Katerini, Gateway to Olympus
Katerini, unlike many cities in Greece, has not been there forever. It was probably established sometime during the Ottoman Occupation, which is to say the early 1400's. A century or two before that, a place called Hatera found its way on maps of the area. Felix Beaujour, who was the French counsul to Greece in the late 1700's, wrote the name down as "Katheri," which is the literal meaning of the proper name "Katerina," and means, simply, "clean."
The city and its immediate area has a population of about 90,000, and it is mainly a farming community, with kiwi fruit and hazel nuts being among its chief crops. The city is inland a few miles, but has a fine beach about 4.5 miles (7 km) east of the city limits. Katerini is a nice city that can be used as a base to explore the immediate area, especially Mt. Olympus, which looms on the southern horizon. Its highest peak, at nearly 10,000 feet (2918 m) is the highest spot in Greece. Olympus is visible from remarkably far distances; for example, it is a prominent feature on the horizon of Salonika, some 50 miles (80 km) away.
Olympus is snowcapped almost all the year round, and the fact that it is not part of a much longer mountain range makes it all the more impressive. No wonder the ancients said that the gods lived here. In fact, there are a significant number of "dodekatheistes," worshippers of the 12 gods of Olympus, who regularly make pilgrimages to Olympus. Olympus is home to over 1700 species of plant life, many of them flowers, a greater variety than anywhere else in Europe.
The Sanctuary of Dion, 7.5 miles (12 km) south of Katerini was a major center of worship of Zeus (Dios, "of Zeus"). Mythology has Zeus fathering two children by Thyia, daughter of Deucalion (grandson of Prometheus, the bringer of fire). The sons' names were Magnes and Makednos- which is where the name Macedonia comes from. They lived at the foot of Mt. Olympus, near what was to become the sanctuary of Dion. Dion was considered highly sacred by the Ancient Macedonians. A large temple and alter to Zeus was built there, where Alexander himself is said to have made sacrifices before embarking on his military campaigns.
It was the site of the Olympian Games of Dion, which included theatrical as well as athletic contests. and was superintended personally by the kings of Macedonia. Dion reached its height of influence during the 4th-5th centuries BC. Dion hasa an archeological park and museum, both well worth visiting.
Olympus itself is a superb, well-used hiking and camping place. You don't hae to climnb to the top of the mountain, a job better left to the well-experienced and well-equipped, as there are a number of trails you can take for a daytime ramble along the lower slopes. Trailheads are just beyond Litochoro, which is itself a nice place to stay and catch the bracing, pure, refrigerated air coming down off the mountain. There are refuges at various places on the mountain where a more determined hiker can find shelter for the night.
There are a number of reosrt villages on the Aegean, most notable Platamon, about 21 miles (35 km) south of Katerini, which has an excellent beach, lively night life, and the beautiful Crusader-built Castle of Platamon, dating from the early 1200's and set on the crown of a hill overlooking the northern Aegean.
The castle controlled the entrance to the narrow gorge of the Tempe valley, the only passage from northern to central Greece east of the massif of Olympus, and a strategic chokepoint. Platamon is situated near ancient Herakleion, which was a part of the Macedonian empire in antiquity. It is thought, from recent archeological discoveries, that Herakleion was just down the seaward slope of the hill the castle is built on. Platamon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in this area of Greece, which many restaurants, cafeterias, hotels, and campgrounds. The year-round population of about 2,000 swells to about 200,000 during the height of the summer season.
Just 13 miles (21 km) west of Katerini there is a new ski resort at Litochoro offering every variety of winter sport and boosting winter tourism for the area. All in all, Katerini is worth a visit for its proximity to all of these places. Throughout a stay here, Olympus is close by, looming, taking a large chunk out of the skyline with its impressive bulk.