Rodopi and the terrible Priapus

By on February 13th        0 Comments   /   show comments


I remember that time we did a small trip in the mountainous Thrace, over the nice Rodopi Mountains, high above the valley of the river Nestos.

That afternoon we were driving on the mountains, leaving behind the valley through which the meandering river flows. It was a sweet and soft autumn afternoon painted with the red, yellow and orange colors of a mountain at its glorious time…

The mountain is a part of the Western Rodopi sierra. The peaks are numerous, their names also. We ascended at the villages of Ano and Kato Ioniko. There was only one village once and that was called Chouseinkioi, but now it has a name much closer to Greek history (Ioniko comes from Ionia, the ancient Greek territory located at the coasts of Asia Minor). The jeep was counting the many turns of the street . Hills with oaks and plateaus with wheat and corn plantations were spread around us. To the south, over the meanders of Nestos we can see the green mountains of Kavala.

What we were looking for, here, at the foots of the Western Rhodopi sierra? We were trying to find the legendary Castle of Kaliva.

It is located atop a hill snowed under oaks. It was just a little far away from where we left the jeep but walking to the castle was really nice and refreshing. The oak trees created shaded corridors covered with dry leaves. And the wet soil smelled so good…


Ροδόπη, Νέστος, Θράκη, Κάστρο Καλύβας


As we walked out of the small oak forest we saw the ruins of the erstwhile mighty castle. It was built for military reasons in that place. The Macedonian king Philip II – father of Alexander the Great – used to pass its troops through the valley of Nestos. Ancient merchants of that time used to do the same with their products too.

During the Ancient Macedonian era Nestos was the natural boundary between Macedonia and Thrace and when Philip II defeated the Odrysi tribe – by the second half of the 4th century BC – reorganized Nestos valley and built powerful castles to control the strategic crossing. One of that castles was that one, Kaliva castle. It was built around 340 BC.



Ροδόπη, Νέστος, Θράκη, Κάστρο Καλύβας



We watched, above the ruined towers and the bastions’ major cornerstones, the breathtaking view of the valley and the Lekani mountains. Among the ruins we could see the foremost monument: the huge cistern, built in the shape of a jar, with a depth of 12.5. m. and a diameter of 8 meters. We were told that it is usually locked and covered with a roof. Yes. And so it was that day…

Following an old plan of the castle we reached the gate of Priapus. It is called so because a relief of the God Priapus was found here. I guess you may know who was Priapus huh? If your mythological knowledge is not supporting your memory, I may remind you that, in ancient Greek mythology, Priapus was something of a god of fertility, famous for its oversized phallus. Scholars say that in ancient art he appeared as a protector of male genital organs. Well, of course. He was the son of Dionysus (god of wine) and Aphrodite (goddess of love), what were you expected?

Archaeologists say that the relief of Priapus protected the fortress by its sacred and oversized phallus. Yes, of course, it was not easy to pass down this castle that times … Consider hundreds of tall, bearded and angry Macedonian soldiers, armed to the teeth with huge spears (called sarissa), waiting over the battlements. And beside them God Priapus nodding at the potential conquerors with his huge phallus. Well, yes. Psychologically it should probably made a mess … It was hard to put this castle under siege. Difficult thing…


Ροδόπη, Νέστος, Θράκη, Κάστρο Καλύβας



I let my photographer to wander through the Hellenistic ruins. I sat in a quoin and enjoyed the view of the valley. Above which a hawk flew circling over something on a green field. A small rabbit on that field was probably spending its last minutes of life …

Rodopi, Rodopi … I recalled some memories. I remembered a girl, a classmate when I was a student in elementary school, who had that strange name.

Ahh… but of course. I remembered. Rodopi was not always a mountain. She was a nice girl, according to the Greek mythology. She was also the daughter of the river god Strymon and sister to the beautiful Aimos, who made his career as a mountain sierra. In mythology of course…

Now listen at something strange. The two brothers … fell in love! As they were blinded of love, as they were full of this kind of confidence that only love gives, and also full of arrogance, they called themselves Zeus and Hera (who were also brothers as you may probably know).

The two gods were angered because other people copyrighted their divine names. Not to mention that Rodopi and Aimos made a son, named Evros, and they said that he owed his beauty to his parents and not to Zeus. So the gods became furious. Thus they transformed the two lovers into mountains (Aimos –Balkan today – and Rodopi). And their son was transformed into a river, Evros, which flows today among the two sierras.

And then slowly the daylight started falling behind the beautiful Rhodopi mountains, in front of us.

I got up and yelled at George that we were leaving.

There is no good to be near the gate of Priapus when the night falls. You never know what is going on with those Myths …


Ροδόπη, Νέστος, Θράκη, Κάστρο Καλύβας



Where am I?

Kaliva Castle is located above the Nestos valley in the northwestern area of Stavroupoli town. You can get here by airplane (at Kavala airport) and then continue by car, following the main road to Xanthi city, which is located about 25 km from Stavroupoli. If you are coming by car from Thessaloniki you will arrive to Stavroupoli passing from Drama city (62 km). But the best way is to travel here by train. Do not miss then to cross the Straits of Nestos by train. It’s a lovely trip





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