What role has religion played in Greece throughout history?

Today, 81.4% of the Greeks are Orthodox Catholics. This is a huge percentage if you compare this to Christians in the UK or Protestants in the US. More impressive is the number when you imagine that modern Greece only exists since 1830. Before, the Greeks have been under Ottoman and Roman rule for years. Besides, when you mention Greek religion, you might think about Nike and Zeus. Ancient Greek goddesses and gods who lived long before the Orthodox religion. Confusing, the Greeks. So here is the story behind religion in Greece, and its impact on society.

From Temple to Church

Ancient Greece

Let’s start at the beginning, with Zeus and Nike. The ancient Greeks had a polytheistic religion. They worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses who were believed to control various aspects of the natural world and human life. These gods were thought to reside on Mount Olympus and were often depicted in art and mythology. Religion was deeply ingrained in everyday life, with festivals and rituals held regularly to honor the gods and goddesses.

Religion also played a role in politics. The city-states often had a chief priest or priestess who served as an intermediary between the people and the gods. In addition, religion was a source of cultural identity for the ancient Greeks. Each god or goddess was often associated with specific regions or city-states.

The Romans

The ancient Greek gods and goddesses were worshipped by the ancient Greeks. However, with the death of Alexander the Great, in 323 B.C., the ancient civilization died as well. Now comes the time of the Roman influence in Greece, and with the Romans, Christianity. A process that took place over several centuries.

The ancient Greek polytheistic religion was practiced for thousands of years and deeply ingrained in society. The spread of Christianity in Greece was initially slow and faced resistance from some members of society. Early Christian communities in Greece were often small and faced persecution from the Roman authorities.

However, as Christianity began to gain acceptance and support from powerful members of society, it slowly began to spread and gain followers. The adoption of Christianity as the official state religion was a major turning point in the spread of the religion in Greece. This happened in the Byzantine Empire in the 4th century A.D. Emperor Constantine the Great, who was himself a convert to Christianity, supported the spread of Christianity He provided funding for the construction of churches and other religious institutions throughout the empire.

The start of the Orthodox Church

With the support of the state, Christianity began to gain widespread acceptance in Greece. Many of the traditional polytheistic religious practices and beliefs were gradually replaced with, or re-explained as, Christian ones. The ancient Greek gods and goddesses were often reinterpreted as Christian saints. Besides, many of the traditional religious festivals and holidays were replaced with Christian ones. It was the syncretism of Christianity with the traditional religion that helped it to spread in Greece. And so the history of the Orthodox religion in Greece begun.

The Orthodox religion in the history of Greece

The Orthodox Church has been an important institution in Greece, playing a central role in the cultural, social and political life of the country. It has played a role in shaping the country’s education, social welfare, and cultural heritage. The Orthodox Church has also been an important force in the preservation of Greek language, culture and tradition. Additionally, the Orthodox Church continues to play an important role in the Greece’s identity. Many religious festivals and holidays are still celebrated and are an important part of Greek society today.

Religion was what defined the Greeks

After the 4th century A.D the main religion in Greece has been the Orthodox religion. However, in these 1700 years, many other things changed in the country. There has been a Byzantine Greece, a Latin Greece and an Ottoman Greece. The country has been occupied by many other empires. Greece has split up and has been attacked. Yet, the Orthodox church survived.

This is what makes religion in Greece something special throughout history. There where times that the Church was the only thing preserving the Greek language, culture and traditions. However, occupants also had an influence on the Greek Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox religion during the Ottoman Rule

During the Ottoman period (1453-1821), the Greek Orthodox Church was placed under the authority of the Ottoman millet system. Which recognized the Greek Orthodox Church as an autonomous community within the empire. The Greek Orthodox Church was allowed to continue its religious practices, but its leaders were appointed by the Ottoman authorities. The Church’s property and finances were controlled by the state. The Church was also expected to support the Ottoman government and its policies.

This had a significant impact on the Church’s role in Greek society. The Church was not able to play its traditional role as an independent institution and was instead used as a tool of the Ottoman government.

The Orthodox religion in WWII

During the period of German occupation in WWII, the Greek Orthodox Church was initially seen as a potential ally by the occupiers. However, the Church and its leaders soon became vocal opponents of the occupation. Many priests and bishops actively supported the resistance and many were arrested and executed by the Germans. The Church’s property was also seized and its leaders were exiled.

After the war, the Church regained its independence and played a significant role in the reconstruction of the country. The role of the Church during the war helped to establish the Church as a symbol of national resistance and identity.

Religion in Greece today

Today, the Greek Orthodox Church is still the dominant religion in Greece. The religion plays a central role in the cultural, social, and political life of the country. Many schools and hospitals are run by the Church or by Church-affiliated organizations. The Church also continues to play an important role in the preservation of Greek language, culture, and tradition. Many religious festivals and holidays are still celebrated and are an important part of Greek society today. Additionally, the Orthodox Church continues to play an important role in the country’s political and social development, and it is considered as an important element of the Greek national identity

The Church of Greece is self-governed and administrates its own affairs, but it remains under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, it also has its own independent hierarchy, the Church of Greece, which is headed by the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece.

Do you want to prepare yourself for a visit to Greece? Or do you simply want to learn all there is to known about this beautiful country? Leave your email below and get the answer to all your questions!

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5 unique and local Easter traditions around Greece

Easter is the most significant religious holiday in Greece. It is celebrated by all Greeks, all over the world. However, it is the perfect time for you to explore Greek culture. While the celebration of Easter is a time of joy, renewal, and hope for the Greeks, family and friends to come together, share traditional Easter foods, and break some red-dyed eggs. Greek easter traditions include lighting the Paschal candle, reading the Passion of Christ, and a spit-roasted lamb. Besides, every island and region in Greece has its own unique and local traditions related to this special holiday. Below is a list of the most unique and local Easter traditions in Greece.

The Rocket War at Chios

The northeastern Aegean Sea island of Chios is known for its unique Easter tradition. The Rouketopolemos, or Rocket War. In other words, a friendly competition between the two main churches of Chios. Locals gather at Saint Marcos and Panagia Ereithiani, and from there they launch thousands of homemade fireworks at each other. The result is magnificent, as the whole town lights up with the horizontally flying fireworks.

