Mount Olympus is the mountain of Gods and legends, the tallest Greek mountain and a beloved destination for climbers and hikers. But Olympus has much more to offer and hides many surprises. One easy and at the same time unique excursion you could do is to visit the north foothills of the mountain and especially the ancient city of Dion and the breathtaking waterfalls of Orlia. The two places are both related to the mythical Vaphyras river.
The ancient city of Dion, just 15 km from the city of Katerini, near the village with the same name, is one the most important archaeological sites of Northern Greece. Dion was the sacred city of Macedonians because it was built on the place where the son of Zeus (Dias) Macedonas was born. The city, founded in the 5th century BC, was connected with the worship of Zeus and during the reign of King Archelaos became an important religious and cultural centre, rival to the famous Delphi Oracle in Central Greece. It was here that Alexander the Great came and asked for the help of Gods before his legendary campaign to the Middle East.
Dion was a relatively small town. Its walls were only 2.550 m. long and its area was a mere 460.000 sq.m.. It never became bigger neither at the time of Thucydides (who mentions the city in his writings) nor much later – in the early years of the Roman empire. However, it was an important Roman colony because it was the first they established in Northern Greece, probably after the battle of Actium (31 BC). Although Latin was the official language, the majority of the saved inscriptions are in Greek, proof of the predominance of the local element and gradual Hellenisation of the Roman colonists.
The city was finally abandoned during the 5th Century AD, after a series of earthquakes and due to the constant floods of river Vaphyras. The river still runs through the city and floods the biggest part of the archaeological site. The water gives the place its unique character and creates a wonderful landscape. The beauty of the buildings and the statues are amplified by the dominant presence of nature, while the voices of the current inhabitants of the buildings, the frogs, follow you along the walking route of the site.
At the very well organised archaeological park, the visitor nowadays would see the Temple of Zeus, the Temple of Dimitra, the Temple of Asklipios and the magnificent flooded Temple of Isis, destroyed by an earthquake but with its statues still standing at their original position. Also, the visitor could see an ancient and a Roman theatre, the complex of Roman baths and the spectacular cobbled main avenue of the city with the Shield Monument. Finally, the Villa of Dionysos is a brilliant Roman housing complex, which took its name from the superb mosaic with a scene from the life of the god of wine adorning the floor of the main room.
The mosaic has been transferred to the nearby museum, in the centre of the modern village of Dion, along with all the other findings of the area. The museum is certainly worth a visit, because it gives you a better understanding of life in ancient Dion and its importance as a religious centre. The exhibition is also very well organised and apart from the mosaic, the most spectacular exhibit in the museum is the ancient pipe organ, which operated with the use of water (for more information about the ancient city and the museum visit the official site).
But, as we have already mentioned, this is not the only unique place you could visit on this side of Olympus. Just 7 km from the archaeological site, the mythical waterfalls of Orlia or Ourlia are located. The waterfalls are created by the stream of river Vaphyras, which at this part of the mountain it is called Orlias or Ourlias, due to the loud noise made by its waters (the word “ourlias derives from the Greek word “ourliachto” – “ουρλιαχτό”, which means screaming). According to the legend, Menades, the menacing wives of Zeus, after murdering Orfeus, came here to wash away his blood. But the river was ashamed and unwilling to help them, and so disappeared underground and reached again the surface near the town of Dion.
Two waterfalls of this spectacular water complex with crystal clear waters could be very easily reached. From the centre of Dion village, you follow the signs for “Katafygio Koromilia” -“Καταφύγιο Κορομηλιά”. After 4 km you see at the side of the road the small church of Konstantinos and Eleni and a few meters after you leave your car at the side of the road. From this point follow the small signs that guide you to the waterfalls. Watch out for the red heart painted on the rock on the right side of the path, which indicates the path to the second more spectacular waterfall. Both waterfalls have small pools in front of them and during summer many people come here for swimming and a picnic.
Sometimes when you start to write about places as unique and beautiful as these, you realise how hard it is to describe the awe you felt when you first visited them. No description will ever match their ambiance and beauty. Trust us and visit these places, you will fill your mind with pictures, that you will carry with you forever.