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Marvellous mansions, impressive churches and Dionysian festivals under the shadows of the Byzantine heritage

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Under the mists of the lake and the reflections of the Macedonian sky, Kastoria is one of the most atmospheric cities of Greece.Over the horizon, houses with tiled roofs and Byzantine churches create a lovely scenery of mainland Greece. The noble lady of Western Macedonia will definitely seduce with her gorgeousness. Illusions and reflections on the surface of Orestiada lake could inspire even the Renaissance painters from their exclusive beauty. Recognized as one of the most important wetlands in Greece, the lake has a valuable ecological value as it serves as a major shelter for native and migratory birds. Kastoria is an ethereal city that reveals her authentic face through history and culture. Million faces can be discovered through the seasons; frosty from the icy winter, colorful from the blossoming spring, tranquil under the summery sun and golden from the autumn leaves, Kastoria is an all year round destination! Around the calm and crystalline waters of Orestiada lake, Kastoria invades in with the most mysterious way; built on the saddle of the peninsula, the city surrounds this lake, one of the most beautiful lakes of country.From the lakeside promenade of Orestiada, the 70 Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches and the impressive 18th century mansions of Dolco neighborhood, the old town of Kastoria, to the long tradition of fur production from the renowned “gounarades”, the Ragoutsaria carnival custom, and the cultural museums of the city, Kastoria is a must visit. At the end of your journey, the horizon will be lost upon the white fog of absoluteness. Undoubtedly, a journey to Kastoria is a fairytale.

Under the mists of Orestiada Lake


Photo courtesy of Grekomania.ru

Recognized as one of the most beautiful lakes of Greece, Orestiada Lake, whose name derives from the mountain nymphs of Oreades, has a peculiar morphology by dividing the city of Kastoria into the south part and the north part. Orestiada Lake was formed 10 million years ago, and it has been classified as a “Monument of Natural Beauty” from the Ministry of Culture while it has been integrated into the European Network of “Natura 2000”.   The Lake is a wetland of great importance, since it serves as a major shelter for native, endangered and migratory birds, protected from international and national law. Some of the most important bird species include Dalmatian pelicans, mute swans, wild ducks, night herons and pygmy cormorants. What is more, Orestiada is the sole lake in Greece consisting from an important region of lakeside forests of hydrophilic trees, one of the most rare habitats in Europe.


Whether it is your first time or the hundredth time in the city, a promenade around the lake is a must, even if it is frozen and icy! Its ethereal beauty invites travellers to walk on her lakeside strolls, as it is the jewel of Kastoria.


Sports lovers will have the opportunity to enjoy various activities in the lake including boating, skiing, sailing and fishing. It is quite remarkable that the International Olympic Rowing take place every September, one of the interesting events in Kastoria.

Dive in the mysteries of Dragon’s Cave


Photo courtesy of Trasias Studio

Situated just a few kilometers from the center of Kastoria, the Dragons’ cave will leave you speechless! Legend has it that the cave was a precious gold mine well-guarded from a dragon that breathed flames.


Created from land and water and adorned from impressive decoration of stalactites, the cave consists from ten halls, seven underground lakes and five corridor-tunnels. It is quite impressive that Dragon’s Cave is equipped with one of the most interesting air recycling and climate maintenance system.


Paleontological excavations brought to light cave bear bones (Ursus Speleasus), a species that lived in Europe during the Pleistocene epoch, and became extinct ten thousand years ago.


If you are planning to visit Kastoria, the Cave of the Dragon is one of the most important monuments you ought to discover. It is worth mentioning that necessary provisions regarding visitors’ safety have been taken in order to ensure the stability of the natural environment of the cave.


The cave is open for visitors from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Lose your Way in the Dolco Neighbourhood


Photo courtesy of Tania Koleska

One of the most historic regions of Kastoria is the neighborhood of Dolco, the old quarter of the city that attests the rich architectural and artistic tradition of the city. Imposing and majestic mansions of the 18th and 19th century are of great interest in terms of architecture, decoration and masonry.


Unquestionably, Kastoria is a destination for historians and researchers. The cultural and religious wealth of the city’s monument is one-of-a-kind.


Those mansions, dilapidated and restored, succeed one another on this lovely location. The restoration of the mansions, always respecting the tradition and history of the buildings themselves, took place with architects and interior designers who know the Macedonian architecture. Quite interesting is the fact that some of the mansions operate as traditional guesthouses!


