Places of interest
Long stretches of beautiful ever-changing shoreline, unique archaeological sites, Unesco world- heritage Christian monuments, lesser-known natural wonders and man-made masterpieces have all helped shape the region’s diverse identity, made even more interesting by the rich local culinary and cultural heritage.
Discovered by chance in 1959, this limestone cave made headlines around the world in 1960 when a fossilised hominid skull, purported to be 800,000 years old, was found by the anthropologist Aris Pouliano.
The skull’s age and origin is the source of some controversy because, for it to be that old, it would contradict the evolution models of the genus Homo and the Out of Africa theory. At any rate, the cave has spellbinding stalagmite and stalactite formations, and has yielded a wealth of animal fossils. At Petralona’s Anthropological Museum is the oldest evidence of a man-made fire, believed to be 1,000,000 years old, a model of what the Archanthropus hominid might have looked like, a reconstruction of a prehistoric mausoleum and the fossilised shell of a tortoise from the Mesozoic era
Olynthus was an ancient city in Chalkidiki, built on a fertile plain at the head of Torone’s Gulf, near the neck of the peninsula of Pallene (today Kassandra), at a distance of 60 stadia (approx. 11.5 km) from Potidaea and 4km from the sea. The Archaeological Museum is open on the archaeological site of ancient Olynthus since 1998.
The museum aims to illustrate the history of the ancient city and also describe the excavations and the restoration process, purely with multimedia.
The birthplace of Aristotle, and possibly the place where he was buried, Ancient Stagira is on a promontory near the modern coastal village of Olympiada. The city was reduced to rubble in the 4th century BC by Philip II of Macedon, but the king reconstructed the city not long after as Aristotle had tutored his son, Alexander the Great. The former citizens were freed from slavery and invited back to their old homes.
If your curiosity is roused by stories like this, make for the ancient city, which was abandoned in the 1st century AD. Quite a lot has been excavated, like the fortified walls, the ground floors of houses, the citadel, agora and the city’s tower, where beautiful mosaics have come to light. After your historical adventure you can cool off at one of three coves around the peninsula.
Holly Mount Athos
Simonopetra Monastery on Mount Athos! It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Mount Athos (The Holy Mountain) to the Eastern Orthodox Church. The peninsula is a single World Heritage Site, where more than 2,000 monks live at 20 monasteries.
There has been a Christian community here for 1,800 years, and the oldest monasteries go back to the 8th century AD. The lucky few who make it to Mount Athos will find a feast of priceless Medieval art, manuscripts and vestments, all still used in everyday worship. But there’s a caveat: Only men are allowed to visit Mount Athos, and preference is given to Orthodox pilgrims. Just to set foot on the peninsula you’ll need written permission from the “Mount Athos Office for Pilgrims”. After that you have to arrange your visit with the monasteries in advance. But if you’re determined and prepared (and a man, sadly), you’ll be in for an experience that you won’t soon forget.