Panagia is a classic village with a rich history and, unfortunately, many unknown aspects. It is one of the richest and most important villages in the island. It was built around 300 years ago, yet in the Byzantine era there was a settlement here called “Anastasion”.
We do not know when it got its present name. Shortly after the revolution of 1821, it became the capital of the island. Its location, a gorge on the side of the mountain, makes it invisible from the open sea. The houses have covered balconies, schist roofs and are covered in wood from the inside. The village church is large and has ancient stones enwalled.
Both the name of the village and the existence of 11 chapels in it, state the deep religiousness of it’s people. Those that stand out are the chapels of St. Athanasios, built in 1818, St. Constantinou and Elenis, St, Charalampous, built in 1820, St. Ioanni Theologou in 1825, St. Panteleimona, St. Georgiou in 1830, the chapel of the Beheading of St. Ioannis, built in 1835 and the church of the Virgin Mary built in 1845. Of special importance is the church of the Virgin Mary, which is directly linked to the social and economic life of the village. The history of this temple is linked with the history of the village, but with some blanks, mostly in the years from the fall of Constantinople to the late 17th century.
Unfortunately the exact date of the founding of the church is unknown. But judging from the fact that the village got it’s name from the church, then it must have been prior to 1821, the year of the Greek Revolution. The church, according to tradition, it was inaugurated by the head of the Archimandrite, Anthimos. In the 18th century, the residents of the ancient city of Thassos (the present day Limenas) were forced, due to pirate raids, to flee towards the interior of the island and settle in Panagia, while the rest of the village inhabitants got to Panagia in 1770, when the Russian fleet arrived there. That was when the population increased dramatically and created the need for a bigger church.
The construction begun in 1831, under the supervision and labor of masons form Kastoria, who knew temple architecture perfectly. The funds to begin the construction was given by the eminents Sotirios Avgoustis, Avgerinos and Xatzis Constantinos, of whom a gravestone lies in the church courtyard. But because the money was not sufficient to complete such an imposing temple, they requested assistance from Agio Oros. The monastery that assisted was that of Vatopediou, which was the richest one. Thus, the church remained unfinished only concerning it’s height. In 1881, the new wood carved frame of the temple was completed, artistically decorated by craftsmen from Volos. The masons, gave the church many characteristics of the Byzantine churches in Kastoria. The dome is elevated and octagonal. The recess of the Holy Sanctum is also an octagonal hemicycle. It’s length is 27,5 meters, it’s width 18,6 while it’s height is 18 meters.
The walls are build with marble slabs from the vicinity of Panagia. It’s also worth noting that they used marble slabs from the ruins of ancient temples of Thassos. The architectural pattern of the temple is basilica with dome, with three interior aisles and semi cylindrical domes. To the right and left of the narthex, there are two small spaces called “grigitika”, meaning spaces for elder women. The norther “grigitiko” is dedicated to St. Charalampos. The temple has five entrances, a great main gate on the west side and four others that lead to the side aisles. The church is dedicated to the Assumption, yet inside the temple there is an image of the Virgin Mary, with an inscription that bares the date 1814 and the naming “All Seeing”.
The village has an abundance of running waters, while the central square is shaded by an enormous sycamore. In addition, the village offers a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains and the plains below.
In about fifteen minutes of walking from Panagia, we reach “Drakotrypa” (Dragon’s Hole). It is a cave of stalagmites and stalactites, but one not fully explored yet in all it’s depth.
A small road off the entrance of the village leads down to the sea, the great beach they call Xrisi Ammos (or Xrisi Akti, Golden Beach), between the cape of Pirgos and the tip of island Gramvousa. Many attempts to buy land in this are have been made over the last years by the English.
The shore side village of Panagia, is today called Avlakia. Near an ancient well in the village, remain the ruins of an ancient structure of the classical era. From there begins a path that leads to the cape of Pirgos. The cape got it’s name from a tower that Thassios Akiratos built there during the 5th century B.C. It acted as a lighthouse, but also as Akiratos’ tomb, as a slab found in the ruins tells us:
“I am the tomb of Akiratos, son of Frastiridis. There I lie at the edge of the cove, saving the passing ships and the sailors. But farewell”.
If we walk along the shore past the cape of Pirgos, we’ll reach cape Vathi, see the ancient quarries at Saliari and then come across a series of small coves. In a distance lies the large tourist beach of Makriammos.
Panagia is a lively village all year. It’s known for the funfair the cultural club hosts every year. You can find many taverns in the village square. Panagia is famed for it’s spoon sweets: walnut, fig, tomato and zucchini.