The Dragon Slayer, the Mermaid, and the Secret of Marmara | Legends from Medieval Greece #2 (Byzantium)

Interested in stories from Medieval Greece (Eastern Roman Empire)? Last time we discussed the Marble King, among other Byzantine legends. Today, we will discover the stories of the priest who vanished in Hagia Sophia, the secret of the Sea of Marmara, the giant Mermaid, and the Christian dragon slayer.

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The Priest Who Vanished in Hagia Sophia

One of the greatest architectural wonders of Byzantine history is the Orthodox Christian Basilica of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom). The Church is located at the Old City of Constantinople and it is surrounded by numerous legends. One of these stories is the legend of the vanishing priest.

When the Ottoman troops attacked the city of Constantinople on the spring of 1453, they entered Hagia Sophia in search of civilians who might have sought refuge there. According to the legend, a priest was holding a liturgy at that time.

Before the troops were able to catch him, he entered a door and vanished. The door closed behind him and couldn’t be opened nor destroyed. Rumor has it that the door will open once Hagia Sophia becomes a Greek Orthodox Church again. The priest will reappear and continue the liturgy.

If you know any additional details regarding this legend, feel free to leave a comment in the comment section.

The Hidden Secret of the Sea of Marmara

The Sea of Marmara, also known as Propontis, connects the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea. It is the area ancient Greeks from Megara explored before they established the colony of Byzantion, as we’ve seen in the first episode. There is reportedly a part of Propontis that is always calm. The passage is safe to cross, no matter the weather conditions. According to a Byzantine legend, this part of the Sea of Marmara has a secret. That is the Hagia Trapeza, the Holly Table of Hagia Sophia.

According to a book by the Greek intellectual Dorotheos Monemvasias, three Venetian ships had reportedly taken the Hagia Trapeza and other relics from Hagia Sophia, intending to bringing them in Venice. The Byzantines wanted to protect the Christian relics from the Ottomans who had invaded Constantinople.

As the Venetians transported the items, the vessel that transported the Hagia Trapeza sunk. The Holly Table is reportedly still at the bottom of the sea for someone to discover and the area seems to be unaffected by the weather conditions.

The Giant Mermaid

When hearing the term “mermaid” a beautiful creature comes to mind. Half woman, half fish, probably looking like Ariel. But there is a mermaid in Greek folklore, that is feared by sailors and islanders all over Greece. This is the Gorgona (Γοργόνα) – a giant mermaid who is supposedly related to Alexander the Great.

Although inspired by historical figures of late antiquity, the myth of the Gorgona probably originates in Byzantium. This was the time period in which the mythical sirens, the half bird – half women creatures turned into the mermaids we know today.

According to this legend, princess Thessalonike, half-sister of Alexander the Great, had washed her hair with the water of the “Fountain of Immortality”. That meant it would be impossible to die, even if she tried to.

When her brother, Alexander, died, the princess was shocked. She attempted to end her life by jumping into the sea from a cliff. But, instead of dying, she turned into a mermaid. A giant mermaid to be precise who terrified sea men and islanders.

Thessalonike then migrated to the Black Sea but she would sometimes return to the Northern Aegean in search of her brother. The legend says that she desperately asks the sailors if King Alexander is alive. If they give her a positive reply, she dives into the water, looking happy. If they reply “no”, Gorgona destroys the vessel. After a while, she regrets her action and starts crying, causing a storm.

Do you know any other variation of this story? Comment down below.

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St. George, the Dragon Slayer

George of Lydda was a Roman soldier of Greek origin who is recognized as a Christian Saint. The Saint is associated with a Byzantine legend, the one of the evil Dragon. There are many variations of the story but the most popular one takes place in Libya.

George of Lydda was passing by a Libyan city (Silene), when he saw a beautiful woman crying, while being transported to an unspecified location. Saint George overheard that the woman was selected to be fed to a bloodthirsty Dragon that terrorized the area.

