History of Litochoro

The great teacher of the Greek people, Kosmas the Aetolian, also passed through Litochoro, Nikotsaras (a legendary  revolutionary) landed at Litohoro beach to meet a hero's death in 1807 in his attempt to arouse the region. The Litohorians took an active part in the War of Independence of 1821. Later.in 1878, it was the site of the first revolutionary government for the liberation of Macedonia; with Evangelos Korovangos as Its president, the uprising of Olympus began.During the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, two seamen from Litohoro, Nikolaos Vlachopoulos and Michail Kofos, led Admiral Nikolaos Votsis to the Thermaic Gulf where he torpedoed the Turkish flagship. During World War II the slopes and ravines of Olympus sheltered an important segment of the Resistance movement. Even the town's name is linked with myth, history and nature, one version of the legend has it that it was called Letohoro, the home of the lovely deity Leto, who used to bathe in the Enipea river. Other story says that it comes from the word "lit ½, which means "spare" or "frugal" (horos=space) or from the Byzantine word "liti", which means prayer. It may even be a corruption of Lithohoro, or stony place. In Macedonian maps of the 16th and 17th century, it is mentioned under its ancient Greek name, Lissas, from the Homeric "lis", which means rock or cliff, naked, smooth stone. At times it was written Lytohoro, meaning a free place, since Turkish rule was not imposed harshly here.

The modern junction for Litohoro on the Thessaloniki-Athens highway leaves the Thermaic Gulf behind, but never far away. At an altitude of 300 meters above sea level, five kilometers beyond, under the canopy of Olympus, Litohoro welcomes the visitor, combining the vitality of today with the serenity of yesterday, contemporary  services with vintage character. From the entrance to town, its houses with their red tiled roofs and litter-free streets give the -impression of culture and civilization. And a stroll inside brings one to many sights from other eras. The first is the old district of Litohoro, declared a landmark as early as 1923. Its medieval configuration with its intensely traditional atmosphere takes the visitor many years back into the past as he wanders in and out of its narrow, meandering alleys But what conveys the mood of the old days more than anything else are the houses. Litohoro's traditional houses have all the features of the celebrated Macedonian architecture. Furthermore, the local builders, stone masons and carpenters were always famous for their craftsmanship. And these houses more than demonstrate the stoneworkers' unique talents. One or two storeys high, they are distinguished by their arched windows, wooden courtyard doors protected by pitched roofs, and reception areas lined with windows. The hub around which Litohoro developed was for generations the church of Agios Demetrios, while the old business district, the bazaar, is particularly picturesque. It ends in a steep road to the main square. From here, too, lanes lead to the traditional district, which is dominated by Platanos (Plane-tree) Square, with the elementary school built in 1904 by wealthy seamen, where the town's valuable archives are stored. One's stroll continues as far as Horostasis, for years the place for meetings and festivities. Here under the shade of the age-old plane-tree people gathered to listen to Kosmas the Aetolian, whose memory is honored in the adjacent chapel. Afterwards one's steps wind into the spotless alleyways peppered with old carved stone fountains before one arrives at the "bairia", Litohoro's neighborhood squares. Among them is Tsintza's bairi, the sailors' square, whose neoclassical houses stand out.

In Litohoro, keeping up with tradition is a way of life, bound up with eloquent spontaneity and true folk spirit. Customs and religious ceremonies have their source in antiquity as well as in the Byzantine era. They are supplemented by the varied events organized by the Municipal Cultural Center throughout the year. Among the Litohoro's unique customs, the first every year on January 6, Epiphany, is the Byzantine rite of the sichna and the orange branches. Sichna are multi-colored banners attached to long poles and crowned with silver crosses. They represent the churches and chapels of the town's two parishes. On the eve of the holiday the banners are prepared in the chapels of St. George and the Virgin, On the day itself they are marched in procession towards the main churches of St. Nicholas and St. Demetrios. In each church, next to the icon of the Baptism of Christ, two orange branches are placed as a prayer for a fruitful year. After the mass everyone gathers in the main square and descends to a place on the Enipea river which the locals call the "Lakos" where the priest throws the Cross into the icy waters and young men compete for the glory of bringing it up. The lucky lad calls on all the households afterwards to give their occupants a chance to kiss the Cross in exchange for a tip. Next comes Carnival and the burning of the cedar logs, a custom harking back to ancient Dionysian revels. Preparations start in the bairia, the bigger neighborhoods. Young and old gather cedar logs and take turns guarding them every night so no one from the other neighborhoods will steal them. In the last week of Carnival, masqueraders tease passersby in the streets and visit the homes of friends and relatives. On the Friday before Clean Monday (the beginning of Lent) improvised floats parade down the main street. And on Sunday the cedar logs are finally burnt, while around the fires locals and guests party until dawn, singing the satirical songs of Litohoro. The festivities continue on Clean Monday at a spot called Xirokambi, with kite-flying, Lenten delicacies, traditional music and dance groups, hosted by the municipality. The customs of Holy Week and Easter are observed in unadulterated form. Women expert in preparing the funeral biers for the Good Friday service are busy getting them ready all during Lent, On the evening of the most solemn day in the Church calendar, as the congregations follow them on their prescribed course through town, they meet in the bazaar where there is an unofficial competition for the most beautifully decorated Epitaphios and the best choir. But customs are not all there is.