The origin of this event is unknown, but local legend dates it back to the Ottoman era. However, the event did not go without danger, and often the emergency resources had to step in. Fires and accidents were far too common. As a result, it is no longer allowed to aim directly at the other church from the streets since 2021. Nevertheless, the event remains a unique and local Easter tradition in Greece.

The smashing pots of Corfu

On Corfu, the earthquake custom is revived in the Holy Church of Panagia ton Xenos, where the faithful hit the pews to simulate the earthquake that occurred after Jesus’ resurrection. While bells of all the city’s churches ring joyfully at 11 a.m., the residents throw water-filled clay jugs tied with red ribbons from their balconies or windows. This Corfu-only tradition dates back to the Venetian occupation of the island and represents the removal of bad luck and the bringing of good luck and prosperity.

The balloons of Leonidio

In Leonidio, a tradition is practiced on the night of the Resurrection. Residents light hundreds of colorful balloons and release them into the sky while the priests chant” Xriston Anesti. Christ is Risen. Before this night, every household in Leonidio’s five parishes prepares their balloons with great care, employing a unique technique involving cane and paper. The balloons can fly up high into the air and are detonated with a piece of oil-soaked cloth. The view is unbelievable, like a swarm of flaming birds forming a new constellation in the sky accompanied by fireworks. 

The tradition is thought to have originated in ancient times when lighted torches in specific locations on mountaintops were used to send messages over long distances. However, local sailors were said to have been inspired by similar customs in Asia. They brought the hot air balloons back to their homeland, where it was incorporated into the Resurrection celebration.

Acting in Paros

Easter traditions in Greece are not limited to Easter Sunday. Instead, the Greeks celebrate a week of Easter, the Holy Week. The Friday before Easter Sunday is the day on which Jesus was crucified. The Greeks celebrate this with the Epitaphios processionThe Greek Good Friday parade.

On Paros, the parade follows an interesting route along the mountain villages. It goes around the streets, but along the way, there are multiple stops. At these stops, a scene from Jesus’ life is represented. Around 200 people, mostly children, participate to act in these different scenes. A fascinating tradition!

A march into the sea at Tinos

The Tinos church is a popular destination for many holidays, particularly Easter. On Good Friday night, the Catholic Epitaph is walked around the Chora area, followed by seven epitaphs from different parishes gathering on a marble platform for prayers. Many people attend the ceremony, and boats and ships participate by “whistling” and bowing in unusual ways. Saint Nicholas’ epitaph is then carried into the sea with lit torches and a burning cross, creating a magical atmosphere.

Travel tip:

If you’re planning on visiting on of these unique and local Easter traditions in Greece, keep in mind that Greek (Orthodox) Easter, might not be on the same day as your Easter. This year, Easter will be celebrated on the 16th of April.

Did this article trigger your curiosity about the Greek culture? Leave your email below and discover the Real Greeks!

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The Greek red Easter eggs explained

In Greece, Easter is the most important religious holiday. However, the Easter bunny does not bring its colorful eggs to this country. Instead, Greek Easter is celebrated with traditions including lamb, candles, and the famous red eggs. But why are they red? And what do these eggs mean to the Greeks? Here is the tradition of the Greek red Easter eggs explained.

Why are the eggs red?

The custom of decorating eggs for Easter dates back to ancient times and can be found in many cultures around the world. In Greece, however, the color of the eggs is fixed. They have to become red. This tradition is a centuries-old custom with deep religious and cultural significance. In fact, the color red symbolizes the blood of Jesus Christ, which was shed on the cross.

Painting the eggs

In Greece, the tradition of dyeing Easter eggs is a multi-day process that begins on Holy Thursday. On this day, families gather to dye the eggs red using natural dyes made from boiling red onion skins or from the madder plant. After the eggs get their red coat, they are left to dry and later decorated with intricate designs using wax and dye.

The decorated eggs are then displayed on the family’s Easter table. Besides, they are exchanged among family and friends as a symbol of love and friendship. On Easter Sunday, the eggs are cracked open and shared among the family as a symbol of new life and resurrection.

Cracking the red eggs

The custom of cracking the red Greek Easter eggs is also a meaningful tradition. Since cracking the red Easter eggs symbolizes the cracking of the tomb of Jesus Christ. The eggs are cracked on Easter Sunday. Either right after the Resurrection Service in front of the church or at home amongst family. 

The tradition of cracking the red eggs is called tsougrisma. This is a small and easy game. You take one egg, and you have to tap it against another person’s egg. The goal is to crack other eggs without breaking your own. You can choose which end of the egg you use as long as it is not broken. The person whose egg remains unbroken is considered to be blessed with good luck for the coming year.

A strong tradition

The Greek tradition around red Easter eggs is one of the most widely practiced traditions. It is a cherished part of the country’s cultural heritage. Many families continue to use natural dyes and decorate the eggs with intricate designs, passed down from generation to generation. 

The tradition of red Easter eggs is also celebrated by many Greek communities around the world, keeping the customs and culture alive for future generations. I actually cracked my first red Easter eggs in the Netherlands!

Easter in Greece

Easter is one of the most important holidays in the Greek Orthodox Church and is celebrated with great solemnity and reverence. The Easter eggs are just one aspect of the rich tradition and symbolism that surrounds this time of year. Other traditions include lighting the Paschal candle and reading the Passion of Christ. Easter is also a time for family and friends to come together, share meals, and enjoy traditional Easter foods. A spit-roasted lamb and Easter bread are some examples. The celebration of Easter in Greece is a time of joy, renewal, and hope. Besides, every island and region in Greece has its own unique and local traditions related to this special holiday. 

If you’re planning on visiting Greece to explore the Easter traditions yourself, keep in mind that Greek (Orthodox) Easter, might not be on the same day as your Easter. This year, Easter will be celebrated on the 16th of April.

Did this article trigger your curiosity about the Greek culture? Leave your email below and discover the Real Greeks!

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The 10 most romantic activities in Greece

Sunset cruises

Greece offers several beautiful sunset cruises, offering the chance to watch the sun set over the Mediterranean while enjoying a glass of wine or a delicious meal. Some cruises offer live music or traditional Greek dancing, adding to the romance of the experience. Check out the available options here. Most of these are on the famous islands of Santorini and Mykonos. However, many of the smaller islands do have boat rental options and you can contact them to see the possibilities.

