With the decline of the Mycenaean centres, Achaians from the Argolid came and settled here, founding important cities. The region is named Achaia after them. Though politically insignificant through most of antiquity, it started to play a more dynamic role in 280 BC, when the Achaian Confederacy was created. In 146 BC the area fell to the Romans. It embraced Christianity earlier than the rest of Greece (St. Andrew the Apostle preached in Patras and was martyred there). In 1205 it occupied, centre stage with the founding of the Principality of Achaia by the Franks. Before too long it passed to the hands of the Palaiologues who ruled the Peloponnese from Mistra; they were succeeded by the Turks in 1460.
For a short period (1687-1715), the area was a Venetian colony It was liberated in 1828.
A trip to Patra
Patra is the capital of the region or prefecture. It owes its name lo Patreas, chief of the Achaians.
The city is among the most important in Greece, and the largest in the Peloponnese.
It is also a major transportation centre, linking the country with Italy and the Peloponnese with the Ionian islands.
The city extends from the shore up to the Castle. It is divided into two parts, the upper and the lower, whose layout, parks and plazzas give it a definite distinction.
The old city, at the tool of the castle, still has quite a number of attractive neoclassical houses, while the lower city has many mansions, such as those housing the Municipal Theatre, the Odeon, etc.
The Cathedral of St. Andrew, the city's patron, rises majestically above the lower city. To the left of it stands an older church built on the site of a Byzantine church that was destroyed by the Turks.
From here Tnon Navarchon street leads to Psila Alonia the "balcony" of Patras - a lovely spacious square with slender palm trees and a sun dial.
Patras possesses a fine archaeological museum, an art gallery and a printing museum.
Dominating the city from on high looms the ruined shell of the castle, whose grounds have been transformed inio a park. From here you have a view of the whole city and the sea beyond. Patras' famous Carnival - a festive Sampling of its citizens' imagination, humour and high spirits - attracts thousands ot visitors every year. Finally, the city's innumerable pastry shops, its little cafes, its wide range of tavernas, its lively streets bustling with locals, foreigners and transient travellers complete the picture of Patras, beautiful and celebrated throughout Greece.
Life by the seashore
The coasts of Achaia are a delightful concoction of picturesque villages, indented shores, gardens and trees. A treat for the eye. While the heart of Achaia may be its rnountains, one cannot fail to hear its soul in the murmur of the sea.
Leaving Corinth, you take the coast road all the way to Patras. It's more scenic than the National Road, since its right on the water's edge. You reach Akrata, a coastal village, set in lush suroundings on a crystal clear sea. This was the ancient Aigai.
In the hinterland, a sight worth seeing is the post Byzantine monastery of Agia Triada (1715), which has well-preserved mosaics.
Next come Platanos, Trapeza, verdant hamlets, and Diakofto. This is where the funicular railway leaves for Kalavrita.
Continuing along the coast road, you see the roofs of one village after another poking through the unbroken green of the hillsides. Stop for a while at Egion. In this town, which is divided into an upper and a lower section, the old district near the shore is interesting; an enormus plane tree noted by Pausanias on his travels still reigns supreme.
The church of the Virgin Faneromeni, built according designs by Schiller, lies in the upper town. Just outside the town one can visit the chapel of the Virgin Tripiti, tucked into a crevice in a rock.
The parade of villages continues. Longos, with its pebby beach, Lambiri, with its lovely shore, Psathopirgos a pretty hamlet.
Each one has its special role to play, its distinquishing feature. And all of them have a little taverna or a quaint cafe where you can relax for a while.
Right before Patras comes Rio, a transportation hub uniting the Peloponnese with Central Greece and Epiros by car ferry.
Jutting towards the sea, the old Venetian to "Castle of the Morea", faded and ravaged by time, is the first thing to strike the eye.
Traversing Patras, continue along the old Patras - Pirgosl road. It is in good condition with a view of the sea and passes endless stretches oi sandy beach (Araxos) and charming villages lapped in greenery. This little jaunt ends at Kalogria in time for an afternoon dip and a rest on its white sand.
The mountains of Achaia
The mountain villages of Achaia are scattered below its three highest peaks, Mts. Panahaiko, Erimanthos or Olanos, and Aroaneia or Helmos.
Set atop invisible plateaus or on precipitous slopes amidst a riot of vegetation, these singularly lovely and picturesque villages inspire wonder in the wayfarer.
One can get to Kalavrita by car from Palras, the coastal village of Trapeza or by funicular from Diakofto The Palras-Kalavrita road passes by vineyards, olive groves and small, well-wooded hills. At a certain point the landscape begins to change, becoming more mountainous as the ascent to the magical mountains begins. Aromatic scents and cool air win the visitor over immediately. Plane trees and walnuts stand out to the right and left of the road.
Halandritsa: stone houses, courtyards, narrow lanes, a ruined Frankish castle, countless churches, bell towers with a Western touch.
The heart of Achaia begins to pound.
Next come the villages of Katarrahtis, Kalanistra, Kalanos. Mihas, perched on a hillside thick with walnut trees, catches your eye.
You pass Kato and Ano Vlassia, traditional hamlets built in 1660, and stop for a while at Flamboura.
A dirt road leads to the Monastery of Makellaria. An inscription relates that the monastery was built by Velissarius, Justinian's general, in 532. It contains a Byzantine icon of the Virgin, endowed with a curious feature: from wherever you stand you have the impression that the Virgin's eyes are following you. Back on the main road, any one of the many side roads you choose will take you to some forest, gorge or Byzantine monastery.
