On this second journey, we shall follow the road linking Thessaloniki to the peninsula of Sithonia. After Nea Moudania, a detour in the main road brings us to Aghios Mamas, which is known for its village fête, celebrated in early September, while two kilometers further along another fork in the road leads to Nea Olynthos. The present-day settlement is a development of the Byzantine village of Myriophyton, where refugees from Eastern Thrace and Asia Minor settled after 1922.
East of Nea Olynthos ( 800 m ) is to be found the ruins of ancient Olynthos, the best preserved, in its entirety, Greek city of Classical times. Excavations have uncovered an area extending over two hills joined by a ridge, to the east of the ancient river Sandanus and at a distance of about 4 kilometers from the coast, which is washed by the waters of the Gulf of Cassandra. Here, southeast of Olynthos was established in 421 BC its harbor, the city of Mekyberna.
The city’s name, meaning “wild fig tree”, bespeaks its pre-Hellenic origin. However, legend has it that its founder was Olynthos, believed to have been the son of Heracles and Volve, while, according to another version of this legend, he was the son of the king of Thrace, Strymon. Archaeological research confirms that the region has been inhabited since the late Neolithic period. The Neolithic settlement that has been excavated dates from 3000 BC.
Olynthos is first mentioned by Herodotus and Thucydides as the city in which the Bottieans, driven out of their ancestral homes by the Macedonians came to settle in 650 BC. In 479 BC, after a siege, it was taken by Artabazus.
Its inhabitants were enslaved and the city handed over to Critobulus from Torone, who annexed it to the Chalkidean colonies. From 454 until 432 BC it was a member of the Athenian League, to which it paid an annual sum of two talents. In 432 BC, at the instigation of Perdiccas II, the king of Macedon, Olynthos, and other coastal cities of Chalkidiki defected from the Athenian League. Some of the inhabitants of these cities settled in Olynthos. When the Chalkidean Confederacy was founded, Olynthos, which led the Confederacy, became the most powerful city in Chalkidiki.
In the early 4th century a total of 32 Chalkidean cities were members of the Confederacy. Its coins, on which the head of Apollo was stamped on the obverse and a lyre or tripod on the reverse, circulated widely. In 389 BC the Confederacy allied with Amyntas III and, as we have already seen, taking advantage of the weakness of the Macedonians, who were having problems with their neighbors, took Pella and the area around it. In 382 BC the Spartans, responding to the request of the inhabitants of Acanthus and of Apollonia, who were pressed to join the Confederacy, besieged Olynthos, and three years later, in 379 BC, its starving inhabitants were obliged to surrender. A few years later, after the fall of Sparta, the Confederacy was reformed and for the next twenty years remained powerful.
Olynthos once again headed the Confederacy and was numbered among the most powerful Greek cities. In 356 B.C., after the death of the king of Macedon Perdiccas III ( 360 BC ), Philip II, the new king who had risen to the throne, allied with the Confederacy and the Olynthians, hoping thus to solve the problems faced by the Macedonian kingdom. The year 349/348 BC marks the beginning of the rift between Philip, and Olynthos, and the Chalkidikie Confederacy. The Olynthus began to look upon Philip with suspicion and, despite his interdiction, developed relations with the Athenians.
Moreover, they offered asylum to his half-brothers and pretenders to the throne of Macedon, Arrhidaeus, and Menelaus. In 349 BC, when the inhabitants of Olynthos, refused to surrender his brothers to him, Philip used this as an excuse to move against the cities of the Confederacy. Taking one Chalkidean city after another – he is said to have destroyed a total of 32 cities, among them Torone and Mekyberna – Philip finally turned on Olynthos as well. The Olynthians called for help to the Athenians and sent embassies to Philip suing for peace. Philip’s answer, however, was that it was a case “either of them no longer inhabiting Olynthos or him no longer inhabiting Macedonia.” Thus, in 348 BC, the city was conquered by Philip, its inhabitants killed or sold as slaves, their property handed over to Macedonians, while Arrhidaeus and Menelaus were taken to Pella where they were put to death. Olynthos was razed to the ground; according to the orator Demosthenes, the destruction it suffered was so great that a passer-by would not have ever been able to tell that thee had ever been a city on that spot.