Beach dinners

Many of Greece’s beaches offer the chance to dine al fresco, in the open air. With tables set up on the sand and the sound of the waves in the background. Whether you’re looking for a casual beachside tavern or a more upscale dining experience, you’ll find plenty of options to suit your preferences.

Wine tastings

Greece is home to many excellent wineries, offering the chance to sample some of the country’s finest wines. Many wineries offer guided tastings and tours, giving you the chance to learn more about Greek wine while enjoying a romantic experience.

Spa treatments

Greece is home to several luxury spas, offering a range of treatments and therapies to relax and rejuvenate. Whether you’re looking for a couples massage or a romantic soak in a Jacuzzi, you’ll find plenty of options to suit your needs. 

Besides the man-made spas, the country offers natural hot springs as well. A great option for a romantic getaway during the winter months is in Posar. Posar is a small village in the North of Greece, close to a ski center and famous for its natural hot springs and spa hotels.

Horseback riding

Greece is home to some riding schools and stables, offering guided rides through the countryside, along the beach, or even in the water. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider, you’ll find a ride to suit your needs, and there’s nothing quite as romantic as trotting through the countryside on horseback. Check some of the options here.

Hiking

Greece is home to beautiful hiking trails, offering the chance to explore the country’s rugged landscapes and stunning views. Whether you’re looking for an easy walk or a challenging multi-day trek, you’ll find a route to suit your needs, and there’s nothing quite as romantic as hiking through the Greek countryside hand-in-hand.

Sunset dinners

Many of Greece’s restaurants offer outdoor seating with views of the sunset, offering the chance to dine al fresco while watching the sun go down. Whether you’re looking for a casual taverna or a more upscale dining experience, you’ll find plenty of options to suit your preferences.

One of my favorite romantic dinner options in Greece can be found on the small island of PaxiErimitis offers not only a relaxed atmosphere but a magical panoramic view over the island’s white cliffs and the sea as well. The food here is extremely tasty and the service is excellent. 

Island hopping

Greece is home to countless beautiful islands, each with its own unique character and charm. Whether you’re looking for a laid-back beach holiday or an adventure-filled island-hopping experience, you’ll find plenty of options to suit your needs.

Sailing

Greece has a long tradition of sailing, and the country is home to many marinas and yacht clubs. Whether you’re an experienced sailor or just looking to try something new, you can rent a boat or join a guided tour to explore the beautiful coastlines of Greece.

Beach picnics

Many of Greece’s beaches offer the chance to enjoy a romantic picnic, with tables set up on the sand or in the shade of a tree. Pack a basket with some delicious Greek specialties and enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner on the beach.

Santorini is the most romantic island

Santorini is considered to be the most romantic destination in Greece. It is the island where people propose, go on a honeymoon, or celebrate an anniversary. The island is known for its stunning sunsets, beautiful beaches, and charming towns and villages. All of which provide the perfect setting for a romantic getaway.

Santorini offers luxurious accommodations and romantic amenities such as private pools and jacuzzis. Many of the island’s restaurants offer outdoor seating with views of the sunset. Providing the perfect setting for a romantic dinner.

The island is also home to several beautiful wineries, offering the chance to sample some of the finest vintages while enjoying the stunning views. And with a wide range of activities to enjoy. From sailing and snorkeling to hiking and horseback riding, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to make memories together.

Romance is everywhere in Greece

However, Santorini is not for everyone’s budget and can get extremely crowded during summer. Looking for a more affordable or off-the-beaten-path romantic experience? I can guarantee you that you will be able to find romance on all of Greece’s islands and even on the mainland. Whether you’re looking for a laid-back beach holiday or an adventure-filled island-hopping experience, you’ll find plenty of options to suit your needs. From sunset dinners to idyllic mountain villages. And from private jacuzzis to unique beaches. Greece is a beautiful and romantic country and offers romantic experiences for every budget.

Do you want to prepare yourself for a visit to Greece? Or do you simply want to learn all there is to known about this beautiful country? Leave your email below and get the answer to all your questions!

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The tradition of Names Day in Greece

Every culture has its own unique customs and traditions, and the Greeks are no exception. One of the most celebrated traditions in Greece is the celebration of Names Day. They occur throughout the whole country nearly every day of the year. But what is this tradition of Names day in Greece? Where does it come from, and how is it celebrated?

What is a Names day?

Greek culture is intertwined with the Orthodox religion. It was actually the Orthodox church that preserved the Greek nationality throughout the many years of occupancy in the country’s history. Name days in Greek culture are, as well, an Orthodox tradition.

In the Orthodox religion, there are many Saints. A Saint is a man or woman, chosen by God to serve as an example of how to live a holy life. They are the intermediates between God and the Orthodox Christians. As a result, many Greeks pray to these Saints, celebrate their existence, and name their children after them. 

The Orthodox Church celebrates a Saint almost every day of the year, and these days, are the name days. For example, my name is Anna. Saint Anna is the mother of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is celebrated on the 25th of July. On this day, the Greeks celebrate not only her but instead everyone named Anna. My Name day is on the 25th of July.

A note on Saints

The Orthodox religion states that Saints are people chosen by God. However, this is a religious definition. A more scientific explanation is slightly less holy. 

When the Christion Religion spread throughout Europe, the Greeks believed in their own local Gods. Getting the Greeks to join the church was difficult. You can not just take someone’s God and replace him with your own. 

What happened was that many of the local Gods were accepted into the Christian religion as Saints. This way, the religion spread while the people could still honor their own God. This did not only occur in Greece but all over the world. It was one of the reasons that Christianity was able to spread so quickly.

How is Names day celebrated?

The celebration of Names day has been a part of Greek culture for centuries and is still as popular as ever. On names days, it is traditional for family and friends to get together and celebrate the Saint’s feast day with a festive meal. Greeks honor this special day by exchanging gifts and cards with their loved ones. The presents may be anything from a special cake to a bouquet of flowers. 

It is also a custom to give a small amount of money to the person whose name is being celebrated. This is done to symbolically thank the Saint for his, or her, protection and guidance throughout the year. 

