NATURE, MYTH AND HISTORYpARKadia
, where nature
blend together and mix with modern life, is our name for the proposed Parrhasian Heritage Park on the Western Peleponnese. The first area in Greece to be labelled a national heritage park, it covers approximately 550 square kilometres
encompassing Western Arcadia, Southern Elis and Northern Messenia.
Dissected by deep valleys and gorges and dominated by pristine mountains cloaked in forests, it has a profusion of outstanding natural beauty
spots, rich archaeological sites and communities
both old and new.
Neda gorge, Ancient Phigaleia
No matter where you go, there are lofty mountain ranges and scenic landscapes: picturesque dense lush green forests; serene flowing rivers; splendid waterfalls; mystic caves and exotic locales, awash with colourful flora
that is home to an amazing variety of fauna
Just one of many thousands of outstanding natural beauty spots, is the famous Neda waterfalls - a series of falls and pools on a secluded plateau above the mouth of the Neda where the river disappears into a tunnel.
It is paradise for anyone wanting to swim although the water is freezing!
According to legend, the region was the birthplace of Zeus
, the God of gods. Wherever you go, you can feel his presence and the souls of the zoomorphic gods and
goddesses who allegedly surrounded him...
, a Titan goddess with the tail of a fish who became his third wife and bore him the graces; Pan
a better known figure from Greek mythology with the legs, tail and horns of a goat who played his panpipes in pastoral Arcadia and Demeter
, a goddess with
the head of a horse who sought refuge in a cave after her brother Poseidon assumed the form of a stallion and coupled with her.
Platania Barbalekou Tower
There is so much history in the area and so many historical landmarks that you could be forgiven for thinking there are more altars, sanctuaries, temples and tombs than people.
The most famous landmark is the
Temple of Apollo Epikouros
at Bassae, a UNESCO world heritage site on the road from Andritsaina to Ancient Phigaleia
Others archaeological sites, like the nearby hot baths, seem unimportant because they have not even been given a name. Nonetheless, they are an integral part of the complex history of the region.
Bassae Temple of Apollo Epikouros
From modern day towns and villages to the remains of ancient cities
, there is evidence of communities everywhere. But a way of life shaped by years of occupancy
rooted in deep-seated traditions is fast disappearing.
Unlike seaside resorts which mainly depend on tourism, the mountain towns and villages still rely on agriculture and livestock although some are beginning to cater for passing visitors en route to archaeological
and cultural sites. And what could be more beguiling than a traditional Greek taverna laced with plentiful food and drink and the sound of Greek music?
Plucking a chicken Stomio
TEMPLES AND SANCTUARIES
Our religious buildings are intended for congregational worship. Ancient Greek temples were rarely used this way. Built within sanctuaries, they housed deity statues and were more like the homes of the gods or goddesses (e.g.
, Apollo, Demeter
and Desponia) who protected the local community.
The most spectacular in the region is the Temple of Apollo Epikurios
at Bassae. A UNESCO world heritage site, it is an architectural gem. Others sites, like the Sanctuary of Zeus
Mount Lykaion, are less well known but equally as important to the understanding of ancient cult practices.
Lykosura Sanctuary of Despoina
Mount Lykaion Sanctuary of Zeus
Lykosura Sanctuary of Despoina
TEMPLE OF APOLLO
Hidden under a protective white tent at an altitude of 1131 metres is the Temple of Apollo. This was designed by Iktinos, the architect responsible for the Parthenon, and completed around 420 BC. Unusually, it has a north-south
orientation and glorifies all three (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian) Greek architectural styles.
Said to be dedicated to Apollo "Epikurios" ('helper') after he saved the citizens of Ancient Phigaleia
from an epidemic during the Peloponnese war
(431 - 404 BC), it is just as likely that the god was named "Epikurios" because he provided the Phigaleians with a strategy for their fight against the Lacedaemonians in 659 BC.
"Of all the temples in the Peloponnese this one could be considered second only to the temple at Tegea for its proportions and the beauty of its stone."
Description of Greece
Spot the tent in the distance
See the first ever Corinthian column
Gaze in awe at the Doric columns
TEMPLE OF DEMETER
Linked to Ancient Phigaleia
through the antics of its founder Lepreos (who died in the city in a duel with Heracles), the ancient city of Lepreo was a strategically
important place. In antiquity it was surrounded by an 800 metre perimeter wall built from porous and limestone blocks. About 4.5 metres high, the wall incorporated look out towers and a secret gate.
Inside the sanctuary, along with other buildings, is a peripteral Doric (6 x 11 columns) temple to Demeter
, the regional goddess of the elusive
"nightmare cave". Here, as in her cave, she received offerings on a purpose-built altar.
“The Lepreans told me that in their city once was a temple of Zeus Leucaeus (of the White Poplar), the grave of Lycurgus, son of Aleus, and the grave of Caucon, over which was the figure of a man holding a lyre. But as far as I could see they had no tomb of distinction, and no sanctuary of any deity save one of Demeter."
Description of Greece
Approach the sanctuary entrance
Make an offering on the altar
Search for the secret gate
Admire the ingenuity of shepherds
SANCTUARY OF DESPOINA (temporarily closed)
The local cult at Lykosura
was of the goddess Despoina, meaning "Mistress". In her temple was an over-lifesize sculpture of her and her mother Demeter
seated on thrones, flanked by Artemis and the Titan Anytos. Fragments of these statues are now in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, although other finds are displayed in
the small museum by the sanctuary.
As well as the temple, the site consists of a stoa, a theatre-like area, an enigmatic structure called the Megaron, a sacred area ('temenos') and three altars - indicating that Demeter and the Great
Mother were venerated alongside Despoina.
Lykosura Sanctuary of Despoina
"From Akakesion [in Arkadia] it is four stades to the sanctuary of Despoine... [The statue of] Demeter carries a torch in her right hand; her other hand she has laid upon Despoine...
This Despoine the Arkadians worship more than any other god, declaring that she is a daughter of Poseidon and Demeter.”
Description of Greece
Walk around the Doric temple
Rest on theatre-like seats
Decipher ancient inscriptions
The source of many a story, Mount Lykaion ('wolf ') is in a remote location to the west of Megalopolis. On its southern peak is the Sanctuary of Zeus
which, in ancient literature,
was described as the Arcadian birthplace of the God of gods (in Cretea) as well as the site of the Lykaion Games.
Contemporaneous with the Olympics, the Lykaion Games took place in the lower sanctuary
on meadow slopes once covered in forests inhabited by wolves. 200 metres
higher at the top of the peak (1,382 metre above sea level) is the upper sanctuary where mysterious rituals took place at an altar to Zeus.
Southern summit Mount Lykaion
"On the highest point of the mountain is a mound of earth, forming an altar of Zeus Lykaios, and from it most of the Peloponnesos can be seen. Before the altar on the east stand two pillars, on which there were of old gilded eagles. On this altar they sacrifice in secret to Lykaion Zeus. I was reluctant to pry into the details of the sacrifice; let them be as they are and were from the beginning."
Description of Greece
Mount Lykaion Altar of Zeus
ALTAR OF ZEUS
There is little to indicate that the southern summit of Mount Lykaion (reached via a dirt track) was a sacred place, except for the bases of two columns that once supported two golden eagles said by the Roman traveller Pausanias
to have stood in front of an altar to Zeus. This mound of ash is rumoured to contain the remains of human sacrifices, although only animal bones have been found.
The sacred area or temenos, also described by Pausanias, is not so easy to see but it lay between the ash altar and the Church of Saint Elias
prophet seen as the Orthodox successor to Zeus
, whose churches are built on mountaintops.
Mount Lykaion View towards Megalopolis
Be wowed by the panoramic views
Climb to the top of the ash altar to Zeus
Figure out the boundaries of the sacred area
On the meadow slopes of Mount Lykaion is the lower sanctuary - site of the Lykaion Games. Here you will find the remains of a collection of buildings facing the hippodrome (chariot-racing track) and stadium (located within
the track): the xenon (hotel for those who came from afar); stoa (connected porticos under one roof); a bath and the Agno fountain, a once very productive spring.
But the games are not just an ancient event, the modern Lykaion Games have been held every four years since 1973. Organised by the Cultural Society of Ano Karyes, they include a beautiful torch ceremony
on the mountaintop at dawn.
Mount Lykaion Lower sanctuary
Contemplate an ancient sports complex
Pretend to be a spectator
you will see in Ancient Phigaleia
were built during the 3rd century BC and have temple-shaped
façades. Most burial structures found in the Peloponnese are much older tholos tombs, characterised by round chambers with domed roofs resembling beehives. The most impressive is the Tomb of Agamemnon at Mycenae.
But you can find tholos tombs much nearer to the Ark
. Two well-known tholos tombs sit above Psari
and two even better preserved tombs are at Malthi. There is another single tomb at Mouriatadha and three smaller ones at Chalkias which were discovered as recently as 1990.
Have you ever dreamed of making an important archaeological discovery? Well, that is exactly what a shepherd did as recently as the mid-1990s. At Saint Elias, near the village of Chalkias, he found a small stone tomb.
It turned out to be one of three tholos (domed) tombs dating from the Mycenaean period (1680 -1060 BC) suggesting that the area was a Mycenaean heartland.
Although the tombs had been plundered, clay vessels, stone arrowheads, figurines, seals and beads made from semi-precious stones, glass and deer horns were found. These are now on display in the
Archaeological Museum at Messene.
Chalkias One of two tholos tombs
Imagine being interred in Tholos I
... or one of the other tombs
Pose for a photo inside a burial chamber
Two well-known tholos tombs sit on an airy ridge above Psari
, a pretty village on the northern border of the Soulima Valley. One hundred metres apart, the
tombs can be reached via a dirt track from the roadside Church of Ayia Anna.
The tombs were discovered in the early 1980s when robbers disrupted the excavation of Tomb I, furthest along the track. Maybe they stole treasures but this is unlikely since archaeologists only
found charcoal, pottery, flint and bones. And recently, when digging out Tomb II, they did not discover anything else. Protected by a security fence, this tomb (unlike Tomb I) still has its cap stone in place.
Follow the track to the tombs
Imagine Tholos II before excavation
Visualise the extent of Tholos II
Note that Tholos I is missing its cap stone
Near the acropolis at Malthi there are two very well preserved Mycenaean tholos tombs. One, dating from 1380 -1200 BC, is covered by a wooden shelter erected in 1999 by the Greek Archaeological Service. It has an
13.5 metre walled "road" ('dromos') leading to an imposing entrance with a relieving triangle above the lintel. This alleviates the weight of the corbelled vaulting (in which each successive layer of stones
is projected slightly beyond the course below) of the domed roof.
Inside the tomb is a chamber 6.85 metres in diameter and 5.8 metres high. Plundered in antiquity, it was excavated in 1926 by Valmin, a Swedish scholar.
Imagine entering the tholos
... and looking up at the beehive dome
Seven kilometres northeast of the seaside town of Kyparissia
, at an altitude of 280 metres, is the village of Mouriatadha, one of the oldest towns in
Messinia referred to in Homer as having sent ships to Troy.
A few kilometres further north is a neglected archaeological site. Judging by the broken ceramics underfoot, it was an ancient settlement hosting a vaulted tomb. How old? Nobody seems to know.
No Mycenaean remains were found in the chamber - only animal bones. However, under the floor - protected by stone slabs - were the bones of a child.
BATHS AND FOUNTAINS
Our existence is dependent on water, or the lack of it. Infact, one could say that our whole civilization is built on how to get drinkable water and how to manage the waste we produce. The people of ancient
Greece were very aware of this and made strong headway in the development of public water systems.
The baths and fountains they built were fed by springs that, like everything in nature, were held to have mystical and medicinal powers. Their elaborate architectural treatment reflected
this belief and, to some extent, still does today. No village would be complete without a spring flowing from a stone fountain!
