Mikro Papingo is located at an altitude of 980 meters under the huge stone blocks of mount Tymfi. Pic 1 was taken on way there from Megalo Papingo, it looks like an eagle’s nest up there!
We drove there and parked the car near the church of Taxiarches which is the main church of the village with the paved square and the nice panoramic view. Mikro Papingo is densely built (typical in Zagori villages) with numerous stone houses and enclosed courtyards. We strolled a bit around on the cobblestone alleys of Mikro Papingo and checked the old mansions and many other smaller houses all made by stone, its really picturesque here no matter it gets lot of visitors because it is declared traditional settlement, the surrounded nature is beautiful too.
There are some tavernas (a place called Ksenonas tu Dia is famous for its meat soup) but we only stoped at Astraki café to drink something warm because we wanted to have lunch at Megalo Papingo.
Don’t forget that Mikro Papingo is the starting point for numerous hiking trails, the first official shelter of Astraka is located at an altitude of 1950 meters (can be reached in 3 hours) through the path. Longer paths are only for experienced hikers (Dragonlake is 4 hours away, Gamila peak 5,5 h).
The village celebrates on September 8 a date dedicated to Panagia Paliouri which is the patron saint of the village.
According to some old books the Church of Taxiarches was probably part of an old monastery that was there since 1801. The church was probably built at that time although above the south entrance the year 1808 can be seen but probably that was the date of renovation.
It’s a type of a eastern orthodox basilica church with small octagonal dome and narthex. To the east there are three polygonal apses and to the south side there is an arched portico.
Inside the church you can see the temple dates from the early 19th century, it is wood carved with perforated technique and has images from the same period. The church was adorned with frescoes before its renovation but they no longer exist.
Upon entering to Mikro Papingo we saw this religious structure which is not a chapel but what we called proskinitirio, a place for pilgrimage.
It is dedicated to Agia Paraskevi (Saint Parasevi of Rome) an early Christian martyr that was born in Rome in 2nd century. She was born on Friday (Paraskevi in greek) and her parents (of greek origin) that had prayed many years to have a child named her after that day. When Paraskevi became 20 she entered a Christian community of virgins and widows and then started to preach about Christian faith in numerous towns. She was arrested for that by emperor Antoninus Pius that forced her to denounce her faith but she refused so she was tortured. Lot of people converted to Christians something illegal at that era that was putting them in execution. Paraskevi tortured again while in prison (immersed into a kettle of oil and tar, her limbs seared with torches etc) but she supposed to survive with no scars so she was accused for magic by the emperor. Paraskevi throwed the kettle on emperor’s face that got blind and begged for mercy! Paraskevi said that only the Christian God can help him. So to make the long story short when the emperor managed to see again stopped the persecutions against the Christian people. The problem is that she was imprisoned again by the next emperor Marcus Aurelius and although she was tortured again in several different spots she always managed to stay unharmed until Taracius decided to execute her by decapitation…
Just over Papingo you can see the Towers (Pirgoi in greek) of Papingo, they are huge (350-400 meters) vertical rock formations with the highest of them up to 1788 meters (highest peak of mount Tymfi is at 2436 meters).
It’s a magical background covered with snow in winter but I loved it early in the morning when fog was there, I remembered the epic song from Hobbit:
There’s a tale that must be told /
Of our mysterious misty mountains /
Behind all the songs I wrote
or the old greek saying:
Fortunate are the mountains /
they never getting old /
The only await the spring and the beautiful summer...
Many tourists think of Greece because of the islands but for me it’s the mainland and the high mountains that make me feel real excitement, as the greek writer Lampros Malamas said :
“height always attractively get you high, it gives you mental exaltation and winged strenght upon you existence…”
I was afraid that I would like Papingo as other Zagori villages because it is more popular but since we arrived at Megalo Papingo we loved it. As I said it is the best known village of Zagori which means there are plenty of guesthouses/hotels and numerous traditional tavernas/restaurants with local dishes. The good thing is that all these facilities don’t spoil the picture of the area with the traditional architecture. You look around and see the buildings in strict geometrical form with basic clean volumes all made by stone (usually remains uncoated) and always a roof by schistolith.
At the entrance of Megalo Papingo you can see the church of Agios Vlasios (1852 on a spot that was a church since 912!), the old school. We walked through the cobblestone alleys, there werent many people around as it was cold and most visitor seemed to relax next to fireplaces but it was nice to check all these stone mansions and other structures, there was even a huge chess board on a central square (pic 3).
