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Sky Cities: A Mountaintop Tour of Greece 25

Greece is the third most rocky and mountainous country in Europe. Accordingly it comes as no surprise that significant elements of the country's history, culture and mythology are heavily interconnected with its mountains, hills, cliffs and gorges and a quick history lesson shows you that Ancient Greece's twelve most powerful gods and the Greek revolution against Turkey were all born high up on mountains and hills. This is the story of our odyssey through Greece, from the sandstone skyscrapers of Meteora in the north to the islands of the Aegean Sea in the south and a tour of some of the country's most historically fascinating and visually breathtaking mountain, hill and cliff top settlements.

Monastery of the Great Meteoron

Jul 12 2012

Our tour of Greece began with one of the most awe-inspiring sights on earth and after flying in to Thessaloniki and taking a train to Kalabaka, we arrived at the base of Meteora. Literally meaning 'The Middle of the Sky' and located near the foothills of the Pindus Mountains, the gigantic and naturally formed sandstone pillars of Meteora tower up to 1800 feet over the Plain of Thessaly and are home to six Greek Orthodox monasteries, some dating back as far back as the ninth century. Image Credit: Flickr - Carlos Pinto Image Date: 09/06/2013

Winch Room, Great Meteoron Monastery

Jul 13 2012

The Grand Meteoron is the largest of the six monasteries and was built atop its sandstone pillar in roughly 1340. The height of Meteora's rock pillars made me wonder how the monks managed to haul building materials up to the top. The answer came when we arrived at Grand Meteoron and saw ropes and nets hanging over the side of the rock pillar from a gap in the wall. These ropes and chains are part of a winch system used to haul building materials, food, drink and other essential supplies up Meteora's sheer cliff faces and are still in use today. Image Credit: Flickr - Sarah Murray Image Date: 03/05/2011

The Katholikon, Great Meteoron Monastery

Jul 14 2012

Grand Meteora's most famous sight, the Katholikon, is also its holiest. Also known as the Church of the Transfiguration, the Katholikon was built in 1388 under the supervision of Saint Ioasaph and is as perfectly preserved today as has been since its construction. The interior of the Katholikon, including the dome ceiling, is covered in Macedonian-style murals of Byzantine Christian saints, as well as story-length frescoes of Christ's entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the martyrdom of John the Baptist. Image Date: 11/06/2015

Isthmus of Corinth

Jul 20 2012

The Peloponnese peninsula is separated from the rest of mainland Greece by a narrow land bridge known as the Isthmus of Corinth. Named after the ancient Greek city state of Kórinthos, the Isthmus seen today is home to a fully submersible bridge allowing traffic to pass to and from the Peloponnese. The story goes that the mythical hero Theseus erected two stone tablets on either side of the Isthmus, with the tablet on the north side reading "Here is not Peloponnesus, but Ionia" and the tablet on the south side reading "Here is Peloponnesus, not Ionia." Image Date: 07/15/2012

Temple of Apollo, Corinth

Jul 21 2012

In a country as rich in mythology and classical-era architecture as Greece, it's impossible to leave without seeing at least one set of ruins honouring the gods of the Olympian gods and Acrocorinth, and the Peloponnese side of the Isthmus of Corinth, is no exception to the rule. With the ruined pillars of the Temple of Apollo providing a taste of Ancient Greek culture before you head up the hill to explore its Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman and Crusader-era stories, Acrocorinth is a virtual layer cake of Greek history. Image Date: 12/29/2006

Byzantine-era Walls of Acrocorinth Castle

Jul 22 2012

In the Byzantine era, Acrocorinth was ruled by Leo Sgouros, an independent Greek warlord who took control of the city during the chaos which befell Byzantine Empire during the Fourth Crusade. In 1209, after a three year siege from a group of Crusaders resulting in Leo Sgouros' death, Acrocorinth became a Frankish Crusader state. High elevation and heavily fortified walls meant that Acrocorinth was highly regarded as a castle fortress. As the rest of the city lays in ruins today, the fortress walls are the only remaining relic of Acrocorinth at its height. Image Date: 09/24/2015

Map of Acrocorinth Castle from Ottoman-Venetian Wars

Jul 23 2012

Acrocorinth was so highly prized as a castle fortress and hilltop citadel that after the Crusader-era, the city became a vital strategic position during the 'Sixth Ottoman–Venetian War', fought between the occupying Ottoman Empire and the Venetians from 1684 to 1699. This seventeenth century map, drawn by Venetian cosmographer and cartographer Vincenzo Coronelli, depicts Acrocorinth after the victorious Venetians conquered the city with the hilltop fortress detailed as 'Fortizza di Corinto'. Image Credit: Vincenzo Coronelli (Bibliographical Citation from 'Repubblica di Venezia') Image Date: 09/29/1688

