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The Cultural Calendar of Kastoria

Kastoria isn’t just a beautiful tour destination. It is a place with rich cultural heritage. This short guide will help you make the most of your visit, no matter the season.

Moral customs and traditions make up every culture and constitute the coherent link that keeps society bonded. Kastoria has a rich cultural heritage and a visit is enough to confirm it. Whatever season you travel to the city you will have the chance to get unique memories, where the heart of the Kastorians beat.

Surrounded by the snowy peaks of Vitsi and Grammos, the illuminated streets, the decorated displays and the large tree in the center of the Park of Olympic Flame, welcome the winter visitors to a fabulous Christmas experience. Against the icy landscape, the warmth and hospitality of the people of Kastoria will make you feel at home.

Christmas Tree of Kastoria by kyrillos Samaras

Surrounded by the snowy peaks of Vitsi and Grammos, the illuminated streets, the decorated displays and the large tree in the center of the Park of Olympic Flame, welcome the winter visitors to a fabulous Christmas experience. Against the icy landscape, the warmth and hospitality of the people of Kastoria will make you feel at home.

In December, in most of the villages of the prefecture, the so-called “Gourounochares”, are celebrated, that is to say, the feasting of the pig. In the old days it was part of the necessary preparation for the survival of each family in the heavy winter that started. Nowadays, it's just a good reason for eating and celebrating. Tsigarides (pork meat fried with fat), roasted meats, plenty of wine and tsipouro, dancing and singing, is exactly what we need to end the year with the best memories. If you find yourself in Kastoria in December, don’t forget to visit Lithia, where the local Cultural Association organizes a “Tsipouro Festival”.

Housewives are preparing for Christmas by making traditional desserts (kourabiedes, melomakarona, baklava and saragli). On the New Year's Eve kids swarm the streets and sing carols in exchange for treats. Kastoria had some really special carols called “Kolenta”, but now most of them have been forgotten.

On January 6, on the Day of Epiphany, the whole city is gathering at the lake (in the location “Stavros”) for the sanctification of the waters. A minister of the Church throws a wooden cross in the water and the most daring winter swimmers will dive to catch it and take the blessing. In the past the locals picked up water from that point to give to their animals and sprinkle their fields for good crops.

Early in that same afternoon begin Kastoria's perhaps the most important (and certainly most famous) custom, Ragoutsaria.The whole town is celebrating and for three days and nights the city’s scenic narrow streets come alive from the voices of the people and the brass bands that follow the merrymakers.

Ragoutsaria are genuine Greco-Roman carnivals, a Dionysian ceremony that survived Byzantium and Ottoman occupation. The traditional “Ragoutsarides” (celebrators of Ragoutsaria) were painted on the face and body and worn old and torn clothes like beggars. It is assumed that the name comes from the Latin rogare meaning "ask for".

Over the years the disguise has changed, beggars have been replaced by animalistic imagery and great bells have made their appearance. Until 1930, the character of the carnival remained archaic, with Bacchus as its mascot-protagonist. Since 1950 (and partly thanks to the repatriation of migrants), the carnival has acquired a more modern image. Nowadays, there is no official disguise: everyone wears the costume he wants and the merrymakers’ swarms (called “bouloukia”) are colorful and unique.

On the last day (the so-called "Pateritsa"), all this frenzied celebration culminates in the great carnival parade that starts from the town hall and ends at Doltso Square, where the Orologopoulos Mansion is located. The party ends with the award of the best bouloukia.

Although the Carnival customs of Kastoria are held earlier than the rest of Greece, there are some very special carnival customs that do coincide and prepare the faithful for the Lent.

Boubounes (or Paliapoules as they are called in Argos Orestiko) is an ancient pyric custom. In antiquity, it was a nighttime event of the Orestes as a sign of faith towards Pan and the constellation of Pleiades (aka Messier 45). Today large fires lit up in Doltsos, Apozari, Omonia and other neighborhoods, and under the accompaniment of traditional music and wine they exorcise evil with the power of fire. In other villages of Kastoria (Vogatsiko, Germas, Kostarazi etc.) the custom is known as "Kladaries".

The same night “Haskari” is played in the houses. The eldest of the house binds a boiled egg on a rod and swings it near the mouths of the other family members. They in turn try to grab it with a bite. This game creates a cheerful atmosphere but also conceals a fasting symbolism.