Another popular tradition on Names Day in Greece is for the person whose name is being celebrated to make a wish for the year ahead. This can be anything from good luck to health to a successful career. The wish is then passed on to their friends and family, who will do their best to make it come true.

Name days are more important than birthdays

The way Names day is celebrated in Greece almost sounds like the Greeks have a second birthday. However, for them, this day is actually more important than celebrating the day they were born.

Until the Second World War, many Greeks did not know how old they were. Neither did they know their date of birth. Birthdays have only been celebrated in Greece in the last century. Before this, a birthday was considered an unimportant, even selfish, day for the Orthodox church. Your name, however, was of great importance. 

It was considered a privilege to carry a Saint’s name, and the Greeks had to honor their name throughout life. Every Greek Anna was expected to become as righteous and virtuous as Saint Anna. An Orthodox name sets the path you should follow to lead a holy life. Celebrating Names day is therefore a way to honor a person’s connection to the church and his religious life. 

Influence on naming traditions?

The tradition of Names day in Greece is closely related to the way the Greeks name their newborns. Unlike other countries, in Greece, it is not common to use more modern names. Instead, a boy is named after his grandfather and a girl after her grandmother. Names stay traditional, and therefore the tradition of Name days remains popular.

However, it could also be the other way around. Maybe it is the tradition celebration of Names day, keeping the traditional way of naming in Greece alive. A modern name in Greece results in just one day of presents and celebration. Something no child wants when the rest of the Greeks have two! As a result, the most modern names in Greece are short for traditional names but still refer to one of the many Saints of the Orthodox church.

Do you have a Greek Name day?

There are over 150.000 English words that originate from the Ancient Greek language. And with names, Greek origin is common as well. Gus comes from Konstantinos, Kelly from Angeliki, and Bill from Vasilis. Chances are your name has a Greek counterpart, meaning you can start celebrating the Names day tradition. Check this website to see on which day your name is honored in Greece!

How to congratulate a Greek on Names day?

Do you know some Greeks and want to surprise them on their Names day? Congratulating someone in Greek is actually pretty easy. The Greeks use xronia polla on almost every occasion. On, for example, birthdays, Easter, New Year, and names day, this Greek wish is used. Xronia means years, and polla means many. Many years!

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I was in quarantine in Greece, during the COVID pandemic, at an isolated beach house last year. Yiayia had left enough food in front of the door to survive for a month if I needed to. Amongst her many dishes was a bag full of small savory pastries I had never seen before, Greek potato Piroshki. With just one bite, I fell in love. It turned out the be the most delicious snack I had ever tasted, and within a day, I finished all of them.

In the following year, I cooked the dish together with Yiayia to learn how to recreate this incredible vegan dish. Today, I am ready to share her delicious recipe with you!

How did Piroshki end up in Greece?

Piroshki is traditionally not a Greek but a Russian dish. However, a part of the Greek population did not live in Greece for more than three thousand years, the Pontic Greeks, or Pondians. These people are Greek and have always called themselves Greek. However, they lived in the Pontus region, located in modern-day Turkey, South of the Black Sea.

Due to the remote location of the Pontus, the Pontians have a unique culture, identity, and diverse cuisine that differs from the Greeks. When the Pontic Greeks had to leave their region in the early 20th century, many returned to Greece and took their cuisine with them. Piroshki is just one of the many delicious recipes of Pontic Cuisine. 

What is Piroshki?

Piroshki is a fried dough with a savory or sweet filling inside. The dough is made with yeast to provide a fluffy texture around the filling. The outside, however, becomes crunchy when the dough is fried. Famous Pontian Piroshki fillings are minced beef, mushrooms, cheese, and apricot. But my favorite, and fully vegan, Pirsohki, is with potatoes.

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Yiayia’s secrets

  • There is a vast variety of Piroshki recipes out there. Some include milk, others eggs, and some only water. I believe you can not find two people who follow the same recipe or have the same result. Piroshki is personal, handed over in a family every generation. Each Piroshki is unique.
  • Unless you’re making potato Piroshki on a Greek summer day, you must give your dough some special love. Yeast works best at a higher temperature, so keep your dough warm! Wrap the dough in a blanket and put it next to a heater when it’s rising. This way, you will get the best texture in the end.

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 1 glass of medium-warm water, around 350 ml
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 package of active yeast
  • 450 – 500 grams (around 1 pound) of flour 
  • sunflower oil for frying the Piroshki

For the filling:

  • 1 kilo (2,2 pounds) of potatoes
  • 2 big white onions
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • olive oil

Tools

  • a bowl
  • two saucepans
  • a blanket 
  • a towel
  • optional rolling pin

Yiayia’s Greek potato Piroshki:

Time needed: 2 hours and 30 minutes.

  1. Make the dough

    Mix the warm water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Add the yeast and mix in. Wait till the mixture starts bubbling a bit. Then, you can start adding the flour. Tablespoon by tablespoon, while mixing it in by hand.Greek potato Piroshki making the dough

  2. Knead the dough and let it rise

    When the dough feels dry but still sticks slightly, it is time to knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes.
    Cover it with a towel and leave it to rise for 1 to 3 hours. If you live in a colder climate, wrap the bowl in a blanket and put it close to a heater to activate the yeast.Greek potato Piroshki dough ready to leave to rise after kneading

  3. Make the filling

    While the dough rises, it is time to prepare the filling. Cut the onions and peel the potatoes. Add olive oil to a saucepan and fry the onions till they are soft. Then, add the potatoes, cover them with water, and bring them to a boil. Leave until the potatoes are soft, around 20 to 30 minutes.Greek potato Piroshki boiling the onions and potatoes in a pan with water

  4. Season the filling

    Strain and mash the vegetables. Add fresh parsley, salt, and a lot of black pepper. Don’t be afraid to add too much. You want the filling to taste like you have put slightly too much pepper to have the best result when putting everything together.Greek potato Piroshki filling seasoning parsely and pepper on mashed potatoes and onions

  5. Make a sheet of dough

    Once the dough has risen, it is time to prepare the Piroshki. Sprinkle flour on your counter. Take a small piece of dough and open it with your hand or a rolling pin.making Greek potato Piroshki size of dough you need for one Piroshki

