Our tour of Chalkidiki begins from coastal Nea Herakleia, a settlement founded by refugees from Asia Minor, expelled from their homelands in 1922. Here was found a silver reliquary of the early Christian period, which is exhibited in the Museum of Byzantine Civilization of Thessaloniki. Taking the road to Nea Moudania, a drive of 3 km will bring us to Nea Kallikrateia with its friendly inhabitants, long sandy beach, and limpid seas, with the pine trees in its square and the fish tavernas along the quay. This village also was built by refugees from Asia Minor on the site of a dependency of the Athonite Monastery of Xenophontos.
We know the region has been inhabited since prehistoric times since an important prehistoric settlement has been found west of the present-day town. Here, too, was found the funerary stele of the young woman with a dove, a work of the Classical period, which is exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. In Byzantine time there stood here five villages and dependencies belonging to monasteries of Mt. Athos. Today Nea Kallikrateia is one of the popular holiday resorts of Chalkidiki. Not far from here, about 5 km further north, stood the wealthy city of Antigoneia, founded around 280 BC by Antigonos Gonatas. After Nea Kallikrateia we come to Sozopolis, Nea Plagia, Nea Flogita, and Paralia Dionysiou on the sea.
A detour of the main Thessaloniki to Chalkidiki road, at the junction towards Nea Kallikrateia, brings us, 12 km on, to the village of Petralona. About 800 meters from the village, at an altitude of 250 m at the foot of Mt. Katsika, is to be found in the Petralona cave, discovered in 1959., by villagers looking for water. It was called “Red Rocks” from the terra rosa (red earth) which colors the stalactites and stalagmites.
In the “Mausoleum” were also found scattered bone needles, which this early man must have used to secure the animal skins around his body. Many bone and stone implements, which he made for hunting, as well as traces of fire, lit for warmth and cooking, were also found in the cave, which must have served as a human habitation when the Ice Age began.
Various scientific problems have arisen concerning the dating of the finds of the cave of Petralona. According to one theory based on measurements of amino-acids in the skull, this early man lived 260.000 years ago. However, according to the scientist Aris Poulianos, who studied the cave and dated the find using the latest scientific methods, the early man of Petralona must have lived 700.000 years ago, while the traces of fire are about 700.000-1.000.000 years old and are the oldest found to date on earth.
In the chamber of the cave known as “the Giants’ Cemetery” there have been found bones of 14 different types of carnivorous animals – large bears, panthers, lions, hyenas, wolves, rhinoceros, deer, and various rodents. Many of these species are now extinct. Besides the great importance of the cave from the paleontological point of view, it is also of interest because of the stalactites and stalagmites of various shapes and colors adorning it. In the Great Hall and the Chamber of the Fir Trees, we find bulky stalagmites, while in the Corridor of the Dwarf Stalagmites, we see small thorn-shaped stalagmites, only a few centimeters long. In the Room of the Roots, slender roots of holm oaks burrowing into the earth form a web covering the stalactites. Also impressive is the Golden Rain -very fine stalactites resembling raindrops. The average temperature in the cave throughout the year is 16 degrees centigrade.
The cave may be visited along a two-kilometer-long route. Models of early man have been set up in places, reconstructing his everyday life. In the museum by the cave are exhibited animal bones, bone and stone implements, and other finds. There is also a model of the “Mausoleum” and the primitive man found inside it.
From Petralona we shall return to the road which links Nea Silata with Nea Moudania. After Elaiochoria and Nea Triglia, on our left, we encounter the village of Zographou, built around the dependency of the Athonite Monastery of Zographou. Among the surviving buildings of the dependency are a 14th-century Byzantine tower, the main church ( 1842. ), a fountain ( 1853. ), and other more recent ancillary buildings. Four kilometers south of the village of Zographou, near Nea Flogita, there used to be another dependency belonging to the Athonite monastery of St. Panteleimon. In its buildings was housed, after 1922, a hospital for the refugees from Asia Minor.
Our last stop before we enter the peninsula of Cassandra is Nea Moudania, which was also founded by refugees from Asia Minor and which today besides being a busy center is also a popular holiday resort. Along the picturesque waterfront lined with seafood tavernas, the colorful caiques rock gently in the sea, and fisherman mends their nets. Here, in mid-July, is held a Sardine Festival, with feasting and merrymaking.
Our trip to Chalkidiki continues as we drive into the peninsula of Cassandra, or Pallene, with its low fertile hills, dense groves of pine, and beautiful golden beaches with crystalline waters, bathed in the bright sunlight.
Six kilometers after Nea Moudania we come to Nea Potidaea, the gateway into Cassandra. The canal opened in 1930., separates the peninsula from the main part of Chalkidiki. The existence of a canal was already mentioned in the 1st century AD by Strabo. Although we do not know when it was next reopened, this may have been done by the king of Macedonia Cassander, to fortify the city of Cassandra and facilitate coastal shipping. Restoration works were probably carried out in 1407., by John VII Palaeologus, who was the governor of Thessaloniki at the time.
