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Rarely has the world seen such splendour and opulence as in the ages of the Byzantine Empire. Gorgeous palaces, churches decorated with splendid mosaics and strong fortresses bear witness to a medieval civilization, able to thrill visitors and scholars. Thessaloniki, the second capital of the empire after Constantinople, has inspired excellent pieces of art all around the region of Northern Greece. Our tour will be a journey in time which will reveal an unknown world of deep spirituality, political intrigue and outstanding art.
Although the Eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire, lasted for more than a thousand years, it remains largely unknown: yet, the Eastern Middle Ages have been a time of development of philosophy, law, theology, art and architecture. All these interesting aspects reflect largely on the Greek territories due on one hand to the proximity to Constantinople, the capital of the Empire, and on the other to the Greek basis of its culture. Thessaloniki has been the second capital of the empire and received rich financings by the imperial court: the city’s churches are nowadays recognized as heritage of mankind by the UNESCO for its outstanding historical and artistic importance! Mount Athos remains since the byzantine era an independent monastic state that conserves the architecture of the time, while cities like Veria and Kastoria are dotted with impressive churches decorated with some of the most beautiful frescoes. After the fall of Constantinople to the crusaders a new state flourished in the region of Epirus, that left its traces in Ioannina and Arta, while the Meteora remain one of the highlights of Greece both for the unique landscape and for the uniqueness of the monasteries built on top of the rocky pillars!
The ‘Byzantine Splendour’ is a historical tour, that mostly visits cities, churches and museums, yet it may involve some walking on rocky archaeological sites, under the sun.
Among the most impressive visits of the tour are:
Thessaloniki (Salonica) is the capital of the modern region of Macedonian, founded in 315 BC by King Kassander of Macedonia, brother-in-law of Alexander the Great. The city has known such glory in the Roman period, being under the tetrarchy of Diocletian, one of the four capitals of the Roman empire. Here, an important political, military and cultural center was formed that turned Thessaloniki into the second capital of the Byzantine Empire as well. We are visiting the Museum of Byzantine History of the city, the Rotunda, the Triumphal Arch and the palace of Caesar Galerius, the churches of Agia Sofia, Acheiropoiitos and Agios Demetrios, the patron Saint of the city and the Roman Forum. Accommodation in the hotel, dinner and overnight stay in Thessaloniki.
An important center 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, and then 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 in Ouranoupolis, lunch and time at leisure. Departure for Thessaloniki along the coast of the Chalkidiki. Arrival at Thessaloniki, time at leisure and overnight stay.
From Thessaloniki, following the Egnatian Way, modern highway running parallel to the ancient Roman road, we reach Veria. Important city since the times of the Macedonian kings, Veria became an important commercial crossroads, that has been one of the stops of St. Paul during his second missionary journey. There still exists the podium where the Apostle is said to have spoken to the local people. We also visit the Church of the Resurrection with beautiful frescoes by Georgios Kalliergis and the old Cathedral of the city recently restored. Another prominent center of Byzantine art and architecture is Kastoria, on the banks of the homonymous lake. Upon arrival, we visit the Koumbelidiki and Mavriotissa churches, built on the shoreline. Accommodation in the hotel, dinner and overnight stay in Kastoria.
After breakfast, we leave Kastoria towards the Prespa lakes. Here, in locations that can only be reached by boat, in the caves of the rocks appear some hermitages, unusual for their place as for the decoration. We enjoy the boat cruise on the lake to reach these frescoed eagle-nests! On the small island of Agios Achilios we visit the ruins of the homonymous church, the center of Bulgarian spirituality, while in Agios Germanos we visit the church of the 8th century, decorated with 18th century frescoes. After the visits around the lake, we take the road to Ioannina. Upon arrival, we visit the ‘Ic Kale’: the ‘inner castle’ with ottoman monuments and a panoramic view over the Pamvotis lake. Accommodation in the hotel, dinner and overnight stay in Ioannina.
After the fall of Constantinople under the crusaders, the Despotate of Epirus was formed in the homonymous region, center of great political and spiritual power and of contacts with the West. Rich monasteries appeared in the region thanks to the financing of the emperors and the best artists offered their works to decorate them. In Ioannina, we visit the Byzantine Museum and the Filanthropinon monastery, built on an island in the middle of the Pamvotis lake, where we will admire frescoes depicting the ancient philosophers together with the Christian saints! Afternoon trip to Arta, former capital of the Despotate of Epirus, where we are visiting the church of Parigoritisa, imperial chapel, and the bridge of Arta, famous by the folktales. Return to Ioannina, dinner and overnight stay in Ioannina.
Among the most famous and impressive sites of Greece in terms of Byzantine art is the Meteora: in the heart of the region of Thessaly, rises a complex of monasteries nested upon rocks that resemble to columns. Their interior is decorated with breathtaking frescoes and mosaics. Upon arrival at Kalambaka we visit two monasteries of the Meteora, while we stop to admire the unique landscape. An interesting, yet relatively unknown byzantine monument is the Cathedral of Kalambaka, ancient Stagoi, that we are visiting after the Meteora. Accommodation in the hotel, dinner and overnight stay in Kalambaka.
After breakfast, we leave Kalambaka for Thessaloniki. Along the way, we admire the imposing Mount Olympus, the mythical residence of the ancient gods. Arrival at the airport of Thessaloniki and end of services.