Ark of Grandeur Through Time
Take a walk in the city and you will inevitably meet mansions of Anatolian (Asia Minor) and Macedonian architecture that will take you back to the 17th-18th century. It was the era when the Kastorian merchants travelled to Europe and to Constantinople to sell the fur that foreigners so admired. They sent money back to their homeland and built their homes with wealth and aristocracy. Mansions that bear the name of their owner and keep it alive in collective memory over the ages. Magnificent, fortified, with stone-decorated courtyards and wooden doors, with their cellars full of wine, food and smells from the kitchen that was preparing goodies to welcome the guests.
Built with stone, wood and a mix of reed mud to be sturdy, they usually had two or rarely three floors (but never four, no-one could risk the “Sachnisia” to have view inside the Pasha’s harem). If two neighbors were close friends, they would build a bridge from one mansion to the next, so they would visit each other without the need to come out, and if you were lucky enough you could have the lake in your yard and a wooden dock for your boat.
During the winter, the family was gathering on the mezzanine where there was usually the fur workshop, but as soon as summer arrived, they opened the “doksato” (reception area) and the sachnisia fulfilled their purpose: closed verandas with a series of windows that bathed the room with sunlight through the ornate embroidered curtains.
In Doltso sq. you will find the 19th-century mansion of Orologopoulos which after its restoration operates as a boutique hotel, the Nerantzi-Aivazi mansion with its marvelous paintings and wood-carved ceilings which today houses the Folklore Museum of the city, the Emmanuel brothers mansion, whose owners were killed together with Rigas Feraios and which nowadays hosts a Costume Museum, the Picheon mansion (opposite to the Orologopoulos mansion) now hosts the Museum of Macedonian Struggle, and the Basara mansion which has been proposed for the creation of a Museum of Fur.
In the area of Apozari, the journey continues with the Christopoulos mansion, home of the great Kastorian scholar and poet Athanasios Christopoulos, the mansion of Malkou with the extraordinary frescoes and the unique Byzantine bath in his yard and so many others, all unique, all beautiful, all with their own history.
Some of them were saved, leaving their mark in the city indelibly, while others were destroyed (mainly those belonging to Turks but also the few belonging to Hebrews), taking with them their beauty and history.
Your walks will become a real treasure hunt if you decide to see all Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches scattered around every corner of the city. Their beauty will fill you with stunning pictures to take back with you when you’ll leave this enchanting city. The Belgian historian Henri Grégoire once said that "if the Byzantine tradition is ever lost, the city of Kastoria is enough to recover it", and he is probably right, if you think that in Kastoria there are 72 well-preserved Byzantine churches, elegant artifacts of this era.
Small and large, all impressive, with mortar and stones in shades of red, create the impression of flash back in the years of the Byzantine Emperors. They are enchanting, touch them and touch you; you will admire their unique masonry that resembles handmade embroidery or fine art paintings. Step inside and listen to their story. You will see things unprecedented, such as the demolition of an ancient temple in St. Stephen's fresco or the oldest Byzantine temple with an elevated central aisle. Do not overlook Panagia Koumbelidiki the only temple with the depiction of the Holy Trinity and the dome (it got its name from the Turkish word “kubbe” meaning “dome”) or the marvelous temple of Agioi Anargyroi with the marble decorative bricks and ceramics that create a series of designs of unique beauty.
On your walks you will distinguish post-Byzantine churches with their introvert architecture and special history still surviving today. Churches built during the Ottoman domination by wealthy Kastorians who were driven out of the city's castle and settled in districts such as Apozari, Eleousa or Agios Loukas. You will meet them inside courtyards of houses, as they probably functioned as private temples. Small windows illuminate the interiors of them so that unfaithful eyes find it difficult to see inside, while the central doors are low near the ground so that the Turks cannot enter with horses and vandalize this holy place. They were built with materials that were commonly used for housing, so as not to stand out and put them at risk of being plundered by the Turks.
Learn more about the religious history of Kastoria
Evgenia Drakopoulou, “The city of Kastoria in Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Era” – ISBN 960-85882-1-9
The Ships of Kastoria
In the background of all these masterpieces of centuries past is another natural treasure: our lake which is home of the unique, architecturally and constructively, ships of Kastoria. These boats are so similar to the prehistoric and primitive boats found in the Neolithic Lake Settlement of Dispilio, they are considered their immediate descendants
A humble co-star of the Macedonian struggle, it really helped on secret meetings. Ion Dragoumis mentions it in one of his poems, while the English traveler and topographer W.M. Leake refers extensively to the boat of Kastoria in his book Travels in Northern Greece of 1835 (Volume I, Chapter 7). The ship's length does not exceed 6 meters and its width is 1.30 m. It consists of wooden boards, made so that both edges are sufficiently raised and form two comfortable seats facing each other. The captain, holding the oars and pushing on a board while leaning forward slightly, gives power to the oars and the boat begins to sail, putting its touch on the portrait of the lake between the swans and the ducks.
An integral part of the city’s everyday life, in the old days the ship was not only a commercial but also a passenger vehicle. Now it is only used by fishermen. A beautiful picture that is engraved in one’s mind: the lake with its reeds, the pelicans, and next to them all the Kastorian ship, proudly sailing among the rest of the treasures of the landscape.
Vasiliki Nikolatou, "The Masters of the Lake", ISBN 9781446647851
Whatever you decide to do in Kastoria, one is certain: you will come back to see more...