Excavations in the area of Olynthos were begun in 1928., by the American School of Archaeology under the direction of D.M. Robinson. This first phase of research was completed in four periods, lasting until 1938., ( 1928,1931,1934 and 1938 ). In 1992., the Greek Archaeological Service began restoration work on the north hill.
The finds of the first excavations were identified with the city of ancient Olynthos thanks to an inscription found in 1928 recording the peace treaty of 356 BC between the Olynthians and the king of Macedon Philip II.
On the southernmost end of the south hill have been found the ruins of the prehistoric settlement of the late Neolithic period. There also survive ruins of a 12th century Byzantine tower, which belonged to a dependency of the Athonite monastery of Kastamonitou.
The south hill was also the site of the city of Archaic times, which was destroyed in 479 BC by the Persians. It had developed there in a haphazard way, and its agora and prytaneion, as well as shops and houses, have been brought to light. After 479 BC the site was once again inhabited, as it continued to be in the 4th century BC. With the synoikism ( the joining together of several settlements ) of Olynthos in 432 BC and the resulting increase in its population, the town spilled out over the flat north hill, where it was laid out according to the Hippodamian town planning system. It was fortified with a brick enclosure, whose western wall, because of the security offered by the sheer rock face and by the river Sandanus, was less thick ( measuring only 0.80 m ) than the rest of the walls. It also served as the outside wall of the houses on the edge of the western side of the settlement. To the north and the east, the walls
measured 3.25 m in width. There are believed to have been gated on all four sides, while towers were found all along the perimeter of the enclosing wall.
At its northern end, the new town adjoined the old one. Between them, like a large square, lay the agora. Through the agora passed the westernmost avenue in the settlement, known as Avenue A, which, starting from the old town, led outside it through the eastern gate after it had crossed the entire western side of the new town lengthwise. Olynthos had a complete water supply and drainage system. On Avenue A there were clay pipes that brought water to the city from the north, from a spring some 15 kilometers away.
Many of the roads were paved to facilitate both the drainage of the waters and the passage of chariots and carts. Some of the roads were lined with higher pavements for pedestrians and along with others there appear to have been stalled where street vendors could display their produce.
In the western section of the new town have been found ruins of public buildings and a covered fountain. West of the settlement has come to light two cemeteries, while east of it lies the third one. In these, approximately 600 tombs have been excavated.
The new city consisted of blocks of buildings, measuring 86 x 36 meters and demarcated by straight avenues 5-7 meters wide, intersected by slightly narrower side streets of 5 meters in width. Each block consisted of two rows of houses back to back ( five houses looking onto one street and five onto the other ). The two rows of houses were separated by a common narrow passage, which was paved, and provided the back rooms with light. Here, too, the rainwater could run off the roofs.
The houses of Olynthos were all very much alike. Most were built around 432 BC. Of these more than one hundred have been uncovered. They belong to a type of house that was square, with a paved interior courtyard, on the north side of which was a covered portico with a Doric colonnade, which lent this type of house its distinguishing characteristic. Often the portico took up the entire width of the house, while in other cases there was also a small room on either end. A good many rooms were provided for all the family’s needs. The ground floor consisted of 8 to 13 rooms which looked out onto the courtyard, where there was a well, and in the center of which stood an altar. Near the entrance and on the side of the street were the “men’s quarters”, in which banquets, from which the women were excluded, were held.
The walls of this apartment were usually covered in red-colored plaster and mosaics adorned the floor. Along the walls ran a narrow platform where were placed seven couches for the guests. In the north wing of the house, which looked out onto the courtyard, were the “living rooms” where guests were received and everyday life went on. Also on the ground floor was the Oikos ( the ancient Greek equivalent of a household, house, or family ), that is the dining room with the hearth, next to it the cooking area with a hole in the roof which served as a chimney, and the bath with a clay drainage pipe, a clay basin, and a tub, which very much resembled those we use today. The north wing also had an upper level with fewer rooms, connected to the ground floor by a staircase. Here was the bedroom of the master and mistress of the house, the women’s quarters, the guest room, and the room for the household slaves. On the ground floor also were the storerooms for oil, wine, and other provisions, workshops with looms, and oil and wine presses. Although the shops were included in the general space of the house, they were completely independent and gave onto the street.