Lykosura Pre-historic hydraulics
Mount Lykaion Agno fountain
Lykosura Prehistoric hydraulics
Ancient Phigaleia Fountain house
Mount Lykaion Lykaion Games
View the tholos from above
Look out for ceramic chards
During summer temperatures in the Peloponnese idle around 86°F (30°C) but can reach 104°F (40°C). So, it is not surprising that the site of the Lykaion Games on the foot of Mount Lykaion includes an ancient fountain that once provided water to athletes and spectators. This was fed by the Agno spring (named after a nymph) which now flows from a new fountain further up the mountainside.
Archaeological evidence also suggests that water was channelled from the fountain to other areas of the complex and that the path it took was similar to that of the cascading rusty barrels
providing water for sheep today.
See the channel where the water arrived
... and the plumbing it flowed through
Remember the rusty barrels are modern!
On the road from Ancient Phigaleia
is an archeological site that is a bit of a mystery. Unlike at other sites, the sign does not say what it is. On some maps it is described as a Doric temple but if you wander around there are no
Doric columns and no obvious temple entrance or altar.
Instead, the impressive temple-like structure looks more like a cistern and a series of large stones with distinctive channels lead down the mountainside towards it. As well as challenging
spring water, perhaps these stones - warmed by the sun - were also used to heat the water for bathing.
Perivolia Archaeological site
Examine individual stones
... and study how they fit together
Count the numbered stones
Follow the channelled stones
Close to the Sanctuary of Despoina at Lykosura
, on the other side of the modern road, are the remains of a cistern and sunken bathing
At first, you might mistake the cistern for a temple but features, like the tiled floor and the lack of a processional entrance, indicate it was a water tank that probably supplied
the bathing pool below.
Now devoid of water, this has a grass floor but it is not hard to imagine a traveller to Lykosura being invited to descend down the steps to wash off the dust from an arduous
Lykosura Pre-historic hydraulics
Explore the large cistern
Look for channels in the stones
Descend into the bathing pool
encompasses Western Arcadia, Southern Elis and Northern Messenia and includes two major rivers with a claim to fame. The Neda
the only river in Greece with a female name, rises on the slopes of Mount Lykaion
and crashes through a breathtaking gorge before it empties into the Ionian
Sea south of Giannitsochori. Also draining into the Ionian Sea, west of Olympia, is the sacred Alpheios river
which rises in the highlands of Arcadia and flows
The main river of Messenia, the Pamisos
, follows a course to the south of pARKadia
en route to the Messenian
The sacred Alpheios river is the longest river on the Peloponnese. Rising in the highlands of Arcadia, it flows under many a bridge and absorbs numerous tributaries before emptying into the Ionian Sea west of Olympia. It
is said there is a legend for every bank of the river. One relates to its name.
In antiquity, Alpheios was worshipped as a god who brought wealth. He became a river in order to pursue the love of his life, the nymph Arethousa who had fled to Sicily to avoid his advances. It was
believed that whenever he wanted to see her he travelled as water to the island.
The most famous bridge over the Alpheios river sits underneath the modern road bridge at Karytaina, one of the most historic villages in Arcadia. Sometimes known as the Frankish bridge, it was built in the 13th century
but rebuilt in 1440.
50 metres long, 12 metres high and with five arches, it is an assus bridge meaning it could be taken out of operation by the removal of its wooden deck. This is dangerous, so if you want to visit
the small chapel by the bridge, you must approach it from the north bank. Although the descent to this bank is longer and steeper than the walk to the south bank, it is well worth the effort.
View the bridge from the south bank
Climb the steps on the north bank
Do not cross the wooden section
Enter the Chapel of the Birth of the Virgin
To reach the Ionian Sea to the west of Olympia, the Alpheios river has to flow under the busy coastal road (Greek National road 9) linking the small city of Pyrgos to the more southerly towns of Zacharo
. The bridge it flows under is just north of Epitalio. It is difficult to stop but if you park up and walk back and forth across the
bridge, you will see some great riverscapes.
To the west, the river crashes over a weir before meandering through pine forests bordering the beach. To the east, the river disappears into dense foliage reflected in stiller water. Look closely
and you might spot a solitary fisherman!
According to legend, the Neda river took its name from one of the nymphs entrusted by Rhea to protect her son Zeus
from his father Cronus. He was a jealous deity
who, fearing his children might take his throne, had swallowed every other child Rhea had given birth to. Together with Theisoa and Agno, Neda took care of baby Zeus feeding him on milk and honey and bathing him
in the river.
Depending on the time of year, you too can bathe in the river; picnic on its banks; seek out ancient bridges or, if you want a really cool summer adventure, follow the course of the river through
a sunless gorge lined with white rocks.
Below Stomio, in a wooded valley at the bottom of the Neda gorge, is the single-arch bridge of Jouloucha. It links two neighbouring prefectures: Messinia and Elia and is the springboard to the famous Neda waterfalls.
The bridge can only be crossed on foot although it can be reached by car via a partially concreted road from Ancient Phigaleia
at the base can be tricky) and a steep, dirt track from Platania
that leads to a shaded parking area. Nearby is a mill that once made use of the power
of the water.
It is the perfect spot for a picnic and paradise for anyone wishing to swim.
Inspect the top of the bridge
Enjoy a picnic on the stones
ANCIENT PHIGALEIA BRIDGE
The Neda river flows under the busy coastal road (Greek National road 9) to reach the Ionian Sea just south of Giannitsochori. The next upstream road crossing is below Ancient Phigaleia
where a tributary from the south flows into the river creating some mini-rapids.
To the east of these rapids is a river-side walk with unfolding scenery that takes some beating. Where else could you find such a mix of flora
coarse grasses and wildflowers); fauna
(birds, dragonflies, freshwater fish, river crabs and water snakes) and, of course, water?
Ancient Phigaleia bridge Neda river
Further upstream from Ancient Phigaleia
at Kakaletri there is a road bridge linking villages either side of the Neda river. Hidden below it is a much
older bridge which is characteristically Turkish because of its Islamic sharp headed arch.
Steps adjacent to the road bridge lead to one of the quieter stretches of the Neda river - before it crashes through a gorge. Shaded from the sun, you will experience untouched natural beauty and have
little chance of getting lost if you decide to go for a walk. But remember, you can still fall prey to wild life and many of the overhanging plants can be bothersome!
Kakaletri bridge Neda river
East of Ancient Phigaleia
, near the village of Mavromati, are two crossings over the Neda river. The most easterly is a road bridge linking Kouvelas
. Before this, there is a sign (in Greek) to a ruined bridge that is only passable on foot, although you can get close by car or motorbike.
Park up by the open wooded area where you will see a large tree impregnated with rusty metal hooks and whittled sticks which are used for hanging and skinning animals - most likely wild boar
which are hunted in the region. From the shade of the wood, a path leads to the single-arched stone bridge and the river.
Neda river Mavromati bridge
Inspect the ‘contraptions’ in the tree
CHURCH OF SAINT ELIAS
Close to the ash altar of Zeus at the top of the southern peak of Mount Lykaion
is the Church of Saint Elias. "Elias" is Greek for the prophet Elijah, a figure
greatly loved by Eastern Christians and why many churches (and children) are given his name. Most are on mountaintops where Elias is said to have conversed with God.
Honoured for his mysticism and prophesy, apparently he did not die but ascended to heaven riding a chariot of fire. He is commemorated on 20 July when the villagers of nearby Ano Karyas
organise a feast to be brought to the mountaintop - no mean feat given the terrain and the heat in midsummer.
Mount Lykaion Church of Saint Elias
Enter the church with reverence
Imagine Elias conversing with God
... and riding to heaven on a chariot of fire
The animals, like the plant life
are prolific, colourful and alluring. With some exceptions, many of the mammals and birds you will see - both on land and out at sea
- are also native to the UK. What differs is the variety of reptiles and insects that come to see you. But before cursing them, remember that all animals play a vital role in keeping our ecosystems healthy.
Snakes control rodent populations whilst insects enrich our soil and provide food for larger animals.
The same goes for the land crabs you will find enjoying the sun on rocks. Although they can inflict a memorable pinch, they pose no threat to humans.
Most of the mammals you are likely to see - sheep and goats - are kept for their milk and meat. Or, like donkeys and dogs, are working animals. There are few domestic pets - even cats must earn their keep
by dealing with rodents and snakes.
You are less likely to glimpse the mixture of species from Europe, Asia and Africa sheltering in the undergrowth. Although hard to spot, badgers, bats, deer, foxes, hares, rabbits, squirrels,
wild cats and wolves are your neighbours and evidence of their presence is everywhere. For example, dug up roots are a sign of wild boar and you might see hunters bringing home a kill.
Andritsaina Bat in a cave
INSECTS AND SPIDERS
Insects, most notably mosquitos, bite, sting and spread diseases but not all deserve a squirt of poison. For example, the swarms of green and orange butterflies or the giant peacock, Europe’s largest
moth. Not so nice are the caterpillars of the pine processionary moth that march to their pupating area in nose-to-tail columns, protected by severely irritating hairs.
The mild climate permits insect activity throughout the year and you will almost certainly hear the persistent chirping song of male crickets trying to attract females. You are also
likely to see locusts, grasshoppers and the odd praying mantis.
Ancient Phigaleia Giant peacock moth
Sun yourself with a locust
Hop with the grasshoppers
Greece is home to an impressive number of birds including residents that stay all year round, migrants who pass through with the seasons to wintering birds escaping colder conditions up north.
While many species are relatively common - house martins, finches, starlings, wagtails and robins - it is always a thrill to stumble upon a rare bird like a golden eagle. These can
be seen soaring on the rising air above the Neda gorge whilst fowl - notably chickens but also ducks, turkeys and geese - enjoy a free range existence scrubbing around on the ground.
Watch the comings and goings of house martins
Watch peacocks strutting about
Spot barn owls hidden in ruins
Look out for camouflaged finches
Greece has one of the richest diversity of reptiles and amphibians in Europe and the Peloponnese is no exception. Here, snakes are a fact of life. They should be both avoided and admired for
their beautiful markings. Less threatening are two endemic lizards - the Greek rock lizard (think spots) and the Peloponnese wall lizard (think stripes). Frogs and toads are also common.
But nothing quite lives up to sight of a tortoise waking up and crawling out from hibernation or a turtle emerging from the sea onto the 40 kilometre sandy beach stretching from
the Katakolo Cape to the Kyparissian Gulf.
Avoid Europe’s most poisonous viper
Never put your hand in a hole
Largely undisturbed by modern civilisation, the area abounds with plant life and your attention will be divided between spectacular views of fifty shades of green and what lies at your feet -
grasses, fungi, wildflowers and herbs.
The plants and flowers of ancient Greece were rich in mythology: ranging from the tale of Persephone who was condemned to spend a portion of each year in the underworld after
being tempted by Hades to eat pomegranate seeds to the Arkadian nymph Daphne who transformed herself into a laurel tree to escape from the advances of the god Apollo.
The trees that cloak the mountains include white poplars, age-old plane trees, enormous oaks, wild figs, laurels, wild woodbines, willow, chestnut, walnut, spearheaded cypresses, pine, fir
and, of course, olive trees. Beautifully manicured groves are everywhere, although centuries-old trees are rarer.
Whereas the olive
has always been the most important horticulture tree, the oak dominated the ancient landscape.
In fact the ancient Greek word for oak, 'drys', was also the word for tree and it is probable that the pre-agrarian tribes of Arcadia lived on a staple diet of edible acorns.
Centuries old olives trees
Three crucial ingredients for a Greek spring meadow are poor soil, plenty of sunlight and winter rain. Generally speaking, the poorer the soil, the richer the variety of flowers since poor
soil gives them a chance to thrive by limiting the competitive edge of coarse vigorous grasses and weeds.