The present canal, cut in 1930, did not follow the semicircular trace (from north to west) of the first canal.
Nea Potidaea was built after 1922. by refugees from Eastern Thrace, on the site of ancient Potidaea.
The city of antiquity was founded by colonists led by Evagoras, son of the tyrant Periander. It was built on a particularly favorable site, which controlled the eastern entrance into the Thermaic Gulf. From here there was direct access into the heart of Macedonia, thus facilitating the development of commercial relations, in Archaic times, with the peoples which inhabited the northern shores of the Aegean and, later, with Macedonia. The city, which had a turbulent history, developed very rapidly: around 550. BC began to mint its own silver coins and, at the end of the 6th century BC, it was able to build a treasury at the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. The Potidaean coins show Poseidon, on the obverse, and a woman’s head on the reverse.
During the Persian Wars Potidaea furnished a contingent to the Persians. Later, however, after the defeat of Xerxes at Salamis in 480 BC, it defected and, as a result, during the withdrawal of Artabazos, the city was unsuccessfully besieged for three months, along with neighboring Olynthos. In 479. BC its inhabitants took part in the battle of Plataea, fighting on the side of the Corinthians. After the Persian Wars, it joined the Athenian League, assuming the obligation to pay an annual tax of 6 talents. When, in 432 BC, the Athenians demanded that the Potidaeans sever their relations with Corinth, demolish the southern part of their walls, and increase their contribution to 15 talents, the city decided to defect from the League. After a siege of two years, the city was taken in 429 BC by the Athenians. Its inhabitants were driven out, their lands were distributed among Athenian settlers, and Potidaea was used as a base for the military expeditions of the Athenians in Macedonia during the Peloponnesian Wars.
Following the end of the hostilities and the defeat of Athens in 404 BC’, the city’s original inhabitants returned. In 394 BC the city once again fell into the hands of the Athenians, who lost it in 387 BC following the terms of the Peace of Antalcidas, and regained it once more in 364. BC.
After 382. BC joined the Chalkidean Confederacy, from which it broke off soon after to join an alliance with Sparta. In 356 BC it was taken by Philip II of Macedon, who drove out its inhabitants and handed over the city to the Olynthians. After the destruction of Olynthos in 348 BC, Potidaea came under Macedonian domination.
In 316 BC the king of Macedonia, Cassander, founded on the ruins of Potidaea the city of Cassandria, which was settled by inhabitants of the surrounding areas, including refugees from Olynthos. Cassandra flourished during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. It is said that Demetrius Poliorcetes (the Besieger) built 100 ships in its shipyards. After the battle of Pydna in 168. BC the city came into Roman hands, and around 43. BC was settled by Roman colonists. It was one of the few cities in Macedonia to mint its own coins, on which it is mentioned as Colonia Jul. Aug. Cassandrensis.
In 269. BC was unsuccessfully besieged by the Goths. In 539/540. AD was destroyed by Hunnish tribes, but the emperor Justinian helped rebuild it and fortified it, erecting a wall of about 1300 meters in length. This wall followed the course of the ancient fortifications and was constructed partly with ancient building materials. It ran in an almost straight line, protecting the city from the north and south, and was strengthened at intervals by square towers. It is one end reached as far as the Toronean Gulf or Gulf of Cassandra, while the other end terminated at the Thermaic Gulf. Both ends terminated in towers built in the sea. The walls of Cassandria were repaired in 1407. by John VII Palaeologus, who constructed a small enclosure in the wall running towards the Thermaic Gulf. He also cut the canal, thus allowing the waters of the Thermaic Gulf to join those of the Toronean Gulf, and turning the peninsula into an island. These fortifications were later strengthened, in 1426, by the Venetians.
After the area was conquered by the Turks, the fortress was abandoned and re-used in 1821, when the insurgent Chalkideans sought refuge in it. Having restored it, they also re-opened the canal.
Today the visitor can still see certain parts of the medieval fortifications.
After the incursion of the Huns, Cassandria began to decline, and its name is only mentioned in the title of the bishops of the area. By the 14th century, the city was entirely abandoned. In 1307. the Catalans used it as a base for their raids on the shores of Chalkidiki. In 1430. it fell into Turkish hands. In 1821, when the Greek War of Independence was declared, the inhabitants of the area eagerly took up arms and joined in the struggle, but in November of the same year, their uprising was quenched in blood. Not much has come to light of the ruins of ancient Potidaea. To date, excavations have uncovered traces of a temple that is thought to have been dedicated to Poseidon, gold and silver coins, bronze jewelry, reliefs, and figurines dating from the 4th century BC, as well as coins and inscriptions of the Roman period. At the site known as “Petriotika” has been found a “Macedonian tomb” with a wonderful painted decoration.