Southeast of the new settlement and beyond the walls, excavations have brought to light a double-storied house which has been named the “Villa of Good Fortune”. In this area, which has hardly begun to be excavated, archaeologists believe that there existed a suburb of the city, with the homes of wealthy citizens. The “Villa of Good Fortune” had eight rooms on the ground floor around a courtyard with a colonnade, in the center of which stood the altar, while a stairway led to the upper floor. The men’s quarters consisted of an anteroom and the men’s room proper, and the floors of both rooms were adorned with mosaics.
The mosaics of Olynthos are the oldest found in Greece. They have been dated to the late 5th century and have been made of natural pebbles. The figures have been rendered with lighter tones on a dark background. Some of the mosaics depict mythological themes – maenads and Dionysus on a chariot drawn by panthers, Thetis with the Nereids, Achilles, Bellerophon slaying the Chimaera, etc., while others display decorative motifs.
Before we leave ancient Olynthos, we may wish to visit, east of the archaeological site, the Byzantine church of St. Nicholas, built in the 10th or 11th century. Its floor is decorated with mosaics and its walls with frescoes.
Four kilometers north of Olynthos, at the site known as “Mariana”, we shall see the ruins of a tower and near it all that remains of an early-Christian basilica dedicated to St.Nicholas. Here once stood a Byzantine village known as Mariana. In the late 14th century the region was ceded to the Athonite monastery of Docheiariou. The tower, of which part of the inside stairway has survived, was probably built at that time.
Continuing our travels through Chalkidike we return to the main road, which will bring us to Sithonia. After Kalyves Polygyrou a branch in the road turns away from the coast and leads inland, towards the north. Fourteen kilometers further on it comes to the capital of the prefecture, Polygyros, which we shall visit on our third itinerary.
From Polygyros the road continues northwards and meets the main road which traverses the hinterland of Chalkidiki, linking Thessalonike to Stratoni, which lies on the shores of the Gulf of Ierissos.
Our next stop is the inland village of Gerakini and cosmopolitan Skala Gerakinis, one of the main tourist resorts of Chalkidiki. Gerakini’s first inhabitants were the workmen in the magnesite mines north of the village. The lovely beach of Skala with its modern hotels and restaurants constitutes a pole of attraction for the visitors to the region.
After Gerakini we meet on our right Paralia Trikorfou Ormylias and Psakoudia. To our left, the road brings us to inland Ormylia. Here, in antiquity, had stood the flourishing city of Sermyle, one of the 32 cities destroyed in 348 BC by Philip II.
South of Ormylia ( 2.5 km ), in a verdant setting, stands the nunnery of the Annunciation, which depends administratively on the Athonite monastery of Simonos Petra. Outside the monastery enceinte, we notice the church, which was built in the mid 19th century. This monastery once belonged to the dependency of the Annunciation, which, from the late 13th century on, was the property of the monastery of Vatopedi on Mt. Athos. The buildings of the dependency were destroyed by the uprisings of 1821., and 1854., but were rebuilt in 1904 and constitute a characteristic example of Athonite architecture. The present-day nunnery began to operate in 1974 when the group of edifices was bought by the Monastery of Simonos Petra.
As we drive along, the greenery becomes even more dense and luxuriant, consisting of tall pines alternating with olive groves and vineyards.
We are next welcomed by Nikete, which was built after 1830., and Paralia Nikete on the coast. A few of its houses with their characteristic chimneys, still retain some Macedonian architectural elements. The surrounding area was the site of several prehistoric settlements. In Classical times, south of Nikete stood the city of Galepsos. In 432 BC some of its inhabitants left the city for Olynthos. In Hellenistic times, northwest of Galepsos grew another settlement, which was abandoned in the 6th century AD when it was sacked by raiders. In 1300 the area belonged to Athonite monasteries, except for the village of Psallida, which, however, was destroyed in 1308., by Catalans who were devastating Chalkidiki.
In the early 14th century, farmers from the dependency of the Xenophontos Monastery of Mt. Athos, known as Neakitou, settled here. Little by little the inhabitants of the dependency increased, so that in the 15th century the small settlement became an independent village, which grew into present-day Nikete. In 1821., the place was sacked by the Turks but by 1827., its inhabitants had returned and had begun to rebuild it. Among the old edifices in the village, the most important is the church of St. Niketas ( 1867. ) and the school ( 1890.-1918 ). Worth visiting, too, are the ruins of the 16th-century funerary church of Nikete, whose frescoes date from the late 16th-early 17th century.
