In the galaxy of villages and towns of Arcadia, Gortynia holds a special place. Stemnitsa, Dimitsana, Zygovisti, Elati, Vytina, Nymphasia, Magouliana, Valtesiniko and Lagadia are the first names that surface, after Tripoli when one digs into the history or geography of the Peloponnese.
Designed to cross as many villages as possible, Menalon Trail is not only a path to discover nature, but also a path to the Arcadian history and geography. In each of the eight sections, Menalon Trail offers the traveler the opportunity to revive his interest or complete his knowledge on history and geography. Nine nodes, nine villages, nine protreptic suggestions of an alternative path to understand the untold human-scale topography.
Stemnitsa, the starting point of Menalon Trail, is the main hub for the Gortynian unity along with the region of Megalopolis. Stemnitsa stands at an altitude of 1080 meters and since it was built amphitheatrically on the slopes of mount Klinitsa, part of the Mainalon range, the village developed into a secluded and limited space. The core of the settlement is structured around the main road running through a kind of ledge, while the inhabited perimeter spreads on rocky outcrops, on shaded sites near the stream or on the sunny slopes above the square. The village is protected as a traditional settlement and almost all the houses are stone-built. The mansions are three-storey buildings with a square ground plan and the peasant’s homes were two-storey oblong constructions with a standard layout for animal stalls and storage rooms. Five large stone fountains provided Stemnitsa with drinking water. The central square is dominated by the church of Agios Georgios, built with the special permission of the Sultan within 73 days in 1810, with frescoes and murals by Fotis Kontoglou. The parish church is dedicated to Agia Paraskevi, other important churches are Panagia Bafero, Panagia Karea and Katagiorgis in the lower neighbour. In the upper part of the village, the late byzantine catholicon church of the Zodochos Pigi (or Chrisopigi) monastery is preserved in excellent condition, as are some outbuildings, which housed the school of Stemnitsa during the Turkish occupation in 1821 and the Peloponnesian Senate a bit later.
The area around the village was inhabited since ancient times and refers to the Arcadian Book of Pausanias as the “savage and brutal settlement of Ypsous”. The ancient settlement took its name from its mythological founder, Ypsounta, son of the legendary king of Arcadia, Lykaon. The name Stemnitsa probably dates to the Middle Byzantine period, when the Peloponnese received successive waves of settlers and means shady place in Slavic. Stemnitsa’s activity was oriented towards trade and workmanship of metals, such as silversmith, that became an important source of revenue. Today a goldsmiths’ School operates in the village.
An important center for organizing the revolution in the period of the 1821 war of independence, Stemnitsa served as headquarters of the First Peloponnesian Senate and first informal capital of the rebelled Greek nation.
Stemnitsa is the birthplace of several important scientists, politicians and other prominent personalities. Until recently Stemnitsa was the seat of the municipality of Trikoloni, today is part of the municipality of Gortynia. It has many accommodation and food options and noticeable commercial and tourist traffic.
Dimitsana is built on a spacious shoulder, the unique passage in the upper valley of river Lousios, at an altitude of 1000m. The location is ideal and is inhabited since ancient times: in the “Platsa”, the outer part of the natural shoulder, sections of isodomic ancient wall are visible between the walls of newer houses, which belonged to the acropolis of ancient Tefthis, the town itself possibly located in the smoother slopes below Dimitsana, towards Paleochori.Dimitsana was from the 18th century an important regional commercial center and benefited, for a period of two centuries, great economic prosperity thanks to the water-powered craft (flour, fulling, tanning and gunpowder mills), pulled by the abundant waters of the valley. Part of watermills and gunpowder mills have been restored in the excellent Open Air Water Power Museum of Dimitsana, located after the exit to the large headspring of Ai-Giorgis, just outside the city. By the late 19th century, after the development of industrial methods, the water-powered craft declined and Dimitsana lost its boost, but it remained an important transportation and administrative hub.
The town itself, protected as a traditional settlement, has many historically or architecturally important buildings and monuments such as: the house of archbishop Gregorios the 5th (which has been renovated and now houses the Ecclesiastical Museum), the building of the Seminary of Dimitsana (that today houses the Library with over 15,000 volumes, among them rare editions, codes and a vast historical file, plus a folklore collection), the house of archbishop Paleon Patron Germanos, the five-storey Xenios tower (built in 1850 by the raisin trader Constantine Koukouzas) and many more. Among the seven churches dating to the 17th, 18th and 19th century, the ones presenting particular interest are the the cathedral church of Aghia Kyriaki, St. Euthymius, St. Georgios, St. John and the church of the Archangels. The monasteries of Philosophou, Panagia Emialon, the new Philosophou monastery and Prodromou monastery all flourished at the same time as Dimitsana due to their safe location on the axis of the ravine of river Lousios and their close dependence with the town.
