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A. History Even in prehistoric times, the region of Pierian Olympus produced a significant culture, with its northern 'Macedonian' or 'Pierian' side being settled by the tribe of Pierians, and its southern 'Thessalian' or 'Perraibian' side by the tribe of Perraibians. The cemeteries in the region of Agos Dimitrios and Petra also date from prehistoric times. Recent archaeological research has revealed a mass of evidence that reveals the character of the region between the late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age. The earliest elements of ancient Greek religion were taken from the myths of the first inhabitants of Olympus, the Perraibians and the Pierians, who held that Olympus was the home of the twelve gods, the Muses and the Graces. The myths were first collected and described by Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey and then by Hesiod in Theogony, spreading their fame throughout the Greek-speaking world. According to Homer, Zeus fought Cronus and the Titans on the peaks of Olympus, and after his victory, ruled over gods, demi-gods and human beings for hundreds of years. For Homer, Olympus was the centre of Greece and the home of the ancient gods. Zeus's throne sat on its highest peak, while lower down, the mountain's deep ravines were the home of Zeus's daughters, the Muses, also known as the Olympiades. The cities of Petra and Pimbleia existed in ancient times, as did Leivithra (the home of Orpheus and a sacred site where he was worshipped) and Dion, the sacred city of the Macedonians in the foothills of the mountain. Other ancient cities located in the foothills of Olympus include Pieris, Atira and Pythio, where the god Apollo was worshipped. During the Roman and Byzantine periods, when the spiritual centre of Hellenism moved elsewhere, references to Olympus appear less often. However, because of its geographical position, it was often attacked by Goths, Bulgars, Vlachs, crusaders and Serbs, who trespassed onto it whenever they wanted to travel to Thessaly and southern Greece, and also when, after their failed attempt to seize Thessaloniki, they attacked the surrounding areas. In the 14th century, all of Macedonia, and Pieria in particular, experienced a period of upheaval that forced a large part of the population to move elsewhere and establish new settlements. At the beginning of the century, Catalan mercenaries working for the Emperor Andronikos II Paleologos came into conflict with him and during their destructive advance to the south, Pieria suffered harsh assaults that hit its inhabitants hard. In approximately 1345, during the dynastic conflicts between the Paleologoi and the Kantakouzinoi, Pieria was again on the receiving end of attacks, looting and plundering by the allied Balkan and Asian troops of the warring parties. The most ancient finds from this period have been made principally in the south-east foothills of Olympus, in areas such as the city of Dion, Leptokarya on the coast, Kastro at Platamonas and Kontariotissa. The strategic importance of its geographical position, between Macedonia and Thessaly, caused Olympus to play a particularly important role in the history of Pieria and of Macedonia in general. Its massifs have for centuries been a refuge and base for the inhabitants of Pieria against the invaders who trespassed onto its narrow and difficult passes. B. Monuments Olympus and its foothills boast splendid examples of ancient towns and sanctuaries, both on the Thessalian side (Gonnoi, Olympias, Leimoni, Kondaia, Olosson, Dolichi, Azoros, Pythio) and on the Pierian side (Dion, Fila, Irakleio-Platamon, Pimbleia and Leivithra). Most of them have a number of tombs, fortified enclosures and early Iron Age settlements of outstanding historical and archaeological significance. Excavations in the farming region of Fila, Irakleio and Leivithra have recently resulted in rich finds, and new archaeological sites, such as Pigi Athinas and Tria Platania, have been located. Nowadays, Dion is the most important archaeological site. - Archaeological site of Dion: Covering a large area in the NW foothills of Olympus, it lies 90 km from Thessaloniki, 15 km from Katerini and 5 km from the nearest coast. The Macedonian city of Dion is the most fully excavated site in the region of Olympus. The work, which began in 1928, has brought to light a well fortified walled city from the 4th century BC, with an organised system of town-planning in the style of Hippodamus, surrounded by places of worship, which was inhabited without a break from the Classical period until the Early Christian period. Excavations have revealed paved streets, private dwellings, public buildings, baths, an odeion, shops, workshops, a theatre, sanctuaries (of Olympian Zeus, Demeter, Aphrodite Hypolympidia, Isis etc.), villas, a stadium and a cemetery. The region is interspersed with Byzantine and post-Byzantine monuments with characteristic architecture and painted decoration. In the Prefecture of Larisa we encounter the following monuments: - Archaeological site of Azoros: North-west of the city of Elassona on 'Kastri' hill, walls from the Hellenistic and mid-Byzantine periods have been found over a wide area, with a three-aisle basilica within. Other discoveries include an Early-Christian basilica with an extant mosaic floor, additional buildings (such as a baptistery), and two cemeteries dating from the Early Christian and mid-Byzantine periods with rich funeral gifts. - Archaeological site of Meleas: Discoveries include an Early-Christian basilica with a baptistery, a later three-aisle basilica and a mid-Byzantine cemetery with important funeral gifts. - Archaeological site of 'Kastri' in the Municipality of Livadi: Recent excavations have revealed a three-aisle Early-Christian basilica, with a mosaic floor in the central aisle. - Elassona: a) The Holy Monastery of Olympiotissa: