Halkidiki (or Chalkidiki) is located in northern Greece 69 km from the city of Thessaloniki. It essentially consists of three ‘fingers’ jagging into the Aegean Sea. These three prongs are Kassandra, Sithonia, and Mount Athos. The inviting beaches of Halkidiki and the established facilities here have made it one of the tourism hotspots in Greece. There is also plenty of opportunity for religious tourism thanks to the numerous old churches here. Besides, Mount Athos abounds with monasteries and is exclusively reserved for spiritual advancement. Read on to learn more about religious tourism in Halkidiki, Greece.
Mythology and History of Halkidiki
This region has a rich and colorful mythology. In fact, Kassandra, Sithonia and Mount Athos are all named after characters in Greek mythology. There is evidence that humans inhabited this part of Greece as early as 700,000 years ago. The oldest known inhabitants were Thracians who lived here in the fourth century BC. Modern history begins in 1430 when the Turks invaded this area. They ruled the area for four centuries until the Greek revolution began in 1821. Greek fighters finally evicted the Turks in 1922 and restored Halkidiki to Greece.
The demographics of Halkidiki changed in 1921 when refugees from Bulgaria, Eastern Thrace, and Asia Minor flooded the area as they were driven homeless by the Asia Minor catastrophe of the Greco-Turkish War. These newcomers enriched the place with their unique cuisine, music, and culture. You can still find the people of Halkidiki proudly holding on to and practicing their ancient traditions.
Religious Tourism in Halkidiki
Religious tourists have plenty to do and see in Halkidiki. Besides the ancient churches, they can make a pilgrimage to the monastic island of Mount Athos. Every year, about a million tourists travel to his cradle of orthodox Greek Christianity. The monasteries here abound with ancient relics and utensils, priceless artwork, mosaics, libraries, and rich murals. There is also the Ioustinianos museum which is located in the village of Flogita and is devoted to Byzantine art.
Churches in Halkidiki
The following are a few of the popular and important churches in Halkidiki:
The Monastery of Zographou
This ancient monastery in Kassandra is dedicated to Saint George, known as Saint George the Zograf, and was a dependency of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church because it was founded by three Bulgarian Monks, Moses, Aaron, and Ioannis from Achri in the late 9th or early 10th century. Today it attracts many visitors who are awed by the remains including the main church, a 14th century Byzantine tower and a fountain constructed in 1853.
Athonite Monastery of Dochiariou
The Athonite Monastery of Dochiariou was founded in the 10th century by the Monk Daniel the Docheiarios and is part of Mount Athos. The church inside the monastery was built in 1568 and is devoted to Archangels Michael and Gabriel and is the biggest church in Mount Athos. Inside the temple, you will find murals by the famous Cretan painter Tzotzis. Please have in mind that you have to apply for a permit in order to visit Mount Athos and the monastery and as in every monastery in Mount Athos only men are allowed to enter.
The Church of Agios Demetrius
This is my favorite church in Halkidiki! The hallmark of this holy place is its unique architecture constructed like a basilica. It has an awe-inspiring dome and houses old religious reliefs and icons. It is located in Aphytos village and was built in 1858. Aphytos is a small village 4 km outside of Kalithea. If you ever plan to visit Greece and Halkidiki you have to visit this village too.
The Chapel of Panaghia Phaneromeni
A beautiful chapel with bright white walls, this church is located at the beach shore on the path to Nea Skioni. You can find amazing frescoes here dating back to the 16th century. According to the local tradition the church was built at the beach shore by the villagers because they have found a big marble with the depiction of the Virgin Mary floating on the surface of the sea. Although the initial plan was to build the church on the hill, every night the church would be destroyed and the marble icon was found near the sea.
Monastic Mount Athos
The monastic self-governed state of Mount Athos is also called the Holy Mountain. This peninsula has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. It hosts many monasteries on its green rugged slopes, which are home to about 2,000 monks. Women are not allowed to enter Mount Athos, and men must apply for a permit, months beforehand to visit here. Even with a permit, men can only stay up to four days. Women and men without a permit can get onto excursion boats that sail around Mount Athos to view the monasteries and other sights from a distance. There is a hotel in this area that took its name from Mount Athos and throughout the year organizes special events with the Friends of Mount Athos such as conferences, lectures, and exhibitions in order to promote religious and charitable work. Tourists and especially Orthodox Russians and Orthodox Bulgarians prefer this hotel exactly for this reason.