On May Day, a national holiday, families go out into the countryside to pick flowers to make a wreath which they hang outside their house until 24 June. It is believed
to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. Cars, buses, fishing boats and taxis are also adorned with wreaths.
Ancient Phigaleia Peloponnesian poppies
Recreational lawns around houses are a rarity in Greece, as are bowling greens and golf courses. This is hardly surprising given the hyper-arid, drought-prone climate but it does not
mean that the ground is barren. Far from it, the winter rains and summer sun allow coarse grasses and weeds to flourish.
Although detrimental to patios, these fast growing plants have their own beauty and help to characterise the landscape both in the mountains and by the sea. That said
some plants are very invasive, and you will see (and hear) workers in the olive groves cleaning the land beneath the trees in preparation for the olive harvest
Watch the cleaning of the olive groves
Aloe vera amongst the sea spurge
HORTA AND HERBS
"Horta" ('wild greens') is a catch-all term for native plants eaten since ancient times including wild amaranth, dandelions, endives, nettles and spinach. It is important that you
positively identify all wild greens before you eat them as there are many poisonous plants and look-a-likes.
During the summer months, a walk through the countryside is filled with the scent of fragrant herbs such as sage, oregano, rosemary and thyme, the flowers of which
are particularly important for bees who produce excellent tasting honey from them. You will also find chamomile and mountain tea.
Collecting horta Ancient Phigaleia
There are many waterfalls in the region but some of the most impressive fall off the hillside below Ancient Phigaleia
. Visitors to the village ask for directions to
the "Neda waterfalls" or the "white waters". These are interchangeable terms but not to a local. The Neda waterfalls are a series of falls and pools on a secluded plateau above the mouth of the Neda where the river
disappears into a tunnel.
The "white waters" ('Aspro Nero') is another single fall further upstream. It drops for 60 metres into the river and is best viewed from the road on the southern flank of the gorge.
Although Demeter is often described simply as the goddess of the harvest, she also presided over sacred law and the cycle of life and death. And she, and her daughter Persephone (Kore), were the central figures
of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece that were replicated on the Peloponnese in the Andanian mysteries.
The daughter of Cronus and Rhea (and thus Zeus’ sister), Demeter is intimately associated with the seasons. When Persephone was reputably abducted by Hades to be his wife in the underworld, Demeter
cursed the world by causing plants to wither and die and the land to become desolate. Fearing the end of the world, Zeus intervened and allowed Persephone to return to her mother who joyfully began to care for
the earth again.
But Persephone had eaten pomegranate seeds in the underworld and was obliged to return to Hades for four months each year. These months correspond to the dry Greek summer, a period when plants
are threatened with drought. At the beginning of autumn, when Persephone returns from the underworld and is reunited with her mother, seeds are planted and the cycle of growth begins anew.
In Ancient Phigaleia, Demeter is referred to as Demeter Melaina, (black). This is because Demeter, when she was searching for Persephone, dressed in black and sought refuge in a cave on Mount
Elaios. As David, a visitor to the Ark, explains:
“There is so much history in this area including the local legend of the Goddess Demeter and “the nightmare cave”. This tale comes in its original form from the Roman traveller Pausanias. It is a hugely complex mix of different Greek myths ...
Demeter (the Goddess of agriculture, fertility, sacred law and the harvest), fled the amorous advances of Poseidon, a prodigious casanova and also her brother! She hid among the herds of Onkios in the shape of a horse, but Poseidon assumed the form of a stallion and coupled with her.
In another story, Hades, God of the Underworld, fell in love with Persephone (the daughter of Demeter), abducted her, and carried her off to his layer where he raped her. The Rape of Persephone has been shown in numerous sculptures and paintings, most notably by Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
No wonder Demeter wanted to hid away in a cave! And little wonder that the Phigaleians came to worship her as Demeter Melaina (’black’). However, at some point, they neglected her and allowed the wooden statue erected in her honour to burn in a fire. Then there was famine and the Oracle at Delphi said that unless the people appeased her with offerings, “soon will she make you eat each other and feed on your children”.
Perhaps through these stories nightmares were born?
I like the image of a hidden cave, still lying undiscovered somewhere in the mountains around Ancient Phigaleia, a place where dreams, visions and nightmares were brought to life! Or perhaps the people of the modern village of Phigaleia still keep the secret, and have passed it down through generations. Well, I can dream no? In such a place myth, history and nature blend together, and mix with modern life. But you can feel there is something special in the air, in the land…in The Earth.”
You too can dream and or you can go in search of the cave but do not expect anybody to give you directions to Mount Eliaos!
"Mount Elaios [in Arkadia] ... has a cave sacred to Demeter surnamed Melaina (the Black). The Phigalians accept the account of the people of Thelpousa about the mating of Poseidon and Demeter, but they assert that Demeter gave birth, not to a horse but to Despoine ...
Afterwards, they say, angry with Poseidon and grieved at the rape of Persephone, she put on black apparel and shut herself up in this cavern for a long time. But when the fruits of the earth were perishing, and the human race dying yet more through famine, no god, it seemed, knew where Demeter was hiding, until Pan, they say, visited Arkadia. Roaming from mountain to mountain as he hunted, he came at last to Mount Elaios and spied Demeter, the state she was in and the clothes she wore ... For these reasons, the Phigaleians say, they concluded that this cavern was sacred to Demeter and set up in it a wooden image. The image, they say, was made after this fashion. It was seated on a rock, like to a woman in all respects save the head. She had the head and hair of a horse, and there grew out of her head images of serpents and other beasts"
Description of Greece
In the 3rd century BC, the Greek poet Callimachus wrote a Hymn to Zeus asking the ancient and most powerful Greek god whether he was born in Arcadia on Mount Lykaion
(in a region called Cretea) or in Crete on Mount Ida.
My soul is all in doubt, since debated is his birth.
O Zeus, some say that you were born on the hills of Ida;
Others, O Zeus, say in Arcadia;
Did these or those, O Father lie?
“Cretans are ever liars.”
Clearly in antiquity, there were two traditions relating to the birthplace of Zeus. These have been transmitted to the modern day and, understandably, we favour the Arkadian birthplace. This ties in with another local legend
that the Neda river, which flows through a sunless gorge below Ancient Phigaleia, took its name from one of three nymphs entrusted by Rhea to protect her son Zeus from his father Cronus. He was a jealous deity who,
fearing his children might take his throne, had swallowed every other child Rhea had given birth to.
It seems Rhea’s plan worked because, as Cronus had feared, Zeus grew up to overthrow him and become the supreme ruler of the gods, as well as lord of the sky and rain. His weapon was a thunderbolt which
he hurled at those who displeased or defied him, especially liars and oath breakers. He was married to Hera but often tested her patience, as he was infamous for his many affairs.
As well as being venerated at Olympia (the birthplace of the Olympic Games), Zeus was worshipped at an altar to Zeus on the southern summit of Mount Lykaion. This mound of ash is rumoured to contain
the remains of human sacrifices, although only animal bones have been found. Nonetheless, stories abound ...
According to the Bibliotheca, an Ancient Greek compendium of myths and heroic legends, Lykaion (the man who gave his name to Lykosura) sired 50 sons with many wives. These sons were the most nefarious
and carefree of all people.
To test them Zeus visited them in the form of a peasant. They mixed the entrails of a child into the god's meal, whereupon the enraged Zeus threw over the table with the meal (which explains the name
of the ancient city of Trapezous - "trapeze" or 'table') - and killed Lykaion and his sons with lightning. Only the youngest son, Nyctimus, was saved due to the intervention of Gaia.
According to Pausanias, Lykaion was instantly transformed into a wolf after sacrificing a child on the altar of Zeus and sprinkling the blood on the altar.
Other versions have Zeus transforming all fifty of Lykaion’s sons into wolves. Whatever the details, it would seem, that the first "lycanthrope" (synonymous with werewolf) may have come to be because
of Lykaion’s disrespect of the Greek gods. He was not the first to dishonour them and would not be the last. He may, however, have the been the one to pay the heaviest price.
Over the years, the definition of a werewolf changed to that of someone who was human during the day and a wolf only at night, when the moon was full. How and why this change came about remains a mystery,
although there are a number of theories espoused.
Column base Mount Lykaion
"For Cecrops was the first to name Zeus the Supreme god, and refused to sacrifice anything that had life in it, but burnt instead on the altar the national cakes which the Athenians still call pelanoi. But Lycaon brought
a human baby to the altar of Lycaean Zeus, and sacrificed it, pouring out its blood upon the altar, and according to the legend immediately after the sacrifice he was changed from a man to a wolf (Lycos)...
It is said, for instance, that ever since the time of Lycaon a man has changed into a wolf at the sacrifice to Lycaean Zeus, but that the change is not for life; if, when he is a wolf, he abstains
from human flesh, after nine years he becomes a man again, but if he tastes human flesh he remains a beast for ever."
Description of Greece
Pan, or "The Great God Pan" as he is often referred to, is one of the most recognisable pagan gods. He has the prancing legs, tail and horns of a goat but is usually portrayed fully erect holding his panpipes (syrinx) and
a shepherd’s crook. His name is said to come from an ancient Greek word "paein" meaning 'to pasture' although other sources say Pan means 'all' or 'universal'.
Pan’s parentage is shrouded in mystery. Some say he was fathered by the god Hermes and his mother was a nymph, while others depict him as a child of Zeus. What does not seem to be in doubt is that he
was born in pastoral Arcadia where he became the patron god of shepherds who prayed to him to protect their flocks from wolves. It is said they hid their sheep in caves after consecrating them to Pan, the personification
of the life force energy in animals. He is often connected to beekeeping, fertility (especially animal fertility) and the season of Spring.
Pan is also associated with music and its magical powers and is credited with inventing the syrinx musical instrument, better known as the panpipes. The story goes that he fell in love with the Nymph
Syrinx, daughter of Landon the river-god. Fleeing his attentions, Syrinx pleaded with Zeus to save her and just as Pan captured her, Zeus turned her into reeds. Enraged, Pan smashed the reeds into pieces but on reflection
he was struck with remorse and wept and kissed the broken reeds, all that remained of his beloved. As he kissed the reeds, he discovered that his breath could create sounds from them, and so he made the musical instrument
that would carry the lost Nymph’s name.
Whilst playing his panpipes, Pan idled in the rugged countryside of Arcadia and continued to chase nymphs. One of these, Pitys, fled his advances and was transformed into a mountain-pine, the god's sacred
tree. Another, Ekho (Echo), was cursed to fade away for spurning the god, leaving behind just a voice to repeat his mountain cries.
Aside from his role as a nature deity, Pan had other lesser known attributes - one of which resonates down the ages in the word "panic". He was said to entertain himself by frightening travellers
who passed through the lonely Arcadian mountains with a terrifying yell. This ability to instil an excess of violent emotion (panolepsia) in an individual could also be used to spread panic amongst soldiers in the
heat of battle.
Pan aided Zeus in a war against the Titans, hurling his terrific shout through a conch shell, resulting in mass chaos that sent the titans running in a panicked frenzy. He also assisted the Athenians
at the Battle of Marathon. He brought tremendous panic to the Persians which subsequently helped Athens win the war. After the battle, a sacred precinct was established for Pan in a grotto on the north slope of
the Acropolis where a "sacrifice" is still offered annually.
Being a rustic god, Pan was most frequently worshipped in natural settings, usually caves or grottoes. Only in his native Arcadia was he venerated in temples. Pausanius names several sites in the area
sacred to the god. He tells of a bronze statue of the god at Megalopolis and also mentions a stone image of Pan at the town’s temple to Zeus. He also writes about several other sanctuaries to Pan in the area: one on
Mount Lykaion, one at the Sanctuary of Despoina near Lykosura, another in the Nomian mountains where he pastured his flocks of
Pastures of Pan Nomion mountains
"On the right of Lykosoura [in Arkadia] are the mountains called Nomia, and on them is a sanctuary of Pan Nomios; the place they name Melpeia, saying that here Pan discovered the music of the pipes. It is very obvious conjecture that the name of the Nomia Mountains derived from the pasturings (nomia) of Pan, but the Arkadians themselves derive the name from a Nymphe."