  6. Assemble the Piroshki

    You make a small sheet of dough, and in the middle, you place about a tablespoon of the potato mixture. Then, wrap the filling inside the dough.
    I usually make a triangular sheet, fold the top and sides of this sheet over the filling, and use the bottom to roll everything inside. making Greek potato Piroshki opening the dough and adding the filling

  7. Repeat

    Repeat step 5 and 6 until you have used up all the dough and filling.making Greek potato Piroshki assemble the Pirsohki and let them settle

  8. Fry the Piroshki


    You fry the Piroshki for about 3 to 4 minutes per side until they are golden brown. You want them to float in the sunflower oil, so use around a liter of it in a saucepan. The oil needs to be hot enough so that when you place a piece inside, it starts sizzling immediately.
    When the Piroshki is nicely fried place it on a plate with a kitchen towel to absorb excess oil. Let it cool down, and enjoy!making Greek potato Piroshki fry in oil in pan

Tips:

  • You shouldn’t immediately fry a Piroshki after assembling one. Leave them on the counter to settle a bit. Once you have around 10 of them, you can start frying the first one. Or wait till you have assembled all of them.
  • The time a potato needs to boil depends on the type as well as the size. Test if the potatoes are ready by trying to lift one with a fork. If they fall off they are ready.
  • It takes some practice until you find your way with the dough while assembling the Greek potato Piroshki. Don’t expect a good-looking first batch and remember that the taste is more important than the appearance. The most important thing is to find a way that works for you.
  • If you have left-over potato filling in the end, you could use it to make a nice potato salad or just eat it as a side-dish later in the week.

Stereotypes & Culture. My Big Fat Greek Family

Twenty years ago, in 2002, the Greek-Canadian actress, Nia Vardalos, became famous with her movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. As both actress and writer, Vardalos won many awards for this romantic comedy, which she based on her own experience of being Greek. Although the movie is full of extravagant Greek stereotypes as an expression of the Greek culture, being in a similar situation myself, I can only say Vardalos was able to capture the actual experience of being with a Greek. Keep reading to find out why!

The movie

My Big Fat Greek Wedding tells the story of (Fo)Toula Portokalos, which translates into the orange light of God. Toula is a thirty-year-old member of a large Greek family living in the U.S. Against her family’s will, she leaves her father’s restaurant and starts college. With her independence comes self-esteem and a new look. Then, she meets Ian, the American man she starts dating. Secretly at first, but as their relationship progresses, the Greek family gets increasingly involved.

This is where the fun part of the movie starts. The differences between the American and Greek families create hilarious scenes. As the Greeks are with too many, too loud, and stuck in their own beliefs and traditions. Real Greeks.

Watch it in Greece

Until I went to Greece to meet my boyfriend’s family, I had never watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding. However, when I was there and expressed my family-based cultural shock to friends and cousins, they all told me the same thing. Watch that movie!

During my third week in Greece, I decided it was time to do so. Surrounded by my boyfriend’s relatives, I watched the movie. And the only thing I could say was: Shit! I live in this movie!

Stereotypical Greeks

The movie is full of well-chosen Greek stereotypes that express the culture. The women are over-emotional, the men overly-stubborn, and the whole family, in general, over-involved. Dinners are with too many. There is always too much food. And the family cheers so many times you are happy when you only get tipsy at the end of a night.

Observing all these stereotypical Greek habits, it is clear that Vardalos is, herself, raised by a Real Greek family. Or at least a family very similar to the Greek ones I know. The funny thing about the movie is that for non-Greeks, it seems just a comedy with exaggerated stereotypes. The Real Greeks, however, know that there is a truth in this exaggeration.

I believe the best thing about the movie is how Vardalos captures what a Greek family feels like for a non-Greek. With just the right amount of exaggeration, she is able to reveal the experience of a cultural shock.

My cultural shock. The more I started getting used to my boyfriend’s family, the less the movie resembled my idea of a Greek family. However, when I met them for the first time, it showed exactly how I felt.

My first week in Greece

During my first week with the Greek family, I encountered almost every aspect of the movie. We had family dinners with over 20 family members who all shared a similar name and called the same woman yiayia, grandmother. The family covered all the stereotypes of the Greek culture. And their volume: Loud and Louder. Just like in the movie.

Food was the most important thing. Everyone wanted me to eat continuously, even when I was not hungry. Not eating was me being shy and could not have had anything to do with the three full plates I already finished. 

The women of the family were the first ones to accept me. Part of this meant me being hugged, kissed, held, and stroked. But on the other hand, being a part of them meant that I was supposed to listen to them complaining. That is what Greek women do when they are together. Complain about everything they are tired of, but continue either way because it makes them happy. 

Then there were the men of the family. They all worked in the family business, but their most important job was to educate me about the history of the Greeks. How happy I should be to be with a Real Greek, a member of the greatest civilization in this world. And they all wanted to know if I was a good girl, the most important question to ask a person.

Appreciate the differences

My Big Fat Greek Wedding starts as being quite negative about the Greek way of life. Toula is tired of her over-involved and controlling Greek parents. She wants to be less Greek and more normal. She starts with summing up all the stereotypes of the Greek culture. However, as the movie, and her relationship, progresses, she gets more respect for the Greek way. 

A similar change is visible with her parents. First, they are against Toula’s relationship with Ian. He is a xeno, a foreigner, and should not be allowed to date their Greek daughter. But as he is willing to change to fit into their family, they learn to accept him.

For me, this change feels real. At first, I felt overwhelmed every time I was with my boyfriend’s family. But the more I got to know them, the more I understood them and started to see the beauty in their way of life. My initial cultural shock evolved into an appreciation of Greek culture. And today, I even miss the Greeks when I spend too much time in my own country.

Give it time

Being with someone from a different culture can be difficult at first. Maybe you manage to find a life beyond your own culture together. But as soon as family gets involved, cultural differences become painfully clear. Often you will be far away from home, your family, and your daily life when you meet them. Your partner’s family will not put a filter on their culture, and you will be with them 24/7. Of course, this can be extremely confronting.

But don’t let this first encounter scare you. The cultural shock can be hard at first, but it will pass. Remember that your partner was raised in this family but still turned out to be the man or woman you have fallen in love with. It might be that a part of this strange culture is what made you love your partner in the first place. But it takes time to reach this level of understanding.

We’re all just people

In the end, we’re all just people. We might have been raised with different beliefs about family, work, and love. But these ways do not have to be limited to one country or culture. 

