Dimitsana – History, sights and attractions
A town, a legend, history itself…
Dimitsana is the capital of Gortys municipality in the district of Arcadia. It is built on the west slopes of Mt Mainalon, almost in the center of Peloponnese. Situated at an altitude of 1.000 meters, over the Lousios river Gorge.
History of Dimitsana
The historical roots of Dimitsana can be traced to the ancient town of Tefthis. Some of the most important accounts of Tefthis can be found in the writings of the great traveler and geographer Pausanias. He visited the town in 174 AC and included this visit in his “Arcadian” writings. Archaeological findings in the area confirm that Tefthis was a large walled city with an acropolis that grew to its full strength mainly in the classical and hellenistic years.
The name “Dimitsana” is much more recent and possibly of Slav origin. Slav groups arrived in Peloponnese between the 7th and the 9th century. The earliest mention of the name is found in a manuscript of 967 concerning the Philosophos Monastery.
From the 16th century on, Dimitsana experienced rapid growth (Concealed School- Philosophos Monastery School and Dimitsana College). From these faculties graduated innumerable scholars, priests and schoolteachers. At the same time crafts, manufacturing and trade were also on the rise (floor and water mills and tanneries).
In the Revolution of 1821, Dimitsana played a key role as ammunition supplier with its gunpowder mills working night and day in order to supply the Greek front. After the war and the Constitution of the Greek State, Dimitsana enjoyed its status as the financial and trading centre of the region. In the beginning of the 20th century the population reached a peak of 2500. It was only after 1950 that this figure started to fall as a result of immigration.
Dimitsana has been characterized as a “traditional settlement” protected by the Ministry of Culture. This factor as well as careful investment activity from locals has made it one of the most popular destinations since the 1980s. At this time there at least 15 accommodation businesses (hotels and rooms) and plenty of choices for restaurants and cafes.
In recent years, apart from a winter destination, Dimitsana is also an alternative summer choice for foreign tourists. Its history and architecture, the monasteries and the paths of Lousios river, nowadays attract visitors from any place in the world.
Dimitsana sights and attractions
Dimitsana and the surrounding area boast of the rare beauty of the natural environment along with many sights and attractions. Monasteries, churches, museums, stone-built arched bridges and archaeological sites.
The Open-Air Water Power Museum
This open air museum is the only one of its kind in the Balkans. On site the visitor can find remnants of the pre-industrial period, water powered mills, tanneries and gun powder mill.
The Lousios River Gorge
The River Lousios in mythology is reputed to be the place where Zeus – the ruler of Gods- had his first bath. This gorge is protected by the Ministry of Culture as a place of cultural and archaeological significance and rare beauty. For many years now, it’s a popular choice for hikers and nature lovers.
The main trail that goes through the Lousios Gorge is a moderate difficulty trail. Its length is about 10km and it lasts about 5 hours to walk it, counting also some stops in the monasteries. The basic trailhead is in the area of Ancient Gortys and it ends up to Dimitsana village. On your way you will meet Prodromos Monastery, Old Filosofos Monastery and the New Filosofos Monastery. As you come closer to Dimitsana there is a choice to follow a trail towards the Open Air Water Power Museum.
If there is a lack of time or stamina a good idea is walking just the part between Prodromos and Filosofos Monasteries.
Lousios trail now is also a part of the new Menalon Trail which has a length of 73km. It starts in Stemnitsa village, then passes Dimitsana, Zigovisti, Elati, Vytina, Magouliana, Valtessiniko and finally ends in Lagadia.
The Philosophos Monastery
Built precariously close to the edge and protected by the Lousios Gorge, the Old Philosophos Monastery was founded sometime in the mid 10th century. In 1691 the New Philosophos Monastery was founded and it was this monastery’s “Concealed School” that became one of the most famous for the resistance fighting.
The Prodromos Monastery
On the way to Ancient Gortys amid dense vegetation and virtually hanging on a cliff is the Monastery of John Prodromos. It was founded in the 16th century and was often used as a hiding place, supply centre and hospital for the resistance fighters during the Revolution.
The Ancient Gortys
Following river Lousios further downstream one can find the ruins of the town of Ancient Gortys which was built on the right bank. This settlement knew great growth from the Archaic period up until the Hellenistic era. Visitors today can walk around the ruins of the Temple of Asklipios and the healing spa baths that operated there.
The Aimialon Monastery
Founded at the end of the 16th century, this monastery is built on an impressive rocky expanse above the river Zygovistinorema, a tributary of Lousios.
The Linos (wine-press) of Kolokotronis family
Near Aimialon Monastery is the old wine-press commemorating the heroic deaths of Theodoros Kolokotronis’ family. Theodoros Kolokotronis was a great leader of the resistance against the Ottomans during the Revolution.
The Public Library and Museum of Dimitsana Hellenic College (Local Historical Archives)
On St. Kiriakis square one can visit the Public Library in the building which had previously housed the Dimitsana Hellenic College (1764). There visitors can admire the rare manuscripts and publications, the archaeological and folk art collection.
Other sites warth visiting
Walking around the paved narrow streets it’s worth visiting the house of the Patriarch Grigorios V, where the Ecclesiastical Museum houses its collection. But also the house of Paleon Patron Germanos, which has been renovated.
Next to St Kiriakis church stands the famous Dimitsana Clock, a donation of the Dimitsanian community of New York. The mechanism and the bell were sent over around 1900-1910. In 1934 marble sculptors from Tinos island joined local workers in completing this uniquely beautiful monument.
Another site worth stopping at is the ‘Mikis Theodorakis’ stone amphitheatre which is just outside Dimitsana, on the road to Stemnitsa. A bit further down one can admire the Dimitsana High School building and the Paleon Patron Germanos sculpture.
There are plenty of opportunities for daily excursions in the nearby villages. Some are Zigovisti, Zatouna (Mikis Theodorakis Museum), Paleohori (also known as ‘Dimitsana’s orchard’), the traditional settlement of Stemnitsa, Karkalou and Lagadia.
Seasonal – Cultural Events
An ideal destination for any time of the year
For those seeking alternative forms of tourism (adventure, cultural, ecotourism) Dimitsana and the surrounding area offer various options, like skiing (Mainalon and Helmos ski resorts), trekking, mountain bike, rafting, canyon kayak, parapent etc.
There is always something going on in Dimitsana according to the season. During the Carnival season (February-March) one can always find festivals with traditional dancing, food and good wine. Easter is also a festive season celebrated with the roasting of lambs on Dimitsana’s main square. During the summer the Municipality organizes a variety of cultural events. Most of them take place on the Mikis Theodorakis stone amphitheatre usually between the 1st and 20th of August.