Description of Greece
You will find Zeus
on a list of
major Greek gods and goddess but not Eurynome. By the time Classical mythology came around, Eurynome had shrunk to being a gentle sea goddess (just one of Zeus’ many loves) - a far cry from the all-powerful
ruler and creatrix she once was.
In the Titan cults that preceded the Classical Olympic cults, Eurynome was the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, hence an Oceanid. She was married to Ophion and the two ruled together on Mount
Olympus until they lost their thrones to Cronos and Rhea (Zeus’ parents).
In another ancient story, Eurynome - sometimes called the Goddess of All Things - reached out to the chaos at the beginning of time, embraced it, and made order in the world. Through her sacred
dance to separate the water from the sky, winds were born; from her womb came the land and the stars and then, surprisingly, she created rulers for the planets - one male and one female so that balance would
be maintained forever.
The themes of her story - unity, peace and balance - were recognised in 1945 when the peace-keeping United Nations was formally established in the orderly spirit of Eurynome to stress the need
for understanding between people and the power of working for a unified cause.
Eurynome was also compassionate. When Hephaestus was thrown off Mount Olympus by his mother Hera for being crippled, it was Eurynome along with the sea nymph, Thetis that caught and raised him
in a secret cave.
Despite giving birth to all existing things., and unusually for Greek gods and goddesses, Eurynome was only ever worshipped in Arcadia. Given the pastoral nature of the region, this was probably
because she was seen as the goddess of pastureland. Her name means 'wide-ruling' or 'she of broad-pastures' from the Greek words "eurys" ('wide' or 'broad') and "nomos" ('ruling') or "nomia" ('pasture land').
As an Oceanid, she was half woman and half fish (what we might call a mermaid) and was said to have been the mother of all pleasure, embodied in the beautiful triplets she bore Zeus. Known as
the Charities or Graces: "Aglaea" ('Splendor'), "Euphrosyne" ('Mirth') and "Thalia" ('Good Cheer') were sent by Zeus to persuade his sister Demeter to leave the cave she hid in after Poseidon (also her brother)
assumed the form of a stallion and coupled with her.
According to Pausanias, Eurynome’s sanctuary was located where "the river Lymax ('after-birth') falls into the Neda". Surrounded by cypresses, it was opened only once in every year when sacrifices
were offered to a wooden statue of the deity bound in golden chains.
Pausanias described the path to this holy spot as "from of old and difficult of approach because of the roughness of the ground". Today, nobody seems to know its location. But unlike Mount Eliaos
(the site of Demeter’s cave), the conflux of the two rivers can be found on a map and there are only so many routes from Ancient Phigaleia that head in that direction. And even if a path does not lead to the Sanctuary, the natural beauty of your environment will draw you on.
De-stress and breathe the same fresh air as the fascinating mythological figures that
once inhabited this enchanting area.
Ancient Phigaleia Path to the Sanctuary of Eurynome?
"Eurynome is believed by the people of Phigalia to be a surname of Artemis. Those of them, however, to whom have descended ancient traditions, declare that Eurynome was a daughter of Ocean, whom Homer mentions in the Iliad, saying that along with Thetis she received Hephaestus. On the same day in each year they open the sanctuary of Eurynome, but at any other time it is a transgression for them to open it.
On this occasion sacrifices also are offered by the state and by individuals. I did not arrive at the season of the festival, and I did not see the image of Eurynome; but the Phigalians told me that golden chains bind the wooden image, which represents a woman as far as the hips, but below this a fish. If she is a daughter of Ocean, and lives with Thetis in the depth of the sea, the fish may be regarded as a kind of emblem of her. But there could be no probable connection between such a shape and Artemis."
Description of Greece
Located in Elis, Ancient Phigaleia is the most westerly ancient city. Further east along the Neda river is Eira, a Messinian mountain fortress captured by the Spartans after a siege of eleven years.
Further east still in Arcadia are the ancient cities of Lykosura (said by the Roman traveller Pausanias to be the oldest city in the world), Trapezous and Megalopolis.
To the west is Lepreos, probably the most accessible, and understandable, ancient city in the area.
Ancient Phigaleia is your destination - a mountain city famed for its excesses; its "necromancers" ('wizards') who communicated with the dead to divine the future and the legend of the nightmare originating from the cave of Demeter.
At an altitude of 860 mtres, Eira is a Messinian mountain fortress captured by the Spartans after a siege of eleven years.
Said by Pausanias to be the oldest city in the world, Lykosura is largely un-excavated, although a Sanctuary of Despoina
has been uncovered near the city walls and a
was built to house some of the finds. Despoina, known as "the Mistress" was rumoured to have been sired by her mother (Demeter
) and her brother,
Trapezous is named after the mythical event when the sons of Lykaion, the man who gave his name to Lykosura, set up a feast including human flesh on a "trapeze" ('table') for the God Zeus
Whereupon the enraged god threw over the table with the meal and killed Lykaion and his sons with lightning.
When it was founded in 371 BC, the ancient city of Megalopolis was the first large urbanization in rustic Arcadia spreading extensively on both banks of the river Helisson just above its junction with the sacred Alpheios river
It was the centre of the Arcadian League with a theatre which had a capacity of 20,000 visitors, making it one of the largest ancient Greek theatres.
To the west on the road connecting the sea to the mountains, is Lepreo. Linked to Ancient Phigaleia
through the antics of its founder Lepreos (who died in the city
in a duel with Heracles), it was the de facto capital of Triphylia, a strategically important place in antiquity.
FOOD & DRINK
In a contest with her uncle Poseidon to find the most useful gift to mankind, the Goddess Athena offered an olive branch. Her rationale was that when planted it became a long living tree that produced tasty fruits, from which a
liquid, ideal for seasoning food, healing wounds and illuminating the night time, could be extracted. Today, olive oil is rarely used as a fuel, but it is synonymous with Greek cooking and just about everything you eat will
have been cooked or is drenched in it.
If buzzwords like "local", "organic", and "seasonal" have yet to catch on, it is only because these recent aspirations of a Westernised diet are taken for granted.
Ampeloina Chestnut Festival
Greeks enjoy a dubious claim to fame as the EU's largest consumers of red meat, and in a country, where until just a generation ago meat was an expensive rarity. The most common offering is a "brizola", a pork chop bathed in
olive oil and oregano grilled on a charcoal barbecue. You will also find lamb, beef, chicken, goat, rabbit - even wild boar, a local speciality often served in an omelette.
Also available from countless ‘holes-in-the-wall’, are souvlaki (skewered pork) and giros (thin slithers of pork) wrapped in pita bread with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki and french fries. Simply delicious.
Grilled chicken and souvlaki
Meze - a little bit of everything
While we all know about Greece’s fantastic year-round weather and the hospitality of its people, few people say that it has one of Europe’s best cuisines. But its freshly cooked sea food is unpretentious and delicious,
although sometimes expensive.
You will not find much newly caught fish in the mountains, but when you visit nearby seaside towns be sure to have a fish supper. On offer will be anchovies, sardines, kalamari, octopus, prawns, lobster and a whole
family of bream with names that, even in translation, will be puzzling. But do not fret, most tavernas will let you choose a fish and then cook it for you.
Small fried fishes Kalamata
For a cuisine that is
"mostly about meat"
, almost half of what you will find on a taverna menu is vegetarian and, for some reason, the vegetables taste better than almost anywhere else. Maybe it is the absence of pesticides
or that mountain rain washes 'tasty' minerals into the valleys where most local produce is grown.
Locals still consume a lot of vegetables although it is mostly older Greeks who eat them. Salads, especially tomatoes, are fundamental to most meals and the 'traditional' Greek salad is popular with vegetarians
and meat-eaters alike, although the feta cheese is often served separately.
The basics - bread, tomato and chips!
Green salad with pomegranate seeds
Cafes in Greece are as much places to meet as to drink and it is not uncommon to see people just sitting and talking. If they do order a drink, it is likely to be a coffee or a herbal infusion known as "mountain tea", made
from the Sideritis plant.
Unlike ancient Greeks, most people drink wine with their meals or perhaps a refreshing lager. You will be offered Amstel and Heineken, but Greece does produce its own very good alternatives such as Fix
which was first sold in 1864.
The most commonly drunk spirits are tsipouro, (made from the must-residue of the wine press); ouzo (aniseed flavoured tsipouro) and metaxa (Greek brandy).
Zacharo A priest and his Fix
Wash down a coffee with water and a metaxa
Cure all ills with a tsipouro
WAY OF LIFE
The main crop in the region is olive oil harvested from trees cared for by the same families for generations. Today, most old presses have been retired but picking the olives
is still largely done using traditional methods supplemented by a few mechanical aids.
Traditionally, many families also kept livestock and almost every household has a small garden full of fruit trees
and seasonal vegetables
And just about everybody forages for food
- why would you leave wild vegetables to wither and seed or succulent fruits and tasty nuts to fall to the ground and
In Greece olive oil flows like an emerald river as though it were the very life blood of the population. It is used in cooking, medicines, cosmetics and soaps (and was a fuel for lamps) but harvesting the olives is
very labour intensive.
The love of olive-growers for their trees is passed on from generation to generation and family members return to their villages each year to pick the crop. If you visit in December you will spot
them in the groves collecting the olives in nets and pruning the trees. You will also see sacks of olives piled high outside olive presses which operate all night to process the fruit before it degrades.
Ancient Phigaleia The Ark
Driving around you will see people bent over foraging for "horta"
(’amaranth, dandelions, endives, nettles and spinach'). These wild mountain greens are
rich in antioxidants, have very few calories and are delicious when steamed and anointed with olive oil and lemon juice.
Whilst out walking you also find nuts (chestnuts, walnuts and almonds) that have fallen from trees; fruit
(lemons, oranges, figs and pomegranates)
and the herbs (sage, thyme, basil, oregano and mint) responsible for the delicious smells that emanate from traditional kitchens.
Admire the skill of experienced pickers
See how the trees are pruned
Imagine keeping track of orders!
To a greater or lesser extent, every inhabited house is a home farm. Most villagers produce their own staple foods - largely homegrown fruit and vegetables and dairy products (eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt).
They also preserve foraged food and, amongst other things, you will see mountains of walnuts drying in the sun; pomegranates hanging from pergolas and piles of seasonal pears just chilling out.
Some people also make their own bread and / or keep bees for honey.
Dwellings are built for indoor-outdoor living with outside ovens, barbecues and shaded terraces - perfect places to dry out foraged food such as pomegranates, herbs and mountain tea. You will also see plastic
bags hanging everywhere. Like village art pieces, they originate from the markets where you will have to work hard to stop everything you buy being consigned to an individual bag.
Indoors, almost every kitchen table is crowded with seasonal culinary projects waiting to be completed: wild greens
to be steamed;
to be jammed; herbs to be bundled and nuts to be shelled.
Ancient Phigaleia Pomegranates drying
Fruit thrives in the Greek sun and it is impossible to draw up a list of what grows where and in what conditions. As a rule, lemons (a prominent ingredient in most dishes), grow in the valleys alongside
oranges, bergamots and limes.
Figs, pears, quince, pomegranates, apricots and nectarines flourish in the mountains where villagers graft stems with leaf buds onto the rootstock of trees. This requires a lot of skill
On sale at local markets
will be more exotic fruits like avocados and prickly pears which should come with a health warning!
Pomegranates Ancient Phigaleia
Most people have a garden where they grow what they want to eat and they eat what is in season. In the summer months you will see the famous Greek salad, "aggourodomata" ('cucumber-tomato' all in one
word) with olive oil and oregano. In the winter and spring months, the salads at the table are cabbage and carrot with olive oil and vinegar or lemon or a "prasini" ('green salad').
