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One of the most impressive popular events came in Greece brought by the refugees from Northern Thrace (now part of Bulgaria) upon the exchange of populations imposed in 1922. The celebration takes place for the name day of Saint Constantine, around the 21st of May. The participants gather in the house of the leader of the celebration and pray to the icons of Saints Constantine and Helen. Suddenly they feel ‘called’ by the Saint, they become possessed and enter in trance. They start a crazy dance, under a rhythmic music. The dancers end dancing on hot coals! During the tour, we will try to explore the folkloric treasures of the region in order to understand the importance, the origin and the meaning of these events!
The ‘Anastenaria’ is one of the most interesting events one can attend in Greece, not only for the people dancing on the hot coals, but for the general preparation and celebration that takes place. Everything looks like a journey back in time to discover the simple faith of peasants. Music, dance, everything seems to come from another era. Along the tour, we are visiting places and museums that will help us decode the language of popular religious events and capture the spirit of the region.
Upon arrival at Thessaloniki, depending on flights schedule, we take a short tour through the second biggest city of Greece. Thessaloniki was founded in 315 b.C. by king Cassander of Macedonia, brother-in-law of Alexander the Great and reached the peak of its glory in the ancient times under the Romans. Under emperor Diocletian it became one of the four capitals of the Roman empire. Thessaloniki has been second capital of both the byzantine and the ottoman empires and a very important city for the Sefardi Jews, who arrived here from Spain in 1492.
Along the tour, we are visiting the complex of Caesar Galerius’ imperial palace with the Rotonda and Galerius’ Arch. Among the byzantine churches of Thessaloniki, all of them recognised as heritage of mankind by the UNESCO, we are visiting Hagios Demetrios, the church of the patron saint of Thessaloniki. We also visit the Folklife and Ethnological museum of Thessaloniki, where we can experience the wealth of the local popular culture. At the end of the visits, transfer to the hotel, accommodation, dinner and overnight stay in Thessaloniki.
After breakfast departure from Thessaloniki we head for Naoussa, on the foothills of Mount Vermion. Since the ancient times Mieza, as the city was called, was an important settlement. Here, the philosopher Aristotle educated the young Alexander, to become the Great. In the ottoman times the local textile industry developed greatly, largely due to the use of the water of Arapitsa river. The relationship of the locals with the ottomans was not peaceful, which gave birth to legends and popular beliefs. The various events celebrated by the locals reflect these beliefs. In Naoussa we are visiting a local wine maker to taste the famous local Xinomavro wine, one of the trademarks of Naoussa. We are also visiting the Boules folk association, where we will discover the folkloric wealth of the region.
From Naoussa we are visiting Vergina, ancient Aigai, first capital and later sacred city of the Macedonian kingdom and royal necropolis. King Philip II was killed here in 336 b.C. An impressive tumulus has been excavated here and an impressive tomb, full of astonishing offerings were found inside. The Great Tumulus, tomb of king Philip II is now one of the most impressive museums to visit in Greece.
After the visits, return to Thessaloniki, dinner and overnight stay.
After breakfast, we leave Thessaloniki towards Mount Olympus. On the foothills of the country’s highest mountain and mythical residence of the twelve gods lies the archaeological site of Dion. Dion has been not just an important centre of worship, but also an important political centre. Based on religious faith, the Macedonians could prove their superiority to the rest of the Greeks. In fact, Dion was a city of pilgrimage, celebrations and games, where everyone would recognise the majesty of the local dynasty. From Dion, we proceed to Meliki, in the middle of the Macedonian plain.
Meliki is one of the villages occupied by the refugees who arrived after 1922 from Asia Minor and North-Eastern Thrace. The refugees brought with them their way of life, their cultivations, their beliefs and religious cult. Among the most interesting aspect of these beliefs is a curious way of celebrating Saints Constantine and Helen: by falling into trance they start a crazy dance that leads them to walk on hot coal! We will follow the event from the preparation to the climax. After the event ends, dinner in a local taver, return to Thessaloniki and overnight stay.
An important centre of spirituality and art was forming from the 9th century onwards on the Athos peninsula, called the Sacred Mountain. Imperial benefits and financing encouraged the development of this state reserved just for the monks. Today access is forbidden to women, while for pilgrims to visit the state, a special authorization is required.
From Thessaloniki, we reach Ouranoupolis, a small port in the Chalkidiki region. Here, we embark on a cruise along the western coast of the Athos peninsula, to enjoy the stunning views of the impressive monasteries from the sea. The monasteries of Athos conserve their medieval architectural forms that makes them appear like castles. Return to Ouranoupolis, lunch and time at leisure. Departure for Thessaloniki along the coast of the Chalkidiki. Arrival at Thessaloniki, time at leisure and overnight stay.
Breakfast and departure from the hotel. Depending on the schedule of the flights, we are visiting the museum of byzantine culture of Thessaloniki. Departure towards the international airport of Thessaloniki, in good advance for check-in. Arrival to the airport and end of services.