The Dragon looked like a winged giant lizard. It breathed fire and was able to kill humans from a distance. Rumor had it that it had arrived in the area centuries ago, causing chaos. The locals managed to appease the beast by offering it two sheep. And they would do the same every year to make sure that the dragon doesn’t attack their city. But there was a time when there was no more livestock to feed the Dragon. Or, according to another variation, the Dragon couldn’t be appeased by feeding on animals. It demanded human flesh.

For the past few years, a member of the local community, usually a peasant, was selected annually to be fed to the dragon. The selection process was not clarified but we assume that they used a draw. That year, the unlucky human to be sacrificed was no other than the beloved princess of the city. The locals protested but no one was willing to take her place.

Saint George was moved by the story. He wanted to end this custom, just like Theseus did in the myth of the Minotaur. The soldier Saint followed the trail that led to the Dragon and stopped the princess from entering the Dragon’s lair. He volunteered to be the offering. But as the beast laid down, waiting to be fed, Saint George revealed a spear and killed the dragon to everyone’s surprise.

It goes without saying that the local King named the soldier a hero and offered him a fortune. But Saint George distributed the treasures to the locals instead. It is important to note that Saint George is not the only Christian Dragon Slayer. Similar legends and stories have spread all over the world. If you know any of these, feel free to share in the comment section.

Now, if you haven’t watched the previous videos covering various Byzantine legends, don’t forget to do so. In Helinika’s channel but also in helinika.com, you can find plenty of videos and articles on the Greek language, history, and culture. Don’t forget to subscribe and follow Helinika on social media to stay connected.

What Was the Byzantine Fire (Liquid Fire)? | Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire)

One of the most mysterious and fascinating aspects of Greece’s Byzantine history, is the so-called “Greek Fire” or “Liquid Fire” (Ύγρόν Πυρ). Western Romans called it “ignis graecus” and it was no other than the powerful weapon that saved Constantinople multiple times from Arab and Rus invaders. The weapon was the most well-hidden secret of the Byzantine Empire.

10 Winter Destinations in Greece | Greece Beyond Summer

Greece is without a doubt the ultimate summer destination. With its mild climate and one of the longest coastlines in the world, millions of people visit the Hellenic Republic of Greece every year. But Greece is more than sunny beaches and clear blue waters. Here are Greece’s top winter destinations.

10 Top Greek Destinations for the Winter

  1. Mount Olympus
  2. Arachova
  3. Northern Pelion
  4. Meteora
  5. Zagori
  6. Trikala of Corinthia
  7. Xanthi
  8. Mounts of Attica
  9. Athens
  10. Thessaloniki

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#10 Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is the second biggest city in Greece and one of the most beautiful ones as well. Situated in the Greek region of Macedonia in northern Greece, the port city of Thessaloniki has been a cosmopolitan city for many centuries. Known for its unique architecture, relaxed lifestyle, and rich history, Thessaloniki attracts many visitors every year. The city is also one of the places that see some snow from time to time during the winter, with many Greeks visiting it for this exact reason!

Another reason to visit Thessaloniki is the fact that is considered the food capital of Greece. Do you like sweet treats? Try the traditional sweet-savory bougatsa pie with lots of cinnamon and you will instantly fall in love with the city. Do you prefer fine dining? You will find plenty of restaurants to choose from. Since the Greek summer can be quite hot, hence reducing people’s appetite, make sure to visit Thessaloniki in the winter.

# 9 Athens

The capital of Greece might be visited all year round, however, it is recommended to visit it during the winter. Just ask a tourist who did outdoor sightseeing in Athens in July. Athenian summers are always very hot, with the temperature reaching often 40 degrees Celsius during the day. Therefore, coming during the winter is more enjoyable.

The city of Athens is always sunny, and the temperature can reach 20 degrees Celsius even in December. Pack your lightest coat and a few thin sweaters (or your shorts if you are from Scandinavia) and climb up the Acropolis of Athens and the Filopappou hill. Walk around the ancient Agora and National Gardens and explore the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos. Visit the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, the Benaki Museum, and Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center. Go thrift shopping in the second-hand markets of Monastiraki and Omonoia and order a nice cocktail in the bars around Square Klafthmonos.In the winter, there are also several theatrical plays. If you understand Greek at a basic level, watching a play in the birthplace of drama is a lifetime experience.