Samples of traditional art were found on the walls of the mansions, some of which were applied in temples created from the famous craftsmen of Epirus and Western Macedonia. More specifically, those murals are excellent examples of folklore paintings of the post-Byzantine period.


The architectural style of the mansions is quite unique with high aesthetic standards, influenced from Macedonia and Northern Europe.


The ground floor and the first floor are made of stone built with masonry re­in­forced by hor­i­zon­tal half-timbering, with a few vents on the cellar and some small windows on the mezzanine while the second and third floor were built with wood, in the lath and plas­ter tech­nique, with several windows, decorated with colorful stained glass, to allow maximum light.


The oblong loggia on the first floor, along with the enclosed balconies, illuminated from a double row of windows, the bright ledge of the wooden roof, and the paved courtyards with the high walls are some of the most renowned morphological characteristics of the mansions of Kastoria, the majority of which were constructed during the 18th and 19th century.


Important mansions of Kastoria include the mansion of Emmanouel (1750), which now houses the Costume Museum, the 18th century mansion of Sapountzi, the mansion of Skoutaris (1750), the mansion of Pecheon (19th century), which now houses the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, and the mansion of Christopoulos (1753).

Higher than Prophet Elias

AgiosAthanasiosPhoto courtesy of Thomas Doros 

Standing on one of the most mountainous regions of Kastoria, the chapel of Prophet Elias will seduce you with its inexplicable beauty. Just like a fortified castle, this lovely chapel overlooks the unique view of the northern side of the city.


If you want to admire an even more breathtaking view, “climb” higher than Prophet Elias, on the eminence of Agios Athanasios, the highest spot of Kastoria.Who would not fall in love with those spectacular views?


Museum Glory


Photo courtesy of Pavlos Michailidis

Whether you are a museum lover or not, you ought to visit one of the notorious museums of Kastoria!


Whether you choose the Folklore Museum that has been operating more than thirty years, and the Costume Museum, both of which are housed in traditional mansions of the 18th and 19th century, or even the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, the Wax Statue Museum in the village of Mavrochori and the Byzantine Museum, it is certain that the lady of Western Macedonia will enthrall you!


As the jewel of Mavrochori village, the Wax Statues Museum was established from the famous professor and artist Dimitris Panagiotidis and his talented wife Fanny. Housed within two buildings of the local traditional architecture, the museum distinguishes for the representation of traditional marriage with wax figures while equally impressive are the wax figures of prehistoric people who lived in Kastoria thousands of years ago. In the courtyard of the museum, visitors will have the opportunity to admire representations of another era with wax statues of professionals such as a barber, a shoemaker, and a fisherman.


The Folklore Museum of Delinanio in the Dolco neighborhood is one of the oldest museums of the city that has been operating since 1977. The museum exhibits important symbols and folklore elements of Kastoria. If you want to discover more about the folklore tradition of this part of Greece, head to the Folklore Museum that is housed in the mansion of Nerantzis Aivazis, a special museum that recreates the traditional house of Kastoria.


Not, that’s not all!


Another important museum is the Museum of Costumes that is housed in one of the best-preserved mansions of Dolco quarter. Male and female costumes will give you a glimpse of how citizens of Kastoria used to dress through the passage of time. Textiles and jewelry highlight the social stratifications and the trade development.


As for religious lovers, head to the Byzantine Museum up to Xenia hill. Exhibits include 550 well-preserved icons, sculptures, mosaics, manuscripts and liturgical objects from 12th to the 17th century. It is really interesting that the collection of Byzantine frescoes is considered to be the most complete and well-preserved collections in the world.

At last by not least, the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle is definitely a must visit. Housed in a traditional mansion that belonged to Anastasios Picheon, the ideas of such a museum was a project undertaken from the Friends of the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, and it was inaugurated on May 23, 2010. The museum outlines the Greek revolutionary movements when Macedonia was dominated from the Ottoman rule up until its liberation and unification with Greece in 1913.

Pay your respects at Mavriotissa’s Monastery


Photo courtesy of Nikos Tsatsakis 

Whether you are a religious lover or not, the Monastery of Panagia Mavriotissa is a must visit. The monastery was built on the location where troops of Byzantine commander George Palaiologos encircled the attacking Normans in 1083. Tradition has it that Alexios I Komnenos constructed the monastery in order to commemorate the event.Mavriotissa’s Monastery, which consists from the single-aisled church with narthex and the katholicon, was built in the 11th century. A chapel dedicated to John the Theologian with impressive wall paintings from the artist Eustathios Iakovou was erected in the 16th century. The monastery served as an important spiritual and religious center during the historical times of the region.