Three kilometers south of the village stands the three-aisled early-Christian basilicas of St. George ( 5th C ), which was destroyed in the 6th century. On the site of the central nave, today stands the little church of St. George, while nearby are to be found two underground vaulted graves of early Christian times.
As we continue our journey and leave behind us the main body of Chalkidiki, we can just make out in the distance the dark outlines of the mountains of Sithonia.
Sithonia, the middle finger of Chalkidiki, rises from the blue waters attired in its lovely garment of green. It is more mountainous than Cassandra and, although the development of tourism has changed it to some extent, it remains relatively untouched. Here too we find shady bays, golden sands, small coves snuggling between rocks clad in the ubiquitous pine, or endless beaches inviting us to laze in the sun; here, we shall hear tales of lost cities that were once famous and prosperous.
We shall begin our tour of Sithonia by following the main road along the western shores, washed by the waters of the Toronaean Gulf. We are never far from beautiful beaches with crystal-clear turquoise waters and fine sand, following each other Like golden links in a chain – Aghios Ioannis ( 4 km south of Nikete ), Kalogria ( 6 km ), Spathies ( 7 km ), Elia ( 9 km ). As we drive along, we see the pines growing right along the shore, while here and their modern hotels emerge from among the greenery.
About 9 km south of Nikete we shall see the ruins of the three-aisled early Christian basilicas of Elia ( 5th century ), adorned with frescoes and a mosaic floor in the central nave. In the narthex ( distinct area at the western entrance of some early Christian churches, separated off by a railing ) were found five graves.
Ten kilometers further south, in a luxuriantly verdant setting, stands the chapel of the Apostle Paul, built at the end of the 19th century on the site of an older church.
Beside is has been preserved a fountain built-in 1713. Fifteen kilometers southeast of Nikete, at Tripotamos, lie the 19th-century buildings of the dependency of the Kastamonitou monastery.
Before coming into Neos Marmaras we will find a branch in the road that will lead us towards the interior of the peninsula.
Here, on the wooded slopes of Mt. Itamos is perched the attractive village of Parthenionas, which was once a dependency of the Kastamonitou monastery.
We come to Neos Marmaras, with its long golden beach and eucalyptus trees, and its picturesque little harbor lined with seafood tavernas. Opposite we can see the Porto Carras hotel complex. As is recorded in a document of Mt. Athos, the area in the 14th century was a dependency of the Athonite monastery of Grigoriou. In 1922., refugees from Asia Minor founded the present-day settlement, and they were joined, in 1970., by the inhabitants of Parthenionas.
At the eastern end of the settlement have been preserved the 19th-century buildings of the dependency of the Grigoriou Monastery, among them that of the church of the Dormition of the Virgin, which was built in 1865.
Two kilometers southeast of Neos Marmaras, in a particularly beautiful pine-clad setting, beside a long sandy beach, rises the modern and luxurious hotel complex of Porto Carras, which comprises three hotels and a marina. On its vast lands are cultivated vines, citrus, olive, almond, and pistachio trees. Its vineyards produce the well-known Carras wines. The guests here can indulge in water sports, ride, play golf and tennis, while the Porto Carras yacht club organizes international boat races ( Finn Gold Cup, Laser, etc. ). There is also a casino in operation at the Sithonia Beach Hotel.
We continue to drive among the pine groves towards the southern end of Sithonia. On our right, a road bends and curves its way towards the coast. The scenery is enchanting. The small beach is protected by three verdant islets, while opposite we can just see the outline of Cassandra.