We ended up like most visitors in a local tavern where we had a tasty meal. There are many places to eat, it’s up to you which one to choose but don’t forget that many greeks visit the village for the tasty local meats, but also great cheeses (most of them made local sheeps), the famous local galotyri (dairy product, something between cheese and yogurt that fits perfectly with meat dishes) and amazing pites (greek pies filled with spinach and other local greens or cheese or chicken)
Megalo Paping has a traditional festival on july 20 with many visitors that come to enjoy traditional music.
Agios Vlassios church is the main church of Megalo Papingo right at the entrance.
The church was built in 1852 on the spot of an older church that was there since 912! From that old church they have kept a small piece of the old temple that is kept in the altar.
The church is dedicated to Saint Vlasios. He lived in early 4th century and offered medical help to poor people giving them medicines for free. He became bishop of Sevastia during the years of emperor Likinos (308-323AD) but he was tortured by provincial governor Agrikolas (whipped mercilessly with sticks, hunged from a wood and then threw him into a lake). Legend says he didn’t die so the bad guys decapitated in 316AD and became a martyr for the Christian church.
For some reason that is not clear to me the church is also dedicated to Saint Dimitrios and the Holy Trinity.
There was not enough light inside so I couldn’t get proper photos of the rich interior and its temple but I had an interesting chat with the old man that is the guard of the church, he told me the story of Saint Vlasios but also gave me information about the other churches of Papingo.
Just outside the church you can see the imposing 15 meters high bell tower. It was built in 1887 in hexagonal shape. It was cute during the night with the lights (pic 5)
Kalinios school (it faces Agios Vlasios church) was built in 1897 by Michael Polichroniou and renovated by Michael Anagnostopoulos (1837-1906).
It is the old school of Papingo that houses in our days the WWF Information Center where you get information on flora and fauna of the region.
In front of the school there is a bust of Michael Anagnostopoulos(1837-1906), a benefactor of Papingo. He was born in Papingo but went to Athens, where he studied philosophy at university and worked as a journalist "Ethnofylakas" and was against the monarch Otto of Bavaria. In 1897 he met with Samuel Gridley Howe, who was the second time for an important trip to Greece this time to distribute money supporting the Cretan rebellion against the Ottomans but he also asked Anagnostopoulos (known as Anagnos away from Greece) to help him with at Perkins School for the Blind and teach greek to his daughter Julia Romana Howe. I don’t know if she managed to learn greek but the fact is they got married in 1870 :)
6 years later Perkin Howe died and Anagnos became the director of Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. Apart from the donations he gave to Papingo he contributed to the founding of the Orthodox Cathedral in Boston and helped creating the Pan-Hellenic Union (the first greek national Association in the States)
Other notable people (personalities of literature, science and arts) originate from Papigo:
Georgios Anagnostopoulos (1867 - 1952) professor of linguistics at the University of Athens,
Zacharias Sardelis (1830 - 1913) scholar, journalist and publisher of IRIS newspaper in Bucharest
Christodoulos Tsiotidis (1838 - 1894), consul of Greece in Bucharest
A weird but popular spot near Megalo Papingo are kolimpithres a natural swimming pool! They are also called Ovires by the locals.
They are large cavities that look like small lakes, they are formed due to erotion by the water of the Rogovos stream.
It was nice to see them filled with water, they look like pools. During the summer months many people go there for swimming, have in mind that even then the water is very cold. Of course in late December just standing there was painful enough :)
The only churches we visited properly were Agios Vlasios church at Megalo Papingo and church of Taxiarches in Mikro Papingo. But there are some more churches (unfortunately their gates were closed):
Agios Georgios church.
It was built in 1774, renovated in 1880 and houses some rare paintings. It has a 10 meters high bell tower that was built in 1830.
Agia Paraskevi church.
This is one of the oldest church according to some of the paintings but no one really knows the exact date. There is a date (1898) on the east side but that must be the date of renovation.
According to my notes it is decorated with excellent religious paintings. On the east side the year 1774 is written on the wall. Unfortunately the church was open one day before we arrive in Papingo.
Voidomatis river is one of the most popular rivers in Epirus. The name "Voidomatis" means "the eye of the ox". If you are brave enough you can swimm there....The water is very very cold!!!
The river is ideal for rafting and river kayak.
Vradeto stairs were original purpose was connecting Vradeto to the village of Kapesovo and the rest of the villages in the area. There are 1144 steps made out of slate stone, that twist and turn to an almost vertical climb.
The area fauna is tick and varied. Human existence goes back more than 40,000 BC. Inhabitants in the area found the necesity to build bridges in order to communicate with the neighbor villages. Most of them are made out of stone and perfectly constructed but few are still in use.
Most of the villages are depopulated only a few eldery remain in the area. Go and walk around, enjoy the peaceful silence.
Make sure you wear appropiate shoes, the stones are very slipery.