Stemnitsa, Overview of my Greek Village

STEMNITSA - An Overview

Stemnitsa is located 220 kilometers (apprx.137 miles) from the capital of Greece, Athens, in Peloponnesos, the most southern tip of the Balkan mountain range, in the southern part of Greece, in the province of Arcadia, County of Gortynias. Stemnitsa is nested in the mountain range of Mainalon (1050 meter eleva- tion). It is located 45 kilometers south-west of the capital of Arcadia, Tripolis.From Tripolis one could drive to Stemnitsa from two different ways, one via the tourist town of Vytina and the historic village of Dimitsana (8 km away from Stemnitsa), or through the mountain of Mainalon. Either route will reward the traveler with beautiful views of the Arcadian country side.

Mainalon is the fir-tree forest where the mythical creature Pan, half man half goat, played his flute and chased the forest nymphs with amorous intentions.Here Artemis hunted deer and bathed in crystal clear mountain steams. Apparently among its bird varieties the nightingale impressed a french poet to describe "Les rossignol de l' Arcadie" ( The nightingales of Arcadia)

On the 2nd century A.D., Pausanias, from Magnisia of Asia Minor, who was travelling in Greece, describes in his "Arcadian" stories that Hypsous (Stemnitsa's other name) was located at the foot of Mount Hypsous. According to Pausanias, the area between Hypsous and Thyraiou (Syrna) was very mountainous and dangerous due to wild animals.

According to one of the many stories, the Pelasgian king of Arcadia, Lykaonas built the village in honor of his son Ypsountas. During 746 A.D. the Black Plague killed many of the inhabitants of Peloponnesos and in an effort to increase its population the emperor of Constantinople, Konstantin E., decided to permit Slavs to migrate there. That is how the subsequent name of the village "Stemnitsa" came into being meaning a thick forest shaded with tall trees.

After the overthrow of the Franks in 1430 Stemnitsa was inhabited by a number of renown individuals, as indicated by inscriptions found on the walls of Zoodohos Peegee, a Byzantine chapel built 1433. The first mention, some say, of the word Stemnitsa, was found in Turkish taxation documents dated 1512-1515 where the number of families appeared to be about 120.This information was found and published by professor John Alexandropoulos. In the Grimani Venitian Census report Stemnitsa was shown as the most populous village in Gortynia with 925 people.

By the large number of churches built there and from other descriptions one can deduce that Stemnitsa was a significant village. According to some stories there were once seven parishes, each with its own priest and church. Today one can see many small Byzantine churches some still in a relatively good condition, despite the lack of any serious effort by anyone for their proper maintenance. The church of Bafero was built in 1185, the Zoodohos in 1433. The two larger ones are Ai-Giorgis and and St. Paraskevi. Currently the one priest there holds services on alternate Sundays in those two larger churches.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the village, due to its location surrounded by mountains, and having abundant spring waters and being away from larger villages, served as a relatively safe heaven from the invading armies of the Turks.

According to some, during the first years of the 2nd Venetian occupation of Peloponnesos 1685-1715, a small neighborhood was built in the location today called Kastro (i.e. fort). This is the time where, it is speculated, that a sizeable library was created. These manuscripts and books were subsequently destroyed when they were used to make gun-powder supplies during the 1821 war of independence.. Others show the cistern ouside the church of Bafero and they describe how the manuscripts and books were hidden there to save them from the invators and were damaged due to humidity.

Stemnitsa served as the seat of the 1st Peloponnesian Government, for about a couple of months. The small "keli" monasteri cell, still stands there next to the church of Panagia Chrysopege. In 1836 the township of Hypsous was created, later in 1841 renamed Trikolonon. Because the area is very infertile forced its inhabitants to put their brains to work "evalan to mualo na kopsi". Soon many developed into skilled artisans of iron, copper, bronze, brass, gold, silver, producing church bells, church utensils, shotguns, etc. They excelled in the art of crafting jewelry using silver and gold Jewelers from Stemnitsa can be found everywhere around the world.

The Greek government recognizing Stemnitsa's contribution as a center for the development of metallic art established a public fund supported school where young adults can go to learn to make jewelry from silver and gold.Currently about 20-30 students are trained there every two years, tuition free. They come mainly from the surrounding areas but they are free to come from anywhere in Greece.