As a Dutch, I learned to be private and organized. However, I also have ADHD, which goes completely against those two things. The Greek culture taught me that I do not have to try to fit into my own culture if that is not who I am. I can be myself, and as a person, I do fit in somewhere. 

Every culture might have a shocking stereotype like the Greek culture in the movie. But there is a truth in this stereotype for everyone. Maybe you are not Greek but very stubborn, part of a huge family, eating too much, or cheering too often. There is a part of the Greeks in all of us. And every Greek has a part that can belong in any other culture. We are all just people. Culture is not more than what surrounded us when we grew up. And as adults, we can choose our own culture.

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The 12 most common Greek names and their meaning

The traditions regarding the naming of newborns in Greece are still in practice today. Sons get the name of their grandfathers and daughters are named after their grandmothers. As a result, not only cousins share the same name, but many unrelated Greeks do as well. Here is an overview of the twelve most common Greek names, their meaning, and names days.

Giorgos or Giorgia

Giorgos, or George in English, is the most common Greek name, with 10 percent of Greek men carrying this name. The name is a combination of Gi, the earth, and Ergo, work. Giorgos simply means farmer. The fact that many Georges work behind a desk today, shows the importance of the Greek traditions. Giorgos is celebrated on the 23th of April.

Yiannis or Yianna

Yiannis means gracious, or more specifically, God is gracious. His English counterpart is John and derives from Saint John. In the northwest of the Greek mainland, there is a city devoted to this saint, Ioannina, or Yannena. Saint John is celebrated in Greece on the 7th of January.

Dimitris or Dimitra

Dimitris means born from mother earth and refers to the goddess Demeter, the ancient Greek goddess of the harvest. She was the protector of trees, plants, and grains. During Roman times, she evolved into Saint Dimitria, the saint of agriculture. Today the name Dimitris still means devoted to Demeter. October 26th is the day she is celebrated.

Nikolas or Nikoletta

The name Nikolas has something to do with a popular modern brand we all know, Nike. Both the name and the brand derive from the Greek word Niki, which means victory. The ending of the name, Laos mean people, so conqueror of people. Nikolas is associated with the Greek god Nike, as well as Saint Nikolas, the protector of schoolchildren and travelers. Saint Nikolas is still celebrated today. As Santa Claus in the U.S, or Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, he brings presents to children from all over the world.

In Greece, however, Saint Nikolas is not the present-giving Saint all children love. He is honored on the 6th of December, but only the Greek Nikolasses and Nikoletta’s get presents during this day.

Konstantinos or Konstantina

The name Konstantinos derives from the Latin word Constantia, which means constant, stable, or loyal. The English version is Constantine, Kostas, or Gus. The name originates from Constantine the Great. He was a Roman Emperor of Greek descendent in the 4th century, who founded Constantinople.

Konstantinos is honored on the 21st May together with Saint Eleni, the mother of the Great Constantine. The name is one of the most popular names in Greece. Many emperors, kings, and modern politicians have carried this name.

Vassilis or Vissiliki

Vassilis in Greek means king. The name comes from Agios Vasileios, a Saint who lived in the 4th century AD and is known for his generosity to the poor. Saint Vassilis is the Greek Santa Claus. For the Orthodox Greeks, Saint Nicolas is not the Saint who brings presents during Christmas. Instead, on New Years’ day, Saint Vassilis brings gifts to the Greek children.

Vassilis also has a New Years’ cake and tradition named after him, the Vassilopita. Every year, the Greeks bake this simple cake with a coin hidden inside. According to tradition, the pie is cut into equal pieces, one for each member of the family. The pieces are then handed out from oldest to youngest. Whoever gets the hidden coin, will have good luck, health, and happiness for the year to come.

Christos or Christina

Christos and Christina derive from Jesus Christ. However, in ancient Greek, Christos meant useful. The meaning later changed to righteous, virtuous and the anointed. Like Jesus Christ himself, Christos and Christina are celebrated on Christmas. Their English counterparts are Christine, Christopher, or Chris.

Maria

While the previous male names have a female counterpart, the most common Greek female names do not translate into male. Maria is the first, deriving from the Virgin Mary. Since the Orthodox church is very important in Greece, almost 10 percent of Greek women are called Maria. Her names-day is on the 15th of August, a day of celebration for the whole country. Funny is that Mary’s birthday, on the 8th of September, is also celebrated in the country, but does not count as the name day of the Greek Maria’s.

Eleni

The name Eleni means light, or sun ray. Her name derives from the famous Helen of Troy. Helen was known as the most beautiful woman in ancient Greece. This daughter of Zeus, caused the Troyan war when she left her husband to move to Troy, for love. The war, as well as Helen, have been the subject of many tv-shows and movies. Her names-day is on the 21st of May.

Katerina

Katerina derives from the Greek word Katharós, which means clean, clear or pure. Although this word can be used for both female (h thallasa einai kathari, the sea is clear) and male (o skilos einai katharos, the dog is clean) objects, the name only occurs in as female. The English counterpart is Catherine or even Katie. All Greek Katerina’s are celebrated on the 25th of November.

Sophia

Sophia in Greek means wisdom, and derives from Saint Sophia. She appears in the Bible as the female personification of wisdom. Sophia is not only a popular name in Greece. She is in the top-five of female names in the U.S. as well. However, she is celebrated only Greece on the 17th of September.

Angeliki

Angeliki comes from the Greek word Angelos. In ancient Greek, this meant messenger, but in modern Greek it translates into angle-like. Angeliki’s name is celebrated in Greece on November 8th. According to the Greek Orthodox church, this is when the assembly of the Archangels occurred. Her English counterparts are Angela, Angelina, or even Kelly.

Does your name mean something in your language? Or curious about the meaning of other Greek names? Leave a comment below! 

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Beyond crosswords : Greek gods

Ancient Greek mythology influences modern life around the world. Video games, comic books, movies, and modern brands refer to the stories that where told over 2.000 years ago. Did you know that the name cereals, for example, comes from Ceres, the god of grain? Or that the Olympic games started as a way to honor Zeus? The Greek gods are everywhere, also in our crosswords.