Lousios Gorge

Jul 25 2012

From Acrocorinth we headed south, deep into the Peloponnese to Lousios Gorge in western Arcadia. Greek mythology has it that Zeus used Lousios Gorge, and the Tanos River flowing through, it as his own personal bath and today the natural beauty of the gorge and the river are complemented by two fascinating and inextricably linked Byzantine-era Greek monasteries built into the sides of its cliffs. Image Credit: Ulrichstill Image Date: 05/12/2006

Main Hall of Filosofou Monastery

Jul 26 2012

Filosofou Monastery dates back to the 16th century and gets its name from being a renowned seat of learning and philosophy for the Byzantine Greek church back in its heyday. With its lecterns, cloisters and incense burners hanging from the roof, the interior of the monastery encapsulates the artistic and architectural style of the Greek Byzantine church in its heyday. Image Date: 10/03/2012

Filosofou Monastery

Jul 27 2012

The first of Lousios Gorge's monasteries is known as 'Filosofou', literally meaning 'Monastery of the Philosophers'. When viewed from the outside, the building seems to cut one side of the gorge in half and wedge itself in between two gigantic slabs of cliff rock. Image Date: 10/03/2012

The Tanos River flowing through Lousios Gorge

Jul 28 2012

The path from Filosofou Monastery goes back down into the gorge and crosses a bridge over the rapid-flowing Tanos River. According to Pausanias, an Ancient Greek traveler and geographer, the Tanos was the coldest river in the known world and after a trek of roughly two hours southward along the mountain trail the river winds its way to Timiou Prodromos, the second of Louisos Gorge's famous monasteries. Image Date: 09/15/2010

Ioannis Prodromos Monastery

Jul 29 2012

When viewed from the mountain path of the Lousios Gorge, Timiou Prodromos Monastery seems almost suspended in mid-air and, as with Filosofou, the monastery is somehow built into the side of a sheer rock face. Timiou Prodromos was built during the twelfth century and is still in use by practicing Greek Orthodox monks and priests today. Image Date: 10/03/2012

The Ruins of Mystras

Aug 1 2012

In the northern foothills of Mount Taygetus, the fortified town of Mystras served as capital of the Byzantine province of Morea in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Mystras also holds a unique position at the very edge of the Silk Road. Chinese silkworms had been smuggled to Byzantium as early as the sixth century. When the Venetians arrived in Mystras in 1687 they began feeding the mulberry leaves growing on the surrounding hills to the silkworms and Mystras became a centre for the silk industry. Image Date: 04/17/2014

Ottoman-era Mystras, 1686

Aug 2 2012

Mystras was originally designed three-dimensionally, with levels known as the Upper, Middle and Lower Cities. This rendering of the town in its penultimate year of Ottoman rule in 1686 shows the three levels of Mystras under Turkish rule. During the Ottoman period Mystras became known as Mezistre, a Turkish 'sanjak' or administrative division, and although the Turks left the town's churches as places of Christian worship, the old Byzantine-era citadel at the very top of the hill is suspected to have been used as an Ottoman mosque. Wikimedia: Public Domain Image Date: 01/01/1686

Marble floor in Peribleptos Monastery, Mystras

Aug 3 2012

Although abandoned in the 1830s and with its Byzantine and Ottoman-style architecture largely left in ruins, some of Mystras' structures are still in remarkable condition. The first building we explored was the Byzantine-era Peribleptos Monastery and the building is one of the best preserved relics of Mystras, with the azure blue of its marble floor tiles showcasing the fusion of Byzantine and Ottoman design. Image Credit: Flickr - Andy Hay Image Date: 07/09/2016

Road Winding Through Taygetus Mountain Range

Aug 6 2012

After exploring Mystras, we carried on down through Laconia to the Mani Peninsula, one of mainland Greece's most southerly points before the vast expanses of the Sea of Crete and the wider Mediterranean. With a mountain road twisting through it the Taygetus range acts as a natural barrier separating Mani Peninsula from the rest of Peloponnese. At nearly 2500 feet the range's highest peak, Mount Taygetus, is one of the highest in southern Greece and also appears in Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey. Image Date: 05/27/2014