Master Lambis Katsoulis "the Stemnitsiotis Phidias of silver and gold" returned to Stemnitsa after many years of running a successful jewelry shop in Athens, "because I love Stemnitsa" he used to tell me, and became instrumental for reviving and propagating the art of jewelry making. "O Barba Lambis" was capable of looking at a drawing or a photo of an old coin and carving its mirror image on a piece of metal, "the Mytra". This "mytra" then became the"stamp" where thin pieces of silver or gold could be pressed to produce the now famous "Constantinata"depicting holy images in the form of small coins. "O Barba Lambis" was the first to direct this school. This was his gift of love to the Stemnitsa he loved so much... He was such a graphic character! He indeed was a national "Treasure"!

At least three of the original graduates of the Silver & Gold jewelry making school have established very nice Jewelry stores in Stemnitsa: Voula Gyftopoulou, in 1984, took over Barba Lambis's workshop. She worked with him for a number of years until he retired.Two more graduates: Athanasios Asimakopoulos and Sophia Benopoulou Sarakiniotis opened Jewelry Stores later on. Voula Gyfropoulou told me that in addition to Master Lambis another teacher by the name Aristidis Lafogiannis taught the students how to make icons of gold and silver.

During the years of Turkish invasion of Greece, Stemnitsa was a shelter for the heroic revolutionary family of Kolokotronis and others. After the revolution of March 25, 1821, from the end of May to mid of June 1821, served as the first seat of the "Peloponissiaki Gerousia" (temporary Peloponnisian government) of the liberated Peloponnese. The Gerousia met at the "keli" (monks room) of the small monastery of Zoodohos Pege.

During Turkocracy, Stemnitsa contributed Anthony Pelopidas to the effort of the "Filiki Etairia" (The company of Friends) an organization of patriots dedicating their lives to the overthrow of the Turkish invaders. Another Stemnitsiotis, Alexadropoulos was confused by the Turks to be Alexandros Ypsilandis a major figure in the Filiki Etairia.

In April 1996 the Pan-European Council of Silver and Gold was held in Stemnitsa. In more recent times many Stemnitsiotes excelled all aspects of social life giving birth to industrious and educated individuals. A son of Stemnitsa, Dimitrios Thanopoulos, won a silver medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. His father, the late Kostas Thanopoulos, an ex-wrestler himself, was one of my best friends.... Another silver metal Olympian from Stemnitsa, in the 1956 Australian Olympics, (I think) was Roumbanis. It is beyond description the pride I feel that my little village gave birth to these individuals. I hope one of these days the local officials recognize this tremendous pride and devote a Plaque with their names and it should be placed at both entrances to the village declaring that Stemnitsa is their birthplace. In ancient Greece these individuals were practically deified.

There are a number of PhDs from Stemnitsa, and other highly educated professionals currently teaching in American Universities or excelling in the bussiness world. Stemnitsa also has many scientists and professionals, excelling in various aspects of life in Greece.

In 1995 Stemnitsa was made into a township "Demos Trikolonon" having responsibility for official business concerning the surrounding villages of Syrna, Pavlia, Palamari and Ellinikon.

Nearby,7 kilometers from Stemnitsa, down by the ravine of the river "Lousios" where Zeus used to bathe, one can find the holy monastery of St. John the Forerunner (Prodromos) built, according to some sources, around 1167, on the side of the mountain rock and it appears to be hanging there as an eagle's nest. Built in such an out-of-the way place it served as a center of faith and education for the enslaved Greeks during the Turkocracy. Since 1960 one can drive to about 800 yards from the monastery. Later on road ways were built to make the monastery accessible from the neighboring villages of Dimitsana, and Ellinikon. This easy access to the monastery, some would say, has destroyed the essence of the monastery, that of being a place of silence for prayer. About 200 yards below the monastery, is the river Lousios with its roaring crystal clear waters. Near the monastery are the excavations of an ancient hospital built in honor of the god of medicine, Asklipeios.