If you are a crosswords lover but wonder what the Greek gods you keep fitting into your puzzles actually stand for, keep reading below! To help you with you puzzle, they are ordered by the amount of letters their names have.

3 letters

  • NYX
    Nyx is the goddess of the night. Mother to sleep (Hypnos), death (Thanatos), and darkness (Erebus). She can control the movement and rotation of the planets. End the day, and start the night. Nyx might sound like an evil and dark goddess, but she is far from that. Although other gods feared her, she is seen as a motherly and warm goddess by her family.
  • PAN
    Pan’s homeland is Arcadia, in Peloponnese. He is the God of the wild, the shepherds, and rustic music. That is why he is part goat and part man. Like Peter Pan, he enjoyed playing the pan flute. Which he invented. However, the word panic also derives from this God. Who could make us, humans, flee in uncontrollable fear.

4 letters

  • GAIA
    Gaia is the personification of earth. Mother earth. Gaia and Ouranos (sky or heaven) are the beginning of all Greek gods. She is the mother of the Titans, and grandmother to the Olympian Gods. Gaia in modern Greek still means earth.
  • ZEUS
    Zeus is not only one of the Greek gods that is most used in modern crosswords. Zeus is the Greek god, the king, the father of all gods and humans. He is technically the youngest son of the Titans Rhea and Cronos. However, his siblings ended up in their father’s stomach not long after birth. Because Cronos was afraid to be defeated by one of his children. Zeus, however, escaped this faith. He was brought up by a nymph and a goat in Crete. When he was strong enough, he defeated his father, after which his siblings were born again, this time from their father’s belly. Zeus became the king of the Greek gods.
  • ARES
    Ares is one of Zeus’ children. He is the god of war, the despicable characteristics of brutal warfare and slaughter. However, Ares is also known for his numerous love affairs. His main love was war, but he also fell for the married Aphrodite. Supposedly due to an arrow of the next man on this list.
  • EROS
    Eros is the god of love and appreciation. He was much like (the Roman) Cupid and used an arrow to the heart to make people fall in love. Eros’ origin is unknown. He is either the son of Aphrodite and Aros, the child of Nyx, or simply the fourth God. His name, however, is the origin of the terms erotic and erogenous.

5 letters

  • CHAOS
    We all know the word chaos, but do we know the God as well? Chaos is the personification of absolute nothingness. She was the first God, before the creation of the earth. Chaos is a void, but also a powerful energy from which everything is created.
  • HADES
    The oldest brother of Zeus (or youngest after Zeus freed his siblings from his father’s belly) is Hades, the god of the underworld. Hades likes to live in the dark and shadowed land of death. He owns a guard dog, with not two, but three heads. This dog helped Hades with his main tasks, protecting and keeping the souls of the dead.

6 letters

  • TITANS
    A Titan is not one god but instead the name of all the first-generation gods that came after Gaia (earth) and Ouranos (heaven or sky). However, together with the Olympics they are often the answers in crosswords on Greek gods. There are a total of twelve Titans in Greek mythology, six female and six male. Two siblings, Rhea and Cronos, are the parents of the Olympian Gods.
  • APOLLO
    Apollo is the god of light, music, poetry, healing, and prophecy. He is the only god that has the same name in Greek and Roman mythology. Visiting Greece today, you can visit no less than five temples dedicated to Apollo, all around the country.
  • HERMES
    A half-brother of Apollo is Hermes. The god of wealth, trade, thieves, and travelers. Hermes is often described as the messenger of the gods and the guide of the souls of the newly deceased. Hermes’ head was commonly used in a strange sculpture, a herm. A head on a tall square pillar, with male genitals at a height that fits human proportions. 

7 letters

  • DEMETER
    The first sister of Zeus in this list is Demeter. The goddess of agriculture and protector of trees, plants, and grains. She is one of the few Olympian gods that survived Roman times. She evolved into Saint Dimitria, the saint of agriculture. Today the name Demetrius still means devoted to Demeter. 
  • ARTEMIS
    Artemis is the goddess of hunting, wild animals, wilderness, and the twin sister of Apollo. Her father, Zeus, gave her eternal virginity. This allowed her to live without the disturbance of love, men, and marriage. Instead, she had sixty nymphs for friends, who all needed to remain virgins as well. Although Artemis did not have any children of her own, she protected women during pregnancy and childbirth.

8 letters

  • OLYMPIAN
    The twelve Titans, where followed by the next generation of Greek gods, the Olympians. Again this category contains 12 gods, of which the most powerful are Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. Their home was Mount Olympus.
  • POSEIDON
    Poseidon is the god of the sea, horses, and earthquakes. His nickname is the earth-shaker and his Roman alter-ego is Neptune. Poseidon created the island of Paxoi with his trident. Although Poseidon himself is human, his offspring is interesting. From a half-fish to a flying horse.
  • DIONYSUS
    Dionysus is a demi-god, someone half-human (his princess mother), and part god (his father is Zeus). Dionysus is the god of wine, viticulture ritual madness, and religious ecstasy. However, it is believed that this was his second self. In mythology, Dionysus is born twice, the first time he was a bearded old man. The second time as a youthful boy who loves to get drunk. 

9 letters

  • APHRODITE
    Aphrodite is the beautiful goddess of sexual love and beauty. She had many lovers and many children. The name Aphrodite means risen from the foam. Why? According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite was created from the foam that arose from the genitals of Uranus after he was thrown into the sea.

10 letters

  • HEPHAESTUS
    Where Aphrodite was created by her father’s genitals, Hephaestus has only a mother, Hera. This made him so ugly and deformed that he was banned from mount Olympus. Hephaestus grew up with mortals on the island of Lemnos. He became the god of fire and blacksmiths after he trapped his mother on a self-built golden throne for revanche.

Want to know more about Greek mythology

The English comedian Stephan Fry wrote a book about ancient Greek mythology. Mythos is a hilarious, understandable, and easy to read retelling of a selection of Greek myths.

I can recommend this book to anyone. Whether you’re interested in mythology or just want to enjoy a good story. And if you decide to buy this book through the link on the left, you support me to keep writing!

Do you want to prepare yourself for a visit to Greece? Or do you simply want to learn all there is to known about this beautiful country? Leave your email below and get the answer to all your questions!