At local markets
you will be overwhelmed by the variety of vegetables for sale and startled at the large quantities people buy,
although this is hardly surprising when you consider that many live in remote areas without a corner shop.
Ampeloina Vegetable garden
Every Greek meal is accompanied by slices of thick textured bread that is ideal for dipping in salads and sauces. With a drizzle of olive oil, some feta and olives, it is a traditional midday snack in its own
right and very tasty with a dollop of honey.
Greece has a long history of apiary (bee-keeping) with more beehives per acre than any other European country. Its wide diversity of flora combined with powerful summer sun produce golden
"nectar" that has been used as a sweetener since antiquity. Honey has also been used for centuries as a treatment for sore throats and coughs, minor burns, cuts and other bacterial infections.
Keep an eye out for bee hives
Try village sour dough bread
Buy honey from the market
Check out the local cheese
Enjoy vibrant yellow eggs
Roasts, the feasts of Greek heroes, have been part of culinary lore since time immemorial. Easter, for example, would be incomplete without lamb roasted on a spit or "kokoretsi", the innards skewered into a 'sausage'
and grilled outdoors. The lamb will be from a local flock although these are declining.
As you drive around you will see herds of sheep and goats, but most villagers only keep the odd goat (for its milk) and poultry (for eggs).
Pigs are also fattened for their meat, although you rarely see them until the "gournopoula" ('roast pork') is offered for sale by the roadside.
Plucking chickens Stomion
Inspect basement drying areas
Admire bundles of tea (chamomile)
Smell the herbs (oregano)
Create your own culinary project
Watch the skinning of a lamb
Look out for goats on the road
Consider becoming a shepherd
"Laikes agores" ('farmers’ markets') are an institution in Greece. They start early in the morning around 06:00 and finish at about 14:00. Unlike a supermarket where you can get just about any fruit
at any time of the year, the laikes agores are seasonal so what you will see in June will not be the same as what you see in February.
You can visit a regional market on every day of the week. Each has its own character, although you will find some traders in more than one place. Kopanaki
is the most famous; Kalamata
, the biggest and most frequent.
Market day on a Friday in Andritsaina
is a modest event, but nonetheless an important tradition bringing locals and their produce to town. You
will find all the fresh, seasonal, local ingredients - from teas-to-herbs-to vegetables - that form the core of Greek cooking and there are many places where you can enjoy a traditional lunch or just
sit, like the locals, with a drink and some "mezze" ('bits').
And, because Andritsaina is close to the Temple of Apollo
, it has a sprinkling of tourist shops selling authentic souvenirs
and a folklore museum. You will also find rooms to let and a hotel.
Enjoy a drink or al fresco lunch
Watch the comings and goings
Famous for olives and olive oil, Kalamata
is a bustling port city that hosts its market on a Wednesday and Saturday across the road from the
main bus station. Like all markets, it starts very early and begins closing up around 1pm. But, unlike other local markets
, it has undercover meat and fish
Beyond the sheer variety of produce, the other striking elements of this market are the prices - cheap, and even cheaper if you are able to buy in bulk - and the atmosphere - lots
of hustle and bustle. But if you really want to experience chaos go to the gypsy market
Spot the castle above the plants
Inspect the famous Kalamata olives
Look out for unusual produce
Watch some skillful gutting
In contrast to a farmers’ market, t
he gypsy market is more of a people-packed rummage sale. It takes place on Thursday mornings in a suburb of Kalamata
known as "Asprochroma" which means 'white colour'. But there is nothing bland about the gypsy market. It is packed with colourful clothing, carpets and household goods and equally as colourful stall holders
Although the market is a paradise for rummagers, there is little room to stop and inspect the goods. It is also very noisy, but the atmosphere is electric and, if you look hard,
you will find some real gems at very good prices!
Clothing stall Asprochroma
Buy something useless for a euro
Restock your underwear draw
is well known for its "pazari" ('bazaar'), which has taken place in the central square every Sunday morning since 1900. The
colourful stalls laden with fruit, vegetables, lush greens, flowers, nuts, pickles, textiles, clothing and tools are a sight to behold.
Livestock are no longer openly paraded but if you explore the back streets you may find animals for sale. You will also see roasted "gournopoula" ('roast pig') being sold
by the side of the road. This regional tradition started here, initially only on Sundays to ensure visitors from faraway had a hearty meal.
Enjoy pork by the kilo - eat in or takeaway
Be dazzled by colourful fabrics
Marvel at what is on offer
Look out for stalls where everything is a euro
’s Tuesday morning market is where locals buy their staples and tourists can pick up a souvenir. Unlike most local markets,
it does not take place in the central square, so there is little opportunity to sit in a café and people watch. Nonetheless, there is plenty to see as you amble along.
Running north, parallel with the main road, is a tree-lined street of neat stalls shaded by umbrellas selling seeds, plants, pulses, eggs and seasonal fruit and veg.
At right angles to this street are more higgledy-piggledy stalls selling clothing, textiles, household gadgets right outside domestic dwellings.
Take home a beeswax souvenir
Buy something useful for a euro
Imagine a market on your doorstep
Sunday morning is also market day in Nea Figalia
although this is a much lower key event than the bazaar that takes place in Kopanaki
Nevertheless, it does bring locals out onto the streets and is the perfect excuse for a spot of people watching.
You will find all the ingredients for an authentic Greek salad on sale from the ubiquitous plastic boxes used to transport them to market. Alternatively, you can enjoy
a ready made salad in a taverna or simply a coffee in a café. In Greece, when you order a coffee it is usual to define the degree of sweetness. If you don't specify, the coffee will be
served sweet because without sugar it has quite a bitter taste.
Feast your eyes on the plants
Participate in some people watching
Write your postcards in a café
Surrounding the culturally significant natural and man-made features in the region are towns "big" (Megalopolis) and small (Andritsaina); villages like Ancient Phigaleia
and agrarian areas characterised by a traditional way of life.
It is hard to say what distinguishes a town
from a village
but a supermarket, bank, post office
and an open air market are good starting points. Obviously, towns are also more populated and have traffic problems (try driving through Andristaina
on a Friday when the market is in town
). Villages too have their transport issues as most thoroughfares started as donkey tracks and are very narrow.
'Hidden', 'remote', 'neglected', 'traditional', 'from another era' are all descriptions of the postcard-beautiful villages nestling amongst the olive groves of pARKadia.
Unlike seaside villages which mainly rely on tourism, these mountain villages still make their living from agriculture and livestock and are home to the disappearing traditions of a centuries-old life
Most do not have hotels and usually the only foreigners besides itinerant migrant labourers are somehow connected to the village through blood or marriage. A few villages do have some kind of tourist infrastructure, a caféneon
and maybe a "xenon" ('guest house').
On the northern outskirts of the market town of Kopanaki
is Ag.Georgios where you are just as likely to meet an agricultural vehicle as a car. It has two tavernas:
one prominently located opposite its main junction; the other hidden by the trees shading the plateia ('village square').
Among the trees is a stretch of palms edging a waterway. Loved by ducks and villagers alike, the waterway channels spring water into a pool - essentially a distribution point for irrigating nearby fields
that also feeds the fountain. Watch and you will see farmers filling up water tanks on the back of their pickups.
CHURCH OF SAINT GEORGE
Unsurprisingly in a place called Ag. Giorgios
, the main church is dedicated to Saint George, the dragon-slayer who protested against the persecution of Christians.
Inside, the church is as opulent as you might imagine. What you might not expect is that the priest who lets you in, cooks your dinner in the adjacent taverna.
It is not unusual for Greek Orthodox churches to strive to address local social problems informally. And what more practical way, than a taverna that encourages youngsters to practice their English
(compulsory in all schools) on tourists at the same time as earning some money waiting on tables?
Ag. Georgios Church of Saint George
Compare the austerity of the exterior
Ask the priest to open the door
... with the opulence of the interior
Light a candle for a loved one
Ampeliona is the local village you are most likely to find online - it is the birthplace of the famous Greek director, Theo Angelopoulos and the location of a 4 star hotel! As a result, the main square, the springs
(Big Spring/Tritseli) and many old stone buildings have been gentrified and there is crazy paving everywhere.
At an altitude of 830 metres, the village is surrounded by a chestnut forest, and each year in late October a "chestnut festival" takes place. This is to give thanks for the harvest and is an excuse
for a feast of chestnuts and tsipouro; olives, feta and salad; bean soup and roasted pig - followed by circle dancing.
Chestnut Festival Ampeloina
Attend the chestnut festival
In ancient times (perhaps when Noah was building his Ark), Phigaleia was an
important Arcadian city ruled by Phigalos, son of Lykaon (the "wolf man"). It was a large city surrounded by fortified walls with a population of many thousands.
Today, the modern day village is inhabited by a handful of mostly elderly people and a few shepherds whose culture goes back to pre-history. In their memories, myth and history are mingled for future
generations to disentangle.
The village sits in a beautiful location on the side of the Neda gorge in a Grade 1 archaeological zone and is a spectacular walking holiday destination.
Neda gorge Ancient Phigaleia
Evidence of the ancient city of Phigaleia litters the ground of the modern day village and there are a number of key archeological sites worthy of a visit.
To the east, outside of the defensive walls, is the well preserved ancient fountain house and, to the west, the Temple of Athena. Another temple said to be inside the walls is probably the site of
the Byzantine church in the graveyard. You will also find tombs on the footpath to the Neda waterfalls.
Check out our walks many of which feature path or roadside ancient remains or have an important archeological site as a destination.
On the steep slopes and hills around Ancient Phigaleia
you will glimpse the remains of the defensive walls that once ran for 4.5 kilometres around the
ancient city. These are extensive, particularly on the eastern side where an almost continuous stretch of wall, including a "postern gate" ('backdoor to the city') and alternating round and square lookout
towers, still flank the edge of the northern plateau.
Built in a variety of styles, the walls also incorporate several other novel technical features including, on the western side, a "proteichismata" ('wall in front of the main wall') and, to the
north, "hypoteichismatas" ('small spur walls').
Ancient Phigaleia Defensive walls
Follow the walls west towards the Neda waterfalls
Contemplate the size of the ancient city
Spy the 'backdoor to the city’ from the east
When Ancient Phigaleia
was ruled by Phigalos it had a large population so it is not surprising that tombs have been found in the modern day village.
Undoubtably, more are still to reveal their treasures.
Some of the most impressive finds were discovered in seven tombs below the main road into the village from Perivola
. These tombs
are now covered by crazy paving but the tombs on the path west to the Neda waterfalls are very visible and very monumental. Built during the 3rd century BC, they have temple-shaped façades behind which the
funerary chambers are carved into the natural rock.
See funerary chambers carved into the natural rock
Imagine the tombs under the road
TEMPLE OF ATHENA
On the western edge of Ancient Phigaleia
at Kourdoubouli is a temple dedicated to Athena and Zeus the Saviour. No longer a religious centre,
the temple has what looks like an altar - more probably, it was a plinth for a now-missing statue.
Beneath the temple is a chasm in the rock that could be a clue as to why the temple was built in this position. When ancient Greeks had to make decisions they consulted the Pythia,
a woman appointed to sit over a cleft and give prophecies. She derived her power from the place and was essentially a mouthpiece for Apollo, the god of revelation who possessed her during the delivery
of her oracles.
Temple of Athena Ancient Phigaleia
Peek into the underground chasm
Situated under a huge plane tree beyond the defensive walls to the east of Ancient Phigaleia
, the fountain house was built between the 4th
and 3rd centuries BC.
In its heyday, it was an elaborate structure with a portico and a roof supported by Doric columns. Behind this façade, water flowed through two small pipes set in the rear wall of
the cistern. This architectural treatment of a pivotal community activity indicates the value of water and it is not hard to imagine women in ancient times chatting as they queued to fill their "hydriai"
('water jars'). To this day, the fountain still provides villagers with water and is an inspiring place for a picnic.