Near the settlement, one kilometer to the southeast, stands the church of the Taxiarches, built-in 1872. with building material from ancient Potidaea. It belongs to a dependency of the Athonite Monastery of Docheiarion.
As we leave Potidaea, we are accompanied on our way by a succession of low hills planted with cotton and wheat and, on our left, by the unique golden coasts of the Toronean Gulf. About two kilometers before we come to Nea Phokaea, the next fishing village of Cassandra, a branch in the road to the right lead to Sane. The marvelous beaches surrounded by lush greenery and luxury hotels have attracted many holidaymakers to the region.
On the peninsula which extends west of the Sane Beach Hotel rises the tower of Stavronikitas, which protected the dependency of the Athonite monastery of the same name, founded in 1543. On this peninsula is believed to have stood the citadel of the ancient city of Sane, which extended to its northeast.
The area around the Stavronikitas tower has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Later, Eretrians founded a colony here. After the Persian Wars, Sane became a member of the Athenian League and continued to exist until at least the 1st century AD. Further north, at the place called Gerani, must have existed in Roman times an important settlement, while in Byzantine times there is mention of a settlement under the name of Myriandrion. Further south, at the place known as Megali Kypsa, where we now see a camping site, there was in Roman times another settlement. A Roman farmhouse has been brought to light here.
We return to the main highway, which after about two kilometers brings us to Nea Phokaea, a seaside town along a sandy beach. As was the case with the other settlements we have encountered, it was established after 1922. by refugees from Asia Minor. At its one end, on the low hill which looks out over the sea, rises the Tower of the Apostle Paul. A relic of the past, it was built, around 1407, using ancient building material, to guard the dependency created when John VII Palaeologus ceded the area of Nea Phokaea to the Monastery of St. Paul. Of the other buildings of the dependency, the 19th-century church and ruins of the east and south wings can still be seen.
The region of Nea Phokaea has been inhabited since prehistoric times. During the Classical period, the small town of Skithae is believed to have stood somewhere around here.
Before we leave the village, we might like to visit the shrine of St. Paul at its eastern end. This is an ancient funerary monument which, in Byzantine times and after the necessary alterations, served as a church. It comprises an underground passage about 20 meters long cut out of the rock and ending in an underground room.
As we continued southwards, we are enchanted by the variety of scenery. The fertile fields give way to dense forests of pine. After about five kilometers we come to Aphytos, a village that flourished in the 17th century, and is now a busy tourist resort. In 1821., it was destroyed by the Turks and began to be rebuilt after 1827. Its older name was Athytos. It took its present name in 1946., from the ancient town of Aphytis that had flourished on the site of the present-day settlement. In the village, square stands the church of St. Demetrius, which was built in 1858., in the form of a basilica with a dome. Some of the old houses of the settlement have also survived. During our stay, we might like to visit the very interesting folk art museum.
Ancient Aphytis was founded by Chalkideans in the 8th century BC. Here there were shrines dedicated to the Nymphs, Dionysus, and Ammon-Zeus. During the Persian Wars, the inhabitants were obliged by the Persians to fight on their side, while the city was used as a base for the operations of the Persian navy. Later it became a member of the Athenian League and had to pay an annual tax of 3 talents. During the siege of Potidaea, the Athenians used it as a base for their own military operations. In 348 BC Aphytis appears to have been destroyed by Philip, but to have soon been rebuilt, and to have flourished during Roman times.
Southwest of the sanctuary of Ammon-Zeus there was a sanctuary dedicated to the Nymphs and Dionysus. Of this 8th century sanctuary, in which there had been a sanctuary to Demeter Thesmophoros and where Apollo Canastraeus had also been worshiped, excavations have brought to light a stairway cut out of the rock and beneath it a cave with stalactites. Above the cave have survived the ruins of a small Byzantine church, built around 1000 AD with material from the ancient sanctuaries. Behind the Ammon – Zeus Hotel can be seen the church of St. Panteleimon, built-in 1865, which belonged to the dependency of the Athonite monastery of the same name.
As the road winds on, the unique beauty of Chalkidiki is revealed to us at every turn. There is always something new to see: here a hamlet, there a beach, between bustling tourist resorts, hotels, and camping sites. And all along the way, we are surrounded by luxuriant greenery and pungent earthy scents.
Kryopighi, mentioned in 18th-century sources, is built among pine and olive groves, at a distance of about 1000 meters from the sea. Unparalleled in beauty is the beach which extends to its east, with its crystal-clear waters, thick sand, and luxuriant pine groves which come all the way down to the sea.
