Mount Olympus offers an enchanting blend of classical Greek mythology and rare flora and fauna. A trip to Olympus wouldn’t be complete without exploring the rich history of this legendary land. From touring the sacred site of Dion, to exploring one of the largest crusader castles in Greece, to uncovering a former refuge and monastery, here are the top three archaeological sites to visit in Olympus.
Dion Archaeological Park
You’ve surely heard of the god of all Olympian gods, Zeus, but have you heard of the ancient Macedonian city that was built and dedicated to the worship of Zeus? The history of Dion dates back to the Hellenistic period where the gods of Olympus were worshipped. Over the years, Dion developed into a prospering city with theaters, living quarters, stadiums and more. Later, the Romans would take over this thriving city and incorporate Roman baths and other characteristics of their motherland. Before reaching its end some time after the 10th century, the city also served as a bishopric and an administrative district for the Byzantine emperor.
The archaeological park and museum of Dion is open all year around for visitors. One can discover the ancient city’s sanctuaries created for Zeus, Demeter, Isis and other gods and goddesses. Greek and Roman theaters, ancient statues, Macedonian tombs and many more ancient finds can be observed on the site. This well-preserved archaeological site offers a real sense of how the Macedonians once lived and prospered.
Castle of Platamon
Overlooking the single most important passage in Northern Greece – the route connecting Macedonia with Thessaly and southern Greece – lays the Castle of Platamon, a stately medieval fortress. This historic castle dates back to the 13th century where dominance over the castle belonged to Crusaders, then to the Byzantine Emperor and finally to the Turks. Controlling this impressive fortress meant control over the Vale of Tempe. The Platamon Castle is surrounded by tall stonewalls and watch towers placed at irregular intervals for safeguarding. The castle also housed several houses, churches, a smithy, pottery and many other buildings that have been preserved throughout the centuries.
This medieval castle played such a significant role in the local history that it is now a celebrated landmark and prominent monument of Pieria. Travelers are invited to explore the grounds of the Castle of Platamon all year round. Several cultural events, theatrical performances and concerts take place every year inside the grounds of the castle as part of the Olympus Festival.
Saint Dionysios Monastery
Saint Dionysios Monastery was founded in 1542, by a single monk that was living in a cave not too far. For hundreds of years the monastery served as not only a religious sanctuary, but also as a refuge and shelter for locals and soldiers. The first attack on the monastery was made in 1821 by Veli Pasha, son of Ali Pasha. During the Olympus Revolution of 1878, St. Dionysios Monastery functioned as a shelter for women and children by halting the prohibition of women in the monastery. Throughout the Macedonia Struggle and WWII, the monastery served once again as a shelter until it was almost burned to the ground by the bombarding of German invaders.
The original monastery has been preserved and restored as much as possible while a new monastery, under the same name, has been built just 15km from the old one. Apart from playing such an active role in protecting locals and soldiers, Saint Dionysios Monastery is well known for its fortress-like structure made from wood and stone.