kastoria | macedonia

General Info

 
 
According to Mythology, Kastoria was named around 840 BC. by Polydeuces, one of the Dioscuri twin brothers, right after he received the prophecy at Delphi to honor his brother, Castor.
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Kastoria is a lakeside town along the western edge of Western Macedonia,

being the administrative seat of the homonymous borough as well as the capital of the Regional Unity (Region of Western Macedonia). It is located at an altitude of 700 meters above sea level, with a population of approximately 10,000 people.

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It is about 490 kilometers away from Athens and approximately 200 kilometers from Thessaloniki, while "Aristotelis", Kastoria’s airport (IATA: KSO, ICAO: LGKA) is located about 12 kilometers far from the city of Argos Orestiko that serves also direct flights out of the country.

 
 

Amphitheatrically built over a constricted neck of land surrounded by water, in-between two Mounts (Vitsi or Vernon, 2,128 meters high and Grammos mountain range, 2,520 meters high), facing the lake Orestiada, Kastoria is giving tourists the impression of a floating island within a rocky hinterland.

Known widely as Lake Orestiada, the pond belongs to the Natura 2000 protected areas network and has a surface area of 28.65 square kilometers, 8 to 12 meters depth, and an average temperature of 22 °C. The lake of Kastoria has been also appointed as “Monument of Natural Beauty” by the Ministry of Culture, and is considered to be one of the most photogenic Balkan ponds. The natural environment of Orestiada encompasses a lakeside forest with willow trees, alder woods, plane trees, cottonwoods, seasonal wet meadows, and giant wild reeds. During wintertime, the lake freezes for about 15 days once year, creating an inimitable natural landscape. Lake Orestiada, to which the town of Kastoria lays on its shore, as stated by the locals has two “beaches” (the southern and the northern side of the lake).

The inland lake of Kastoria is the 2nd most productive lake in Greece in terms of fishing.

The fish species inhabiting the lake are the following: carp, perch, chub (squalius cephalus), tench, catfish, muskellunge, common roach, butterfly ray and other species too. Actually, the latter is almost 100% exported to Romania. The so-called "sunfish" is also an acquaintance in the lake, an obnoxious species thriving in the lake, to the devastation of the local fishermen.

Orestiada is the only natural lake in Greece having a riparian habitat of water trees, animating one of the rarest ecosystems in Europe.

This riverine territory, stands also as a bird nest to over 200 species and rare fowls, such as pygmy cormorants, Dalmatian pelicans, herons, mute swans, and wild ducks.

Kastoria’s fauna is full of numerous wild species breathing the woods of Grammos mountain range and Mount Vitsi, such as wolf, bear, hare, fox, deer, roe deer and wild boar. In fact, it is not rare to meet up with a bear strolling around the lake Orestiada. Also, deep in the steep hills of Kastoria reside rare bird species, such as golden eagles, common buzzards, owls, woodpeckers and many more. Due to the high humidity levels around the lake of Kastoria, and the wider part of Haliacmon and its streams, one can see a diversity of living reptiles and amphibians, such as the Mediterranean sea turtle, oak snakes, lake frogs, salamanders and other.

Between lake and mountains, the splendor of the wider area of Kastoria is bursting into natural beauties, altogether creating a varied palette of colors and offering a wide range of activities for the travelers.

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Kastoria’s urban community embodies an array of traditional, refurbished (but also tumbledown) royal mansions with lush patios as well as traditional houses of Balkan architecture (17th-19th century), neoclassical (20th century), but also contemporary buildings. Among them, one can discover imposing churches of the Byzantine Empire - the most popular tourist attraction in the area, a net of constricted boulevards, stone fences and small squares developed around them. Overall, there are more than 450 momentous structures and memorials that can captivate you.

Architecture

 

Kastoria is divided into districts. Each one of them, has survived the turmoil of history: the market (Kato Agora) surrounded by lots of plazas (i.e.: Makedonomachon square, Van Flit square or Eirinis, Davaki square, the park of Olympic flame) and the town hall, Kastoria’s Municipality building and the regional courts, the water tank at the highest peak of the city, Tsarsi quarter – aka the central part of the city, known for Mitropoleos street and the notable Omonoia square, the neighborhood around, as well as Stavros, Doltso - the traditional district in the southern part of the city, otherwise known as the most alluring neighborhood. And then, Apozari – the district located in the northern side of the lake Orestiada that has apparently lower temperatures due to the cold north winds in winter, and finally the location of Eleousa, the neighborhood dividing Doltso and Apozari.

