THESSALONIKI – The valley of the «Sleepless Giants» in Western Macedonia is soon to become the region’s first geo-park, featuring the unusual geological formations known locally as «Bouharia» (or «Petrified Nereids») at Mikrovalto in the municipality of Kamvounia, in Kozani. The region’s inclusion in the Regional Operational Program coincides with the results of a scientific survey by Athens University which dates the rock formation to a much earlier date than originally believed. Although more precise dating is still needed, according to officials at the university’s economic geology and geochemistry laboratory, the formation of these rock pinnacles began some 70,000 years ago. These are the only such pinnacles in Greece; others have been found in Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia, but differ in their shape and the rock from which they were formed. The Mikrovalto pinnacles are impressive, rare geological formations that resulted from thousands of years of soil erosion that shaped columns of soil, sand and boulders topped by slate platforms. There are about 20 of these formations, ranging from 3 to 6 meters in height, scattered among narrow watercourses and gorges on the sides of which are also found earthen stalagmites of heights of up to 10 meters, ranging over 2 kilometers. «What impresses visitors is the material from which they are formed. The columns seem to be held up by a natural magic wand that doesn’t allow them to collapse,» said Giorgos Mastroyiannopoulos of the Mikrovalto Society. The Bouharia (the word for «chimneys» in the local dialect) have also gone by other names, such as giants, fairies or demons, according to the prevailing legends surrounding their origins. They served as a refuge for local residents during invasions and wars (the War of Independence and occupation during World War II). Over the past two years, the number of visitors to the Bouharia has increased dramatically; a tourism agency in Athens makes regular excursions to the site. The geo-park budget has been set at over 300,000 euros for fencing, protection of the pinnacles from collapse and the construction of footpaths, kiosks, benches and a guardhouse. The prefecture of Kozani has approved around 500,000 euros for paving the road from the village to the park, which, according to sources, will be the first in a network of geo-parks the region is planning for tourism development across Western Macedonia.