Litohoro's cultural life is also enriched by the loannis Sakellaridis Municipal Choir; the traditional and folk dance group; "Maskes", the municipal theatre; and the local band. There are-concerts every Christmas and Easter, as well as plays and concerts in summer. The Municipal Cultural Center holds regular and special artistic events, while the town's permanent  exhibition hall always welcomes art. Culture, however, also means athletics. In the Pyrros Dimas Municipal Stadium, there is a football field, a closed gym, a rock climbing wall, while Litohoro's park has basketball, volleyball and tennis courts as well as an area for horseback riding.

Beauty greets the visitor in every corner of Litohoro. Traditional beauty in town, natural beauty outside it. The perfection of nature that surrounds Litohoro, makes it an ideal place for holidays in all seasons. The changes in the scenery create settings where recreation finds its meaning. Greenery welcomes the visitor to Litohoro, in Katounia park at the entrance to town, to the right of the main street. In winter the snow-covered pines make the place enchanting. In summer they make it cool. Benches, sports installations and playgrounds provide leisure-time facilities for all ages. Here there is a monument to those who died in the Olympus uprising of 1878, with the busts of the leaders, Evangelos Korovangos, Bishop Kitrous Nikolaos Lousis and Captain Kosmas Doumbiotls. Here, too, is the town's new multi-purpose cultural center with conference facilities, an exhibition hall and a marine and folklore museum.But the countryside surrounding Litohoro also awaits the visitor.

Walking up past its last houses, at its highest point, one comes to the picturesque chapel of Agia Paraskevi with its fountain offering cool water before one continues on to the lovely woods of Agii Apostoli with its chapel and then on to another chapel dedicated to Prophet Elijah at the top of the hill. From here one has a panoramic view from Litohoro to the plain of Pieria and as far as Platamonas Castle. All three chapels have their feast days in summer and draw large crowds. One can drive as far as Prophet Elias. The most attractive recreation spot, however, is the forest of Ai Ylannis, a half hour's walk from Litohoro or a short drive on an asphalted road. Here the fir trees form pictures of exceptional natural beauty. From a clearing in the woods the stone church of Agios Ioannis Theologos rises surrounded by venerable towering firs. Next to it is an inn built to blend into its setting, while a rotisserie offers delicacies to all who link an excursion with good food. Yet another beauty sport is Myli on the edge of town. Old water-mills, broad-leaved  plane-trees and running water create this marvelous setting, where there is also a little tavern. One can reach Myli from the main square in Litohoro, keeping the Enipea river and its delightful valley on one's right. From Myli one can follow the path of    the water up the river's gorge. If one takes the well-marked path at the entrance to the gorge on the left of the river, a 7 kilometer (three and a half hour's) walk will bring one to the historic monastery of Agios Dionysios.

Everywhere on Olympus the nature-lover and hiker have much to see and admire, Everywhere natural beauty awaits one - on the slopes, peaks and ravines. Where nature has been most generous and varied with her gifts, however, is the gorge made by the Epinea river, one of the most stunning areas in Greece and in Europe. The gorge, ten kilometers long, begins at Prionia, the well-known source of the river, passes north of Litohoro and ends at the sea. In the background the valley forms images of unparalleled beauty with the waters of the Epinea flowing into little lagoons and later abruptly vanishing into underground  cesspools. Only their sound, ds they tumble down the rocks, is enough to make the myths come back to life. Here the lovely Leto bathed, before Hero drove her out, hurling stones at her from the gorge as far as the coast of the Thermaic Gulf. Here the maenads tore Orpheus to pieces, throwing his head into the chasm. The international mountaineers' path, E4, passes through the gorge. It starts in the Pyrenees on the Franco-Spanish border, crosses the mountains of Europe at their most spectacular points, and winds up in the Taygetos mountains of Laconia. Its final section can be found in Crete. After Litohoro, the path goes to the old monastery of Agios Dionysios (three and a half hours) and Prionia, sometimes following the river, sometimes cuffing through thick forest. For those who prefer the comfort of their cars, there is always the road, which leads to the monastery via a fork to the left, two kilometers before Prionia. Agios Dionysios Monastery is situated at an altitude of 850 m. Its earlier name was Agia Triada (Holy Trinity). It was founded in the early 16th century by Saint Dionysios, a prominent ecclesiastical figure and Hellenist, who lived like a hermit in a nearby cave known since as Agio Spilaio (Holy Cave). The monastery became widely known as a religious and national beacon throughout the Balkans, supporting the enslaved Greeks in every way. It acquired a rich library and workshop for the copying of manuscripts and painting of icons, but it was also an economic force in the region. During the Ottoman occupation it became a refuge and hideout of the Olympus freedom fighters. The Turks destroyed it in 1828, It was rebuilt, only to be damaged by fires. During the German occupation it again harbored champions of freedom, this time members of the Greek Resistance, in 1943 it suffered its last catastrophe when the Occupation armies turned it to ruins. Today what remains are the north and south wings, the tower guarding the entrance, the fortified perimeter and portions of the church, which is currently under restoration. The monks continue their age-old tradition of hospitality at the new monastery, at the metochi of Skala, north of Litohoro. There worth seeing are the iconscreen, the work of the famous hagiographer Photis Kontoglou, and the exhibition of relics. A room housing many valuable sacred vessels and vestments rescued from the old monastery will soon be open to the public.