According to locals, the Kastorian district of Apozari was formed with the rise of the Ottoman Empire, when a number of Christians moved to that location by force, (the story behind the neighborhood's name today).

Doltso and Apozari, two of the most historic and beautiful neighborhoods in Kastoria, have been selected as the 7 most threatened landmarks in Europe in 2014, according to the leading European heritage organization, Europa Nostra. On that occasion, several rehabilitative interventions have been developed by various European funding programs and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

 
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Kastoria ‘s prominent mansions of the Turkish domination were built between the 17th and the 18th century, when the region managed to preserve its economic prosperity, lingering testimonials of the prosperous past decades. And thus, the most striking of these mansions used to be the properties of rich Kastorian fur crafters (and not only) and as a result, these halls were named after their owners.

  • Typically,  we are talking about two-storey stone houses (as well as few examples of three-storey and a few four-storey mansions, with interspaces in-between), influenced by the building style of Constantinople (Istanbul), wood ceilings and planks, but also with inner courtyards surrounded by lofty stone fences. To add to the above, the houses are decorated with objects of the Epirus folk art that were frequently used in chapels of that time. There are also a number of characteristics that all these mansions have in common such as: compact foundation and light capstone. The low storey between the stonebuilt ground floor and first floor have normally a series of tiny windows, while the second floor is constructed with light resources (like wood and lime-coated stud) and has more openings, big windows with inspiring stained glass, greater freedom of space and normally, a strong pavilion on the roof.

  • Some of the most celebrated mansions of Kastoria are: Tsiatsapa’s mansion (1754), Papaterpo’s mansion (1880), Christopoulo’s mansion (1753), Vergoula’s mansion (1850), Delidina’s mansion (1860), Skoutari’s mansion (1750), Emmanuel brothers’ mansion (1750), Natzi’s mansion (1753), Mpasara’s mansion (1750), Sapountzi’s mansion (early 18th century), Piheon mansion (19th century) and Neratzis - Aivasis mansion (1680). All the above halls, operate as visiting museums to the public.

 

Besides, the connection of Kastoria with the Byzantine Empire is manifested through signs around the streets of the city, which as a matter of fact are written in letters of the Byzantine age.

 
 

Additionally, Kastoria is a small student city, given that in the area known as Fourka, operate three departments of theT.E.I. of Western Macedonia (the Department of International Trade, the Department of Digital Media and Communication, the Department of Computer Engineering ), also offering various postgraduate programs.

 
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Kastoria is the only city in Greece with the most well-preserved examples of Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches. Also, Kastoria is the only region in the whole country (together with Mount Athos peninsula), where one can get a glimpse of the earliest Cretan School portable icons.

Agios Minas is the patron saint of Kastoria, while the church’s celebrations are occurring on the 11th of November every year, which coincides with the day that the city was liberated from the Ottomans.

All in all, the 74 Byzantine churches of Kastoria dating back from the 9th until the 19th century, have been declared as historic sites by the Presidential Decrees and Ministerial Decisions in 1924 - 1991. Every single one of them is a type of ancient basilica, a mere architectural description, (except from Panagia Koumbelidiki, which lent its name from its distinctive dome - originating from the word “koumbes” in Turkish).

 

To enter each of these Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches you must prior contact the Byzantine Museum of Kastoria at (24670-26781) or (24670-22800).

Few of the most significant Byzantine churches are the following: the lakeside Monastery of Panagia Mavriotissa with its famous exterior frescoes depicting a number of Byzantine emperors and its main temple (11th century), the Panagia (Virgin) Koumbelidiki or Kastriotissa or Skoutariotissa (10th century) – the only church in the city that belongs typologically to the cruciform rhythm with a dome and where the Holy Trinity is merely depicted, Agioi Anargyroi (12th century) - the only temple that is duly marble-decorated and has a variety of cameos in all of its gates, Agios Stefanos (9th century) - the oldest surviving temple in Kastoria, which bears the solely women's quarter, as well as Taxiarchis Mitropoleos (11th century), Agios Nikolaos Kasnitzis (12th century) that was given this surname to separate itself from the other 11 homonymous churches that exist around Kastoria, the sanctuary of Agioi Treis (14th century), Panagia Faneromeni (14th century), Agios Athanasios of Mouzaki (12th century) and the post-Byzantine church of Agios Nikolaos Megaleiou (16th century).

