Mount Papikion

Aikaterinh Balla
Source: C.E.T.I.
© Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace

The part of Podopi mountain range known as Mount Papikion was geographically determined quite accurately by Stilpon Kyriakides, placing it over Byzantine Mosynoupolis, on the NW of Komotini and identified it with the mountain that lied over and a little to the west of the village of Sostis. This mountain is 1463 metres high and is known after the Turkish name Karlal-dagi (“eagle-mountain”) or Karlik-dagi (“snow-mountain”) (the word karlik means “place full of or covered by snow”).
Mount Papikion in Rodopi was a well-known monastic centre from the 11th to the 15th centuries AD, comparable to Mount Athos. The earliest testimony referring to Mount Papikion is found in two passages from the Typikon written by Grigor Bakourian in 1083. According to it, the church of Saint George in Mount Papikion was a metochion of the monastery of Theotokos Petritzonitissa (now named Batskovo). Great historic personalities of the Byzantine Empire and of the Orthodoxy pursued a monastic life in the monasteries of Mount Papikion. According to Byzantine historians and chroniclers, many distinguished persons of Byzantium lived as monks in the monasteries of Mount Papikion, like Alexius (1143-1180), the illegitimate son of Emperor Manouel I. Stefan I Nemanja, a Serbian ruler, after granting the power to his second son Stefan (1195), also embraced the monastic rule in the last years of his life. According to Ioannes Zonaras, Emperor Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) camped in the foothills of Mount Papikion during the campaign against the Paulicians. Further important information on Mount Papikion appears in the biography of two Athenian monks, Barnabas and Sophronios, written by Akakius Sabaites in the first quarter of the 13th century. These two monks, founders of the monastery of Panaghia Soumela in Pontus, visited Mount Papikion and recorded the existence of two renowned monasteries: the monastery of Panaghia Eleousa located on the east side of Mount Papikion and that of St. Luke the Evangelist on the west side. Akakius also mentions that in Mount Papikion existed 370 monasteries; though this number may be an exaggeration, it denotes the importance of this monastic centre. Gregorius Palamas, archbishop of Thessaloniki, and the blessed Maximus Kausocalyvites – associated with the history of Mt. Papikion – visited the monastic community in the early 14th century and stayed in the area for a short period of time.
Historical testimony confirms that monasticism culminated in Mount Papikion during the 11th and 12th centuries. However, the first signs of decline of the monastic centre became apparent in the 13th century that gradually led to its total decay by the end of the 14th century.
The excavation surveys and the archaeological records indicate that some of the Mount Papikion monasteries suffered devastating fires in the early 13th century. Large sections were reduced to ashes and thus abandoned; as a consequence, monasteries were essentially reduced in size. In addition, the civil wars and the dynastic strives between Andronicus II and Andronicus III (1321-1328) as well as between Anna Palaiologina and Ioannes VI Cantacuzenus (1341-1347), which took place exclusively in Thrace, hastened the decline of Papikion. Finally, the abolition of the Byzantine reign by the Ottomans (1362) on this area, though it may not have been the decisive cause of the decline of the monasticism in Mount Papikion, yet, it further shortened the life of the few monasteries, which had survived until then. Nevertheless, testimony is often provided for Mount Papikion, mostly in historical works and hagiographies, even during the last Byzantine centuries.
In the post-Byzantine times, Papikion ceased to be a monastic centre; however, the wider area continued to be inhabited. Close to or over the ruined monastery complexes, people from mountainous Rodopi founded small settlements in order to exploit the surrounding fertile land. Such settlements are old Linos (Kiouplou), Geneti, Poa (Kougiou-Dere), Kerasia, Folia and Bronti.
The Mount Papikion monastic centre was organized in accordance with the Mount Athos rules. A lead bulla (seal) dating from the 10th – 11th centuries provide important information for its administrative structure. On one side, the seal depicts Panaghia and on the other, bears the inscription “Theotokos (Mother of God) help the Protos of Papikion”. In that case, it is demonstrated that the office of 'Protos' was established as a form of monastic administration at Papikion, at least from the 10th – 11th centuries. Written sources give account of the co-existence of two monastic rules on Mount Papikion: the eremitic monastic living and the cenobitic rule, confirmed today by the excavations that bear witness to the existence of organised monastic complexes.
The most significant archaeological finds from the excavations carried out on Mount Papikion are related to a group of monasteries. Several monastery ruins are found north of the modern settlements of Polyanthos, Sostis, Mischos, Linos, Asomatoi, Kerasia, Thamna and Rizoma, at the foothills of Rodopi mountain.
Apart from the churches and monastery complexes, the excavations brought to light cisterns, warehouses, mills and a three-room bathhouse constructed in the Early Christian, small bathhouse style. Other items like coins, lead bullas (seals), small steatite icons and everyday use items (fragments of vessels, small knives, jars, earthenware candlesticks, etc.) were found along with undecorated, glazed pottery. Most of them date to the 11th – 13th centuries.

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