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Exceptional Experiences

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.
 OTTOMAN EMPIRE. The monastic community tried to maintain good relations with the Ottoman conquerors by pledging allegiance to them thus ensuring independence and protection from the sultan. The era of Ottoman rule is also characterized by the expansion of the inter-Orthodox character of Mount Athos, through the increase of the number of non Greek-speaking monks. During the Ottoman occupation, more singular forms of monastic exercise, still existing in Mount Athos today, became popular, such as the Sketes, the Cells, the Seats and the Hermitages. In May 1821, Emmanuel Papas declared the Revolution (War of Independence). The Turkish army entered the peninsula and established garrisons in many of the monasteries, while depleting them from various relics causing inestimable damages. A new era began with the liberation of Macedonia, when the self-governing status of the Monastic State of Mount Athos under Greek sovereignty was recognized with the Treaty of Lausanne. Today, within the framework of the European Union, the status of Mount Athos and the jurisdiction of its institutions have been expressly defined and ratified. 
** For detailed information about the Monasteries please visit the official web site of the Municipality of Aristotle http://www.dimosaristoteli.gr/en/  

Vergina. In November 1977, archaeologist Manolis Andronikos shocked the world when he discovered the unlooted tomb of King Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. The history of the great Macedonian civilization came to light. The royal tombs of Aigai (modern day Vergina) -UNESCO World Heritage Site- constitute the most important archaeological find in Macedonia. The site of Megali Toumba (Great Tumulus) includes the Tomb of Philip, the Prince's Tomb, Persephone’s Tomb, a memorial and the Tomb of the “free columns”. The royal burials unearthed attest to the city’s importance and prosperity. Rich findings included gold and silver larnaxes, exquisite wreaths and diadems, jewellery, utensils, weapons, precious ornaments of funerary beds, tombstones and more. Around the village of Vergina, archaeologists have also revealed other Macedonian tombs, ancient sanctuaries, buildings, part of the citadel of the Aigai, as well as the theatre where Philip II was assassinated in 336 BC.
* Visiting hours: 08:30-19:30 daily, Monday 13:30-19:30. Tel.:  +30 23310 92347.
 
Dion Archaeological Park. The site owes its name to the most important Macedonian sanctuary built in honour of Olympian Zeus (Dias). A sacred place for the ancient Macedonians it retained its prominence throughout antiquity as evidenced by the extensive variety of finds. It is the most impressive archaeological “park” in Greece; sanctuaries, Hellenistic and Roman theatres, paved pathways, baths with pools and mosaics, an auditorium, Roman houses, villas and Early Christian basilicas. All surrounded by lush vegetation, countless small springs and streams running through the whole site. One of the most beautiful spots is the sanctuary of Isis: it is surrounded by water and ruins emerge through the greenery. Nearby is the sanctuary of Demeter, one of the oldest ever excavated in Macedonia. The latest great discovery in Dion is the sanctuary of Zeus Hypsistos (2006). Situated between the sanctuaries of Demeter and Isis, the building comprises a large courtyard flanked by colonnaded galleries and rooms. A full-length statue of Zeus was discovered fallen from its pedestal together with a marble eagle; reminiscent in style of the god’s gold and ivory statue at Olympia. On the side of the ancient city of Dion, you will walk along the old pathway with the relief shields and armors, and you will see the Dionysus Villa with its mosaics and large baths - the impressive bathing complexes built in 200 AD. Take a look at the hypocausts (i.e. the system that channeled hot air to heat the floor, the walls and the rooms) and admire the exquisite mosaic on the bath floor, depicting the Nereids being grabbed by the Tritons.
Dion is 7 km away from Litochoro village. The site is open 08:30-15:00 daily in the winter months. In the summer, you are advised to call, as there might be an extension to the opening hours. Tel.:  +30 23510 53206 
DION ARCHAELOGICAL MUSEUM. Its renovation was completed in November 2008. On the ground floor, you can admire an amazing collection of sculptures (statues, reliefs, steles etc.), together with artifacts from the sanctuary of Zeus Hypsistos (in a separate room). On the upper floor, you will find, amongst other things, a rare bronze “hydraulis” a mechanical pipe musical instrument, an ancestor of the modern church organ, found in a site workshop. (Open daily 08:30-15:00, except Mondays).

* We can provide limousine, mini bus, taxi and helicopter service for your transportation and touring, 24/7.
 
 

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