Agios Andreas is a nascent settlement that lies in the northwestern part of the Ichthis peninsula. It is situated in the pine cove of Ancient Pheia, which is described as possessing ’outstanding natural beauty ‘. It is located 13 kilometers northwest of Pyrgos, and just 2 km from the port of Katakolo. It owes its name to the icon and the ruins of the old church dedicated to Andrew the Apostle (who is said to have passed from the place on his apostolic course). The church was built on the ruins of an ancient temple, which was rebuilt in 1930.
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(1.98 km – approx. 4 mins from Katakolon)
Behind the picturesque harbor of Katakolo is the beach of Agios Andreas, with its small coves, sharp rocks, blue green waters and pine trees that come right down to the sea making it a unique landscape.
The beach of Agios Andreas charms the visitor and especially divers, since its sea-floor has been described as magical. Watch the locals to see how and where they get into the sea in order to avoid the stones. This beach is nice for families with young children too as the rocks in front of the beach form the boundaries of a natural swimming pool. This was the location of ancient Pheia, the harbor of ancient Olympia. In the past many locals found ancient coins and remains of amphorae attached to the rocks.
At the Kastro beach seafront bar, a sea breeze will accompany you as you enjoy delicious snacks.
The monastery of Kremasti (the hanging monastery)
(30 km – approx. 35 mins from Katakolon)
Looking at the Kremasti (hanging) monastery, one can easily see how it got its name. Imposing and impressive, it really seems to be hanging off the rock. The view you will have from here is amazing.
The monastery was founded in 1700, when shepherds of the area found an icon of the Virgin Mary hanging in a cave, high up in the mountain. They couldn’t explain the presence of the icon there, so it was considered to be a sign from God that a monastery should be founded here. The first monks settled near the cave and build a small chapel. From the chronicles we learn that they were specialized in treating people who were “possessed”. (Today one can still see the chains which were once used for this macabre purpose…)
photo by Vassilis Hadjizacharias
In 1930 the monastery was converted into a nunnery. Many people visit this monastery for the miraculous icon it possesses. It is said that the wicks of the oil lamp burning in front of the icon help couples who have fertility problems …
If you decide to visit this nunnery make sure to be dressed appropriately. If not, there are a few (not so fashionable and worn at least a hundred times by all kinds of people, without having been washed) skirts and trousers at the entrance. These appropriate cover ups make some interesting outfits!
The nuns living here are sweethearts and usually very hospitable and chatty. There is also a little souvenir stand where they sell little icons, handmade bracelets, etc.
This nunnery can be visited during the morning hours (10.00 – 12.30). Please note that you are supposed to ring the bell so the nuns can open the gate. Nice to combine with a visit to Olympia since it is on your way. On your way to Olympia (11 km before you arrive) there is a sign which says “Kremasti nunnery”. It’s really worthy to leave the highway and get off the beaten track. Turn left and just follow the signs. After a minute or 10 you will arrive at the monastery. After your visit, don’t go back to the highway but take the secondary road through the villages of Pelopion and Platanos in order to see some of the authentic Greek village life. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have a real Greek coffee in one of the authentic kafeneia among the locals. In Olympia all the cafeterias are much more touristy……
The medieval monastery of Skafidia
(9.64 km – approx. 13 mins from Katakolon)
The beautiful medieval monastery of Skafidia is now actually a nunnery. Rumour has it that members of the church hierarchy had their differences about “earthy issues” thus, eventually resulting in the monastery being converted.
From the outside, this monastery looks like a fortress. Once you are inside, wander around in the open courtyard and admire the old katholikon (main church) where you can see frescos in the narthex dating back to the 10th century AD.
This monastery can be visited in the morning hours (10.00 – 13.00). As in other monasteries, there is a dress code here as well; for the ladies, it is appreciated if you wear a skirt and have your shoulders covered up; for the men, please no shorts or shirts without sleeves.
Unfortunately, the nuns living here are a little grumpy. They get friendlier once you make a little donation to the church where you can light a candle. Just leave a euro or 2 and light a candle for your beloved persons.
Apart from its remarkable architecture, it houses many treasures, such as sacred vessels, vestments, reliquaries, uniforms, weapons, photographs, coins, votive offerings including the banner of the Monastery, the image of the Virgin Mary hand sewn in fine needlework.
Important is the archive of the monastery and library with many manuscripts, referring to liturgy, music, icon painting and other subjects.
A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN
The monasteries of Ilia are unique destinations where the visitor can find the pure taste of the Greek orthodox faith.
Monastery of Eisodiotissa, the Virgin Mary (Agios Ioannis)
(7.38 Km – approx. 9 mins from Katakolon)
On your way to Olympia just before entering the village of Agios Ioannis you will notice a huge yellowish building with arches hidden behind the trees to your left hand side. The monastery hosts the Faculty of Hagiogrphy and Byzantine Music. One can order any icon they wish or purchase from those that are readily available. You won’t have any trouble finding it since a shrine (iconostasis) before the crossroads indicates that the monastery is to the left. Today the cells of the monks function as a youth shelter for young adolescents.
Further to the left there is a big rock with a hole in the middle which is considered miraculous. According to poplar tradition people who are either psychologically or physically ill pass their clothes through the hole in order to be cured.