The archaeological site of ancient Gortys is located at the exit of the gorge of river Lousios. Excavations have revealed a large part of the citadel and an important Asklipieio with baths.
A small village in the north of mount Klinitsa, between the large plateau Kampos, which constituted the main agricultural resource of the village and the fir forest of mount Menalon. The name probably comes from the place name Zygos, which was probably attributed to the area because of its vicinity to the important passage of Western Menalo (nowadays known as Bilalis). The village was colonized in the 16th century by the family of Kontogianis as they moved here from their village of Emialon in Messinia. The same family also founded in 1608 the monastery Emialon, on the crest of the ravine of Lousios, just below Zygovisti.
Zygovisti holds two other old religious monuments, that date back to the period of its creation, the churches of Aghios Nicholaos (1638) and Aghios Ioannis (1643), on the southern and the northern entrance of the settlement, while the parish church of the Transfiguration of Christ and the secluded monastery of Aghii Apostoli date to the early 19th century. Interesting buildings of the 18th-19th century are the old primary school (1830) and the tavern Asikides (1748).
A high point in the history of Zygovisti is the participation of its inhabitants in the personal guard of Theodore Kolokotronis during the War of Independence of 1821. At the entrance of the village a marble monument has been erected in their memory in the form of open book listing the names of the fighters.
A small village hidden in a crease West Menalo, between the forest and the riverbeds of Mylaon. Elati has much in common with the adjacent settlements of Pyrghaki, now deserted, and the small village Methydhrio, with whom it shares a common destiny. All three ware founded in the period of the economy of survival, when villages originated and sustained spontaneously among the limited resources of the forest and meadows of the mountain. In the triangle formed by the three villages, Elati stands out as a reflection of the old and now forever lost settlement Efta Psomia, which flourished until the 18th century in the large meadow on the way to Alonistena, where the source Paliohori is located today, facing the nicely reconstructed church of Zoodochos Pigi.
Bypassing the loose residential web of the village that lies on the small green amphitheater, the main road passes by the parish church of the Panagia, creating a new gravity center. A tavern and a large hotel complex compose the tourist facilities of Elati for the visitor seeking a simpler scenery than the lively Vitina, in the immediate proximity of natural landscape and forest.
The modern Vytina spreads on the level plateau at the foot of mount Menalon, in an area that used to be an important agricultural resource. The settlement resulted from the fusion of previous settlements, including Old Vitina and other rural settlements. Vytina developed such a dynamism it had soon lowlands branches in Argolida, Achaia and Ilia.
Because of this dynamism, but also of its position on the roads networks that developed in the first half of the 20th century, Vitina assumed the role and functions of an enlarged regional hub. The old Sanatorium and the School of Forestry were the forerunners of the mountain resort you see today. The development of the Ski Center on mount Menalo and the road connection with Olympia and Kalavryta strengthened its position within the tourism network of Northern Peloponnese. The activities that flourishing alongside (catering, food production, carpentry, textiles) concentrated and redirected manpower to manufacturing and the service industry, shaping the productive profile of Vitina in the 21st century.
With over a century of dynamic presence in the heart of Gortynia, Vitina is now a bustling town with remarkable accommodation options, more than any other town in western Arcadia. An ideal starting point for trips across the Gortynia, this small town has its own cultural identity, as it is the birthplace of remarkable personalities (eg., the historian Constantine Paparigopoulos), and boast many attractions, such as the stone-built parish church of Agios Tryphon located on the main square, the Municipal Library, the historic “Greek School”, the church of Aghii Anargyri (1831), the stone bridges and water mills on the river Mylaon etc.
A small village, built on a smooth saddle of the Mylaon valley. Nymfasia is closely connected to its regional center, Vitina, and thus offers complementary activities and facilities. The parish church of Aghia Triada in the center of the village, it is a stone-built basilica of the late 19th century with an imposing bell tower. Τhe reconstructed fountains Karidia (“walnut”, original construction of 1824) and Mousgha (1876) are both stone-built and located in the perimeter of the village on the way towards the monastery of Kernitsa.
