Hiking in Greece on the Mythical Greek Mountain of Mount Olympus
The Greek mountain, Mount Olympus, is especially famous because of the Gods of Olympus. The ancient Greeks, who worshiped the 12 Olympian Gods before they turned to the Christian faith, believed the Gods of Olympus lived on this mountain.
Mt. Olympus is also the highest mountain in Greece with its peak Mytikas at 2,920 meters (9,570 ft).
On the east side of Mount Olympus in Greece, on a plateau surrounded by forests, imposing rocks, streams and the Enipeas river, is the old monastery of Saint Dionysius located. The monastery can be reached by a hiking path or by car.
The monk Saint Dionysios
Saint Dionysios, who was declared holy by the Greek Orthodox Church because of his special work for the church and the Greek people, was born at the end of the fifteenth century in a village near Karditsa, Thessaly. He was such a popular, beloved and admired monk that he was followed everywhere by other monks. After working in Meteora, on the Holy Mount Athos, Pilion, and other places, he decided to retreat on Mount Olympus to become a hermit.
Escape from Mount Olympus
This place, at 820 meters altitude and about 18 kilometers away from the mountain village of Litochoro, seemed ideal to finally find some peace and rest. But again he was followed by a dozen of monks who were inspired by him. That’s why he decided to build a monastery for them on Mount Olympus, which he called Agia Triada. However, he did not ask permission from the Turkish government and when the Turkish pasha of Larissa was informed about the illegal building, he demanded that Dionysios and his monks would be chained, and that the monastery would be destroyed. Then Dionysios and his monks fled from Mount Olympus.
The Holy Cave
Shortly thereafter, after a period of intense drought, it began to hail terribly. Harvest and houses were destroyed. The Greeks in the area were of the opinion that God had been insulted and that Dionysios should be brought back to Mount Olympus. In the end the Turkish administration agreed to bring Dionysios back and he returned. He didn’t return to the monastery immediately.
For a period he settled in a cave (nowadays named the Holy Cave) in the mountains, about a twenty minutes’ walk from the old monastery. Below enormous rocks he lived in a small cave. Next to it he built a little chapel where admirers up until today leave their personal belongings behind out of respect for the monk.
The mountain path from the old monastery to the holy cave is one of the best hikes on Mount Olympus. It’s an easy hiking path and among the most popular hiking trails in Greece because it leads you through a shadowed forest, along natural swimming pools with crystal blue water, to the cave with the little chapel.
Chapel at a peak of Mount Olympus
Despite Dionysios’ social involvement with the Greeks, who suffered under the suppression of the Turks, he preferred to live as a hermit. Not only did he live in the remote Holy Cave near the old monastery, but also in an even more remote chapel on Mount Olympus, on top of a mountain peak called Prophet Elias. He had built this chapel in 1550. It is claimed that this place used to be the Temple of Apollo where in Greek antiquity sacrifices were made to the god Apollo. This indicates that this place at 2803 meters altitude was already accessed in antiquity. It is also the highest located chapel in the entire Balkans!
Unfortunately, the monastery was the target of attacks many times. Nowadays there is a good paved road. But centuries ago people had to make a lot of effort to get there, which is why it was a good shelter and a basis for Greek insurgents. In 1821 it was attacked by a son of Ali Pasha, the Turkish ruler over this part of Greece. After a three-day fight, the abbot of the monastery and twelve of his monks were arrested and hanged in Larissa’s square.
During the Revolution of Olympus in 1878 the monastery again was actively involved and it was a refuge for the women and children of Litochoro.
In 1943 the monastery was blown up by the Nazis because Greek insurgents were hiding there. After this a new monastery was built, down on the mountain and only three kilometers away from Litochoro. This is called the new monastery of Saint Dionysius.
Renovation of Monastery of Saint Dionysios
The old monastery has been intensively renovated in recent years and is already partly inhabited by monks. Because it is a monastery where only monks live, it is only partially accessible for female visitors. Where women are allowed to come, they must cover their body parts with clothing that can be borrowed at the entrance.
How to get there
The old monastery is located eight kilometers from Litochoro, along the road to Prionia. It is very accessible by car because of the excellent paved road through the mountains. Via a path from the parking lot of the monastery you walk through a beautiful forested area in about twenty minutes to the Holy Cave. You will pass the crystal-clear Enipeas river, where many people take a dive despite the ice-cold water.
Read more about how to get to Mount Olympus from Thessaloniki and Athens.
You can also hike from Litochoro to the old monastery via the European path E4. This ten kilometer long walking trail runs through the Enipeas gorge and follows the eponymous river which you cross several times via wooden bridges. You will pass from the Holy Cave with the picturesque chapel before reaching the old monastery. From the old monastery it is not far to Prionia at 1100 meters altitude where a restaurant is located.
It’s best to explore the mountains under the guidance of an experienced mountain guide to prevent accidents or for you to get lost. Usually a pick up from your hotel can be arranged.