The monastery was founded at the end of the 13th century and preserves important frescoes; b) on the same hill, are the remains of Early-Christian fortification; c) in the region of Varousi, part of an Early-Christian basilica with a mosaic floor has been discovered; d) Byzantine bridge. - Dolichi: Holy temple Metamorfosis Sotiros, a single-aisle church dated by an inscription to 1516, with important frescoes. The remains of an older building, possibly a bath-house, have been discovered within. - Pythio: Hermitage of Timi Prodromou with frescoes dating from 1339. - Tempi: Remains of the Byzantine fortification are extant, as are the opium-den of Hassan Baba (15th century) - Gonnoi: parts of the Byzantine fortification at the Akropolis. In the region of Thessalian Olympus there is a host of significant post-Byzantine monuments. Some examples are: the Holy Monastery of Kanales at Karya (17th century), the Holy Monastery of Sparmos ( 17th century), and the Holy Church of Agios Nikolaos (frescoes from 1768) at Flambouro, the Holy Church of Agia Paraskevi at Kokkinopilo (1732), the Holy Monastery of Agia Triada at Sykaminea (1710), the Holy Church of the Panagia (17th century) and the Holy Church of Agios Ioannis Prodromos (1659) at Pythio, the Holy Monastery of Agios Dimitrios at Valetsiko Tsaritsani (1668), the Holy Church of Agios Nikolaos Tsaritsanis (early 17th century), the Holy Church of Agios Panteleimonas Tsaritsanis (1602), the Holy Church of the Taxiarchon Tsaritsanis (early 17th century), the Holy Monastery of Agios Athanasios Tsaritsanis (early 17th century), Mamtzouridi Tower at Tsaritsani ( 18th century), the Holy Church of Agion Theodoron at Rapsani (18th century), the Holy Church of Agos Ioannis Prodromos at Rapsani (1546). A significant number of monuments from the Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods (the Byzantine city of Petra, the Monastery of Agios Dionysios, the Monastery of Kanales, etc.) are preserved in the foothills and the massif of Olympus, constituting irrefutable evidence of its long history of cultural importance. In the south-east foothills are preserved the traditional settlements of Palioi Porroi, Skotina, Agios Panteleimonas and Leptokarya, which were abandoned in difficult times by their inhabitants and are today important examples of the architectural heritage of Macedonia. - Village of Agios Dimitrios: Church of Agios Dimitrios (three-aisled post-byzantine basilica), Church of Prophet Ilias, Church of Agios Athanasios. - Area of Vrodous: Settlement and Cemetery of Timuli, Church of Agios Nikolaos (three-aisled post-byzantine basilica), Church of Agia Triada. - Area of Leptokaria: Typical traditional settlement with characteristic vernacular architecture, Monastery of Kanales, Church of Agia Triada (basilica, 18th century), Church of Agios Nikolaos (basilica, 18th century). - Village of Litochoro: Numerous post-byzantine churches (Church of Agios Athanasios, Church of Agios Georgios, Church of Agia Marina, Church of Agia Paraskevi, Church of the Dormition of the Virgin, Church of Agios Dimitrios, Church of Agios Nikolaos, Church of Agia Solomoni), and private houses and buildings of characteristic vernacular architecture. - The Monastery of Agios Dionysios on Olympus: The monastery was built in the early 16th century by Agios Dionysios and was almost completely destroyed in 1943. It is a significant architectural complex, comparable to the large monasteries of Macedonia. Like them, it follows the monasteries of Mount Athos in terms of its structure, and is closely linked with modern Greek history. In the north-east corner of the complex stands the tower of the monastery, untouched by destruction. - Church of Agios Ioannis Prodromou (John the Baptist) at Neos Panteleimonas: Post-Byzantine aisleless church, probably dating from before the 17th century, when its frescoes were painted. One fragment of the frescoes remains on the north wall. Around the church, traces remain of an older three-aisle church, which contained the newer church. - Traditional settlement of Paleos Panteleimonas: Architectural ensemble that to a great extent preserves unchanged the morphology and typology of the buildings of Pierian Olympus, and bears testimony to the town-planning and morphological development of the region's settlements. - Byzantine city of Petra: It lies on the top of a steep hill and includes remains of buildings and an inscribed cruciform church. - Traditional settlement of Skotina and Church of the Dormition of the Virgin (three-aisled 19th century basilica), Church of Jesus Christ (17th basilica with important wall paintings), Church of Agios Athanasios (with important wall paintings dating from 1600). C. Natural environment Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece. It presents a wide variety of characteristics that make it particularly attractive. Its slopes are steep, scarred by deep ravines, and covered, on its eastern side, by evergreen bushes and forests of broad-leafed and coniferous trees, and many endemic species. Its rich flora includes a number of threatened species. The Olympus National Park covers most of the mountain, including its main peaks. It is characterized by important geological formations, rare natural habitats and a large variety of protected flora and fauna. The flora of Olympus is some of the richest in Europe (138 species of great significance for Greece). Pinus heldreichii appears on Olympus, creating the highest mountain forest in Europe (2500 meters). It is an important nesting region for birds of prey such as the honey buzzard, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the short-toed eagle, the golden eagle, the booted eagle and the lanner falcon. In 1981, Unesco included the Olympus National Park in an international network of regions characterized as Biosphere Reserves, and it has also been named an Important Bird Area by the European Community.