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In ancient times, people used to seek some comfort in the heart of Winter, by celebrating Dionysus, the god of the vine, wine and revelry. That’s how “the wintertime Dionysia” first started. Nowadays this ancient custom survives in many places around Greece. One of its most spectacular manifestations is the ‘Argoutsaria’, in the village of Kleisoura, near the city of Kastoria, taking place on New Year’s Day. The word ‘Argoutsaria’ derives from ancient ‘rogatores’, which means beggars! Ancient masked celebrators turned themselves into beggars in Christian times, to avoid persecution by the Christian Church and, later, by the Ottoman State, incorporating along the way traditions deriving from Greek resistance against the Ottomans. The custom was transmitted over generations and so it came down to the present as a living testimony of ancient traditions and rituals. As the event of the ‘Argoutsaria’ takes place on the New Year’s Day, you have the opportunity to enjoy it in a very special way, in a region of great natural beauty, certain to leave strong memories!
The ‘Argoutsaria’ is a special folk tour that takes place around New Year’s Day! You can enjoy a unique experience by attending an extraordinary folk event with masks, traditional costumes, music and dance in a region of outstanding natural beauty. Along the visit to the museums, archaeological sites and locations of the events, you can savour the delicious local cuisine and the Xinomavro wine. Among the highlights of the tour are:
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 before we leave Thessaloniki towards Kastoria. Upon arrival at Kastoria, transfer to the hotel, accommodation, dinner and overnight stay in Kastoria.
After breakfast departure from the hotel at Kastoria. The region of Western Macedonia, was the ancient Upper Macedonia, cradle of the first Macedonian kingdoms. We approach this remote antiquity by visiting the archaeological museum of Aiani. The museum is small, yet very well organised and full of interesting findings from the region. From Aiani we visit Siatista, once one of the most important commercial cities between Greece, midland Balkans and Central Europe. The old mansions of the rich families of merchants bear witness to the outstanding development of the city. Returning to Kastoria we are visiting the picturesque city centre, called Doltso, and some of the most important byzantine churches of Kastoria, like the Koumbelidiki and the Mavriotissa. After the visits, time at leisure, return to the hotel, dinner and overnight stay in Kastoria.
It is the New Year’s Day and after breakfast we are directed towards the mountains around Kastoria, where we reach the village of Kleisoura. A special event takes place here: it is the Argoutsaria. ‘Argoutsaria’ is used for ‘masked men’ in the local dialect, but it most probably comes from latin ‘rogatores’, beggars. The event takes place under the ottoman dominion of the region and it represents the opposition of the locals to the ottoman governor and the consequent wedding between two young people. Wedding is used in popular imagination as a symbol of fertility and wish for a good year. After attending the happening, return to Kastoria, time at leisure to participate to the celebrations, return to the hotel, dinner and overnight stay in Kastoria.
Breakfast and departure from Kastoria. First, we head north to reach the Prespa lakes. We are visiting the small church of Hagios Germanos and, if the weather conditions allow, we take a boat cruise on the lake to reach the hermitages, carved and decorated on the rocks around the lake, in locations that cannot be reached on foot. We are also visiting the small island of Hagios Achillios with the ruins of the homonymous curch, that once was the centre of Bulgarian spirituality. From Prespa we reach Ioannina, capital of the region Epirus on the shore of the Pamvotis lake. Time at leisure at Ioannina, transfer to the hotel, accommodation, dinner and overnight stay in Ioannina.
Ioannina is the capital of the region of Epirus and a city with long history, especially in the byzantine and the ottoman times. The picturesque city centre is still found inside the city walls, while the old citadel, the Ic kale marks the inner part of the city. This used to be the residence of the ottoman governor, Ali Pasha from Tepeleni, who became so powerful as to threaten the Sultan himself, who sent to execute Ali. Unfortunately, few thing remain since that time, but the castle offers a magnificent view over the Pamvotis lake. We are also visiting the silver museum in the castle, as silversmith was a traditional business for the locals, who produced amazing works of art. After the castle, we are visiting the Filanthropinon monastery on the island of lake Pamvotis. Here, the ancient philosophers are represented as Christian saints! At the end of the visits, time at leisure, return to the hotel, dinner and overnight stay in Ioannina.
We leave Ioannina to return to Thessaloniki. Along the way, we stop to visit Meliki, in the middle of the Macedonian plain. Meliki is homeland of the scholar Giorgis Melikis, who studied Greek popular culture and created the Mask museum. Through the collections of the museum, we are discovering the various traditions that exist throughout the region and connect the popular happenings, celebrations and events to the ancient Dionysian cult. After the visit, arrival to Thessaloniki, accommodation in the hotel, time at leisure, dinner and overnight stay in Thessaloniki.
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.