Cliff View of Areopolis, Mani Peninsula, Laconia

Aug 8 2012

In a region of Laconia's Mani Peninsula traditionally known as 'Mesa Mani', or 'Inner Mani', the coastal village of Areopoli sits on a cliff overlooking the easternmost edge of the Ionian Sea and is home to just over one thousand people. Like most Greek hilltop settlements, Areopoli almost resembles a citadel or castle town. Today the tranquil village is mostly used by tourists on day trips or short breaks but its castle-like design hides an ironic twist and the real story of Areopoli is a colourful and chequered one. Image Date: 09/15/2015

Petros Mavromichalis Revolutionary Monument, Areopolis

Aug 9 2012

The first thing most visitors to Areopoli notice is how the Plateia Athanaton central square is dominated by a black and grey statue holding a Kopis curved sword in one hand and issuing a proclamation with the other. The statue is a monument to Petros Mavromichalis, a Greek revolutionary responsible for igniting the country's bloody war of independence against the Ottoman Empire on March 17th, 1821. After Greek independence was achieved in 1829, Petros Mavromichalis became a senator in the first independent Greek government since the mid-fifteenth century. Image Credit: Bgabel Image Date: 09/21/2011

Stone Carving, Taxiarchis Church, Areopoli

Aug 10 2012

Modern Greece celebrates the revolution ignited in Areopoli by Petros Mavromichalis annually with a national holiday on March 25th. Areopoli's fighting tradition is not only encapsulated in the village taking its name from Ares, the Greek god of war, and in its revolutionary zeal against the Ottoman Turks but also in its carvings and reliefs as locals are shown brandishing swords and spears which are found all over the village, including above the main entrance to Taxiarchis Church on Areopoli's March 17th Square. Image Date: 09/04/2004

Greece, Cyclades, Amorgos, Hozoviotissa monastery

Aug 14 2012

In the Naxos region of the South Aegean Sea, the island of Amorgos is home to one of the most breath-taking monasteries in all of Greece. Image Date: 05/15/2012

Steps up to Hozoviotissa Monastery

Aug 15 2012

Seemingly suspended in mid air above the ocean and built onto the side of Amorgos' Prophet Elias Mountain, Hozoviotissa Monastery was built in the eleventh century by Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos and the main entrance to the monastery is accessed by taking a stone staircase up the side of the cliff. Image Date: 05/14/2012

The Ossuary of Skulls, Great Meteoron Monastery

Apr 8 2014

One of Grand Meteora's creepier and more surreal sights can be found in a room outside the Katholikon. Known as the ossuary, this tiny room acts as the official resting place for the skulls and bones of Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox monks. Before being laid to rest, the skulls and bones of Grand Meteoron's ossuary were also washed in red wine which is still fermented and stored in dozens of casks in the monastery's wine cellar. Image Date: 04/08/2014

The 'Three-Story Building', Anavatos

Aug 18 2014

When you arrive in Anavatos after climbing the steep set of stone steps on the north side of the granite cliff face, you come across a curious-looking structure which is larger than any other in Anavatos - including the now ruined ancient castle. In the Greek Byzantine era this multipurpose structure, now a ghostly shell of a building save for some old wheat milling stones on the ground, was known as the 'Three Storey Building' and housed a school, water tanks and a granary room with two millstones used to make bread and press olive oil. Image Date: 06/21/2016

The Hilltop Ghost Town of Anavatos, Chios

Aug 19 2014

The last of the mountain and hilltop settlements on our tour of Greece was the Byzantine rock tower village of Anavatos on the Aegean island of Chios. Anavatos takes its name from the Greek word 'anaveno', which means 'I climb' and the village dates back to the eleventh century. Despite now being a ghost town and completely deserted Anavatos possesses a magnetic yet tragic charm due to the still visible scars of its threefold destruction by pirates, Turkish atrocities during the Greek Revolution and finally a cataclysmic earthquake in 1881. Image Date: 06/21/2016

View of Chios from Çeşme, Turkey

Aug 20 2014

Chios was the last stop on our tour of Greece before heading to Turkey and when you get off the ferry in Çeşme, a coastal town in the Turkish province of İzmir, you can head to a beach known as Pirlanta Plaji and stare back at the shadowy landscape of Chios across the Aegean. Çeşme is a coastal town in the Turkish province of İzmir and was once ruled by the Ottomans, themselves an integral part of the history of so many of the Greek hilltop towns which we had experienced during our journey. We would soon head inland in Turley to the heart of the old Ottoman Empire, Istanbul. But that's a whole different story... Image Date: 06/27/2016

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