That was a surprise ! We drove through the dense fir ravine in Koukoufli, in Aspropotamos valley in Thessaly ( in the mountainous area of Trikala region, if you know … ) into the wild nature and far away from any sense of human civilization. And suddenly a small paved road, just 1 km long, revealed one of the most remarkable monuments in the whole Balkan area !
It is one of the rarest – for its architecture – churches and according to tradition it belonged to the (abandoned today) Doliana monastery (its ruins exist in the dense forest just north of the church) . The signs , however, write “Temple of the Holy Cross” and – out of the few documents that have survived for this- scholars believe that it was built in 1770 and renovated in 1839 and in 1841.
The absolutely impressive structure is a three-aisled, domed basilica but not with one or two domes but … with twelve ! They rise elegantly, well structured with honey colored and brown stones and the peaks have metal crosses from which small bells are hung! One of the most important elements of the -also striking- interior of the church is the small throne , which is a set of semicircular tiers built on sanctuary , a rare architectural feature , especially found at the early Christian churches .
With the cause of a tragic incident that happened here, at the monastery of Doliana, during the German occupation in the second world war, began the big devastation of the villages of Aspropotamos valley. A really sad story…
In the mid of June , of the summer of 1943, the National Greek Liberation Army (called ELAS) ambushed a German supplies procession in Sarantaporos area, in Macedonia, and during the battle, the men of the ELAS killed 60 soldiers from the German convoy, took about 90 trucks and got 79 German prisoners . As the German administration in Greece refused to exchange them with Greek prisoners ( Germans did not even accept themselves as prisoners !) the men of ELAS proposed to the German prisoners to become ELAS auxiliary soldiers or to be executed. The stupidity and fanaticism of the captured Germans seemed to be huge. So the 75 prisoners preferred to be executed and not serve ELAS! Well, the Greek rebels got them, brought them next to beautiful church and executed them all!
The four who intelligently accepted the compromise were placed in a village workshop to make uniforms for the ELAS soldiers. One of them left the workshop and managed to escape. Then he went straight to the German forces that had just arrived in the neighboring mountains. He revealed the execution of the 75 Germans and tons of information about ELAS positions and weapons.
So, during October of 1943, the German troops passed through fire and iron all the villages of Aspropotamos valley and the neighboring region, they executed locals and monks and burned many houses and monasteries.
We do not know what happened to the four Germans that survived the ELAS execution. Perhaps their fellow Germans executed them! Crazy ah? Anyway this was announced by their commander: if he learned that his men fell prisoners they will be executed by himself…
Nice guys …
Where am I ?
The monastery of Doliana is located in Doliana area, in Aspropotamos valley (Aspropotamos is a nick name for the big river Aheloos), in Thessaly . To get here you will follow the main road to Trikala – Meteora – Kalambaka . From there you will continue on the road to Glykomilia – Krania– Polythea. The monastery is located just outside the village of Krania (it is signposted) .
The temple at Doliana celebrates the Assumption of Virgin Mary on the 15th of August and also on the 14th of September. It is open from April to October , every day except Wednesdays , 10:00 to 18:00.