MEGALOPOLI:The Great City of Arcadians
Megalopoli is the third largest Local Authority of Arcadia and is divided into three large Municipal Districts: northwest MD Gortyna (that borders Gortynia in the north and Ileia) in the west), MD Megalopoli in the central section of the Local Authority with Megalopoli as its seat (in the east is the Local Authority of Tripoli and in the west is Messinia) and the MD Phalaisia to the south of Megalopoli with the new National road as the boundary to the north,the Local Authority of Tripoli is to the east and Messinia is to the south and west.
The seat of the Local Authority is Megalopoli, the Great City of Arcadians that was built due to the exhortation of Epaminondas in 370BC to form an adversary that Sparta would be in awe of. We can see a part of its lost majesty in the significant archaeological site just outside the town and of course with our visit to the largest ancient theatre of its epoch, with a capacity of 20,000 spectators (an indication of the magnificence and size of the ancient city).
The history, however, of the area’s civilization starts a few thousand years ago (10,000 – 8,000 BC) at the location of today’s Lykosoura. The first town to see the sun, older than all of the towns on the mainland and the islands, as Pausanias wrote in his book Arcadika [...πόλεων δέ, ὁπόσας ἐπὶ τῇ ἠπείρῳ ἔδειξε γῆ καὶ ἐν νήσοις, Λυκόσουρά ἐστι πρεσβυτάτη, καὶ ταύτην εἶδεν ὁ ἥλιος πρώτην...]. When Megalopoli was created the inhabitants of Lykosoura refused to follow and fled to the area surrounding the sanctuary of Despina that was the centre of worship of all Arcadia and they remained there.
Megalopoli and its wider area is linked to the large lignite plant producing electricity of the Hellenic Public Power Corporation (HPPC or DEI). The operation of the plant and lignite mines have significantly changed the landscape of this area, villages have disappeared (such as Anthochori that was ‘swallowed up’ by the coal extracting machines of DEI during the period 2006-2008) or have created new ones due to relocation.
Typical features of the coal landscape and of the plant of DEI, we can see in the wider area that is delimited as from the villages of Mavria, Kyparissia, Thoknia, Oresteio, Plaka and Soulo, NW of Megalopoli and also SW in the area of the old Anthochori, Tripotamos, Choremis and Apiditsa.
Even in these blackened and poor villages, we can still see very interesting sights, such as the listed Church of Saint Dimitrios in Thoknia that was built and had its icons painted in 1730, or the headspring of St Paraskevi, 3km from Tripotamos, where Kolokotronis hid, on a Friday, when he was ambushed by the Turks after the Battle of Drabala,having prayed to St Paraskevi he subsequently built here a little church in her honour.
In the area between Mavria and Kyparissia there is buried in the ground and the wild weeds (and under threat of permanent disappearance by DEI) the remains of the important ancient town of Trapezounta which enjoyed an significant peak up to and including the 5th century BC and had one of the best town planning in the ancient epoch.
We can see abandoned villages and in other parts of the region, such as old Makrysi, east of Megalopoli which was deserted because of the earthquakes of the 1960’s, and old Ekklysoula, to the north of the town whose residents abandoned it in 1960 due to land subsidence.
The villages to the west of Megalopoli are very beautiful, those that stand out are Isaris with its mysterious, deserted railway station that makes you feel like being slowly lost in its impressive tunnel and Vasta where a few kilometers out of the village, in a beautiful ravine, we can see the little Church of Saint Theodora where 17 trees have grown around its walls without any roots showing either outside or inside the church. It is one of the best known sights of the Peloponnese and of Greece.
An impressive view of the four points of the compass at an altitude of 1,400m is offered to us on the ascent (9km off-road 4X4) to the summit of the Tetrazi mountain at the Prophet Ilias, just outside Vasta.
Continuing northwards from Lykosoura towards [Ano Karyes][TID:23428], we can visit [Mount Lykaio][TID:23435] (the Arcadian Olympus), the very significant archaeological site with the sanctuary of Zeus , the most revered in Arcadia.
We can find archaeological findings dotted around several places of the surrounding area, such as little chapels or churches that were built on the sites of ancient temples and/or constructed with ancient building material, as for example the ruined Psilos Ai-Giannis at Isioma Karyes, built on the ruins of the ancient temple of Parrasios Apollo and the Church of the Virgin Mary of Kamara and Kapsocherovolousa, below Kastanochori, built with the ancient material of ancient Parrasia. When we find ourselves in Kastonochori, we must not neglect to visit the deserted 12th century Monastery of the Virgin Mary of Krabovos.
We can also reach (in 3.5km) Mount Lykaio and its archaeological site from the north via the village of Ano Kotylio (new houses were built after the catastrophic earthquakes of the 1960’s).
From [Ano Karyes][TID:23428] a marshy dirt road leads us towards Kourounios where on the hill of Ai-Giorgis (4km from Kourounios) with the homonymous little church built with ancient material, is built the impregnable Frankish castle of Skorta. The ascent is short (20min) but requires care as the rock is rather steep. The result, however, rewards us with the very beautiful view towards the valley of Megalopoli and the surrounding area.
