Our own sweet “mosaic” of Ano Pedina, Zagori

The sweet trip of Eat Dessert First Greece to Epirus is being continued! Off we go to Ano Pedina!

Ano Pedina village used to be called Ano Soudena, a Slavic name that meant “cold place”. The village was named this way because of the cold currents of Vikos Gorge. It is one of the villages of Central Zagori. The name Zagori has a Slavic origin too, meaning “behind the mountains”. We got these information from nun Evfimia, whom we will talk about later.

The plane tree on Ano Pedina square, planted in 1819.

In Ano Pedina village, at the traditional guesthouse Oresti’s House, a warm, elegant room, exuding art and culture with its posters and décor, was waiting for us.

Rupert rushed to let us in!
Taking inspiration for our new article from our room in Oresti’s House…

The owner, Ms. Eleni Pagratiou, architect-geographer and President of the Association of Zagori Tourism Enterprises, welcomed us with a traditional dinner with gourmet touches and told us her story. Oresti’s House operates as a traditional guesthouse since 1987. It is a preserved building, over 250 years old. We asked her what is the difference between a traditional guesthouse and a hotel and she explained that a business can get the title “traditional guesthouse” only if it is housed in an old building with some architectural value. Her mother had inherited the building from a distant relative, Orestis.

Coming down from our room… On the right a small bimtsa, a storage room where in the past they used to store food, as it keeps a stable temperature whether it is winter or summer.

We continued our discussion with a very interesting story about the evolution of tourism in our country. In the end of the 1980s, when Oresti’s House opened, there was nothing touristic in Zagori. Only Papigo village had five guesthouses. Ms. Pagratiou gave us an insight into the historic framework of the times: in the mid 70s Greece signed international contracts for the protection of architectural heritage and a decree that defined which places where considered traditional settlements. The great architect Aris Konstantinidis had conceived the idea of preserving and promoting traditional settlements. In this spirit, the program for the traditional settlements of the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) was born.

Ms. Pagratiou gave us a true architecture, history and culture lesson and got us thinking about our cultural heritage and its promotion.

One of GNTO’s initiatives in ma y places was the preservation of old houses and the change of their use, in order to constitute a good example of how we should treat our architectural heritage. Practically, as Ms. Pagratiou told us, the owners of old buildings could give their houses to GNTO for ten years to operate them as guesthouses. When the ten years had passed, GNTO would return the buildings to the owners. The benefits for the owners were the preservation of their buildings and the option to continue to operate them as guesthouses if they wanted. Otherwise, they could make them their homes again. For Ms. Pagratiou, this project was one of the most successful state initiatives.

Oresti’s House, a beautiful preserved building in Ano Pedina village, Zagori.

However, local architecture is in danger of deteriorating today, as Ms. Pagratiou notes. One of the reasons is that local stone is no longer used, as there are no quarries left in Zagori and stone comes from elsewhere. In the past they would take it out by hand, but this is too expensive. Also, foreign artisans, even if they are good, they aren’t locals and this makes a difference. Artisans must know the local rules, they need special education.

Staring from a stone rooftop of Ano Pedina village, Zagori.

Ms. Pagratiou analysed another worry of hers… She told us, for example, that in Zagori take place a lot of projects from the European Union, but in a pilot form, for a specific period of time. After their completion, what has been done has to be preserved and developed further, which unfortunately rarely happens.

A big success that Ms. Pagratiou shared happily with us is the registration of dry stone technique in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. It is the technique of building with stone without a binder, without mud, an ancient method that exists all over the world. Streets, walls and roofs are made this way in the villages of Zagori. People from Ioannina had a saying, “people from Zagori never get mud on their shoes”, as all the streets are built in stone, with no mud.

Roofs in the villages of Zagori are made with the dry stone technique, with no binder (mud).

Ms. Pagratiou has been on the frontline of another matter too, the submission of a proposal to the Council of Europe for the certification of the Dry Stone Routes as European cultural routes. The routes are designed in accordance with the Wine Roads and the Routes of the Olive Tree, which Greece participates in. The effort is in the phase of preparing the application file and we hope it is realised soon.

A retaining wall near the square of Ano Pedina village, built with the dry stone technique.
Dry stone streets and fences in Dilofo village, Zagori, which we visited in order to see them.

The second running subject this period, as Ms. Pagratiou told us, is the resurgence of the matter of the inclusion of Zagori region in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. If this initiative succeeds, Zagori will become much more known worldwide.

We wish for all the great efforts to succeed and for Zagori’s beauty to shine all over the world!