The view from the monastery will reward everyone!


Expedition to Grammos’ Majesty


Photo courtesy of Dimitris Kilymis 

Nature explorers will fall in love with the unique beauty of Grammos Mount.


Grammos Mountain is one of the most famous mountains of Greece, recognized for its high ecological value, and designated as a monument of nature from the European Network of “Natura 2000”. Furthermore, the Greek Ornithological Society has classified it as one of the most important bird regions in Greece, and it has been also classified as a National Park for the protection of the “Brown Bear Arcturus”. Unquestionably, Grammos is a mountain that stands out for its rich flora and fauna.


As the third highest mountain in Greece, penetrated from Aliakmonas and Sarantaporos Rivers, Grammos is an ideal mountain for mountain excursions and natural explorations. Its highest summit elevates at an altitude of 2,520 meters! Surrounded from virgin forests for beech, oak, fir , chestnut, plane and pine, this mountain is certain a natural paradise.   One of its most spectacular wonders is the Drakolimni Lake, known as Gistova that sits at an elevation of 2,350 meters, and it is one of the three mountain lakes in Greece! As for bird watching lovers, be aware! You will have the opportunity to observe Golden Eagles, Pelgrine Falcon, Egyptian Vultures, and Woodpeckers among others.


Undeniably, Grammos Mountain promises an exhilarating experience!

Reserved for Ski Enthusiasts

VitsiPhoto courtesy of Kantonio

The Ski Center of Vitsi is the smallest ski center of Greece located at the foothills of Vernon Mountain. The ski experience in Vitsi resort is such a unique experience crossing from a dense beech forest though the villages of Vyssiania, Oxia and Polykeraso.The Vitsi Ski Center has been operating since 1985 and is run by Alpine & Ski Club of Kastoria, Both, with the Lailias Ski Center, are the only ones, that alpine & ski clubs are responsible for their management and operation.

The ski center consists from 5 ski slopes and 3 lifts. The highest altitude of the pistes is at an altitude of 1,880 meters. Vitsi Ski Center provides equipment hire facilities.


The Ski Resort is located 23 kilometers from the town of Kastoria.

Petrified as the Forest of Nostimo

NostimoPhoto courtesy of Nostimo Museum

Situated in the southernmost point of the region of Kastoria, the natural miracle of the fossilized forest of Nostimo was developed 20 million years ago. Because of the severe climatic conditions and the peculiar geomorphology of that era, forests used to develop together with the active volcano. Therefore, the volcanic materials coming from the volcanic craters covered the trees and animals causing their fossilization.


The fossilized forest of Nostimo was discovered from a local man in 1935, who found petrified trunks. Valuable findings were brought to light during the first excavations of the forest that took place more than 60 years ago. Petrified trunks of palm trees, tropical plants and fossils of the prehistoric fauna were some of the most important findings that were used for further research regarding the climate of that era.


Nostimo Fossilized Forest is considered as one of the most important geological monuments in Greece. Lovers of geology can visit the Fossil Exhibition of Nostimo that are exhibited in the school of the namesake village. The tree trunks are deposits of the preshistoric Tethys Ocean from the Early Miocene age, and are in excellent condition.

Explore the Fur Tradition of Kastoria


Photo courtesy of mixanitouxronou.gr

The fur production in Kastoria began during the 14th century. Fur processing in Kastoria was recognized in the 16th century, when the Kastorian furriers began to import the raw materials from abroad, process it by hand, produce fur and trade it throughout Europe.


During the Ottoman rule, the Guild of Furriers flourished in Istanbul, where many benefactors were revealed, with great contribution to the Patriarchate, such as Manolakis the Kastorian. As the fur was a necessary component for the Ottoman military uniforms and the clothes of the courtyard officials of the Sultans, the Kastorians who lived in Istanbul excelled and brought this art to Kastoria and Western Macedonia.


The fur industry reached its peak at the end of the Second World War due to the exclusive technique and the passion of furriers, the time when Kastoria was established as the center of fur processing in Greece. The high quality of Kastorian fur soon became the trademark of the city, and experience high demand from ladies of the high society and wealthy businessmen from America and Europe. The fur production and trading of Kastoria played an important role in the local society, as it contributed to the strong construction projects of the era.


Since the international rules for the management and protection of the ecosystem have been established, the raw materials used in the fur industry of Kastoria solely derive from farms with strict operational stardards.


