Thassos traditional mountain villages
Theologos, Kastro, Maries, Sotiras, Kalirachi, Kazaviti, Aliki, Rachoni, Panagia, Potamia, hold the key to the more recent history of island Thassos
Clinging to the steep slopes near freshwater springs and invisible from the sea, the little mountain villages hold the key to the more recent history of the island. As you stroll their narrow streets you will appreciate how simple life once was, and how closely and harmoniously integrated with the natural environment. They grew up as tiny autonomous communities, so that even today it is possible to distinguish the inhabitants of one village from those of a neighbouring community by their pronunciation and facial features. Old mansion houses next to low cottages roughly built of stone and wood incorporate architectural skills that have since been lost. The close contact between the former inhabitants and Mount Athos across the sea influenced the architecture of many old churches in these villages, and the Athos monks, sculptors and icon-artists created many of the works that adorn them today. Each village has its own olive press, watermill and other manufactories, and it was these together with the local produce (abundant timber, olives and olive oil, honey, wine, wool, dairy products, meat, fish, pulses and all kinds of fruit and vegetables, which rendered the island virtually self-sufficient in essential goods. Today these villages overflow with cultural treasures of immense importance for the future of the island and special care is needed to protect them.
The sites chosen by our grandfathers for building were the best on the island; locations with plentiful fresh water to assure bountiful crops in the fields and gardens, adorn the villages with greenery and nourish tall, shady trees of many kinds, especially plane trees, walnuts, mulberries and chestnuts. The villages were still miniature fortresses, invisible from the sea to ensure protection from the pirates who pillaged the Aegean mercilessly for many centuries. Local tradition abounds in tales of raids and massacres.
But the civil war, poverty, unemployment, repression and Europe’s need for a workforce to rebuild its war-ravaged economies led to the uprooting of an entire generation. The elders watched as their offspring – those that the war had not taken – emigrated and their villages became deserted. And gradually the fields were abandoned, the fruit trees withered, and most of the arable land stopped being cultivated. With the coming of tourism, the young people that remained behind began to make use of their coastal properties and in their turn left the mountain villages for the coastal settlements where tourism opened new avenues of opportunity. The only crop remaining on the island is the olive, and the continuing cultivation of its centuries-old trees is a matter of honour for the locals. The olive tree, which has fed and nourished dozens of generations of Greeks, is the only plant that continues to be cultivated systematically.
We write all this in the attempt to persuade you of the interest and worth of visiting these villages. Walk their streets, revive yourselves at their springs, visit the ruins, give them life – if only for a little while – and in so doing, pay tribute to those who were uprooted and forced to live far away from their memories.
The old island capital, and still the administrative centre for the southern half of the island. The villages of Potos, Astris, Thimonia, Alyki and Kinira are all within its jurisdiction and were built to serve the seasonal needs of its inhabitants. The mountains and the inland landscapes of this area are among the most picturesque on the island. There are hundreds of paths and trails for hiking and mountaineering. Forests, gorges, springs and stone memorials of the past abound. Paths to all over the south of the island start from the village. Likewise, every settlement in the south has a path to Theologos. Now mostly overgrown, they can be difficult to find, but it is not easy to lose your way in the mountains of Thassos.
Renowned for its fine workmanship is the iconoclast in the church of St. Demetrios, to which the monk Ignatius Philotheites dedicated 18 years of his life. The Folklore Museum, the watermill, the mansion house of the chieftain Hatziyiorgis, dozens of buildings of outstanding architectural value, the village churches, the stone bridge which is the only one of its kind on Thassos, the sanctuaries and shrines, combined with the beauty of the natural surroundings are sure to enchant you as they have countless others in the past.
Perhaps the oldest village on Thassos. Built on an inland peak, Kastro was totally abandoned apart from the church of St. Athanasios, who has always been the villagers’ guardian and patron saint. In recent years nearly all of its houses have been restored and the village relives its former glory every year on the feast day of St. Athanasios, 18 January, with a festival which starts on the day before and runs for three days. The landscape and flora are rich reward for those that take the trouble to visit.
An old hamlet, one of the oldest on the island, built over a wooded ravine. It takes its name from two women, both named Maria, who according to legend were the sole survivors of a pirate raid. The village in the past maintained close ties with the monasteries of Athos, which owned a number of properties here. The church is dedicated to the archangels and is one of the oldest churches on Thassos. It is adorned with many works created by monks. Above the village, climbing towards Mount Ypsarion, you will come to a dense forest, a small artificial lake, the road leading to the monastery of St. Panteleimon and the path to the summit of Ypsarion, Theologos and Kastro.
Built when piracy was rife in the Aegean, the original village was located on a steep rocky slope higher up the mountainside and was called Kaki-rachi (kaki = bad, rachi = ridge). After being destroyed by pirates, it was rebuilt further down and renamed Kallirachi (kalli = good). The village houses a folklore museum and is also well known for its wonderful little church. The village dominates a sea of olive trees which are characteristic of the landscape in the area.
A beautiful village with all the traditional characteristics of the others. Situated high up on the mountainside, surrounded by lush vegetation, with a warm, mild and dry climate. The church at the centre of the village under the centuries-old plane trees is surrounded by picturesque old cottages.
Kazaviti is probably the loveliest, most picturesque village on the island. This is due to the fact that it was once utterly deserted and so remained untouched by the whims of 1970s architecture. Then it was rediscovered by European tourists who began to buy the old houses at knockdown prices, thus saving many old buildings from collapse. The new owners were often more sensitive to the ecology of the site, and strove to retain all the traditional characteristics of the houses. They also motivated the interest of local owners who likewise began to take measures to save other buildings. Nowadays all over the village, young people are restoring the homes of their grandfathers with a passion, using the same traditional techniques taught by the older generation. Several young families have chosen the village as their permanent residence and children’s voices echo through the neighbourhood once more.
Smothered in greenery, full of trees of all kinds, with fresh water running everywhere and vegetation of every description, shaded by chestnut, walnut and plane trees, Kazaviti with its quiet old churches brings you closer to the past with every step. Visit it and relive history.
Another village full of greenery, with all the characteristics of the other villages on Thassos. There are two settlements, Rachoni and Ayios Georgios. The latter was built on the mountain peak and was subsequently abandoned, to be rebuilt lower down. Between the two settlements stands the little church of the Assumption, sheltered by huge plane trees and with a freshwater spring under the altar. This is the village where Mehemet Ali, the founder of the modern Egyptian state, grew up.
One of the mountain villages which has the good fortune to be situated on the main road, and has therefore managed to remain lively and retain its population. Named Anastasion in Byzantine times, the village huddles around its church which was built using ancient stones. Plenty of running water, plane and walnut trees, and eleven sanctuaries in a village that has held on to its character and history in spite of its economic development. This is largely due to its inhabitants’ dedication to the traditions and customs of the village. A large traditional carnival is held here every year at the start of Orthodox Lend
Built at the roots of Mount Ypsarion, this is where the paths to the summit and to Theologos start. Stone houses in surroundings of lush vegetation with the high mountain peaks towering above. An imposing site dominated by the mountains, the forest and the sea. Potamia is the home of the sculptor Polygnotos Vagis, and you can admire his works at the museum of the same name which was built here. The village has retained its traditional character in an area of impressive natural beauty.