Apart from the known archaeological sites, there are sites less well known such as the Mycenaean graveyard with more than 100 arched tombs and the most ancient Necromanteion 5km from Palaiokastro at Sarakini. At Palaiokastro, on the low hill of Metamorphosi, we can see remains of the walls of the castle of Palaiokastro. According to archaeologists, here was the site of the citadel of the Mycenaean town of Phiri and probably the medieval castle of Araklovo and Paravasio.
Of all the villages of Megalopoli and Gortyna, the most beautiful, well known and historic is none other than Karytaina. The impressive Frankish castle on the top of the hill, on whose foothills the village is built, was one of the most remarkable forts in the Peloponnese during the period of Frankish rule and Ottoman rule. The view from up high towards the valley of Megalopoli is amazing.
The castle of Karytaina was chosen as his base by the Geros of Moria (Th. Kolokotronis) in his fight against Ibrahim. At his own expense he fortified it in 1826 and built the house, the remains of which can be seen here, opposite the Church of the Virgin Mary where he worshipped.
In the village we can see important Byzantine churches (such as that of Saint Nikolaos of the 13th century with rare icons of the Byzantine art school, the little Church of the Virgin Mary at the castle of the 11th or 12th century and the Church of Zoodochos Pigi of the 15th century). At the castle, we can also see the Byzantine Tower of Matzourogiannis that is counted among the particularly noteworthy Byzantine monuments of our epoch, up to now , one of the few saved Byzantine buildings.
The sights, however, do not stop here. As we leave Karytaina on the road towards Andritsaina, we can see the most important example of Byzantine bridge architecture that has been saved up to today. A bridge with five arches (the 5th arch was blown up during the Civil War of 1946-49) with the little Church of the Virgin Mary at its foot there to protect it. The modern bridge passes over it.
The southern area of the Local Authority of Megalopoli covers the villages of Falaisia. Villages such as the historic Liontari with its castle that in Byzantine years developed into the 2nd most important town of the Despotate of Mystras and the Church of the Saints Apostoli, one of the most important examples of ecclesiastical architecture of the Peloponnese, Potamia with the Holy Monastery of the Virgin Mary of Bouras and the hermitages of Saint Nikonas, Zoodochos Pigi, Kamara with the Virgin Mary of the Rocks and the castle on Ai-Thanasis hill.
Tourkoleka, the homeland of Nikitaras and Cheirades with between them the castle of Oria at Gardiki(whose steep southern side was filled with the bodies of Greeks slaughtered by the army of Mehmed 2nd the Conqueror when it was taken), Ano Giannaioi with its historic Rekitsa Monastery where Papaphlesas was a monk until 1817 and Kato Giannaioi with its renovated to working order watermill and further north Skortsinos with Saint Konstandinos at the top of the hill with the castle of Chelmos and the remaining Mycenaean, ancient and medieval fortifications, while leaving Skortsino for Petrina we can see the sources of the River Evrotas.
Villages closely bound to the history of modern Greece, such as Akovos, where on the hill of Drabala on 5-7June 1825, there took place the homonymous battle between the army of Ibrahim and the brave fighters of Th. Kolokotronis. At Akovos we can also see the stone with which it is said that Kolokotronis etched his initials Th.K., while just outside the village we can visit the Church of Saint Solomoni which was formerly a monastery where Papaphlesas ran a krifo scholio (Secret School) during the years of Ottoman rule (start of the 19th century).
Arcadia is the landscape where its stone is hewn at the highest level, creating jewels of traditional architecture. The most characteristic examples of this are the dozens of stone built bridges that were built mostly in the 19th century in order to unite the banks of the region’s rivers. Apart from the aforementioned Alpheios Bridge, of special interest are also the Atsicholitiko Bridge at Lousios, with the largest, pointed “Arabic architectural” arch (work during Ottoman Rule) on the road from Atsicholo towards Karytaina. From here the rafters continue their trip to the Koukos Bridge (outside Maratha) that arches over the gorge of Alpheios in a beautiful landscape that offers excursions in nature. Crossing the bridge a little farther down we can see the waterfalls of Vrontos.
There are in addition bridges that are less well known and have almost been lost in the passage of time since the roads and footpaths that once met up together, are now, for the most part, unused. One such beautiful bridge that has become one with the surrounding nature is the single arch, high, stone built bridge of Boutounas in Lykosoura, built in the second half of the 19th century above the Kastritis River. Another bridge is the Barboutsana Bridge which we can see in the Elissonas Gorge, 3km east of the village of Vangos.
Today’s deserted railway stations and rail bridges of the railway network of the region , radiate a particular charm, architectural integrity and nostalgia. The railway system once buzzed with life was the main means of transport for the inhabitants of these villages. Railway stations architectural centerpieces are the stations at Liontari (the old one and also the newer one), Megalopoli, Chranoi, Anemodouri, Isaris, Anthochori, Tripotamos, Paradeisia but also the rail bridges, truly works of wonder for their time, such as the six arch bridge at Chranoi and the rail bridge at Anemodouri.
These are only some of our choices that we recommend you visit while exploring the wider region of Megalopoli. Find out much more on the pages of Exploring Greece.
[TID:23428]: https://www.exploring-greece.gr/en/show/23428 "Ano Karyes " [TID:23435]: https://www.exploring-greece.gr/en/show/23435 "Summit of Mount Lykaion " [TID:23428]: https://www.exploring-greece.gr/en/show/23428 "Ano Karyes "