#8 Mounts of Attica

Athens is situated in Attica, a region with rich history. Attica is visited throughout the year by nature and hiking lovers because of its mountainous landscape. Try exploring Mount Hymettus, Penteli, and Parnitha. These mountains were considered “magical” since ancient times and there are often visited by paranormal investigators. A great example would be the “haunted” cave of Mount Penteli. If you love skiing, you can also visit Mount Parnassos ski center!

#7 Xanthi

Due to its geographic location, Xanthi is one of the most culturally diverse cities in Greece. Situated in the northern region of Thrace, Xanthi welcomes many visitors during the winter. The city is known for its unique architecture. Byzantine churches, next to Ottoman-era mosques, and neoclassical buildings from the 19th century. Every winter, the city celebrates one of Greece’s most popular events: the carnival of Xanthi. It is recommended to visit the folklore museum, the old town, and the nearby waterfalls.

#6 Trikala of Corinthia

In the North Peloponnese, Greece holds one of its greatest secrets: Trikala. The picturesque town is known for its beautiful landscape, traditional homes made out of stone, and numerous winter traditions. Many families visit Trikala during Christmas to see the “Mill of the Elves” – the most beautiful Christmas themed park in Greece (which is completely free of charge). Not only that, but Trikala is one of the few smart cities in the world! It has automated citizens service center, mobile check apps, wifi for everyone, smart lighting system, smart parking system, smart waste management, and many more advanced municipal services. Trikala was also the first city to use driverless buses!

#5 Zagori

Zagori is a region in the Pindus mountains in the Epirus region of Greece. The area is known for its magnificent landscapes that are very rare in southern Europe. Rare animal species such as the brown bear and the wolf reside there. Greeks visit the area during the winter months to hike or explore the 46 traditional picturesque villages, known as the “Zagorochoria” (the villages of Zagori). Zagori has two national parks, traditional arched stone bridges, crystal-clear waters, and numerous Byzantine churches. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in Greece.

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#4 Meteora

If you love climbing, you might already know Meteora. It is a rock formation in central Greece, near the town of Kalabaka. The area is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is visited by people from around the world who are intrigued by its unique landscape. On top of some of the hills, there are Christian Orthodox monasteries that were built there during Byzantine times. Many climbers attempt to climb on top of the hills and countless film companies have asked for permission to film there. Meteora is one of the magnificent places to visit in Greece during the winter.

#3 Northern Pelion

Although South Pelion is a secret summer paradise, Northern Pelion – a mountain range in central Greece, is Greece’s winter hidden gem. Do you love skiing and winter sports? You can visit the ski resort of Chania. Do you love hiking? You can explore the cobblestone trails connecting Pelion’s traditional villages. Pelion is one of the few places where you can experience heavy snowfall in Greece.

#2 Arachova

The most well-known ski resort in Greece is the one of Arachova. It is situated next to one of the most picturesque villages of the entire country, Arachova. Located in the region of Boeotia, not very far from Attica, it gathers many visitors from Athens. The village is known for its woodcut creations, dark red wine, traditional carpets, and chylopites – a type of pasta that dates back to Byzantine times.

#1 Olympus

It was believed to be the home of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece. The kingdom of Zeus and Hera. A magnificent mountain that reaches the heavens. How could it come second or third on this list? Mount Olympus is one of the most popular hiking and climbing destinations in Greece. It is also a ski mountaineering destination for avid skiers! On Mount Olympus you can find several beautiful villages, including some ghost villages such as Morna. The village was abandoned for unknown reasons and many urban legends have spurred over the years. The village was built on the “dark” side of Olympus, where sunlight is limited. Since ancient times, Greeks avoided this part of the mountain, since it was visited by chthonic deities, and not by the gods and goddesses who resided at the top.