The Village of Pyli
Pyli is located at the entrance of the lowland region of Thessaly to the mountain of Pindos. The two facing mountains: Koziakas and Itamos separated by Portaikos River form a natural grand gate, from where the name of the town. Pyli is separated from the settlement of Porta Panagia by Portaikos river. It is of special interest for the visitor, because it is located in the center of important Byzantine and post-Byzantine monuments, but also because it is a passage to the picturesque villages Aspropotamos and Arta. Today, it is the seat of the municipality and has about 2,500 inhabitants, while the whole municipality of Pyli reaches 4,500.
In the area of the settlement Porta Panagia was the Byzantine city Megali Porta (Great Gate), which was called Porta Pazar during the Turkish occupation. The English traveler WM Leak, passed from there in 1810, refers to it as Apano Porta (Upper Gate) or Porta Panagia, in contrast with the new settlement of Porta, which was already developed on the right bank of the river Portaikos and was referred to as Kato Porta (Lower Gate) or Porta-Nicolas. Both names (Pyli and Porta) relate to the geographical location of the town. The bishop of Larissa, Bessarion II (1490-1540), was born in the settlement of Porta Panagia, and was declared saint and protector of Trikala, Kalambaka and Pyli. Pyli became the field for serious battles on numerous occasions because of its location. It has been repeatedly destroyed by the conquerors. The last time, it was set on fire by Italian troops on June 8, 1943.
Crossing Portaikos river around Pyli, there are four bridges from different eras (1514-1981) and different construction techniques (one stone arched, two of concrete, one hanging).
The arched bridge. It is located 1 km. West of Pyli and was built in 1514 by St. Vissarion. This was the only bridge until 1936, which connected the plain with the area of Aspropotamos. It is arched with a length of 67 m., Width 2.05 m. maximum height of 30.50 m. and 0.70 m height barriers.
The bridge Kondyli. The needs of the time led to the construction of a new bridge on the roadway linking Trikala mountain villages. So, one km. west of the old arched bridge, was built a new, modern for that time, concrete bridge. Its construction began in November 1934 and ended in June 1936. This bridge, resembling a shuttle, has a length of 45,30 m., a width of 6 m. and a height of 22 m. On June 9, 1943 the rebels blew her left pedestal to prevent the access of motorized occupation troops. The bridge fell without cracking. Later, it was recovered and restored to its original location, where it remains to this day and serves the communication to the villages of Pindos but also Arta.
The bridge Ghika. It was constructed in 1960-61 with reinforced concrete and serves to this day many villages at the foot of Koziakas. Its length is 170 m.
The hanging foot bridge. It was constructed in 1981 to serve the residents of the homonym Byzantine church. Its length is 120 meters, and is based on two pillars of 16 meters each. The suspension of the deck is with straight protruding wires and is the first bridge in Greece that was constructed with this technique. Its width is 2 m. and the height from the riverbed is 7m.
The Prefecture of Trikala, except Meteora, is full of many remarkable Byzantine monasteries. Around the area of Pyli, the most important ones are:
On the bank of Portaikos River, opposite the town of Pyli, in the old settlement of Porta Panagia, which was known in Byzantine times as “Megalai Pylai”, is the church of Porta Panagia, which used to be a Catholic Monastery. The monastery, which was dedicated to the Irresistible Mary was founded in 1283 by sebastokrator John Aggelos Komninos Doukas, illegitimate son of the despot of Epirus Michael II Doukas, and was dissolved during the Turkish occupation. The Catholic church is contemporary with the initial phase of the monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is the only surviving building of the premises. In 1843, it came under the jurisdiction of neighboring monastery Dousikou while still operating as a parish church for the villagers of Porta Panagia.
The church of Porta Panagia consists of the nave and later exonarthex. The nave is characterized as a three-aisled cross-roofed basilica type C1 in the typological classification of A. Orlandos. The aisles are divided internally with colonnades. Placing the individual roof temple of parts at different heights gives the monument a unique plasticity. The outer walls up to a height of 2 m. are made of large gray limestone, some of them forming crosses. The remaining part is structured in cloisonné. Occasionally, there are superimposed horizontal pieces, instead of a plinth, in vertical joints. The double-light and three-light windows are surrounded by arched frames that reach their apron and are described by dentil. The window drums are decorated with ceramic decoration consisting of successive right angles and sometimes horizontal dentil or homologous curves. The external walls are also degraded by ceramic decoration, dentil beneath limestone cornices, meanders, crosses etc. The outer narthex, which was added at the end of the 14th century, is shaped like a cruciform temple with a dome.
Most of the sculptural decoration of the church was destroyed during the fire of 1855. The marble temple is the original, with some adjustments due to the restoration of A. Orlandos. The capitals crowned the columns and the architrave, decorated with relieved champlevé decoration bearing residues of wax and gum. The two eastern piers are adapted, in reverse to the orthodox layout, full body mosaic icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary and Child.
Monastery of Saint Vissarion
To the monastery of Saint Vissarion (Dousikou) is 25 km away from Trikala, near the town of Pyli and over the village of Agios Vissarion (formerly Dusan). The monastery called Monastery of the Savior of the Great Gate because of its association with the nearby and dissolved today, Byzantine monastery of the 13th century, Porta Panagia. It was established between the years 1527-1535, on the site of the ruins of the monastery of 13th-14th century dedicated to Christ. The first church of the monastery was built by the founder of the monastery of Saint Vissarion, a bishop of Larissa and far-reaching historical personality and social activist. With the help of his brother Ignatius (bishop of Capua and Fanari) they built the current Catholic church in place of the old Catholic one, in 1557 with the nephew of Saint Vissarion and Larissa Metropolitan Neophytos B and bishops of Demetria, Joseph, of Litzas, Lukas and of Fanari, Martyrios. To Neophytos which is the second founder of the monastery is also given due for the expansion of the cells. The monastery was one of the rich and active monasteries of the area with land in Romania. Tradition says that in its heyday it possessed 365 cells, a bank (1682) and a rich library. In 1771 and 1820 the monastery was plundered by the Turkalbanians and in 1823 after the arrest and imprisonment of the abbot of the monastery, followed by slaughter and looting by the soldiers of Schultze Korytza. The monastery suffered new damage by fire and the bombing of 1943. Today it operates with only a few monks and is inaccessible to women.
Formerly, the entrance to the city walls of the monastery was made by means of a mobile wooden scale, which was pulled up after sundown. Today, the visitor enters the precincts of the monastery through the main entrance, which is located approximately in the middle of the south side. The main building of the courtyard is the monastery church, dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Saviour. This is an Athonite type, complex four, temple, with added narthex and exonarthex. Over these spaces are the chapels of the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist and Saints. The hagiography of the Catholic, the work of painter Georges, was completed in November 1557. Of the three chapels of the monastery, the chapel of the Virgin Mary bears decoration of 1675, the chapel of St. John the Baptist of 1693 and the chapel of Agion Panton 1746. The wood-carved iconostasis of the katholikon is subsequent to the initial phase of the universal and dates back to 1813. The church is surrounded by three-storey buildings with wooden balconies that house the other activities of the monastery. Left of the entrance to the monastery is the Bank. Many of the original buildings of the monastery, like part of the west wing of cells, were destroyed and today have been restored.
The small church and the hostel attached to the west side of the original enclosure of the monastery, were built in the 1960s to accommodate the needs of women pilgrims, which were denied access to the original monastery complex. These needs are now covered in the hostel and chapel built in recent years, a short distance south of the monastery.