Greek Journal Part XIII

Greek Journal: 5/13/2005-6/8/2005

Summary: DenverLondonAthensLeptokaryaLitochoroMt. OlympusLitochoro Kalambaka (Meteora) IguominitsaCorfu TownCorfu TrailIguominitsaZorganian Villages, Vikos Gorge and Mt. AstrakaAthensLondonDenver


6/4/2005: Monodendri in the Pindos: The most northwest region of Greece is called Epiros and in the furthest northern recess of this region are the Zagorian Villages and the Vikos Gorge. This finger of Greece is bordered by Albania on the northwest and the Former Yogoslavian Republic of Makedonia on the northeast. Most of the building in the original 46 villages were built during the 1700s and 1800s, but many of the monasteries predated the villages by 500 to 600 years and some of the bridges were built as early as 900 to 1000 AD.

The homes, called archontikas, were build from lime stone blocks cut and quarried in the Pindos and Albania, and the ubiquitous slate roofs were collected from the local gorge and mountains. There was a lot of new construction and restoration taking place in the active villages we visited. The majority of new building throughout Greece is neo-concrete and rebar, generally unfinished, but in Zagoria all of the new construction is being done in the same style and from the same materials as the original buildings. The attention to detail and technique was so good that it was difficult to tell the old buildings from the new. Our lodging at the Zarkada Manor House was one of the newer structures, but not only was the outside done in the lime stone block construction, but inside they had recreated the elaborate wood work typical of the Zagorian homes.







The outside of the Zarkada Manor House



















The ceiling in our room was constructed of 105 separate pieces of wood, not counting the light fixture.












Our first night at the inn we met a young couple from Australia, Dan and Julie, and set plans for hike the Vikos Gorge the following day (today). Dan and Julie are young, energetic, smart techies who had worked for Dell and AT&T respectively in London for the past two years. They were now on their way back to Melbourne via a two and half month trip around the world.

The Guinness Book of World Records awarded the Vikos Gorge the title of worlds deepest gorge based on the depth to width ratio. In some sections of the gorge the lime stone walls rise straight up 3,000 ft and is 3,600 ft wide giving it a .82 depth to width ratio. A few other gorges around the world also claim the title with various qualifications, but no one can touch the 0.82 ratio. Probably the hands down winner for deepest gorge with no qualifying criteria is Tsangpo Gorge which is located in Tibet and sits 15,000 feet below the Gyala Perli mountain towering 23,901 feet high to the north and the Namcha Barwa at 25,446 feet high to the south. The Yarlung Tsangpo River runs 15,000 feet below the top of the gorge, but the mountains that form the high points of the gorge are 13 miles apart.

We met up with Dan and Julie in the morning and descended directly from our lodging in town down the wall of the gorge to the Vaidomatis River. Once again my preconceived notion of Greece as a dry rocky landscape was altered as we passed through lush forests of maples, beech, fig, and oak trees and a ground scape covered with ferns and moss rock.










At the bottom of the Vikos Gorge











After a beautiful five and half hour hike through the gorge we ended up climbing back up from the river to the Zagorian town of Vikos, 26 km away from our starting point in Monodendri. We found a small caf and spent an hour sipping on Mythos and talking before catching a taxi back to Monodendri.

Back in Monodendri Mo and I took about a 1 km afternoon walk to the abandoned Monastery of Agia Paraskevi. This 12th century monastery is another tribute to the architects and builders of the past. A kalderimi (trail) winds through town to the lower platia in Monodendri and then curves around a hillside until you enter the monastery grounds. The monastery itself is so well preserved it could still be functioning today, but I think it serves the village better as a tourist attraction then a religious retreat for pious monks.






Walking the kalderimi through Monodendri on our way to the Monastery of Agia Paraskevi











Passing through the monastery proper you move on to a trail that hugs a precipitous cliff side on its way to "Megali Spilia", a cave that once served as a meditation site for the monks. This unprotected trail is not a place for people with height issues. On the way to the cave you pass through a small wooden gate and then do a little 3rd class climbing (hands and feet) up a small rise to the continuation of the trail. Our young Australian friends refused to venture past the monastery.











Mo inching her way along the NFWD* trail to Megali Spilia. We decided there were no attorneys in Greece.
















When we returned we all decided to spend an extra night at the manor and enjoyed a Greek dinner at a local restaurant.



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* Norton Fricke wet dream