24th of September, 2016
Again, I am house sitting in Diakofto, Peloponnesus, Greece. This time the sea is warmer, but the days are shorter and the evenings colder than in May. I am not as energetic as in May, tired of renovating my house in The Netherlands and just enjoying some tennis and swimming. Still, there are some excursions on my “to do”list and one of them is “The Monastery Of Aghia Lavra”.
This Saturday, I take the train of 8.45 to Kalavrita again and it is one of those cooler, late summer days with just the right temperature for a hike up the mountain. Once in Kalavrita, I quickly put my sweater on, as it is at least a difference of 5 degrees or more with Diakofto. I can’t remember I have ever been here on a Saturday and it seems the many restaurants are preparing themselves for a very busy day. People started roasting the lamb and pork outside on big barbecues and on one of the main streets a market is taking place, with a variety of produce. The Romani Gypsies are also well represented, selling their clothing ware. One of the clocks of the cathedral is still giving the time of the executions during World War 2.
I decide I just have to buy something again, as a memory of this pretty town and this time it is a string of little goat bells on a chain with the “matia yia kali tixi” (the famous blue eyes for good luck) in between.
After a strong “cafe Elliniko” and a fresh tiropita (cheesepie) in the backpack, it is time to start walking up the road towards the Monastery. I quickly find the road just outside town and walk for a while together with a talkative Greek lady, until she returns home. I am now on my own and the only one I meet is a shepherd with his goats. I wonder where all the tourists are, as I even don’t see any buses or other cars. Looking down the hill, you see the valley of Kalavrita, with on the other side the tall cross of the Memorial, which I visited in May. The walk goes steep up the mountain and takes at least one hour. I have a short break, as it is quite a climb and finally arrive at around 12.30, while the Monastery closes at 1.00 for the two-hour siesta. So just on time!
One of the monks is sitting at the entrance of the Monastery, welcoming the people to the church and museum. The other part of the building is where the monks are living and no visitors are allowed there. Also, once inside, you can not take any pictures. I have a little chat with this very nice man and he was surprised that I walked on my own up the mountain. Not many people come to visit by foot he tells me and definitely no ladies on their own!
The monastery has a long history. It played a very important part in the Greek Revolution for Independence against the Turks. It is right here that the Archbishop “Paleon Patron” Germanos raises the Holy Labarum, the very first flag of the Greek Nation, in March 1821.
In 1826, Ibrahim Pasha set the Monastery ablaze. Only the “Katholikon”, the historical church, escapes full destruction. All the other buildings are burned down.
Another tragic event takes place in 1943, when the German occupation forces kill all the monks they can find, one day after the massacre in Kalavrita. The killings are taken place right under the huge plane tree, towering above the front yard.
The church is very small, but impressive with all its icons, lanterns and wall paintings.
Also the museum is tiny, but surprisingly full with interesting artifacts, Holy vestments and books, dating back to the 11th and 14th century.
By now it is 1.00 p.m. and siesta time for the monks. I wander around for a while in the garden and slowly start walking back down the mountain, which is way easier than going up. This time it only takes me around 45 minutes to reach Kalavrita. I see the train arriving at the station and decide to change my ticket and leave Kalavrita earlier than planned. This way, I can make a stop at Zachlarou, where I would like to have lunch in my favorite taverna from last time. As soon as I arrive, the owner comes towards me. He remembers me from last time! I wish I could go back many more times, but this time I had to pay the full fee for the train (19 euro’s) and that is pretty pricy.
Other hikers are joining me and we all go back down the gorge, with the last train of the day.