Ms. Pagratiou has also been on the frontline of the effort to include Zagori in a project on the gastronomy of different regions of Greece organised by George Pittas. He is the inspirer of the Greek Breakfast certification that Oresti’s House also has. As Ms. Pagratiou explained, the Greek gastronomy project is an effort to promote local products and local cuisine, to motivate restaurants and hotels to cooperate and turn to local producers for their provisions. The newly established Zagori part of the project made its first appearance at Expotrof 2020 exhibition in Athens. There, people could see the new guide of the region and try local food and sweets.

Local chicken pie and in the back traditional rooster in tomato sauce with baked potatoes, by Ms. Pagratiou.

According to Ms. Pagratiou, the aim of such initiatives is to bring the visitor in touch with the identity of each place, its history, culture, architecture, nature, gastronomy. We must bring the two worlds together, she said, the small local businesses and the special client who is looking exactly for what those businesses have to offer.

Semolina halva with crushed pistachio

Also, it is important for businesses to work together. Ms. Pagratiou told us that for example, if a guesthouse doesn’t have rooms available, it shouldn’t be indifferent, but instead it should suggest another guesthouse nearby so that the visitor stays in the region. In Zagori there is a base for the mutual support of businesses. Ms. Pagratiou believes that there is room for everyone, since each one has something different and personal to offer.

Of course, we had to ask Ms. Pagratiou about her relationship with cooking also. She shared with us her memories of how she started cooking as a student in Paris. There, she got very lucky… She lived in an attic and in the adjoining attic lived a handicapped elderly lady. Young Ms. Pagratiou would help her neighbour with housework and she would invite her to lunch on Sundays. The elderly lady in her youth was a cook in a noblemen’s tower. So, she tought Ms. Pagratiou to cook.

Trout from Greveniti village with almonds, cooked in a French way.
Pears poached in wine and cinnamon syrup, dessert in Oresti’s House’s restaurant.

She may have learned French cuisine, but she cooks all the cuisines of the world. In Oresti’s House the idea is to use local products to cook world cuisine. Ms. Pagratiou told us that Zagori used to be a multicultural and cosmopolitan place. The residents would travel and bring back influences from all over the world. For example, Ms. Pagratiou’s grandma, who lived in Kipi village, Zagori and was raised in Pergamos, Minor Asia, would cook cuttlefish in their ink at home, an ingredient that wasn’t found locally and a dish that one wouldn’t expect to taste in Zagori. It is a particular characteristic of the region, as Zagori at its peak was inhabited by rich, educated and cosmopolitan merchants.

Pork chop with mustard and heavy cream sauce, as the French usually cook it, by Ms. Pagratiou

At the guesthouse’s restaurant, Ms. Pagratiou makes local cuisine with international touches, using local products. Upon request, she can prepare dishes from all over the world and she also gives cooking lessons.

The restaurant in Orestis House, with Greek food and world cuisine, all made with local ingredients.
Warm vegetable velvet soups and local red wine. For Ms. Pagratiou, the flavors of food can change just by using different spices and herbs, and her soups attest to that!
Batsaria from Epirus, local galotyri (cream cheese), warm vegetable soup and giant white beans with spinach, local delicacies to build our appetite… Batsaria is a great pie, so thin and crispy as nothing we have tried!

The next day started with a local breakfast at Oresti’s House, with a variety of handmade jams, quince, kiwi, grapefruit, tangerine, wild cherry, sloe… Something that impressed us also was a preparation called Asure or Varvara, a sweet porridge made with wheat, dried fruit and nuts. A nutritious start for the day and the cold that awaits us!

Selecting our breakfast from Oresti’s House’s buffet.
Morning coffee at Oresti’s House.
A sweet, healthy breakfast is great to start the day!
Asure or Varvara, an extremely tonic sweet with wheat, dried fruit and nuts.
Trying trahana soup with feta cheese for breakfast for the first time.

We got the energy we needed, dressed up warmly and went down towards the village’s square.

The Church of Saint Dimitrios in Ano Pedina, Zagori.
The plane tree stands in the middle of the village as a forever friend, a proud, noble, historic legend, as the poem says…
We continued going down to get to the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria in Ano Pedina, Zagori.

We absolutely wanted our first stop to be the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria in Ano Pedina. As soon as we arrived, we met nun Evfimia, who lives in the monastery since 2010. She comes from Minor Asia but was born and raised in Athens. We asked her if she is always alone in the monastery and she said that the winter is tough in Ano Pedina, but she is now waiting for two nuns to come. Nun Evfimia is an artist… Although she never admitted to that, we were told that she is one of the best artist of mosaic in Greece and we saw it with our own eyes too. You will see also… Nun Evfimia is a graduate of the Athens School of Fine Arts and studied for three years in Paris on a master’s degree.