Our next stop is Torone, a village with a long golden beach. On the left of the beach can be seen the cape of Lekythos with the ruins of its castle. To the south of the village flourished in antiquity the important city of Torone. It was founded by Chalkideans in the 8th century in a region that had been inhabited since 3000 BC. Torone had two harbors: the main one, in the bay north of the cape of Lekythos, in the Toronean Gulf, and another, the ancillary one, situated in the closed bay of Porto Koufo – the Kofos Limen, as Thucydides calls it. During the Persian, Wars Torone contributed a contingent of ships and men to the Persians, but after the wars, it joined the Athenian League. In the eighth year of the Peloponnesian Wars ( 423 BC ) the Spartan general Brasidas mounted an expedition against the city, which was held by the Athenians at the time, and took it. The Athenians and their supporters among the Toroneans took refuge in the fortress of Lekythos, set on the promontory, surrounded by the sea on three sides and cut off from the rest of the land by a narrow channel that was also fortified. When the fortress also finally fell into his hands, Brasidas, attributing his victory to the help of the goddess Athena as there was a temple of the goddess in Lekythos, demolished the fortress and all the buildings inside its enceinte and dedicated the entire area to Athena.
The next year ( 422 BC ), Torone was once again recovered by the Athenians. In 348 BC it was taken by Philip II and in 168 BC came under the domination of Rome. Despite its diminished importance, it appears to have continued to be inhabited up to the 15th century. From the writings of Thucydides, we learn that the city – near which ( at a distance of 3 stadia, that is 725 meters ) also stood a temple dedicated to the Dioscuri – was built on a hill and surrounded by a strong wall. Of the city’s fortifications, surviving today is a large round tower at the site known as Anemomylos, and sections of the citadel wall on the summit of the 280 meters-high “Vigla” hill, from which the view is magnificent. The walls of the fortress of Lekythos, where stood the second citadel of the ancient city, must have been repaired in Roman and early Christian times, while on the rocky headland have been preserved the ruins of the castle of Byzantine times.
Near the road which leads from Torone to Porto Koufo have been excavated three early-Christian churches. One of these is the church of St. Athanasius, which probably dates from the 5th century and is a three-aisled church with marble decorations and a mosaic floor in the central nave. It appears to have been destroyed by fire in the 6th century, after which, in the late Byzantine period, another church – also destroyed at a later date – was built on the site of the central nave.
After Porto Koufo – today a picturesque place, with a golden beach and the largest and safest natural harbor of Chalkidiki – the road leaves the western shores of Sithonia and, traversing it lengthwise at its southern end, leads us to the eastern shores of the peninsula, which are washed by the waters of the Singitic Gulf.
Before we make our next stop at Sykia, it is worth taking a short break at Kalamitsi and its three enchanting beaches with their golden-white sand and emerald waters.
Sykia is the largest village of Sithonia and one of the older villages of Chalkidiki. In the 14th century, it appears in Athonite documents under the name of “Longos”. Its present name must be owed to a large fig tree ( “Syria” ) which grew outside the settlement. Most of the villagers once served in the gendarmerie of Mount Athos during the period of Ottoman rule, and were known as “ser-darides”. Also, being good sailors, they were involved in piracy. In 1821 they took an active part in the uprising in this region, which is why, after the rebellion had been put down, the Turks set fire to the village, which was temporarily abandoned by its inhabitants. 1854., revolution under the leadership of Tsamis Karatasos did not leave the Sykiots unmoved, nor did later the Macedonian struggle, in which the inhabitants of Sykia played an active part.
Today, during our visit to the village, we shall stroll through the narrow streets and note some of the mid-19th-century houses, the school, built around 1870, and the church of St. Athanasius with its wood-carved icon stands ( 1703. ) and wooden roof. The church was first built in 1819., and then burnt down twice, in 1821., and in 1854. It acquired its present form in 1861.
On the sheer craggy rock of Koukos, which rises to the west of the village and whose summit is crowned by the ruins of a castle, have been excavated a settlement and a cemetery of the early Iron Age. East of Sykia ( approximately 2.5 km ) extends the endless beach of the bay of Sykia, washed by the waters of the Singitic Bay. Here have been preserved two mid-19th-century windmills.
Ten kilometers northeast of Sykia we find the lovely village of Sarte and its sandy beach and tall poplars, and the granite rocks which look as though they had been carved by a sculptor’s hand.
This is another of the many villages built after 1922 by refugees from the Propontis on the site of a dependency of the Xeropotamou Monastery of Mt. Athos. Among these immigrants was one “Barba”-Zafiris, a self-taught painter and sculptor, who died in 1974. His works, inspired by popular tradition and Greek history and mythology, adorn the place that he had made his second home. In antiquity, in the area of Sarte stood a city of the same name, which joined the Athenian League after the Persian Wars.
