The Platamon Castle
The Platamon Castle (κάστρο του Πλαταμώνα), an important part of the history of the area, is a Crusader castle (built at its present form between 1204 and 1222) in northern Greece (Macedonia). It is located southeast of Mount Olympus, in a strategic position which controls the exit of the Tempi valley (the narrowest part of it, just before the Pineios River forms its fertile delta), through which passes the main road connecting Macedonia with Thessaly and southern Greece. The castle is located 4:30 hours drive from Athens, 1:15 hours from Thessaloniki and only 40 minutes from Larissa.
As a child, spending my summers at Platamon seaside town, built under the shadow of the castle, I was very much impressed by it, especially by the imposing castle tower (donjon), which overlooks the highway, and can be seen from afar.
The place on the hill, which today is occupied by the castle, was used as the acropolis by the city of Herakleion (Ηράκλειον) in ancient Greek times. But, the history of the area goes back to the Bronze Area.
In the year 430 BC, the Athenians conquered the place to control from here the Thermaean Gulf (the gulf of Thessaloniki) to their possessions on the Chalkidiki. At the beginning of the 3rd century BC, the city and the now established port were destroyed. A short time later the region was conquered by the Romans. In the year 169 BC, from Thessaly coming, they held their camp in the plain between Herakleion and Leivithra before starting their campaign against Macedonia. Of course, the outstanding strategic importance of the hill was not hidden from them. Probably at that time was built the first acropolis, which was surrounded by a low wall. Little evidence we have for the centuries following till the middle Byzantine epoch (10th century AD). The name Platamonas is mentioned for the first time in 1198 by a golden bull of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komninos I.
In 1204, Franconian knights founded the kingdom of Thessaloniki in the course of their conquest of Constantinople, which also included the castle of Platamon. They finally finished the bulwark, but had to leave in 1217 to make way for the Comnenes, a Byzantine aristocracy. During the course of the next two centuries the place was changing hands constantly, till the end of the 14th century, when the Ottomans came. They were replaced shortly by the Venetians in 1425, but in general the Ottomans remained here for almost four centuries. The last battles here took place during the Second World War: New Zealand troops who had moved into this area were bombed by the Germans (August 1941).
An uphill footpath leads from the parking lot to the gate of the castle, at the south. The castle is open every day and the hours vary according to the time of the year. During the summer months, it is open from 08:00 am to 08:00 pm. Due to the intense summer sun, I recommend you to visit it early in the morning or late in the evening. You do not need more than an hour or so to explore the castle and enjoy the stunning views of the beaches bellow or the Mount Olympus. The village of Neos Panteleimon is located at the west of the hill, across the highway.
Entrance fee: 2 euros (reduced: 1 euro). The ticket booth is located inside the castle, some 20m after entering its gate.
The castle is a polygon and had irregular towers at irregular intervals. Only the main tower, the donjon, which is surrounded by its own wall, is located at the western part of the complex. Unfortunately, it is not open to visitors. Donjon was the last retreat for the inhabitants. For strategic reasons, there is only a relatively narrow gate that can be defended well.
Many ruins of churches, houses, a smithy, pottery and other buildings testify to the life of the past.
Archaeological excavations in the northeast side of the castle area unearthed a Christian church (Church A) surrounded by a cemetery. Evidence points to this having been built in the 11th century, as a one-aisled church decorated with wall paintings and exquisite sculptures. A narthex was subsequently added (14th century), converting the church into a three-aisled basilica with a new series of wall paintings. An archaeological dig in area A brought to light a cemetery lying to the north and south of the church. More than 160 free burials, pit graves and burials in ciboria have been excavated, with offerings dating from the 13th to the 17th century.
A second, small, one-aisled church (church B) was located in the southeast section of the wall, decorated with frescoes dating from the mid-17th century. Over 127 late and post-Byzantine tombs, mostly pit graves, were discovered in the area immediately outside this church, mainly containing burials of infants and children.
Well-preserved cannons served in the later Middle Ages for the defense of the fortress can be found scattered in the area. To ensure the water supply during a longer lasting siege, there are several cisterns on the site.
The walls have a height of 7.50 to 9.50 m and have a thickness between 1.20 and 2 meters. Except for the destroyed upper part of the defense route in the east, they are well preserved. The wall is accessible in several places for visitors and invites you to enjoy the fantastic view of the surroundings.
Originally the castle complex was surrounded by another, lower wall. It formed the first line of defense in an emergency. Today, the only intact building is the small church of Agia Paraskevi, which is used for feasts and for private events, like weddings etc.
The acropolis serves as one of the Olympus Festival venues, which takes place annually in the months of July and August. In the open air, theatrical performances and concerts take place here.
While in the area, besides swimming or sunbathing at the beaches around the castle, do not miss visiting the village of Old (Palaios) Panteleimon, lying on the NE slopes of Mount Olympus, just 10-15 minutes drive from the castle. It is a traditional settlement and one of the best examples of traditional Macedonian architecture in northern Greece. The settlement was able to maintain its local color, as it had been almost deserted since the 1950s, when its inhabitants were massively moving to the larger settlement of New (Neos) Panteleimon. However, in the 1980s, the situation changed when the settlement was restored and its rapid tourist development began. The traditional local color of the settlement as well as the short distance from the tourist resorts of Pieria and the Athens - Thessaloniki national highway has skyrocketing the area. A must: have your lunch/dinner and a cake and coffee at the small main square of the village, under the huge plane trees. The beautiful church of Saint Athanasios is dominating the small square.