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News from Ouranoupolis


With the first drops of rain another summer season comes to a close (click here to see today's weather). The days are getting shorter and the sunset colours are deeper red and purple. A line of small fishing boats appears in the horizon every sunset. They are fishing for squid, for this is the season when shawls of them arrive to the coast of Ouranoupolis. There is a fresher breath in the air, a reminder that winter is approaching.

It has been a good summer. The warm sunny weather continued for the whole of September. The first fallen leaves bring a new urgency. The tourists may be leaving but this is a busy time for the locals. Autumn is the time to gather the grapes which must be pressed to produce the delicious local wine. Then the tsipouro must be distilled from what is left from the pressing. No sooner the tsipouro is safely put away in demijohns and the olive picking season starts. During November the hills come alive with families collecting their olives which are pressed to extract the famous local olive oil. Only then, in mid December can the people of Ouranoupolis slow down and start preparing for Christmas.

The long awaited improvements to the main road from Thessaloniki have at last been completed. The result is fewer bends and a shorter journey. Some even boast that can now do the journey from Thessaloniki to Ouranoupolis in one and a half hours.

A new bypass has now been laid with tarmac and this shortens the journey to one and a half hours or even less. Just take the usual road from Thessaloniki sign posted to Mount Athos. At Paleohorion turn right at the sign to Megali Pangia and then follow the signs to Gomati and Ierissos and then to Ouranoupolis. There are very few bends and it is tempting to drive fast. However, be careful of several large and totally unexpected dips on the road where the car can either take off or hit hard on the it's suspension. Also, the sign posting is poor and there are no road side telephones in case you break down. The road is great during the day but if you are travelling at night use the old road which is better lit and sign posted. Kostas, the taxi driver from Ouranoupolis knows this road very well and uses it daily but most of the taxi drivers from Thessaloniki take the more winding old route.

A Shrine of ancient Ouranoupolis

For a number of years archaeologists have been excavating a shrine which was discovered near the village of Nea Roda. These excavations have now been completed and enough artefacts have been found to indicate that the shrine belonged to the ancient city of Ouranoupolis. Could this mean that ancient Ouranoupolis was situated closer to Tripity as some believe and was connected with Sani, another ancient city which is believed to have been located in that area?

The shrine can now be visited by the public. There is a road sign "to the Shrine of ancient Ouranoupolis" on the main road just outside Nea Roda going towards Ierissos. Just follow the dirt track and the signs and after a couple of kilometres you will come across the two covered excavation areas. The foundations of the building, the lintel of the door and the alter of the shrine are clearly seen. It is certainly worth a visit.


Excavations at Frangokastro

The excavations at Frangokastro on the border to Mount Athos continued throughout the summer. A substantial part of the walls has now been uncovered and it provides a good indication as to the size and the importance of this monastery. The importance of Frangocastro cannot be over emphasized. The walls belong to the monastery of Zygou, a powerful monastery where Athanasios the Athonite the founder of monasticism on the Mountain stayed when he first arrived on Mount Athos in 996 A.D. It was fortified and substantial parts of the walls, eight of it's nine towers and a large part of the main church survive. Although it was one of the richest monasteries it declined and was destroyed in 1199 A.D. It is an important find for the study of early architecture on Mount Athos because it has seen very little intervention during the later years. Because it stands just outside the border to Mount Athos women can visit it.

During the month of October the grapes are harvested from the local vineyardswork but everybody . It is back-breaking joins inchildren, help each . Whole families, including the other to collect the ruby wine bunchesWhen they are . collected they are brought home and placed in cisterns or half barrelson them with bare . Then everybody joins in to trample feet juice to trickle out. (having washed them) for the red wine This has always been a fun thing to do, especially for the children who take their turn to stump on the grapes. The wine juice is placed on oak barrels to ferment and mysteriously turn into winedrop of wine has . The leftovers, after the last been extracted are collected and left to ferment for a couple of weeks. Then they are distilled to extract the tsipouro.

Tsipouro is a drink very similar to the better known ouzo but worlds apart. Ouzo is the mass produced drink where the tsipouro is a pure extract from grapes. Families in Ouranoupolis produced tsipouro in this traditional way ever since they settled there. First, they have to obtain a special license which permits them to use the communal distillery for a certain day. The pressed grapes which have already fermented for a couple of weeks are placed in the large copper cauldron of the distillery, and the top of the cauldron is sealed. When a fire is lit under the cauldron the steam from the boiling escapes through a copper pipe which starts from the lid of the cauldron and passes through cold water. There the steam turns into liquid tsipouro. This is a joyous time helped by the tasting of the new tsipouro. The distillery operates non stop day and night, the nightly vigil livened by song and meats or freshly caught squid grilling in the fire. Drop by drop the tsipouro is collected and stored in glass demijohns. It is a pure and strong drink with an very slight aniseed taste, but with no morning after effects.  

The olive picking season starts in early November. The hills around Ouranoupolis come alive with the sounds of families collecting the olives, like they used to do many years ago. Men use long sticks to beat the olives down from the trees, while women and children pick them either by hand or in large nets spread under the olive trees. When the olives have been gathered they are taken to the olive press where they are crushed and pressed until every drop of the green liquid has been extracted. The first oil of the season is the best and is used for salads. The old oil from last year is left for frying or for lighting the icon lamps in the church.

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