Before we leave Sarte, it is worth tasting the fresh fish – the “Gouna”, for instance – of the Singitic bay, in one of the seafood tavernas, and the local sweet-scented red wine or the “souma”, a drink made of distilled pomegranate juice and spices.
About 500 meters west of the village are preserved the buildings of the dependency of the Xeropotamou Monastery, which, except for the church, which was built in 1867., were built in 1900.
As we drive towards Vourvourou – the next settlement we shall encounter, on the eastern shores of Sithonia – on our right appear, one after the other, some of the superb beaches of the peninsula -Platanitsi, with the peak of Athos opposite, Kavourotrypes with its light-blue waters, and lovely Armenistis.
We now come to pine-clad Vourvourou with its beautiful beaches. Nine little islands opposite surround the larger one of Diaporo, forming a well-sheltered bay that resembles a lake. In the 10th century AD the monastery of the Hiero-mnemons, which stood in Vourvourou, was given as a dependency, together with the surrounding area, then known as the “land of the Vourvouri”, to the Xenophontos Monastery of Mt. Athos. Later, in the 16th century, it passed into the hands of the inhabitants of the village of Aghios Nikolaos, and they, in turn, sold it to the Monastery of Simonos Petra.
In the mid 19th century it was claimed by the Russian monks of Mt. Athos, but these were driven out by the inhabitants of the village of Aghios Nikolaos.
On the peninsula to the north of Vourvourou is preserved a small part of the ancient wall, which was built of undressed stones without any bonding between them, and measured over two meters in width. We do not know when this wall was built but it gave the area its name of “Mega Teichos” or “Great Wall”. Near Vourvourou are to be found the dependencies of the Athonite monasteries of Koutloumousiou and Zographou with edifices of the 19th century.
We complete our tour of Sithonia with the Bay of Panaghia, a seaside settlement with a small sandy beach. It is the seaport of an older inland village of Aghios Nikolaos which lies a little further north in a verdant setting. Aghios Nikolaos must have been the development of the “Fourneia” settlement, which is mentioned in Athonite documents of 1300. It was destroyed by the Turks in 1821., as were other villages of Chalkidiki. Today we may see many houses that were built in the 19th century and constitute examples of the vernacular architecture of the region.
About 2.5 kilometers southeast of Aghios Nikolaos, on a small rocky headland, is the presumed site of the ancient city of Singos, believed to have been founded in the late 8th century BC by Chalkidiki. It was obliged to contribute a contingent of men to the Persian army but after the Persian Wars, it joined the Athenian League. On the northern coast of the peninsula can be made out the quays where goods were loaded and unloaded in the ancient harbor. On the peninsula have also been preserved some ruins of the tower and the cells of the monastery of St. Nicholas Chrysokamaros, a dependency of the Xenophontos Monastery which stood here in the 14th century.
Fourteen kilometers north of Aghios Nikolaos was built in 1922., the village of Pyrgadikia, by refugees who came from the Sea of Marmara in Asia Minor. Its houses, clinging to the slopes of the low olive-clad hill, on the southern side of a small peninsula, look out over the small harbor and come all the way down to the sea. Here, in antiquity, probably stood the city of Piloros, also a member of the Athenian League until 433 BC. In Byzantine times the region was known as Perigardikeia and belonged to the monastery of Docheiariou. The ruins of a wall that have survived in the northern part of the peninsula probably date from this period. About two kilometers northeast of the village, in the village of Kambos, stand the ruins of a tower of the dependency of the Docheiariou Monastery and about 500 meters further along all that remains of the buildings of the dependency. If we fancy a swim, we shall find beautiful beaches at Kambos and Yalakia.
At Pyrgadikia the road leaves the shores of the Singitic Gulf and turns northwards, towards the hinterland of Chalkidiki. After Aghios Ioannis Pródromos it branches out in three directions. One of these leads to the inland village of Megali Panaghia, and another leads eastwards towards Gomati. From there ( for about two kilometers of the way the road is not tarred ), it continues towards Ierissos and Ouranou-polis, which we shall visit on our fourth itinerary.