Magnificent, imposing, observing for millennia the life down in the valleys and shores below, Olympus looms above Litohoro, joining its peaks with the heavens and leaving the myths to roll down its slopes, wander its woods and ravines, encountering history and spectacular natural beauty. How many impressions and emotions has the mere sight of this legendary mountain given birth to? The highest in Greece (2,917 m), marking the boundary between Macedonia and Thessaly, its peaks became the dwelling place of the twelve gods in the imagination of the ancient Greeks. Lower down, it was the home of the Muses, the patrons of the arts. But everywhere, at every turn. Nature displays her bountiful gifts. Olympus - which according to various etymologists may mean sky, high mountain, all white or shining, highest power - forms an extended solid mountainous mass, with several peaks higher than 2,000 meters (Mytikas 2,917 m., Stefani 2,909 m.,Skolio 2,911 m.. Agios Antonios 2,817 ., Profitisllias 2,803 m., Kaloyeros 2,701 m.). In 1938 it was declared a national forest owing to its I  geological formations and its flora and fauna, which include many rare species. In 1985 it was also declared an archaeological and historic landmark, while in 1981 UNESCO proclaimed it a listed part of the global biosphere.The mountain is divided into three zones according to its plant life. The first comprises the foothills up to an altitude of 800 m., where vines, olives and fruit trees are cultivated and where many deciduous trees grow, such as oaks, chestnuts and arbutus. The second, from 800 m. to 1,800 m., is forested with beech; firs and mountainous conifers lower and with cold-loving conifers higher up. And the third, from 1,800 m., is alpine with sparse mosses and rare species, twenty-three of which are indigenous to Olympus. A magnet for the nature lover and hiker, the mountain poses a constant challenge to the climber. Its highest peak, Mytikas, was conquered on 2 August 1913 by two Swiss, the photographer/publisher Fred Boissonas and the writer/art critic Daniel Baud-Bovy, with Christos Kakalos, a hunter from Litohoro, as guide. Kakkalos went on to become the mountain's first official guide. After that ascents continued and are still going on at an ever increasing rate, as hikers, scientists and alpinists search for what the shining sky-high mountain can give each of them. Escape from daily routine, knowledge of history and life, adventure, separately and yet all together, things that only ineffable nature can provide. The starting point for climbing Olympus is Litohoro, headquarters of the Greek Alpine Club (EOS), which is a member of the Greek Federation of Mountain and Rock Climbing and the Association of Greek Mountain limbers (SEC) of Litohoro. The municipal information office and the two associations possess all the necessary information for the Litohoro region and the ascent of Mt. Olympus and will provide help on other matters, such as the finding of guides or muleteers, for those who would like to use pack animals.From the mountain to the sea, from the splendors of Olympus to the magic of the Pieria coast. This is the combination that makes Litohoro a unique spot for a holiday.

The Thermaic Gulf offers its delights on shores that stretch for thirty kilometers with sandy beaches and the bluest of waters. Facilities for tourists provide a full range of accommodation and entertainment. The organized beaches have all the possibilities for water sports, while anglers have only to wade a bit into the open sea. At the picturesque taverns the fish is fresh caught and washed down by retsina from Olympus prepared as only the Litohorians know how from the nectar of the gods. Plaka beach with its camping sites and furnished apartments lends itself particularly to family holidays. Seaside bars attract the young in the evening. Gritsa, with its luxury hotels, campings and rooms for rent, is more cosmopolitan. Here the fishing village is a Mecca for seafood lovers.The beach most frequented by Litohorians is Stathmos, which takes its name from the old railroad station, which is still there. A refuge for summer holiday makers, it has a municipal beach with a restaurant and snack bar. At Barikos beach there are other camping sites. Its wonderful sand and shallow waters make it ideal for children.

 

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