Ancient fountain Ancient Phigaleia
Imagine the fountain house in its heyday
Picnic by the huge plane tree
Greece has a profoundly Christian Orthodox population with countless examples of holy sites - churches and historic monasteries - centre of town squares.
is no exception. It has enough churches for a villager to worship in a different one on each day
of the week, although some are no longer "actively" administering the sacraments.
Of course nobody living in the village is that pious but the churches and chapels still play an important role in the everyday lives of the local community. Look out for them whilst walking around
Church of the Panagia Ancient Phigaleia
CHAPEL OF SAINT JOHN
When approaching Ancient Phigaleia
, you will see the red tiled roof of the Chapel
of Saint John amongst the green of an olive grove. It is an archetypical Arcadian scene - an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness - and you might be tempted to take a closer look. If so, park by the roadside
shrine marking the dirt track leading to the chapel. This will take you past a section of the defensive walls that once surrounded the ancient city.
And remember, that often in the Orthodox church less attention is paid to the adornment of a church's exterior than to the beautification of its interior.
Ancient Phigaleia Chapel of Saint John
Park by the roadside shrine
Imagine what the interior is like
Walk past the ancient walls
View the chapel from the east,
CHAPEL OF SAINT GEORGE
Hidden amongst dwellings behind Ancient Phigaleia’s taverna, the rich colour and distinctive Orthodox iconography inside the Chapel of Saint George is in sharp contrast to the simplicity in many northern European
churches. When one enters through the main entrance at the furthermost western end, it is like stepping into a whole new world of colour and light.
The decor of the nave is unashamedly lavish with lots of gold surrounding the colourful frescos. Generally, these tell bible stories but there are also some very fine portraits of saints.
Ancient Phigaleia Chapel of Saint George
Approach the chapel from the east
Check out the base of the altar
Recall the story of St George
Wonder at the frescoes of saints
CHURCH OF THE PANAGIA
Slightly removed from the graveyard is the Panagia, the Church of the Virgin Mary. The main church of Ancient Phigaleia to administer the sacraments and conduct funerals is rectangular - portraying the church
as an Ark of Salvation (like Noah's Ark) in which the world is saved from a flood of temptations.
Unless a service is taking place, the church is locked but you can always admire the bell tower that was built by California’s biggest potato grower whose family came from the village.
And the church’s graveyard and ossuary (where the bones of exhumed villagers are stored after their graves are reused), is always open.
Ancient Phigaleia Church of the Panagia
Admire the old church and its new bell tower
Assume the doors are locked
... unless a service is taking place
Pay your respects to the dead
In Ancient Phigaleia’s graveyard is an unassuming structure supported by blue scaffolding. It is not very exciting but inside is a church dating from the C13 - 14.
Partly built from materials belonging to ancient buildings, the church has a low ceiling and the icons are crude but the atmosphere is emotive and the frescos are so fascinating they
attract foreign tourists. Locals visit to keep the light of Christ burning according to Jesus’ words, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness". You too can light a candle
to remember a friend or simply as a reminder that our lives should be enlightened.
Byzantine Church Ancient Phigaleia
Locate the church in the graveyard
Watch your head as you enter!
Light a candle for a loved one
Identify bible stories in the frescos
CHURCH OF SAINT NICHOLAS
The Church of Saint Nicholas is the only church in Kato Rouga ('lower village'). Nestling behind houses, it is built into the contours of the mountainside.
With its stone walls and red tiled roof, it is typical of local churches and, like most, is usually locked so you will have to amuse yourself in the courtyard. This has an olive tree
which provides welcome shade on a hot day and there is a fountain where you can get a drink. And, if you look carefully, you will see inscriptions in the stones - perhaps made by builders but, more
likely, they were once part of an ancient building and have been incorporated into the walls.
Ancient Phigaleia Church of Saint Nicholas
Look up at the bell tower
Sit beneath the olive tree
Look for inscriptions in the stones - this one says 'guard'
CHAPEL OF THE PANAGITSA
Like many of Greece’s holy sites, the Chapel of the Panagista (Virgin Mary) is in such an inaccessible place that you wonder how it was built and why on a narrow ledge 50 metres above where the Neda
river disappears into a pitch-dark cave? The answer to this question is not easy but often Christian churches are located in the same place the ancients idolised a god or goddess. The chapel is built
into a recess in the natural rock - perhaps it was once the elusive cave of Demeter?
Beyond the chapel is a hermit’s cave that was inhabited until the 20th century. Reaching it involves walking next to a vertiginous drop - not for the faint hearted!
Chapel of the Panagitsa Neda waterfalls
Approach the chapel with care
Step inside for a closer look
Add a bracelet to the display
CHAPEL OF THE ARCHANGELS
Visible from the Ark is a chapel perched on top of a hill on the eastern edge of Ancient Phigaleia close to a smallholding known as the 'dog kennels'. This is home to hunting dogs with a remarkable sense
of smell and a ringing bark.
The chapel is dedicated to the archangels, God’s army against the forces of evil. It is also known as the Chapel of St Michael who was the leader of the archangels. Originally,
he was seen as a healing angel and then, over time, as a protector.
Although framed icons adorn the interior walls, there are no frescos so the chapel seems more austere than most Orthodox chapels.
Ancient Phigaleia Chapel of the Archangels
The modern day village of Ancient Phigaleia is inhabited by a handful of mostly elderly people. Their children left long ago for urban areas but they carry on as generations before them - tending
their animals, olive trees and vegetable gardens.
Most live in traditional stone houses with a few added mod cons; others have lovingly renovated the houses they lived in as children which they, and their family and friends,
use as holiday homes. A few have started from scratch creating impressive luxury homes that would not look out of place on the cover of the magazine. Sadly, other buildings have fallen into
In and around Ancient Phigaleia
are many ruins like the decaying stone house with a walled courtyard in Kato Rouga. This once proud house
used traditional methods: thick stone walls; shuttered windows and doors and tiled rooves and balconies to retain heat in winter and keep its occupants cool in summer.
Today, most village houses that are renovated deploy similar techniques, although one thing is different - the windows and doors are not painted blue! Apparently, blue
was once prolific in the village because blue paint, used on Greek islands, was readily available.
Shed a tear for the old house in Kato Rouga
..or living in an old house
Most traditional houses in Ancient Phigaleia
that are still occupied have, to a greater or lesser degree, been modernised, adapted or
added to. The changes are largely internal, for example, the inclusion of an indoor toilet and bathroom.
The land around houses, typically laid to lawn in the UK, is landscaped for indoor-outdoor living - not a trendy architectural concept, but a way of life that goes on
as it has for centuries. Shaded terraces, outdoor ovens, storage space for wood (there is no gas central heating), flower and vegetable gardens, even pasture for animals is paramount.
Wander around the village paths
Discover well-kept front gardens,
There are a number of houses in Ancient Phigaleia
that have been renovated. Sometimes, the original house is still visible at the
heart of new stonework constructed to improve the area immediately surrounding it. More frequently, the footprint of the previous dwelling is now unrecognisable as the house has been
entirely re-built to a new plan.
All recent developments are made of stone (some concrete rendered houses were built in the 1970s) encompassing many features of traditional houses including the propensity
for outdoor living areas with built-in shade and barbecues.
Be amazed by houses sculpted into rock
Delight in raised stone vegetable beds
... and their stone features
They came to Noah’s ark "two-by-two" and so most people arrive at the Ark in Ancient Phigaleia
, two for each of two newly-built
dwellings. They are ideal for a couple, or family, seeking to exchange a crowded modern lifestyle for a taste of a simpler way of life in a small rural community.
Nestling on a mountainside above the Neda gorge, the Ark is surrounded by a terraced garden littered with archaeology
including "resident" dogs and cats and the
odd visiting donkey. Chill out under an olive tree or sit on the communal balcony and enjoy fantastic views. Or, go for a walk...
Settle into your accommodation
Play hide and seek with the dog
Check out the archaeology
The location of Andania, the major city on the plain of Stenyclarus in ancient times, has been lost. Also largely forgotten are the Andania mysteries, rituals performed by
a cult honouring the goddess Demeter
and her daughter Kore (Persephone).
A stone inscribed with the rules of
the mysteries can be found in Konstantini
However, the modern day village that shares its name is just north of the E55,
a straight road off the Kalamata
-to-Corinth Moreas motorway (E65) that leads to the coast. Surrounded by olive groves
and potato farms, Andania is immersed in agriculture and everywhere you look you will see farm vehicles and gardens.
Start your exploration at the heart of the village
Find gardens full of flowers
... and others growing food
Squint into people’s garages
Watch out for agricultural vehicles in and around the village
View the sanctuary from outside
Sit in quiet contemplation
CHURCH OF THE IPAPANTI (THE SAVIOUR)
Built (or maybe rebuilt) in 1886, the main church in Andania
is a good example of a stone built Orthodox church.
Scattered throughout mountainous Greece, stone is the ideal building material for churches because it is inexpensive, entirely natural and has innate variations in colour
Also paved in stone, is the church’s courtyard which offers a wide open space for large gatherings. Sharing food and drink with relatives and friends is
one of the basic elements of Greek culture and, as most festivities are religious, it makes sense for the local caféneon to be located on the edge of the courtyard.
Church of the Ipapanti Andania
Admire the proportions of the church
... and the colour and texture of the stone
Admire the proportions of the church
Take a seat outside the café
... but do not bank on being served
At an altitude of 980 metres above sea level, Ano Karyes is a dead end village on the eastern slope of Mount Lykaion
Initially, it looks like any other mountain village until you see the museum that is nearing completion. No doubt some of its prospective visitors will be the competitors
and spectators that flock to the area every four years for the modern Lykaion Games
Also, since 2004, a US research team has made Ano Karyes its base during annual archaeological excavations on the mountain. Clearly, the team will benefit
from improved facilities as the village adapts to accommodate the project.
Ano Karyes Museum’s amphitheatre
Consider the position of the village
Explore the old village paths
Check out the housing stock
Drink from fountains, old and new
CHURCH OF THE PANAGIA (ALL HOLY)
The plateia ('town square') surrounding the Church of the Panagia in Ano Karyes
offers views which are only
bettered by those from the bell tower. Perched on the edge of the plateia is a plynth awaiting a statue; a dedication or maybe the tripod awarded to the Athlete of
the Year in the last modern Lykaion Games
In Greece sport and religion are not strangers: ancient sports contests always took place in the context of religious festivals and the success of
athletes was due to the favour of gods. Hence, on their homecoming, victors dedicated their victory crowns to their sponsors.
Ano Karyes View from the Church of the Panagia
Climb to the top of the bell tower
... for a bird's eye view
Perch on the bench outside the church
Dasochori is a small hamlet on a hillside two kilometres from the famous Chapel of Saint Theodora
. It can be
reached from Karnasi
via an impressive road through a dense forest of oaks and maple trees - hence its
name which means forest village.
The first thing you will see is the caféneon which has its own basketball court. Basketball has a long history in Greece, having first come to the
country in 1910, and a favourite pass time for fans is to gather in cafés to watch televised games.
On the northern side of the village is a picnic area with a fountain. It is a cool place to sit and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Perch on the bench outside the church
Look forward to a cold beer
Drink spring water if the café is shut
Picnic overlooking the village
CHURCH OF SAINT PARASKEVI
The main church of Dasochori
is situated at the highest point in the village. Surrounded by an expansive
courtyard, it is the perfect place for a centuries-old tradition that turns the night sky into a colourful spectacle. On Easter Saturday locals gather by the church
waiting for midnight when “Christos Anesti” (Christ is risen) is heard and hot-air balloons are released.
Various cultural events also take place on 26 July, the feast day of Saint Paraskevi. Born in Rome on a Friday (in Greek, Paraskevi), she endured exceedingly
painful torments and was beheaded in the year 140 for her faith.