Meteorites, UFOs, or rebellious priests? The dolines of Didyma

In the Argolis region, in the North East of the Peloponnese, satellites reveal a rare geological phenomenon. Two big green circles not far away from each other. The dolines of Didyma. These dolines are not the first thing you will find in any Greek tourist guide. However, they are impressive and unique natural landmarks.

Location Overview

Argolis, Peloponnese

Natural site

1 hour

Free

Be careful

No

The village of Didyma

Didyma is a small farmers’ village on the foot of the mountain, also called Didyma. The name shows the importance and the connection to the dolines. Didyma in Greek means twins. And the twins this name refers to are the two sinkholes close by. 

In spring, something unique happens in the village. The fields around Didyma fill with a rare orange-red tulip. Every year in April, these beautiful flowers are celebrated with a festival. So when you’re around during this time of the year, don’t forget to attend this colorful event.

What is a doline?

A doline is “a shallow funnel-shaped depression of the ground surface.” Dolines are also known as sinkholes, a term that might trigger your imagination. Dolines appear when water and carbon dioxide underneath the earth’s surface dissolve the limestone in the ground. The earth collapses, and a hole is created. This process can happen gradually or suddenly. But the result is the same, a circular hole in the ground. 

Usually, dolines have a pool of water at the bottom. Like the famous caves in Cephalonia, for example. In Didyma, however, there is no water at the bottom. Just lush green vegetation. Because of this, scientists are not one hundred percent sure the dolines of Didyma are the dolines described above. They might result from natural gas explosions, which can explain the amount of debris inside them.

Miki Spilia from above. A green oasis, even in August.

The myths of Didyma

Although modern geological knowledge can justify the existence of the dolines of Didyma, this has not been the case in the generations before us. The sinkholes have, therefore, been the subject of many great stories the locals still tell today.

The most known story is about meteorites. Two of them crashed into the earth just outside of Didyma. As a result, the two green craters mark the landscape today. 

Another explanation is extraterrestrial life. Aliens. They came in their UFOs to Didyma and crashed into the earth upon landing. Leaving two perfectly circular marks in the ground. The sinkholes.

The third explanation is (of course) a story of the Orthodox church. A rebellious priest who worked on the name-day of Agios Georgios. A day of celebration for the church, on which work is prohibited. The earth collapsed underneath this priest when he said bad things. But what about the second doline? Maybe the priest had a rebellious twin brother?

History

The dolines are called mikri and megali Spilia, the big and the small cave. Throughout history, the dolines have been used as caves. Natural voids, able to provide shelter from bad weather and enemies.

The age of the dolines at Didyma is unknown, but they have been around long before even the ancient Greeks. Stone tools from the prehistoric age (4.000 – 2.800 B.C.) have been found inside the dolines. Proving that the dolines have been inhabited for centuries.

The churches inside the small doline date back to the Byzantine era. During this era, many priests choose to lead a solitary life in huts or caves. Both churches are a result of this and started as nothing more than a cave inside the doline. A place to practice the orthodox faith. Alone in peace.

Later, during the Turkish occupation, the dolines of Didyma have been a place for shelter and protest. Due to the enclosed and hidden shape, the Greeks used the space to make ammunition to fight their occupants.

One of the two cave churches inside the dolines

Visiting the dolines of Dydima

Mikri Spilia

Following the signs to the dolines, you will first find Mikri Spilia, the small cave. Don’t expect an impressive view of the doline upon arrival. Instead, you will find a small grey fence in between many trees. Inside this fence is a narrow hole carved out of the red ground. This hole marks the beginning of a staircase which leads you down into the doline.

A tunnel with white-washed walls encloses the narrow staircase. Halfway down, you will find a natural skylight which might have been an older entrance. Only at the end of the tunnel, you catch the first glimpse of the scale of Mikri Spilia. High red walls enclose you in a perfect circle. And on the right, you can see the first of the two white churches. Agios Georgios. 

The skylight inside the entrance tunnel toward Mikri Spilia

Being inside the doline, you feel like you have entered a different world. There are many trees, plants, and birds. And the blue sky seems closer than anywhere else due to the contrast with the circular walls of red stone. It is a quiet oasis of peacefulness. And the natural beauty here is unique for the Greek mainland.

It is possible to hike the perimeter of the doline. Simply follow the path along the red crater wall. On your way, you will discover the second church, Naos Metamorfosis. A cave church, marked by white paint on the red wall.

Megali Spilia

Although Megali Spilia is the biggest of the twins, this doline is less accessible and impressive from the inside. Megali Spilia is at the bottom of the mountain called Didyma and therefore enclosed by a wall that is uneven in height. The walls are less red, the sky is less framed, and the bottom is less green. However, what this doline has that Mikri Spilia has not, is an impressive view. 

Magali Spilia is not as much a place to visit as her little sister is. But it is the doline that attracts you toward the twins. You can see this hole in the mountain from far away, on the main road between Epidaurus and Porto Cheli. 

Megali Spilia, the big doline at the foot of the mountain.

Tips:

  • The dolines of Didyma are still active. When you hear stones falling upon entering, please be super careful and leave the site. Although chances are small that something will happen, better be safe than sorry.
  • Unfortunately, the dolines of Didyma are not accessible for people with a walking disability. The entrance of the small sinkhole is steep and slippery. And the big doline is not even accessible by car because the dirt road is too rough. However, just a glimpse of the shape and size of the big doline from far is worth it.
  • Don’t try to reach the big doline by car unless you have a very high off-road car. The dirt road gets progressively worse. With a normal car, there is a big chance you will get stuck. Leave your car at the small parking, and continue on foot. Walking will take just 10 to 15 minutes.
  • When you plan on visiting the doline with children, be very careful with them. The dolines do not have a balustrade or fences at dangerous spots. Keep them close.
  • The best time to visit the dolines is around April when rare tulips flourish in the fields around Didyma. However, you can explore the dolines throughout the whole year. The depth of the dolines makes them a great summer activity because the temperature will not be as high as above ground. Be careful when it rains. The entrance staircase gets even more slippery when wet.
  • Combine Didyma with a visit to Epidaurus or the cave of Franchthi, for which you can hike a beautiful trail along the coastline. Or pick out a close by beach and enjoy Greece’s clear blue seas. Didyma is easily accessible from Nafplio, Porto Cheli, or Tolo.

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