Clean Monday (“Kathari Deftera” in Greek) in Kastoria is a day for walking. It has so many slopes to fly the kite and celebrate the “Koulouma” that you will not know where to go first: to Profitis Ilias at the top of the city, to Constantine and Helen Square in Kallithea, around the church of Agia Paraskevi in the village Maniaki, to the central square of Argos Orestiko, the forest of Mesopotamia, the forest of Kolokynthou, the Prophet Elias of Pentavrissos... Wherever you go, local Cultural Associations are there every year to share bean soup and wine and entertain you with traditional dances and singing.

koulouma kastoria by kyrillos samaras

What to see during Spring

On the Palm Sunday in Korissos the custom of the Lazarines revives. Girls dressed in white welcome spring with songs as they walk to the holy temple of St. George. The custom symbolizes the regeneration of nature and is associated with the resurrection of Lazarus (hence the name).

From Palm Sunday to Sunday of St. Thomas, in the Apozari area stands the Rodani, a wooden four-poster cradle for the entertainment of both children and adults.

Easter in Kastoria is really special. On Maundy Thursday, the “Nyfopazaro” is being held. In the past this was a fair where girls had their walk to find a husband. Many weddings have taken place thanks to this. Today it's just another opportunity for shopping and fun at the Amusement Park that is set up for a few days in the city’s center.

On Good Friday, the atmosphere of Kastoria is filled with devout reverence. Bells toll mournfully from the churches (approaching 80) that are scattered from one end of the city to the other.

On Bright Friday, the feast day of Life-giving Spring (“Zoodochos Pigi” in Greek), in the village Pteria, the custom of “Pali” (a custom that came from the Pontus region) is revived, along the “Augomachies” (egg fight) and accompanied by traditional Pontian feasts on the hillside in front of the church.

Spring closes with the great trade fair of Dispilio and the well-established, 20-year-old Flower Exhibition of Chloe, which is a three-day exhibition accompanied by martial arts shows, musical ensembles and of course, wonderful flowers.

What to see during Summer

Klidonas” is another custom that is preserved by the locals and is coinciding with the Father's Day. On June 24 boys bring home a thorn and decorate it with fruits of the season and flowers while girls bring water from the lake.

The cultural association "Athanasios Christopoulos" every year organizes the “Christopoulia”, in honor of the poet Athanasios Christopoulos who was born in Kastoria in the 18th century. In the most beautiful parts of the city, cultural events take place: exhibitions of photography, hagiography (religious painting), theatrical performances and concerts, as well as educational games for children.

In Argos Orestiko, the “Orestia” are held every year, with a series of events, starring the local Philharmonic Orchestra, in honor of Orestes of antiquity, who (according to tradition) fled in this area after the murder of his father Agamemnon.

In the village Oxya, the local cultural club organizes the "Mushroom Festival" where you can taste local culinary treats based on mushrooms. In the same area you will find a particularly popular motorcyclists route. In the village of Polykerassos, a similar "Potato Festival" takes place. The Apozari Improvement Association awaits you at the “Fish Feast” offering lake delicacies and even guided walks around the city. In the martyr village of Kleisoura, Associations of Vlachs of Kleisoura organize the “Antamoma” (which means gathering).

Ion Dragoumis, a main figure of the Macedonian Struggle, comes from Vogatsiko. In his honor the village celebrates “Dragoumia” every year. They are multi-day events with traditional dancing, music and art exhibitions.

kalokairini panselinos kastoria by kyrillos samaras

Throughout the summer, you will meet traditional festivals in all the villages of the Prefecture, with clarinets and folk nights, food (souvlaki, the Greek kabob) beer and wine in abundance.

What to see during Autumn

In a verdurous landscape with astonishing views, lies the martyr village of Old Kostarazi. Local folk celebrate the Nativity of Virgin Mary on September 8. Outdoor camping, local meat, wine and traditional music make up a special event.

For over 400 years merchants from all over Greece have come to the Great Trade Fair of Argos Orestiko. Low prices combined with a large variety of products and an Amusement Park make up a great opportunity for fun and shopping.

panigyri argos orestiko

On the day of Elevation of the Holy Cross, you can visit Kromilia to taste the delicious Pontian dishes as well as the Chorba, a traditional soup with groats, yoghurt and mint.

Kastoria is famous for its beans and apples. During September and October, local product festivals are held, the most renowned being the “Bean Festival” in Lakkomata, the “Apple Festival” in lakeside Polykarpi and the “Chestnut Festival” in Kastanofyto.

In the village Melas, a memorial service is held for the First Martyr of the Macedonian Struggle, Pavlos Melas, who was killed there in 1904. The International Choral Festival takes place in Argos Orestiko, as part of the celebrations for the anniversary of the liberation of Kastoria (November 11).

One last activity worth mentioning is the distillation of the tsipouro (a strong spirit containing 45% alcohol), the so-called "Kazania", which happens in pretty much all of the municipality villages. A great experience and of course another opportunity for celebrations that last all night with food, tsipouro and music.

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