Church of Saint Paraskevi Dasochori
Imagine the view from the belltower
Wonder what is behind the door
Once upon a time it was possible to reach Desillas by train from the small town of Diavolitsi
and to continue
east on a scenic mountain track all the way to Tripoli. Today the only access to the village is by road.
Assuming that you approach from the south, you will pass traditional houses and modern villas as you climb ever higher up the mountain. If you
blink, you will miss the smart village square overlooking the church and the plain below. The old station on the outskirts of the village is a more obvious landmark,
and even if you are not a railway enthusiast, you can still imagine the scenic route of the old track.
Approach from the south Desillas
Sit in the square overlooking the church
Look up at houses perched on the hillside
Stop off at the old railway station
Contemplate a scenic train journey
CHURCH OF THE PANAGIA (ALL HOLY)
The main church in Desillas
sits below the village square and shares its expansive view of the plain
of ancient Stenyclarus.
Approached by a road with a “Happy Easter” message, the church has a three arched forecourt and a surprising number of arched windows. Typically,
Orthodox churches are not illuminated by the sun from without, but from what originates within. Hence why their interiors are adorned with reflective materials
such as gold mosaic; gilded icons; polished metals; coloured floors and walls and flickering oil lamps and candles. Shame the church is locked!
Church of the Panagia Desillas
Descend to the level of the church
Understand the road markings
Decipher the welcoming message
At an altitude of 668 metres above sea level, Dimandra heads up a pass leading north from Diavolitsi
the Neda river
valley and the small villages on its flanks. What you can see of the village from the
main road, an orange house and a church, is only the tip of the iceberg. Most of Dimanda’s dwellings are perched on top of a hill to the west of the road.
Take the narrow track next to a lovingly tended vineyard up behind the church, past the walls that once protected a hill top garrison. Beyond
this point, you will find well kept old houses and vegetable gardens surrounded by olive trees.
View of the old garrison Dimandra
Muse at the orange house with red window trims
Wander up the road behind the church
CHURCH OF THE PANAGIA (ALL HOLY)
The west door of the main church in Dimandra
is indicative of a problem shared by many Greek churches
that were built without any heating or air-conditioning. When subsequently installed, outdoor condensing units and flues to get rid of smoke are often unsympathetically
The sanctuary at the east end of the church is the first thing you see from the road. This is due to the west-east orientation of the church
with the western entrance symbolising the darkness of sin (the West) from which the faithful emerge into the light of truth (the East).
Dimandra Church of the Panagia
Approach the church from the road
View the church from the road behind it
If you approach Ancient Phigaleia
pass a sign to Dragogi. Perched on a mountainside, it is home to agricultural workers who use motorcycles and 4x4s to herd their sheep. Tourists
are rare as the road serving local archaeological sites bypasses the village. There is a caféneon and a church to admire but, for the wow factor, you need
to descend down the mountain.
Here, you will find a stone bridge that once carried ancient travellers over fast flowing water and a chapel
shaded by an enormous plane tree. Its an idyllic spot where you can imagine a mythical river nymph seeking sanctuary.
Descend down the mountain
Discover an ancient bridge
Visit a restored old chapel
CHAPEL OF SAINT PARASKEVI
The name above the door of this chapel below Dragogi
is that of the sponsor responsible for its restoration
in 2010. The name of the chapel is Saint Paraskevi which means "preparation" and is also the name of the "day of preparation" for the Orthodox Sabbath i.e.
Friday. It is a female name, perhaps reflecting the transition of the place over many centuries from a nymph’s sanctuary to a Christian church.
Shaded by a plane tree, the chapel is unlocked and its environs are charming - the perfect place for a picnic. Wash this down with spring water
from the fountain before exploring the nearby river bed below the ancient arched stone bridge.
Dragogi Chapel of Saint Paraskevi
Look up at the bell tower
Explore the environs of the chapel
... and its cool interior
Faskomilia ('sage') is a village smelling sweetly of the sage that grows abundantly in the area. Farming is the main occupation, although the village’s proximity
to the town of Nea Figalia means there is a market for services. Hence, Faskomilia has more than its fair share of olive oil presses and the only petrol
station on the road from the sea to Ancient Phigaleia
. These industries operate under the
watchful eye of pensioners who band together to look after each other.
Greece has only 200 care homes most of which have empty beds as families move their elderly relatives into their homes to make use of their
Faskomilia View from Nea Figalia
Survey the village from afar
Look out for olive presses
CHURCH OF SAINT NICHOLAS
Unlike many churches in mountain villages, the church in Faskomilia
is not an advert for
local stonemasons. Built from concrete and painted, it looks more like the archetypical Greek island church depicted on tourist calendars.
It is named after Saint Nicholas, also called Nikolaos of Myra, a Greek Bishop from Patara (now in Turkey). Bishop Nicholas was renowned
for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors. It is also said that his legendary habit of secret gift-giving
gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus through Sinterklaas.
Faskomilia Church of Saint Nicholas
Look at the structure from all angles
Do not expect an open door
Contemplate the view from the belltower
Five kilometres southwest of Megalopolis
is the village of Horemis. Since the 1970s it has
been situated on the west bank of the Alpheios river
which was rerouted for the lignite
mines further east.
Like many villages it is hanging on by its fingertips. There is no longer a school, although this is not a new phenomenon. The school
was re-built from wood by the army after two strong earthquakes shook the area between March 1965 and September 1966. Still standing is an authentic
1930s house that withstood the earthquakes because it was made from concrete.
CHURCH OF SAINT GEORGE
In contrast to western European churches that "reach up to heaven", Greek churches "bring heaven to earth". If true, then the Church of Saint George in
implies heavenly dwellings are red and white affairs set in a courtyard.
On a checklist of courtyard features, this church has them all - a separately accessible bell tower; a tree offering shade; strategically
placed seats; strings of lights: a fountain (unusually, double-sided) and canine guardians. Open to the public, it is a space that can be used for
church activities and, as such, operates as a missionary interface between the parish and the world.
Church of Saint George Horemis
Experience "heaven on earth"
Resist pulling the bell rope
Drink from both sides of the fountain
The main road though Isaris is narrow, but unlike in most mountain villages, there is an off-road parking area large enough for buses. This is because
Isaris is only a few kilometres from the world famous Chapel of Saint Theodora
village is eager to exploit regular invasions of passing tourists. It boasts more than the usual solitary taverna and there is even a newly renovated
hotel by the church.
Aside from these hostelries, the village offers quaint streets lined with traditional stone buildings; courtyards full of flowers;
a vaulted stone fountain built in 1902 and indescribable views over the Megalopolis
Isaris View from the church
Watch out for buses turning into the parking area
Wander around the quaint streets
Enjoy a drink in one of the cafés
Or quench your thirst at the fountain
CHURCH OF SAINT NICHOLAS
The two tier bell tower of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Isaris
protrudes proudly above the
red roof tiles of buildings set into the green hillside of St. Elias. Close up, the church looks more vernacular with a simple entrance flanked by
plant pots that belies its richly decorated interior.
The church was rebuilt after the Battle of Isari in 1825 when the village was plundered by Turk-Albanians. The villagers barricaded
themselves inside the church but the numerical superiority of the enemy overwhelmed them and they were eventually forced to flee. The next day the
village was looted and burned.
Isaris Church of Saint Nicholas
Wander around the exterior
Look out over tiled roof tops
Discover the hotel next to the church
Do not be deceived by the simple entrance - inside is lush
Isoma Karyon is situated in the eastern foothills of Mount Lykaion
, at an altitude of 470
metres above sea level. With Megalopoli
only eight kilometres away, the outlook to
the northwest includes the town’s two power plants.
Locals say that the large open pit mine on its doorstep provides jobs but it also consumes land traditionally used for farming.
However, there are plenty of empty houses in need of renovation, so reversing the trend of depopulation is possible if only young people could
be attracted back home to learn from their grandparents how to work the land.
Isoma Karyon View of a power plant
Look out over the basin of Megalopolis
Imagine renovating an empty house
Fall in love with 'lived in' houses
Visit the plakeia (village square)
CHURCH OF THE PANAGIA (ALL HOLY)
The Church of the Panagia in Isoma Karyon
is a large white building with red trimmings.
It is protected by an imposing iron gate flanked by a pink-flowered bush and featuring three Greek crosses (with arms of equal length).
On 1 March, mothers tie red and white 'Martis' bracelets onto the wrists of their children to stop the early spring sun burning
their cheeks. These bracelets are worn until the Midnight Mass of a Greek Orthodox Easter. Then, when the traditional bonfires are lit, they
are removed and thrown into the fire. This is said to be symbolic of Christ’s resurrection conquering or "burning away" sin.
Church of the Panagia Isoma Karyon
Look up at the bell tower
Meander around the courtyard
The road from Desillas
to Karnasi is wider than most and lined with olive groves.
Standing proud amongst the trees are sculptures, signs of Panayotis Mitropoulos’s dream to "create a cemetery for atheists". Fires swept
through the area in 2007 but the sculptures were untouched leaving the sculptor wondering why?
Panayotis lives in Karnasi and it is obvious which is his house. Faced by a lookout tower and battlements, it is bedecked
with symbolic elements (a bird, a Greek flag, chess pieces etc.) in much the same way as Orthodox churches are adorned with iconography.
Ironic considering that Panayotis is, presumably, an atheist.
Spot the sculptures on the road from Desillas
... and the village on the hillside
At an altitude of 750 metres above sea level, Kastanohori ('chestnut village') is situated on a mountainous slope cloaked in chestnut forests.
It can be reached on a newly upgraded road linking mountain communities north of the Neda river
Formerly known as Krampovos, it is suffering from de-population. Since WWII its young people have emigrated abroad
or to the major urban areas of Athens or Thessaloniki. Some do return to their ancestral homes to retire and, in doing so, help to
improve the housing stock and keep local traditions alive.
Reflect on the height of the village
Enjoy views of the Megalopolis basin
Explore old village paths
CHURCH OF THE PANAGIA (ALL HOLY)
The Church of the Panagia in Kastanohori
is a subtle white-on-white
experience offering views of the power stations on the plain of Megalopolis. Initially, it is not very inspiring but as you hone
in on the details of the pediment above the north door, you might change your mind.
A door is a place of transition, a means of moving from one place to another. It shares in two places at once,
the outside and the inside, and so represents Christ: "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved..." But what
do the lion, the rope designs and the eastern-looking temple façade symbolise?
Kastanohori Church of the Panagia
Climb to the top of the bell tower
Scan the south side of the church
Hone in on the north door
Figure out the meaning of pediment elements
CHURCH OF SAINT SPIRIDON
The Church of Saint Spiridon in the lower village of Kastonohori
has been rebuilt with some of the stonework being replaced by breeze blocks.
Born in Cyprus, Saint Spiridon worked as a shepherd before he became Bishop of Trimythous. He reportedly converted
a pagan philosopher to Christianity by using a shard of pottery to illustrate that one entity could be composed of three elements
(fire, water and clay); a metaphor for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. As soon as he finished speaking, the shard is
said to have miraculously burst into flames, water dripped on the ground and only dust remained in his hand.
Kastanohori Church of Saint Spiridon
Scrutinize the restored stonework
Lament the rusty ironwork
Mourn for the unplaced stones
Stroll all around the church
Park by the modern day road bridge
Locate the steps down to the river
Discover a hidden Turkish bridge
Worshipped in ancient times for its healing powers, the Pamisos river runs through Messenia before flowing into the Messenian Gulf east of Messini and west of Kalamata
Its spring system is on the western slopes of the Taygetus mountains.