Saint Panteleimon, mosaic by nun Evfimia (its back side)

First of all, the nun talked about the history of the monastery and gave us a tour to its parts. We want to note that the nun’s historical knowledge was so huge and rich that all she said can’t fit in this article, so we will paint a brief picture of everything we discussed. But we have everything saved for the future! The tour the nun gave us was incredibly detailed and interesting and she told us that even if there is only one visitor, she will give him the same tour! She impressed us even more with that!

We thank from our hearts nun Evfimia for the hospitality and all the rich and beautiful information she gave us.
We also warmly thank nun Evfimia for the mosaic lesson she offered us!
Nun Evfimia’s mosaic, of which you will hear later on!

The first year of establishment of the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria is unknown, while the second in 1630. Nun Evfimia told us that the entrance to the monastery shows that it was built during the period of Ottoman rule in Greece, as then they used to make the entrance low and the stairs slanting so that the Turks’ horses couldn’t pass. The sultan prohibited churches to be erected higher than mosques, and so they used to give hight to the temples by creating underground spaces. The Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria was built this way.

Descending from the entrance of the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria in Ano Pedina.
The elaborate niches of the temple and the tall walls that surrounded the monastery, thanks to which the niches weren’t visible from outside.
In the monastery’s basement, a space that possibly operated as a hidden school during Ottoman rule.

Also, he prohibited churches and monasteries to be decorated more beautifully than mosques on the outside, while they didn’t care what happened inside, as the Turks wouldn’t enter them. A part of the monastery nowadays is collapsed. The part that is salvaged is very tall, used to play the role of defence walls and has embrasures.

An embrasure on a wall of the monastery.
The indoor yard of the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria in Ano Pedina.

The Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria has important rare frescos, such as a rare depiction of the Pantokrator in white clothing inside the dome of the temple. Also, there are frescos painted in cadmium red, one of the most expensive colours. During Ottoman rule, as nun Evfimia narrated, it would cost its weight in gold. She explained that in Zagori during Ottoman rule people occupied with commerce with Danube countries and mostly with Egypt. This is why the buildings in the villages of Zagori are mansions, with furniture they would bring from abroad.

The Pantokrator in white clothing on the dome of the temple of the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria in Ano Pedina.
The living room of the mansion of Pantazis family in Monodendri village, 1928, family archives of Xenoula Pantazi, from the book Ζαγορίσιων Βίος, Rizareio Foundation / Stavros Niarchos Foundation, 2003.
Old furniture from Elati village, Zagori belonging to Ms. Elpiniki’s grandma, with two caryatids on the sides, and one of the first radios of the 1950s, donated by Ms. Elpiniki to the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria.
The matzato, the winter cell of the monastery and Pepito! Such rooms existed in Zagori’s mansions too, on the down floor. There, they would sleep with the fireplace burning during the whole night. On the top flour was the summer room, called krevata (krevati means bed in Greek) with regular beds.
The old archontariki, the reception area of the monastery.
Τhe kitchen, with the fireplace they used for cooking and on the two sides the benches where they would place their kitchenware.

In the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria lived as a monk for a period one of the seven great teachers of the Greek nation of the Greek Enlightenment era, Neofytos Dukas. We owe him the name Ellines (Greeks) instead of Greki, the name Adamantios Korais and others supported, which in the times of Roman rule meant enslaved. His mother had brought him to the monastery at the age of ten, out of gratitude for his miraculous cure of a fatal disease when he was two years old. The miraculous icon of Virgin Mary in the temple’s iconostasis, with the silver cover, is undergoing preservation and the nun was very kind to show it to us.

Neofytos Dukas, one of the seven teachers of the Greek nation (source)
The nun with a conservator restore the icon that had damages due to the silver cover (the one next to the icon that is placed on top of it, as a vow to God).
The miraculous icon of Virgin Mary that is connected to the cure of Neofytos Dukas, a great Greek Enlightener.

Nun Evfimia also gave us extremely interesting information about the relationship between Christianity and Greek philosophy. Ancient Greek philosophy, according to the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, is the base and forerunner of Christianity. The nun told us that it is not random that countries which didn’t get in touch with Greek philosophy couldn’t comprehend Christianity. The ancient philosophers never believed in the twelve Olympian gods, but believed that God is one and is a spirit.

Solon on a fresco in the temple of the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria in Ano Pedina. Did you know that Ancient philosophers are often depicted in Christian churches?