One can find a very impressive museum of Folk Art in Stemnitsa. Although it is now governed by a 7 member committee it was primarily established through the tireless effort of Mr. John Savopoulos and his wife Irine, seen here during my video interview in August 1989 by the front entrance of the museum.

A number of people from the village have volunteered in all aspects of its existence and operation. On the first floor one can find a room showing how candles were made. Another small area depicts a jeweler's workshop, a shoe repair shop, a copper tinning representation, etc.On its second floor there is a representation of the inside of a Stemnitsa house, having every room furnished as it was customary in the past. On the third floor is a very extensive selection with Byzantine icons, old costumes, copper- ware, guns, jewelry, etc. This museum was designed, as I was told, by the same artist who designed the famous museum in Athens the "Kythatheneon"

An organization called "Patriotikos Syndesmos" composed of tireless individuals residing all over Greece, but having their roots in Stemnitsa, they strive, and are greatly succeeding, to put Stemnitsa "on the map", as we say in America. Through their efforts there was for many years a beautiful tourist hotel with extremely clean rooms, fantastic cuisine and at reasonable prices, called TO TRIKOLONION. However, due to extenuating circumstances which are, at least, beyond my understanding, it was "rented" for twenty-eight years to a European company. It was renamed "COUNTRY CLUB TRIKOLONION". and it was priced mostly for the use of affluent individuals... However, in 2005 I was informed that "locals" are accorded much lower prices. The ex-king of Greece Konstantine and many of his relatives, spent Easter 2005 in Stemnitsa's Country Club.

One can find fresh bread and other delicious bakery goods made daily by the local bakery "fournos" and a variety of commodities necessary for a very pleasant stay. Every week travelling vendors visit Stemnitsa with fresh produce, fish, textiles,etc. There is a daily bus which goes to Tripolis, or one could hire the local taxi for trips from Stemnitsa to Athens, etc.

Another organization which is also very responsible for the beautification of Stemnitsa is the Cultural and Beautification Organization Politistikos kai Exoraistikos Syllogos Stemnitsioton "Ypsountas". This group of "patriotes" was headed for many years by the visionary Basili Papaxeimona and has beautified every corner of Stemnitsa with rebuilt or repaired fountains, bridges, walkways, etc. This organization is also in charge, I believe, of the local cultural center "The Nikoletopouleion" and of organizing a number of other events which take place during the year, but mainly during the months of July and August.

The new "Demos" (Municipality or Township) is blessed with very energetic and driving individuals, striving to maintain the character of the architecture and enhance living conditions. Stemnitsa is and will be surging ahead under their guidance. Mr. Giorgos Gianni Baroutsas has served, for a number of elective terms, as Mayor of the municipality of "Trikolonon" and is indeed responsible for many many enhancements, of Stemnitsa in particular and the other villages of the township, in general.

During the summer months a number of families are vacationing there. Stemnitsa at an elevation 1050 meters, at the village square, is a fantastic place to spend the hot summer months. One needs a sweater and jacket in the afternoons and evenings even in July and August.... The best time to visit is between June and the end of September. If you are from Stemnitsa but have not visited there for many years the best time to go there is around the 15th of August. On this day I have met friends that I have not seen for many years. During the rest of the year about 100 or less families live there.

Stemnitsa, as many other small Greek towns in the country-side and unfortunately lacks the means for providing a living. It would seem that Greece is Athens. The Country-side is forgotten by the Government. Often not well-thought actions have resulted in ecological disasters. The improper installation, or lack thereof, of sewers, has resulted in the pollution of some of the graphic "spring water fountains" . The various Greek governments have not devoted any time to plan for the development of the small towns which are empty of youth and future. Two thirds of the nations' population seems to reside either in Athens, or Salonika. This is a big problem that the nation has to resolve sooner or later because Athens is quickly becoming a nightmare of congestion and pollution and the country-side is dying. Another national crime which is gaining momemntum is the devouring of Greek land and property by the Europeans, the disappearing Greek Language and music.....

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If you need more information about Stemnitsa feel free to call us: Kosmas Geo. "Mikis" or Diana Synadinos, at (614) 476-0678, or via the Internet,

e-mail for Kosmas "Mikis" Geo. Synadinos

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