40 m in width, and that it existed before the 1st century AD. It is considered to be a project envisioned and completed by King Cassander of Macedonia 400 years earlier, in order to facilitate navigation and to protect the city. The isthmus of Kassandra peninsula, separated by the canal, was protected by a fortification system which had the same length as the canal, preventing trespassing by land; it was probably a later work by Justinian. Today, only fragments of the wall have survived, as well as the foundations of one of its corner towers in Thermaikos.
Located on Kassandra peninsula, Afytos is a vibrant village with wonderful sea views from a certain height. It has restaurants, shops, café-bars and many beautiful houses built by local craftsmen with local limestone. Of the houses open to visitors, it is worth taking a closer look at those of Katsanis and painter Paralis. Another site of interest is the central church of Aghios Dimitrios, built in the mid-19th century, which is the only one in basilica style with a dome in Chalkidiki. At most houses of Afytos, folk stone carvings inform visitors about the year it was built and the first owner. To go to Afytos, you will cross the canal of Poteidea, pass by Nea Fokea and find the relevant sign showing you the way to Afytos, on the left side of the road.
In Central Halkidiki
The Archaeological Museum of Polygyros
It is located in Heroou Square at the center of Polygyros. The exhibits cover a period ranging from the Bronze Age to the Roman period. It is worth seeing the semi-finished Kouros and a Kore dating from the 6th century BC, found in the sea off ancient Stageira, the clazomenian chest from Acanthus (considered to date from the 5th century BC), decorated with painted images, and the Stratonio statues, which probably originate from the late 1st century BC: the so-called “Lady of Stratoni” and a male statue. There are also weapons and jewelry from the late Archaic and Classical periods, and findings from Olynthus. In a separate space, you will see the exhibition entitled “Three Colonies of Andros in Chalkidiki: Sani, Acanthus, Stageira”. Open from 8.30 to 15.00, closed on Mondays, tel. +30 23710 22148.
One of the most important historical sites of Halkidiki, lies on Liotopi peninsula, close to the settlement of Olympiada. The ancient city was built on two hills –the coastal northern one and the bigger southern one. The excavation started in 1990 and showed that the first hill was inhabited by settlers from Andros around the middle of the 7th century BC. Later on, Chalkidians also came here to settle. Population growth led to the expansion of the city onto the other hill in the early 5th century BC. Then, the strong wall surrounding the city with fortified towers was built. In the market, located on the “neck” between the two hills, research was conducted at an arcade next to public warehouses and shops. Excavations also revealed the citadel, temples, houses and other buildings that you can see if you take the tour either from the northern hill’s entrance, close to Sykia beach, or from the top of the southern hill, where the citadel is located, offering magnificent views over the whole citadel. For more information please call +30 2310 801402.
The Fortress of Ouranoupolis
Prosforiou Tower, the symbol of Ouranoupolis, is believed to have been built in the 12th century and it is the biggest and best preserved tower in Halkidiki. The complex consists of the Byzantine fortress, the small fortified enclosure and the boat-yard of 1865. It belonged to Prosforion glebe, today’s Ouranoupolis, and Vatopedi monastery already had its original kernel in its possession in 1018. In 1379, the despot of Thessaloniki, Ioannis Palaiologos, stayed here. Due to an earthquake in 1585, it suffered major damages, and it was uninhabitable in 1858. That same year, however, a major restoration program began and it took the form it has today. In recent past, it has been linked with the history of the Loch couple that settled there. The fixing and restoration of the fortress was carried out by the 10th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities. Today, it is open to visitors and operates as an exhibition space. You will see archaeological findings from Ouranoupolis and NE Halkidiki, a room with objects belonging to the Loch couple, models of Athonite monasteries. On the top floor of the tower, offering magnificent views, there is a small chapel. Tel. +30 23770 71651.
Located 2 km away from Ouranoupolis, it is one of the major attractions in Halkidiki. Although there is an on-going excavation at the monastery, the site is open to visitors and there are explanatory signs. Dozens of people come here every day during the summer. According to the scientific supervisor, archaeologist Mr Ioakeim Papaggelos, what makes this monastery particularly important is the fact that it enables visitors and experts to study through it the monasteries located inside Mount Athos, in terms of archaeology, building structure and worship space organization. Zygos monastery was founded in the 10th century and in 1198, it was already deserted. It was barely rebuilt –so, what is there dates from ancient Mount Athos! The monastery was dedicated to Prophet Elias and the first known reference of Zygos on Athos peninsula comes from a manuscript of 942. It seems that, around 1206, a Frank lord who dashed to plunder Mount Athos settled at Zygos castle, which is why the monastery is often cited as Fragkokastro. As evidenced by the excavations, it was built at a location where facilities already existed from the 4th to the 6th century AD. The construction of the katholikon with its two chapels started in the early 11th century, following four construction phases. The floors are decorated with ornate marble. While touring the site, you will also see the spots were the furnaces, the mill, the “linos” (a built wine press) and the “bank” were built.
