Since this region is famed for its Byzantine period, I was really looking forward to exploring the region’s heritage from that period.
The hugely important and very lovely town of Kastoria.
Approaching Kastoria, in Paloma our motorhome, we checked our apps for suitable parking places and Bingo ! located on a peninsula jutting into the lake Orestiada, (N40.5056 E21.2848)
Kastoria was founded as a fortified stronghold by the 6th century AD Byzantine emperor Justinian, and parts of those early fortifications still stand 15 centuries later, both on the hilltop that was once the town’s citadel and down by the lakeshore.
What really gives Kastoria a distinctive personality, and unique character, is its architecture.
Most striking are its many Byzantine churches, dating from the 9th to 16th centuries. All of them are relatively small, but what distinguishes them is the astonishing quality of their decorations, with excellent decorative brickwork on the exteriors and lavish fresco paintings inside.
Beyond their own beauty and fascination, the churches are made even more unforgettable by their setting amid the labyrinthine lanes of Kastoria, surrounded by a mesmerising mixture of traditional Ottoman-Macedonian style with occasional European elements.
There are dozens of such mansions, built by Kastoria’s affluent commercial classes of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The borderline between Orient and Occident, and its relative prominence during the 12th and 13th centuries AD, when Byzantine and Arabs noted its economic prosperity and far-reaching connections, especially with Constantinople, brought great wealth to this city.
This morning just as the sun was rising, we visited the lakeside monastery of the Virgin Mavriotissa, one of Kastoria’s most celebrated monuments, In the interior we relished 12th century wall-paintings of high quality, including scenes of the Baptism, the Dormition of the Virgin, the Passion of Christ and the Final Judgment.
On its outside wall, we admired the life-sized figures of two Byzantine emperors, Michael VIII Palaiologos (1223-1282), founder of the Palaiologan dynasty, alongside one of his predecessors, probably the founder of the earlier Komnenian dynasty.
The city’s fortunes once again flourished with the Greek fur industry. The very name of the town comes from the Greek word for beavers, Kastoria, and it was their fine fur which made Kastoria the centre of the Greek fur trade from the 17th century onwards.
Even though these had sadly been hunted to extinction by the 19th century, the furriers continued to import fur. Scraps and offcuts come in from various countries and are turned into coats, gloves, hats and other items which you will see for sale in the many tat shops,
The lake itself also holds fantastic charm, it is blessed with the ultimate gift of nature, life!
It is said to be home to more than 200 rare and endangered bird species. This is where they live, feed and reproduce, the wealth of bird life was emence, the local fisherman constantly hauling in their catch and the rowing teams in full swing…..