South of Kryopighi we encounter Polychrono, with its long sandy beach, modern houses with tiled roofs, and hotels. This settlement is first mentioned in the 18th century. In its vicinity once stood the ancient city of Neapolis. At the site known as “Giromiri” have been found ruins of the city dating from the late 6th or early 5th century BC and part of its cemetery.
Our next stop is Chanioti, a busy tourist resort where many holidaymakers gather each year, attracted by the beauty of the site and by its long beach. The older settlement, which is mentioned in 18th-century sources, stood further inland, at a distance of about 2 kilometers from the modern town.
After Chanioti we come to Pefkochori with its sandy beach and modern hotels. It is also called “Kapsochora” (“the burnt village”), because, according to legend, pirates once set fire to it. South of Pefkochori is the beautiful beaches of Glarokavos, Kanavitsa, and Alonaki tou Chrousou. Picturesque Paliouri lies inland, almost at the southern tip of the peninsula of Cassandra, at an altitude of 120 meters. As we wander through the village streets we will see those of its old 19th-century houses that have survived, and a small collection of sculptures in the courtyard of the Community Offices. Three kilometers before we get to the village, between the pine trees and the golden sands there is a XENIA hotel and camping site. Here stood in antiquity the city of Therambe. From Paliouri the road will take us westwards and, passing through the thick pine woods, lead us to inland Aghia Paraskevi and 5 kilometers further on, to Loutra, well known for its medicinal waters, flowing from springs among the rocks on the beach.
Should we by now belonging for a dip in the sea, we can stop at one of the nearby beautiful beaches of Aghios Nikolaos or Phaneromene. Refreshed, we shall continue our drive towards Nea Skioni. On our left is the sea, and soon we shall see, built just on the shore, the chapel of Panaghia Phaneromeni, adorned with 16th-century frescoes. The chapel was part of the dependency of the Flamouri Monastery. We now arrive at Nea Skione, a fishing village with a picturesque harbor lined with seafood tavernas, and a long beach. It was established after 1930, by the inhabitants of the inland village of Tsaprani, the ruins of which can still be seen four kilometers north of the new settlement.
Not far from here, southeast of the present-day village, the Pelleneans, returning from Troy to their homes in Pellene, founded the city of Skione, which was later colonized by Euboeans.
Skione joined the Athenian League, but during the Peloponnesian Wars, it defected and went over to the Spartan side. The Athenians reconquered it, killed the inhabitants, and destroyed the town.
Our next stop is Kalandra. South of the village, the hill is known as “Vigla” is believed to have been the site of the citadel of ancient Mende. an Eretrian colony known for its delicious wine, the Mendaeos oinos.
Mende was one of the wine-producing regions of Northern Greece and its wine, stored in amphorae, was exported to other cities of the Greek world. Such amphorae were found in the shipwrecked hull of a large trading vessel that went down between 425 and 415 BC near the islet of Peristera, off the island of Alonissos.
During the Peloponnesian Wars Mende was destroyed by the Athenians, because, whilst initially a member of the Athenian League, it defected and joined the Spartan side.
Kalandra is first mentioned in the 14th century. In some of its old 19th-century houses, we may see features of the vernacular architecture of the region. One kilometer northwest of Kalandra stands the chapel of the Holy Virgin with frescoes dating from 1619. It appears to have belonged to a dependency of the Chilandari Monastery of Athos. West of Kalandra stretches the pine-clad, golden-white beach of Poseidi, which most probably owes its name to the god Poseidon. At the end of the cape of the same name, jutting out into the Aegean, there is a lighthouse built-in 1864. Nearby has come to light a sanctuary dedicated to Poseidon. Excavations have uncovered an apsidal edifice and three altars dating from the 4th century BC. The middle altar was dedicated to Poseidon Pontius, patron of sailors, while in the sanctuary was also worshipped the Chthonian Poseidon. The rituals related to this second form of the deity required the existence of clay pipes that led deep into the earth so that the offerings of the faithful could reach into the realm of the god of the underworld.
Five kilometers north of Kalandra we shall encounter inland Fourka, built among the greenery, and west of it, lying in the embrace of low pine-clad hills, Skala is Fourkas, with a wonderful beach along which are built modern hotels. From Fourka a road leads to Cassandrino, clinging to a verdant slope. Next on our route is Siviris, its golden sands washed by the waters of the Thermaic Gulf. Here too we will find pine trees and limpid waters. Siviris is the seaport of the next settlement we will come to, as we complete our tour of the peninsula of Cassandra: Cassandria, a village that flourished in the 16th century. Because of the important development of the grain trade in the area, France and Holland had vice-consulates in the village. Today we shall see a carved early-Christian arch surmounting the western entrance of the cathedral, some 19th-century houses which have been preserved, and, northwest of the village, a 19th-century windmill.
From Cassandria the road continues towards the shores of the Toronaean Gulf and four kilometers further along comes to Kallithea.