One of its main sources is a spring at Agios Floros (about 20 kilometres north of Kalamata) which derives from a large karstic basin ensuring a continuous flow throughout the year. The spring
is centrally located in the village, opposite the restored Church of Saints Floros and Lavros, next to a giant plane tree. It is the perfect setting for a canal-side stroll and the starting point for a cycle
Agios Floras Pamisos river
Locate the source of the spring
Kefalovrisi is a picturesque village perched in a bend in the road from Kopanaki to Ancient Phigaleia
It has loads of local flavour and a main street so narrow that even a car cannot pass comfortably. Add two-way traffic,
parked vehicles, lorries and the odd bulldozer and this otherwise peaceful hamlet can become a bit stressful to travel
Take the strain out of the driving by stopping for a drink in one of several caféneons or a meal in the
taverna on the northern edge of the village beyond the public fountain. Open from 7pm, this is heaven for vegetarians and
Public fountain Kefalovrisi
Appreciate the position of the village
Marvel at the skill of local drivers
Eat in a traditional taverna
CHURCH OF SAINT NICHOLAS
Built into the hillside, the Church of Saint Nicolas in Kefalovrisi
is not obvious when you drive through. But, if you dare to take your eye off the road, you will glimpse the bell tower
and bronze bust of an Orthodox bishop at the top of stone steps in the centre of the village.
If you park up for a closer look, you will find other stepped walkways surrounding the church. They
lead up and down the hillside intersecting with paths that link the dwellings and gardens. No longer trodden by donkeys,
some routes are overgrown but action is afoot to open them up for locals and tourists alike.
Church of Saint Nicholas Kefalovrisi
Look up at a patron saint
... and a spiritual leader
... and explore the paths beyond
Kouvelas is one of the distant villages that you can see from the balcony of the Ark
in Ancient Phigaleia
. It too has spectacular views across
the Neda gorge but from the south. It also has crazy paved roads; traditional stone houses; plentiful gardens largely
tended by an aging population - although you could be forgiven for thinking the village is inhabited by cats!
The most impressive of the stone houses line the main square and, as in most villages, there is a stone
fountain. Nearby are olive groves, lovingly tended gardens and a few lingering goat herds.
Kouvelas View south across the Neda gorge
Spot signs of a disappearing agricultural life
Wander around the stone houses
When travelling to and from Ancient Phigaleia
and the sea,
you will pass a road to the north in the hamlet of Trianta just to the east of Nea Figalia
This leads to Krioneri ( 'cold water'), a small village in an isolated mountain valley. En route you will pass the
ruins of an alluring Byzantine Church
The talk is that villages like Krioneri are dying as their populations decline: the only real occupation
for young men (and young dogs) is shepherding sheep. It is a hard life, especially in winter, but the village lives
in hope and has been built a new community hall. Oh, and the caféneon is still open, at least during the summer.
Follow the traffic into the village
Order mezze in the caféneon
Nose around people’s backyards
Coo over sheep dog puppies
Inspect local cooking facilities
CHURCH OF SAINT JOHN
the area around the church has undergone a make
over to turn it into an attractive amenity incorporating a new village hall. Such communal buildings leading onto a
church’s courtyard are a very practical arrangement, but also an iconic way of relating the parish’s activities to
The church is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, who was sent by God to bear witness to the coming
of the Messiah. The Greeks also teach that, following his death, John descended into Hades where he continued to preach
that Jesus was coming. He was, therefore, the Forerunner of Christ in death as he had been in life.
Krioneri Church of Saint John
Admire the beauty and functionality of the stonework
Check out the new village hall
Drink cold water from two fountains
Climb to the top of the bell tower
BYZANTINE CHURCH OF SAINT NICHOLAS
Nestling in the trees to the south of Krioneri
is the Byzantine
Church of Saint Nicholas. Beware though, the church that you can see from the road is a reconstruction of the original.
Built in 2009, it is an attractive new-build based on the footprint of the adjacent ruin.
Many Orthodox church buildings are rectangles symbolising the ship as a means of salvation (Noah's
Ark). These churches, however, are cruciforms (cross shaped). Known as tetraconches, from the Greek for "four shells",
they have four apses, one in each direction, usually of equal size.
Church of Saint Nicholas Krioneri
Spot the church in a sea of trees
Read the new-build’s dedication
Find the site of the Byzantine church
Consider the symbolism of the cross shape
Not to be confused with the seaside town of Kyparissia
the village of Kyparrisia is situated 374 metres above sea level on the west bank of the Alpheios river
near the ancient city of Trapezus.
If you pass through on the old road north towards Karataina, you will see a mini basketball court
and a paved area surrounding a war memorial and two fountains.
To the west is a hill crowned by the church that serves the owners of the village houses and agricultural
buildings. Often crudely constructed from concrete and stone, these inventive structures have their own charm.
Approach from the south Kyparissia
CHURCH OF THE PANAGIA (ALL HOLY)
Perched on a hill overlooking the basin of Megalopolis
the Church of the Panagia in Kyparissia
within a gated courtyard which also contains the old school.
It is a well maintained whitewashed building with a red roof and pretty stone detail around its
base. Red and white are colours which have meaning in the Orthodox Church. White is the symbol of the heavenly
realm and God’s divine light - the colour of cleanliness, holiness and simplicity. Red, frequently used in icons,
is the colour of heat, passion, love and life-giving energy, and for this reason, is the symbol of the resurrection
- the victory of life over death.
Kyparissia Church of the Panagia
The route from Tholo to Ancient Phigaleia
through Lepreo, named after an ancient city
the north of the modern day village. This was the de facto capital of Triphylia, a region of the Peloponnese
in antiquity. Its founder, Lepreos challenged Heracles to a series of trials ending in a duel, during which
Lepreos lost his life.
Although the village is no longer a powerful place, it does have attractions including the
prehistoric acropolis that still offers impressive views of the Kyparissian Gulf; a stylish taverna next to
a pretty stone bridge in the central square and the ancient remains of a temple dedicated to Demeter
View west from the acropolis Lepreo
Walk to the top of the acropolis
Have mezze in the central square
Wander around the back streets
Visit the Church of Saint George
... and the archaeological site
CHURCH OF SAINT GEORGE
’s main church is wedged into a small space
next to the main thoroughfare. It does not look much from the road but if you descend to its level and
walk around you will find a large rectangular building with a separate bell tower.
Like most churches it is usually locked unless a service is taking place but do not be
put off, even if you dislike orthodox architecture. The area surrounding the church has a lot to offer:
a paved courtyard built around two tiny houses belonging to another age; a forgotten bread oven; a pretty
fountain and many more traditional houses - some inhabited, some not.
Lepreo Church of Saint George
Descend to the level of the church
... and their quirky homes
Penetrate below the church
... and find the fountain
One route from Andritsaina to Ancient Phigaleia
takes you through the village of Linistena where, as in most villages, life revolves around the main church
square with its obligatory caféneon, public fountain and shrine.
Whilst an Orthodox priest goes about his business, locals congregate to discuss the financial
crisis to the tick-tack tune of backgammon counters and evil-spirit-countering 'komboli' worry beads. Rural
Greek communities have age-old survival tactics to enable them to weather storms like the 1821 War of Independence
and World War II deprivation.
Linistena Main church square
Have a mountain tea in a mountain caféneon
Collect water from a mountain spring
Light the lamp in the shrine
If you travel east from the village of Neda
reach Lykaio. Do not be put off by the road. Only a short section just beyond Neda has not been made up;
the remainder of the road is wide and newly tarmacked offering spectacular views.
In Lykaio you will find remnants of another era when there was a demand for a school, a
playground and more than one church. Greek families are allowed to build their own chapels. They must take
care of their maintenance but the chapels are ordinated by the priests and, although they might look dilapidated,
most are still in use (if only once a year on the chapel's saint's day).
View from the west Lykaio
Run around the old school playground
Take a look inside the chapel
CHURCH OF THE PANAGIA (ALL HOLY)
The main church in Lykaio
is shrouded by a
giant tree that, for hundreds of years, has provided shade in the hot summer months. Such trees are
often the focal point of church courtyards helping them to increase the liturgical floor area without
the high cost of maintaining an enclosed building.
Greek church courtyards are places for large gatherings to celebrate weddings, baptisms
and Saint's days and, thanks to an EU grant, this one has been re-paved with a dancing circle inset
into the crazy paving. Its purpose is to help people to 'dance in a circle' when performing the Kalamatiano,
a popular folk dance.
Church of the Panagia Lykaio
Seek shade under the giant maple tree
Lykosura shares its name with an ancient city said by Pausanius, a Roman traveller, to be the oldest
city in the world. Its remains are largely un-excavated, although a Sanctuary of Despoina
has been uncovered near the city walls.
If you approach this important archaeological site (with its small museum housing
some of the finds) from Mount Lykaion
you will pass through the modern day village. It has little to attract tourists except for the
Church of the Virgin; terraced buildings with colonnades that once offered shade to busy store
rooms and some quaint village houses in various states of repair.
Bridge over the river Plantinous Lykosura
Admire the church and bell tower
Investigate the old houses
Mourn for the closed shops
Ask for directions to the museum
A patriotic welcome awaits you in Mavria on the old road north towards Karataina. Greece is a proud
country and no self-respecting town or village is complete without a monument honouring local war
Villagers also look up to football heros and its young aspire to be stars, although
Mavria’s football pitch does not look like it has hosted a match for some time!
Overlooking the lake of Megalopolis
the village relies on agriculture for its survival and villagers still use donkeys for some tasks.
They are versatile and hardy and, unlike 4x4s, are treasured for their intelligence and gentleness.
View from the south Mavria
Run around the football pitch
Covert vine covered pergolas
Enjoy the view of the lake of Megalopolis
CHURCH OF SAINT DIMITRIS
At no. 1 Dimitris Street in Mavria
is the Church of Saint Dimitris. Built in 1861, it is surrounded by a walled courtyard
with two iron gates. These are painted black indicating to all who enter that the church
is a serious place.
Dimitris is a common name in Greece. It means “earth-lover” or “of
” - the mythological
goddess of corn and the harvest.
Saint Dimitris was the son of a C4 military commander of Thessaloniki
who, on his father’s death, defied Emperor Maximian by openly preaching Christianity.
He was cast into prison where he was killed by the Emperor’s soldiers.
Church of Saint Dimitris Mavria
Enter the courtyard via the open gate
Scrutinise the locked gate
Imagine setting foot in the church
You might think that a cold drink in the taverna at Neda is an option after an excursion to the Neda
waterfalls. Indeed, it would be welcome, but the waterfalls are reached from Ancient Phigaleia
at the western end of the gorge.
The village of Neda is much further east, closer to the source of the Neda river
on the southern slope of Mount Lykaion
Nonetheless, the taverna is worth a visit, especially if you want to buy some of the best "tsipouro"
('raki') in the area.
The village also boasts an ancient fountain and many traditional stone buildings
- some in need of repair, others lovingly restored.
Muse over the "ancient" fountain
Stop off for "tsipouro" (f'irewater')
CHURCH OF SAINT NICHOLAS
The Church of Saint Nicholas in Neda
an attractive stone building with arched windows outlined with red brick and glazed with opaque
blue glass. It is set within an enclosure that also houses church offices and a civic building.
The church has no bell tower - instead its bell is built into an arch on the
Ancients Greeks were familiar with bells: they performed much the same function
as they do in churches today - they were rung to call people to temples, to tell the time and
to announce the beginning of military action.
Neda Church of Saint Nicholas
Study the windows and doors
Peer into the church offices
You will pass through Perivolia if you travel to the Ark
from Tholo on the west coast or Andristaina to the north. But there is more to the village
than the usual trio of features (a church, a caféneon and a fountain) marking its main
In the lower village centuries old paths link the modern-day gardens of
restored houses. In ancient times these paths led, or so it is said, to "the garden" of
nearby Ancient Phigaleia
Perhaps, because it was less exposed to the midday sun, it was a good place for the crops
that fed the ancient city to flourish.
Perivolia also has archaeology - closeby are the remains of a thermal bath