Something we didn’t know is that there are churches in which Ancient philosophers are depicted, such as in Mount Athos, Kaisariani in Athens, Meteora, Cappella Sistina in Vatican City and Santa Maria in Siena, Italy. On a fresco in the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria we saw Thucydides, Plato and a female figure, the Erythraean Sibyl, to whom God revealed the coming of Christ, because of her good intentions. In Antiquity sibyls were priestesses in Apollo’s temples, and Pythia was one of them. These days, with the contribution of nun Evfimia, a historic book about the monastery is getting prepared, that will contain all the frescos of the monastery, as well as the rare ones such as those with the Ancient philosophers.

The Erythraean Sibyl, ancient priestess that predicted the coming of Christ, on a fresco in the temple of the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria in Ano Pedina.

Another opportunity to talk about the relationship between Greek philosophy and Christianity was nun Evfimia’s drawing of Saint Aikaterina. She was also called the Wise Aikaterina, as she knew all the known sciences of the times. Saint Aikaterina lived in Alexandria and was a Christian. She was also very pretty… When a lord wanted to marry her and bring her back to idolatry, he invited 150 wisemen from all the known world to persuade her. But the opposite happened, she turned them to Christianity, by quoting only Greek philosophers and the Sibyls. The lord got so angry that he burnt them all in a huge fire.

The sketch for the icon of Saint Aikaterina by nun Evfimia.

After the extremely interesting talk, nun Evfimia showed us her workshop. She opened the door and a huge mosaic appeared, in the phase of its completion! Thousands of small pieces formed a gorgeous icon of Saint Panteleimon, made with admirable detail and skill! Nun Evfimia is preparing this awesome mosaic for a church outside Ioannina.

Nun Evfimia honoured us by showing us her workshop and her artwork!

Nun Evfimia explained to us the process of making a mosaic. The mosaic can be made on the spot on the wall, by placing the coloured pieces straight on the mortar. Because the mosaic the nun is preparing will be placed on an outside wall of the church, it wasn’t possible to make it on the spot because of the cold. So, she chose the second method: making the mosaic in the workshop and then, when it is ready, transfering it to its final position. She analysed the procedure in detail:

Τhe first step is the creation of the sketch of the icon in small size, scaled.
Next, the sketch is copied on paper at its final size.
Then, it is transferred with the aid of carbon paper on the textile.
The small pieces are stuck on the textile with a mixture of fish glue, flour glue and a little honey.
The gold pieces are leaves of pure gold on glass, other pieces are made of enamel and others of natural stone.
You can cut the mosaic pieces in any size you want with special cutters, even stones from the area or pebbles. Especially pebbles, as nun Evfimia explained, if you break them, inside their colour is the one they have when they are wet!
With the cutter the mosaic pieces are cut in any size needed. Nun Evfimia said that for details, such as Saints’ faces, small pieces are necessary, while for other surfaces she uses larger ones. This makes the icon even more beautiful, since it doesn’t get monotonous!
Mosaic pieces in different colours and made of different materials.
The pieces are selected with a tweezer, dipped in glue and placed on the textile.

As soon as the mosaic is completed, it will be transferred on the wooden board, that had been placed below the textile, to the church it will be positioned. There, it will be placed into mortar, which will fill the joints between the mosaic pieces. When it is fully dried and stabilised, the textile will be removed by brushing with water and the amazing mosaic will make its appearance. We can’t wait to see it in its church on a future trip!

Nun Evfimia, as an arts teachers, gives classes to those, students or older in age, who wish to learn the art of mosaic and hagiography. We asked her about her opinion on young people leaving the country and she told us that they shouldn’t get disappointed easily and that with a little patience things can get better…

One of nun Evfimia’s students has chosen a Van Gogh’s painting to perform in mosaic.
The work of one of nun Evfimia’s students, from a Van Gogh’s painting.

We leave keeping in our hearts the hopeful and sweet message nun Evfimia gave us, to have hope, feel better and try to stay in our country and build our lives nicely, with faith and love!

With nun Evfimia and Ms. Elpiniki in the religious items’ exhibition space of the monastery.
We warmly thank nun Evfimia for the books she gave us!

It was time to get a cup of coffee, so we decided to sit in the coffee and dessert shop Αlthea in Ano Pedina. It is a family business owned for ten years by sisters Mahi and Vaso, and their mother Dina. Mahi treated us with coffee and desserts and talked about the handmade confections her mother makes for the café and their guesthouse.

Coffee with a homemade cookie and our desserts awaiting…
We chose two delicious pieces of orange pie and walnut pie, and we chose wise!

Traditional, handmade desserts made with pure ingredients, light and not too sweet, just as much to be able to enjoy the whole piece… and it was large! Walnut pie, orange pie, chocolate cake, ekmek, baklava, ravani, galaktoboureko… spoon sweets, jams and liqueurs prepared with their own fruit from the garden, cherries, sour cherries, plums, figs, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and many more.