This monastery, like many other churches and monasteries, has been built on the ancient site of the temple dedicated to the Goddess Artemis Alphaea. According to Greek mythology, it was here that she managed to escape from the fate of being abducted by her stalker Alpheus (the river god of Ancient Olympia), who was madly in love with her. It all happened one night as she was celebrating with the nymphs. In order to confuse him, she came up with a trick and covered the nymphs’ faces, as well as her own, with mud. Unable to distinguish “his victim”, he left the party early…
Impression De Voyage
The sea was sapphire coloured, and the sky
Burned like a heated opal through the air;
We hoisted sail; the wind was blowing fair
For the blue lands that to the eastward lie.
From the steep prow I marked with quickening eye
Zakynthos, every olive grove and creek,
Ithaca’s cliff, Lycaon’s snowy peak,
And all the flower-strewn hills of Arcady.
The flapping of the sail against the mast,
The ripple of the water on the side,
The ripple of girls’ laughter at the stern,
The only sounds: when ‘gan the West to burn,
And a red sun upon the seas to ride,
I stood upon the soil of Greece at last!
Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)
Messene was founded in 369 BC by the Theban general Epaminondas following his victory at Leuktra. It was part of the strategic barrier against Sparta, the southernmost of a chain of walled cities including Megalopolis and Argos; these 3 strongholds had to confine Sparta to its own borders once and for all.
In the previous centuries the Spartans had given the Messenians a hard time. Since they were busy with becoming good warriors all the time, they needed other people (servants!) to provide them with their daily bread. In the 8th century BC, they crossed the Taygetos Mountains and invaded the fertile area of Messenia. The people who were living there became slaves and a lot of them fled and settled in other areas all around the Mediterranean. When Sparta was finally defeated in 369 BC, the Theban general Epaminondas invited the Messenians, who had been exiled from the area centuries before, to come back and build the city of dreams!
The ruins might not draw many tourists although it is a remarkable. The charming town of Mavromati sits above the ruins of ancient Messene and provides an exceptional view of the valley all the way to the coast. Systematical excavations of the site began only 25 years ago and continue up to this day.
You will enter this city through one of the original city gates just like ancient travellers did 2300 years ago. The 9 km long city wall is among the best preserved city walls all over Greece. At some points they reach a height of 7 meters.
Once in the archaeological site, take your time to admire the theatre. After 1700 years of silence, the theatre was reopened last summer with a beautiful opera gala. When the archaeologist first started the excavations, they were discouraged. The theatre was practically nonexistent, the only thing left were some retaining walls.
The restoration of the theatre lasted more than 20 years. The archaeologists managed to reunite the scattered pieces and put more than 2000 seats into place. Works at the cavea have not been completed yet. Now it has been restored up to its 15th row. After its completion the capacity is estimated to reach 5000 seats which is half the capacity it had in antiquity.
Other places of interest are the agora, (the town’s large market area), the town’s central shrine and the very impressive stadium and gymnasium which form one architectural unit, an architectural rarity.
From here you will have a breathtaking view over the Messenian plain.
Tip: After your visit of the site, have lunch in the tavern just opposite the spring in the charming town of Mavromati .It is situated above the ruins of Ancient Messene and provides an exceptional view of the valley all the way to the coast.
In the beginning of the 7th century BC, the Spartans captured Phigaleia and the inhabitants abandoned their city to save themselves. They consulted the oracle of Delphi to learn how they could recover their city. The oracle told them that they had to fight the Spartans hiring one hundred warriors from a neigbouring city and that god Apollo would help them as well. When the people of Phigaleia were restored to their homeland, they wished to thank Apollo for assisting them in returning to their native city. Thus, 8 km from their city they built, on a natural plateau, a temple dedicated to the god (Apollo the Helper). The first temple of Apollo Epikourios was made of wood. A few centuries later, during the fifth century BC, when Apollo saved them once more from the plague, the inhabitants decided to call Ictinus, the architect from Athens, to build them a new temple so as to satisfy Apollo once more.
This remote temple is situated high up in the mountains at a height of 1130 m. The fact that it is so well preserved has partly to do with the inaccessibility of the area. In other areas they would have used the temple material to build their houses or churches. The temple escaped both these fates since it was not easy to get here. In the autumn of 1987, the monument was covered with a temporary canopy. The tent was constructed to protect the temple against the elements (weather can be quite rough at this altitude).
The temple, as we see it today, was built during the 5th century BC by the very famous architect from Athens, Ictinus (the same architect who built the Parthenon).
The building material used for the temple is the local limestone and what makes this building really special is that it combines all three architectural orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian).
Apart from all the special architectural features of the temple, it is worth seeing how technology has been applied in order to preserve the temple. For example, a network of special devices has been set in place to record seismic events and the behavior of the individual parts. If you decide to visit, ask the guard to show you the documentary which explains everything about the restoration project.
Municipal Museum of Pyrgos
Before entering the Municipal Museum of Pyrgos, make sure you walk around this beautiful neoclassical building and admire one of Ernst Ziller’s architectural accomplishments. What used to be the city’s marketplace, now houses many impressive finds from this prefecture.
See the boar’s tusk helmet; a similar one (according to Homer) would have been worn by Odysseus. Admire the costume jewellery from the late bronze era (1600-1200bc). These pieces are 3000 year old but they would sit proudly on the style pages of a glossy magazine.
Other findings really worthy of seeing are the ancient “safety-pins” and the ancient “thylastra”, baby feeding bottles.