For the beauty of the amphitheatrical location at the head of the valley Kamari and the security provided by the medieval fortress Argirokasto, Magouliana climbed higher than any other village in the Peloponnese, reaching 1,240 meters. The village occupies the entire basin, facing south and exposed to the sun all day long, thus softening the effects altitude might otherwise have. The villagers were mainly employed in farming, making use the vast pastures of the surrounding peaks. During winter the conditions were very difficult in the zone over 1000 m and livestock and shepherds went to the lowlands of Achaia and Ilia, where many gradually settled, founding offspring settlements, like the Magoulianitika.
The imposingness of the three big churches, the parish church of the Virgin (1840), Aghios Demetrios and Aghios Ioanis (18th c.) and the simple lines of the terrain, on which the stone houses seem to roll down, give to the village an atmosphere of consistency and tranquility. On the small plateau of the peak Castle, which protects the the village from the northern winds, the remains of the medieval castle Argirokastro can be found, around the church of Aghios Georgios, which has been erected later. In the area Korfoxylia, west of the village, is the old Sanatorium of Manna. Constructed on funds collected by the volunteer Anna Papadopoulou and built by craftsmen of Lagadia with local stones, it was established in 1928. It quickly became a regular hospital and for years it was an important social and economic node in the region.
Valtesiniko is built across a small and sunny basin, among important and extensive agricultural, forestry and livestock resources. The agricultural area of the village occupies two large areas, the valley of Ela and the Valtesiniotiko Plain; in the lower zones of the communal area, endless wintering terrain for livestock can be found, while a vast forest stretches to Magouliana, Kaloneri and Kryovrysi. The wealth of these resources gave Valtesiniko a power to survive adversity, even the current hardship, especially difficult for the mountain villages.
Isolated geographically, the village acts as a self-sustaining local hub and maintains remarkable infrastructure of catering and accommodation, impressive youthful potential and strong presence of its diaspora.
Valtesiniko has 10 churches, sign of social firmness at the time of its glory, the most important being the large parish church of Agios Theodoros, Agios Georgios (with many decorative elements and ornate octagonal dome, work of craftsmen from Lagadia) and Taxiarches (1824). During this period, the village developed the art of woodcarving and – in remarkable complementarity with corresponding skills in other villages of Gortynia – specialised in temples churches and other decorative or utilitarian artifacts.
One can visit the gorge of Kapsalis (or Rentzela), where the monasteries of Panagia and Agios Nicholaos were established. Continue to Valtesiniotiko Plain, where you can find a stone bridge, the chapel of Agia Marina and the ruins of an ancient temple near Agia Paraskevi (near the village of Mygdalia). Finally, a climb to the top of Paliokastro will lead you to the place where a medieval fortress surveyed the vast valley of Ladhon river.
Lagkadia is built on very steep slope of the Gortynian mountains, in an area which, despite the fact it makes the construction of buildings particularly complex, it has many qualities: it’s located on the obvious geographical connection of Gortynia towards the west (from here passed the ancient road connecting Sparti, Megalopoli, Methidrio and Theuthis to Olympia, the route used in Ancient times by all those going from eastern Peloponnese to the Olympic Games in Olympia), it has many springs and provides natural defense and safety conditions. The need for careful design and construction of buildings, pushed the local craftsmen to develop techniques of high stability in stone-built construction, a skill that cemented their reputation as the best builders of the Peloponnese. The craftsmen of Lagadia have built both in Arcadia, and the rest of Greece, hundreds of great buildings, churches, bridges and bell towers
Lagkadia is an important regional administrative and cultural hub and the birthplace of great personalities and fighters of the Revolution of 1821, like the Deligianis family. Among the numerous historic buildings of Lagadia, more noticeable are the Deligianis mansion in the upper part of the village, the Taxiarches church (1805) and the church of Agii Apostoli (1854) in the lower part of the village, the stone-built High School, the church of Timios Prodromos (1808) and the chapels of Panagia Gounari (1862) and the Aghia Triadha.
The city has a remarkable tourism infrastructure and shops where you can buy textiles, local pasta, sweets and handcrafted products. The Carnival festival and the summer folksong contest in Panigyristra are just some of the many festive events taking place in Lagadia. Visit the nearby sources of river Lousios in Agia Paraskevi Kaloneri and the the small traditional villages in the basin of the Lagadiano river.