Jams made by Mahi’s mother, Ms. Konstantina, with their own fruit, with no preservatives, just as we like them!
We will sit by the fireplace and we will eat the whole pan of orange pie!

After eating our dessert first -as says our name of course- we went for dinner at the restaurant Sotiria Tsigara (formerly named “Ta Soudena”). We were welcomed by grandma Sotiria, her daughter Amalia and son Kostas. Grandma Sotiria and her children’s families with their seven kids make a warm family business. Each one offers with love his own part to make you feel at home, and even better as you are in their lovely village!

Eat Dessert First Greece in Sotiria restaurant.

The family has been running this restaurant for twenty years, and people know them and trust them for the quality of their food, the good local products and the traditional recipes. Kostas, like everyone we met on our trip to Epirus, believes that businesses must support each other and work together for the good of their place, whether they are locals or not. In Ano Pedina people who come from other places to work in the village are faced with hospitality by the locals, according to Kostas.

Talking with Kostas about enterpreneurship in Zagori.

Τhe restaurant opened in 2000 with an agrotourism program that included grants to businesses that owned animals and fields to open guesthouses or restaurants. Back then, on the spot where now this beautiful traditional building stands, there was a field. The building was constructed with local stone in the traditional way.

The building of Sotiria restaurant, traditionally built in local stone.

Sotiria serves a lot of pies, wild game meat, boar, soups, traditional comfort cuisine that fits this place. The food we tried was truly amazing and it warmed our hearts, along with the beautiful, family atmosphere.

At Sotiria restaurant we tasted boiled vegetables, giant white beans, galotyri (local cream cheese), lahanodolma (stuffed cabbage leaves) pumpkin-cheese pie, veal with hilopites (traditional egg noodles), a rich variety of authentic, truly tasty, traditional flavors. We accompanied them with very good quality, local, dry red wine.
Local veal in tomato sauce with traditional hilopites (egg noodles)
Local pumpkin-cheese pie

The same family owns the café-restaurant Αmalia, where we went later in the evening to have a warm cup of mountain tea to finish our nice dinner.

Reading a book about Zagori at Amalia café, along with mountain tea.

Because we had eaten a lot, and we wanted to eat more later, we had to take a walk as we usually do. Since it is the middle of the winter and the days are short, and we had passed our day with the extremely interesting interview with nun Evfimia, we couldn’t try the hiking paths of the area… But we went on a light hike around the village, as we do in Athens. Influenced by our yesterday talk with Ms. Pagratiou, we observed the dry stone walls, making our own Dry Stone Route, filled our lungs with clean air and relaxed our eyes looking at the calm, wintery landscape…

We got up high and saw the sun set behind the Epirus mountains.
We found a halfly destroyed wall that shows nicely the dry stone technique in section.
It got dark but Eat Dessert First Greece kept going…
It continued to look for dry stone walls, under the atmospheric moonlight…

On our return to Oresti’s House, a very pleasant surprise was waiting for us: an invitation to a meeting to celebrate the name day of Mr. Yiannis Kirligitsis, owner of the Porfyron Hotel in Ano Pedina village. A meeting of active businesspeople of Zagori that highlights in the best way the message that runs through our articles: cooperation and mutual support will take the place forward!

The hosts Mr. Yiannis Kirligitsis and Mrs. Rita Berends from Porfyron Hotel, Ms. Eleni Pagratiou from Oresti’s House and president of the Association of Zagori Tourism Enterprises, Lena and Kostas from the agrotouristic guesthouse Rokka and Eat Dessert First Greece wish for Zagori and every corner of Greece to have everything they deserve!

We warmly thank Ms. Eleni Pagratiou and Oresti’s House for the warm hospitality, breakfasts and dinners she offered us, nun Evfimia from the Holy Monastery of Evaggelistria in Ano Pedina for the tour, interview and books she gave us, the restaurant Sotiria Tsigara in Ano Pedina for the traditional meal they served us, the coffee and pastry shop Althea in Ano Pedina for the coffee and traditional desserts they treated us and all the people who welcomed us and talked to us with love about their place.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Goff James says:

    Hi, Thanks for sharing another extremely interesting and informative post. Really enjoyed reading so well supported with such great images. It was as if I was there with you. Have a great day.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much, we are glad you found it interesting! Have a great day too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Goff James says:

        My pleasure. Cheers

        Like

  2. Tanja says:

    very interesting post!

    Like

    1. Thank you very much for reading our article and for your kind comment!!

      Like

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