Karavrita lies ahead. These places and their myriad tiny villages are difficult to describe. To get to know them, you need to get out of your car, walk through the streets, visit their castles and churches, mingle with the people, take a drink with them and clink your glasses in a toast. Only then will you hear the heart of Achaia beat.
The trip on the funicular railway resembles a journey in a dream. Once the train has left the tranquil, peaceful landscape of Diakofto, it delves into the deep gorge of the Vouraikos river that runs down from Helmos.
Before long the little train is clutching the rails with its "teeth".
The higher you go the better you appreciate nature's silent work. Enormous rocks, boulders gnawed by time, trees hanging from the mountain slopes call forth awe and admiration.
The first stop - pause for breath is at Trekilia for a quick cup of coffee; then on to the village of Zahlorou at an altitude of 642 m.
This tratidional village possesses a rare natural beauty.
The town of Kalavrita, the third stop on the funicular, is spread out on the slopes of Helmos at an altitude of 750 metres.
Numerous tall plane trees offer their welcome shade. They line the streets like an arcade. The charming houses, streets, trees all make you feel right at home.
The town exudes tranquillity. Just outside town a Venetian fortress, "the castle of Orea", stands atop a bluff.
One can reach this monastery by road from the village of Trapeza or by footpath from Zahlorou. It feels as though the hand of God is leading you to the monastery.
As soon as you arrive, you stand speechless grandeur of nature.
The view is a perfect gilt-offering from the monastery. You' re 1000 metres above sea level.
Behind you an enormous building resembling a fortress rises to eight storeys within a gaping cavern in a towering clift; this is the legendary monastery.
Built in 362, it has since remained firmly wedged in Greek history. The 17th century monastery church has wonderful, if damaged frescoes, mosaic floors and a bronze door with relief decoration. The icon of the Virgin Mary hole Christ Child in her right arm is a relief made of wax and mastich, attributed to St. Luke. The monastery museuem contains holy relics and treasures, an icon screen of great age, carved wooden crosses, venerable manuscripts, Gospels, and the like.The silhouettes of the monks with their long hair, full beards and erect figures testify that another way of life - the ascetic way, so different from our own here reigns here.
The monastery of Agia Lavra 5 km. from Kalavrita is build at a point which commands a view of the whole Vouraikos river valley. Constructed in 961 at an altitude of 961 metres, it once also had 961 monks. It was here, from the present building dating from 1689, that the call for "freedom of death" first rang out in 1821, commanding Greeks to defend their heritage and throw off the Turkish oppressors. The revolutionaly banner was raised in the garden under the historic plane tree.
The monastery church has a fine carved icon frescoes damaged by fire and the icon of Agia Lavra.
Apart from the revolutionary banner, the relics include a very old Gospel, a gift of Catherine the Great, gold crosses; reliquaries and a valuable collection of early Christian and ancient objects.
On a hill opposite, a monument to the heroes of the Revolution of 1821 looks down over the monastery.
The Helmos Ski Centre lies 14 km. from Kalavrita on the main peak of Helmos. It has two lifts to an equal number ol lodges and slopes.
Lift A goes up to 1800 metres, while Lift B serves the higher peak (2,440 m.).
From the higher lodge one can see the Gulf of Corinth, gleaming like a huge lake, from the ridge of the mountain, Neraidorachi, almost the whole Peloponnese lies at your feet.
It is from Neraidorachi that one makes the descant to tha waters of the river Styx.
According to myth, the Styx marked the entrance to Hades. Its parents were Night and Erebus. Today the locals call it "Mavroneri" (Black Water), because of its colour in the depths of the ravine where it flows. The ancient Greeks believed it to be the fountain of immortality of the gods.
The cave of the lakes Kastria
A half-hour's drive from Kalavrita, near the village of Kastria, will bring you to the cave of the lakes.
A narrow passage takes you into a first small cave that broadens into an enormous cavern 2 kilometres long with 15 miniature lakes formed by natural dams.
The stalagmites and stalactites with their extraordinary shapes, the iridescent colours, the immense boulders, the small waterfalls and the tiny lakes with their natural dams stimulate and delight the imagination.
And now let's lake a trip to the cool green villages where one can see antiquities (KIitoria, Likouria) or vestiges of Frankish and Byzantine rule.
Each village has a precious gift to offer, something truly beautiful, You' II find so many springs on the way. Here and there wayside shrines. Sometimes a flock of sheep will block your passage on Ihe road and you' II hear the cautionary growl of the sheepdog, but the friendly nod of the shepherd will accompany you to the nearest hamlet.
Near by the village Pagrati, there is the famous "vine branch" of Pausanias, with very big branches, dating back to thousands of years. After that you'II spy villages climbing up a ravine (Aroania, 930 m.), others smothered in fir trees (Kertezi, 1050 m.).
The houses are all made of stone, with roofs of tile. If you look hard, you' II even find traditional houses with towers. All the villages have their main square, fountain with gushing water, little cafe or taverna. Kertei is renowned for its bean soup and glorious wine. And each place has a story to tell, whether about its Byzantine church and miraculous icon, its local castle or distant myth. Whoever you meet will greet you like a dear old friend. And it won't take long before you really are friends. It will be hard to drag yourself away. The country folk are a warm presence in Achaia. Their tables are laden with bread, olives, cheese, wine and kindness.
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