Secrets of the Kastorian art of fur have been inherited from generation to generation with respect to tradition, by maintaining its unique products and works of fine art in the international market. It is worth mentioning that the International Fur Exhibition of Kastoria takes place every year in the Fur Showroom of the city.

Bird Watching by the Lake


Photo courtesy of Evan Karageorgos 

Located on the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe, Greece is one of the most important shelters for endangered, native and migratory bird species. Lakes, lagoons and wetlands provide shelter to birds all over Greece. 449 bird species have been recorded in Greece while 196 areas have been characterized as important places for bird species.


Recognized as one of the most important regions for birdlife, the lake of Kastoria is a must for birdwatchers! A colony of Pygmy Cormorants can be spotted all around the lake while Great White Pelicans and Dalmatians Pelicans are common visitors in the breeding season. Other bird species include Black-winged Stilts, Yellow Wagtails, White Storks, Great Cormorants, Common Sandpiper, Grey Heron, European Starling, White Wagtail, and Eurasian Coot.


It is quite interesting that birds visiting the lake have become accustomed to human presence and can be spotted very close to the shore.


If you are a bird watching enthusiast, don’t miss this unique opportunity by the lake of Kastoria!

Kastoria’s Byzantine Past


Photo courtesy of hotelnostos.gr

Characterized as one of the most important cities of Western Macedonia, Kastoria has a long history through the passage of times as shown from the pre-historical signs of habitation of Dispilio.


From this area, the Macedonian kings started to join the rest of the small states that constituted the big Macedonian State with the capital of Eges, today known as Vergina. During the Roman times, Kastoria had the same history-[ath as the rest of Macedonia. Nonetheless, the city reached its peak in the Byzantine years, as it flourished and became an excellent artistic, commercial and religious center. Gregoire, the Belgian specialist in Byzantine art, had stated that the city could write the history of the Byzantine art by itself. The castles built from Justinian and Vassilios Voulgaroctonos are great examples of the interest of the Byzantine Emperors, due to Kastoria’s strategical position.


Indeed, the city has a strong Byzantine heritage, as seen from the Byzantine walls and the 75 Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches that distinguish for their unique architecture. Some of the most notable churches include the Monastery of Panagia Mavriotissa, the church of Agios Stefanos, one of the oldest ecclesiastical monuments in the Balkans, the church of Agioi Taxiarches as well as the church of Agioi Anargyri that distinguishes for its marvelous tiles decoration and its rich iconography (Some of the text is extract city in the pamphlet of the Municipality of Kastoria).

Ragoutsaria, an Authentic Carnival Custom

RafgoutsariaPhoto courtesy of Kastoras74

Kastoria is famous for one of the most festive carnivals in Greece!


Ragoutsaria is a revival of the ancient Dionysian rites celebrated from 6 to 8 of January. The aim of festival is, for the locals, to forget the troubles of the forthcoming year. The events of the carnival comprise the climax of celebrations of Kastoria. Locals and visitors participate in the festival by celebrating with dances, songs and plenty of wine, mainly at the Metropolis Street and Omonia Square. Several orchestras from the surrounding regions of Macedonia also accompany the events of Ragoutsaria.


The origin of the name derives from the Latin word “rogatores”, i.e. beggars, where masqueraded people visit the local homes in order to give their gifts so that they can chase away evil spirits. Ragoutsaria have their origin from the ancient Witer Dionysian rites, where there was a troupe of masquerades visiting houses to ask for treats. Those people were dressed with improvised masks, in order to make sure to remove evil spirits from the. During the Byzantine times, those ritual celebrations of ancient Greece came in contrast with the official Christian religion, and some of the feasts were lost in the mists of time. However, the majority of the celebrations were succeeded and withstanding time, and reaching the present day.


If you are visiting Kastoria at that time of the year, don’t miss the unique custom of Ragoutsaria!

Displio, a Neolithic Settlement

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Recognized as one of the most important milestones in human history, Displio is an authentic representation of the Neolithic lakeside settlement that was discovered from Professor Keramopoullos in 1932. People used to occupy this region eight thousands years ago, and Dispilio Tablet, the oldest known written text that predates the Sumerian writing system, attest the inhabitation of the region. The wooden table t remained at the bottom of the lake for 7,5 thousand of years, until it was discovered from the professor of prehistoric archaeology, George Hourmouziadis, in 1993.


It is a must to visit the Neolithic settlement of Dispilio and walk on the platform in order to admire replica huts and tools of that time!