The most beautiful village of Northern Halkidiki (72 km from Nikiti and 35 km from Polygyros) is also the biggest in the area. Until 1928, the name of Arnaia was Liarigkova and it was cited for the first time in a document of the late 14th century as a glebe of Mount Athos’ Kastamonitou monastery. It seems that the village was founded in the 16th century by the glebe’s cultivators around the age-long plane’s fountain, located at the central square. The fountain’s water runs today through the trunk of the plane and according to tradition, whoever drinks water from here gets married to a man or woman from Arnaia! Around the central square there are neighborhoods where one can admire the picturesque houses built in the traditional Macedonian architecture, painted with beautiful colors. South of the central square stands the famous Iatrou Mansion, operating today as a folklore museum (if you want to visit please contact +30 23723 50121). Going down the main road you will find yourself in front of the famous school of 1871, the so-called urban school of Liarigkova. It is the most well-built of the 19th century in Halkidiki, and from 1990, the town hall is housed here. A belfry dating from 1889 is adjacent to it. Next to it, there is the church of Aghios Stefanos and opposite, the old inn that operates as a guest house. The church was built in 1812, it got burnt down in 1821 and it was rebuilt to be destroyed again by fire in 2005. During restoration works in 2006, the ruins of three previous churches were discovered beneath the church: a Paleochristianic one, a Byzantine one with important hagiographies and a post-Byzantine church that was built before 1812. Just 2 km from the village to the north lies a beautiful forest of approximately 12,5 acres, with age-long oak trees. The grove of Aghia Paraskevi hosts a municipal bar and a café-restaurant.
Mount Athos (Holly Mountain)
Legend has it that during the battle between the Gods and the Giants, Athos, a Thracian giant, threw a massive rock at Poseidon, but it slipped through his fingers and landed in the Aegean Sea forming the Athos peninsula. According to church tradition Mount Athos was given by the Lord to the Virgin Mary as her “garden and paradise, as well as a salvation, a haven for those who seek salvation”. In this oblong strip of land, for a thousand years now, the monks of Mount Athos have dedicated their lives to peace, prayer and monasticism. Classified as a World Heritage Site, it is a polity within the country known as the “Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain”. Today, there are 20 monasteries in Mount Athos. The first hermits reportedly came to Mount Athos in the 4th century AD. The earliest historically confirmed (9th century AD) anchorites (hermits) were Petros o Athoniatis and Efthimios o Neos. The first ascetes settled alone or in small groups and brought with them the ancient monastic tradition of the East – i.e. following strict fasting and prayer. The major change in the form of asceticism in Mount Athos occurred when Athanasios the Athonite, in 963, with the support of his friend emperor Nikiforos Fokas, founded the first coenobitic monastery, Megisti Lavra. In 971, the emperor Ioannis Tsimiskis signed the famous Typikon (Charter) – commonly known as Tragos because it was written on a goat skin – the set of rules and disciplines of Athonite monasticism that still govern the monasteries today. One of the strictest rules being the so-called avaton, proclaimed by emperor Constantine IX Monomachos in 1046, that enforces prohibition on entry for women.
BYZANTIUM. The coenobitic system of organized monasticism of Mount Athos quickly spread and gained spiritual followers across the Byzantine Empire. Monasteries became financially rigorous, not only because of the emperors’ favour and protection, but also due to their prominent geographical location in maritime terms. They gradually became large, fortified building complexes containing not only the monks’ cells but all facilities necessary for serving their autonomous operation. From early on, Mount Athos attracted monks from various nations, gaining ever since a timeless, inter-Orthodox character. The occupation by the Franks during the Fourth Crusade and the predatory attacks on the monasteries by the Catalan Company of the East (1307-1309) aggravated the relationship of Mount Athos with the West. In the 14th century, the history of the monasteries was marked by the catastrophic piracy attacks by Turkish emirs from Asia Minor. Continuous threats were the reason behind the fortress-like architecture formed over the centuries.