One of the most overlooked tourist destinations in Greece, with a unique architectural and cinematic atmosphere.
Vitsi, west of Florina and northwest of Kastoria, is geographically a triangle, the two sides of which touch the border line. Dense beech forests of incredible beauty and fog, which in some passages becomes almost solid, a welcome invasion of images and senses.
Korestia, also known as “brick villages”, is a cluster of mountain villages (Ano and Kato Kraniona, Halara, Melas, Makrochori, Mavrokampos, Agios Antonios, Gavros), which are mainly found on the road connecting Kastoria with Prespes.
Korestia is of great architectural and cultural interest thanks to the brick houses with their characteristic red colour, which can be found there. The houses were built by craftsmen in the first half of the last century with red mud, water and straw. Only in their foundation was stonework used, on which the bricks were supported to make the building solid. The bricks used for their construction are uncoated, uncooked, raw bricks. They consist of mud and straw poured into a simple mould, dried in the sun. The roofs were covered with wood, reeds and tiles. Made of mud and clay, at once humble and striking, they have a distinctive red colour and peek out from behind the walnut trees. All the buildings face in one direction, that is, the beneficial south side. There is no opening in the northern rear elevation. As can be seen, the bioclimatic architecture is based on folk architecture. The “mud houses” were built until 1940, after the Civil War the area was devastated.
Today they are crumbling, abandoned, left to the mercy of time and weather conditions.
Ruins of Kranionas
The densely built Kranionas, with its large two and three-storey brick houses developed in an organic ensemble, is one of the many abandoned villages of the borderland. Sixty to seventy houses constituted one residential unit, while a second one was often found in close proximity (Ano Kranionas, Ano Melas, etc.). A church, a school (only occasionally preserved) and chania (hostels) for travellers were the only non-private buildings.
On the road from Kastoria to Prespes, on a hill on the left of the road, a settlement with brick houses made of red earth and straw attracts the visitor’s attention. The sign reads Gavros. Going up the main road, one sees all around ruined houses, a school, a church, no human presence anywhere. You get a strange feeling and on the other hand the landscape looks familiar.
Ruins of Mavrokampos
Maurokambos of Kastoria is a mountainous settlement located at an altitude of 820m. It is located at the northern end of the prefecture of Kastoria, 25 km northwest of the city of Kastoria. It is reported by the French cartographer Anne Synvet, professor of geography at the Ottoman Lyceum of Constantinople, that in 1878 it had 600 Orthodox Christians and in 1886 300 Christians and a church.
The village of Halara had about 900 inhabitants in 1878. It is a mountainous settlement (altitude 870m) of the prefecture of Kastoria. It is located at the northern end of the prefecture, 26 km north of the city of Kastoria via the provincial road Vissinias-Gavros. The transition is also via the vertical axis of the Egnatia road, barrier Siatista-Krystallopigi at the junction of Gavros. In Halara it is worth seeing the watermill outside, built in 1900, and the church of Panagia, which is brick built in 1717.
Ano Melas is a village in the prefecture of Kastoria. It is built at an altitude of 1,030 metres on the slopes of Vernos (Vitsi). The village is brick-built, like most of the villages of Korestia. The settlement was recognized in 1940 and became part of the Melas community.
Today the landscape is quite changed. The national road, on the old alignment, meets again the increased traffic towards the border post of Krystallopigi, which connects Greece with Albania. Kranionas, Gavros (both now in ruins), Neos Oikismos (New Settlement – Korestia) images that tell their story, the adventures of the border mountain village in 20th century Greece, after the Civil War.
The area lives from the production of beans and looks forward to the development of agrotourism to keep its young people from migrating. The evocative backdrop of its ruined brick houses will perhaps be able to sustain its hopes.
The settlements of Korestia have been the backdrop scenery for films such as Philippos Filaktos’ “Pavlos Melas”, “James Bond: For Your Eyes Only” by John Glen, “Soul Deep” (Psychi Vathia) by Pantelis Voulgaris, “The Suspended Step of the Stork” by Theo Angelopoulos. Korestia was the choice of Theo Angelopoulos to shoot scenes from “The Suspended Step of the Stork” and Pantelis Voulgaris for “Psychi Vathia”. Sinking into absolute silence, we hear the creaking from the collapse of the walls of the empty houses, which cannot bear the weight of the mass of snow. Abandonment and loneliness, a numbed landscape. In this deafening silence you realize the “other” Greece, untouched by the wand of tourist euphoria.