Kastoria Western Macedonia Page 1

Kastoria is way up near Albania in N. Greece MapKastoria the capital city of Kastoria nomos, with a population of around 20,000, sits on the tip of a peninsula which juts into Lake Orestiadha. Many consider the town the most beautiful in mainland Greece. The city was called Justinianopolis under the Romans, and was later changed to Kastron, for the beavers that lived in the lake ('beaver' in Greek, being 'kastori' with the plural, 'kastoria'). The local beavers were trapped to the point of extinction by the 19th century, for the local fur trade (see below).

The city had many rulers after the Romans: the Byzantines, Franks, despots of Ipiros and Nikea, Bulgars, Byzantines again, and the Serbs for a half century before being taken by the Turks in 1385 and who remained its rulers until it was liberated in 1912. It was the base used by the Greek right wing army and American armies in 1948-1949 for the final campaign against the Greek communist army on Mts. Grammos and Vitsi, at the end of the Greek Civil War. The city was seriously damaged during both the Civil War and in WWII (which preceded it), and was nearly captured by the Communists in 1948. Damage during the war was a less serious cause of the loss of Kastoria's architectural heritage, however, than neglect during the 1950s and development in the '60s.

The city has been involved in the fur trade for more than 500 years, said to have been founded by a colony of Jewish settlers who traded with the Balkans, Vienna, and Constantinople. Another account has it that during Byzantine times merchants and furriers from this city who had emigrated to Constantinople sold furs from Russia to the rich families there and sent back rejected skins to relatives back home to use in making garments, whereupon the locals, who were not required by their Turkish rulers to pay import tax, re-exported the skins made into garments to the same city from which the skins had come, as well as to Vienna, Budapest, and Leipzig.

In present times, goods are exported directly to western cities where emigrés from Kastoria have set up shop. Furs and pelts are bought from the USA and Scandanavia but there are also mink and wolf farms on the outskirts of the city. Skins are visible on frames where they dry in the sun all over town, making the town perhaps last on the list of tourist destinations for animal activists.

That said, the town has other attractions, with the arhondika (upper class mansions) dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, high on the list. These were the homes of families who made fortunes in the fur trades. Those built in the 17th and 18th centuries were in Macedonian style, with most of them consisting of three storeys and resembling towers, with ashlar wall on the first two storeys with cross beams. Those built during the 18th and 19th centuries the top floors made of wood and whitewashed, projected over the others, supported by curved beams. The ground floor was mostly for storage and, except for the main door, had no openings. The living and working area was on the middle floor, its wooden shutters protected by grilles, which have been replaced by glass panels in modern times. The upper floor was used for entertaining guests, but also as the summer abode and well lit by two rows of windows, one of them with wooden shutters with no glass and the row above with colored glass. Sometimes there was a covered wooden balcony as well. Two of these houses, which are located in the Arozari quarter close to the lake, is the Sapoundzis mansion and the Tsiastapas mansion., but most are in the Doltso district to the south of town and especially on Odhos Visandiou south of the Platia A Emanouil. Some of the most interesting are the Bassaras, Natzis and Emmanouil (on Vyzandion street). The last two were restored during the 1990s.

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