Sightseeing

Apart from the imposing Byzantine churches and the extravagant mansions, one can also visit a number of museums in Kastoria (like the Folklore Museum of Kastoria, the Byzantine Museum of Kastoria, the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, Kastoria Costume Museum, Delinanio Folklore Museum), as well as other sightseeing attractions (i.e. the Cave of the Dragon on the banks of Orestiada, the only survived mosque – out of seven that existed in Kastoria, aka the Kursum Mosque,  Dispilio Lakeside Neolithic Settlement, which is laying next to the homonymous village and is regarded as the first outdoor ecomuseum in Greece, the Wax Museum in the hamlet of Mavrochori, and finally the Archaeological Museum of Argos Orestiko.

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The locals are mostly farmers, growing legumes, fruits, cereals and vegetables, as well as livestock farmers. On the other hand, there are a few fishermen and a small number of residents who are in the tourism industry, but largely the more habitants are into fur trade and processed leather trade. For more than 5 centuries, fur production has secured community socio-economic wealth, however the deepening crisis has affected not only the fate of fur, but also the number of migrations in Athens and/or abroad.

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The city of Kastoria has established its name as one of the most important fur production, processing and distribution centers worldwide and is regarded as the solely fur processing center in Europe.

During the ‘70s, the community of Kastoria was listed as one of the world’s top economies sorted by its gross domestic product per capita due to fur trade.

 

About Fur

 

Tips

 
  1. During the ‘70s, the community of Kastoria was listed as one of the world’s top economies sorted by its gross domestic product per capita due to fur trade. Over the past years in Kastoria, approximately 6,000 small and large businesses have being operated by 15,000 workers. Also, more than an 80% of the labor force was into the fur business.

  2. The International Fur Fair is taking place once a year in Kastoria (organized by Kastoria’s Fur Association – one of the largest communities worldwide - since 1976).

  3. About 80 fur farms operate till this day around the region of Kastoria, which are fully respecting international guidelines on farming of fur-bearing animal farms.

 
  • Being a small, compact town you can go around Kastoria and it’s the lake at ease, and also this an ideal destination for a short trip (especially in wintertime). But mostly, the city of Kastoria is the perfect spot for nostalgic lovers, history connoisseurs and romantic wanderers.

  • Kastoria is a great destination for religious tourism since a large number of awe-inspiring Byzantine and post-Byzantine temples can help people from all kind of backgrounds to draw their pilgrims there. Moreover, the city is quite popular among historians, researchers, aspiring fur buyers, bird watchers and photographers. Russians are regarded as its most frequent visitors, getting there mainly in order to buy mink fur coats locally produced.

  • The round-the-lake stroll (also called "gyrolimnia" in Greek) is a daily habit for the residents and a natural way to enhance your fitness. No matter the season or the time of the day, numerous locals walk or run round and around the lake, taking in the surroundings of the beech, willow and plane trees. This particular itinerary is an all-year-round route, offering a spectacle of different landscape perspectives.

  • On the banks of the lake Orestiada, besides the Monastery of Panagia Mavriotissa, stands a 900-years old plane tree – that has been declared as a National Nature Monument.

  • The existing narrow asphalt-road that embraces lake Orestiada was constructed in the ‘50s. Up to that date, the route was carried out via the traditional Kastorian fish boats, known also as "plavas".

 

Facts:

 

 

As the lake has defined the city of Kastoria ever since, the region delivers great success in competitive rowing. The Nautical Club of Kastoria has brought up indeed many male and female rowers who have gained world success or a number of medals.

Famous sport personalities hailing from Kastoria are Dimitris Diamantidis, the veteran international basketball player and Christina Giazitzidou - a rower who won the bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, in the Women's lightweight double sculls.