Text: Rev. George Petris
Cynuria is a part of the Peloponnese, which bears centuries of tradition, a place with its own grace and beauty, bathed by the light blue waters of the Argolic Gulf and surrounded by the dark green landscape. A place studded with memories, monuments, and works by souls inspired by God, blessed ancestors. Hospitable monastic societies, hives of a different way of life, await to offer peace and joy to the visitor. Small monasteries with partially collapsed cells, chapels and church ruins, martyrs of long passed glory, holy lands, which bless and comfort every pious soul.
Below, reference will be made to each one. There are of course other arenas of holiness, as well as exquisite churches scattered throughout each parish, Leonidio, Prastos (of which no mention has been made), Kastanitsa etc. Anyone interested can obtain information from the local authorities of Cynuria.
1.Monastery of Ayios Nikolaos (St Nicholas) �Sintza�
The monastery of Sintza (fig tree), perched on the red cliffs SW of Leonidio seems unapproachable. Among the huge cliffs, the visitor can see the snow-white cells, the domed cross-in-square katholikon1 with the carved iconostasis and the icons dating back from 1650. The first written evidence of the history of the monastery dates back from 1628. Today it is a nunnery. The nuns will usually be found at the monastery dependency St Haralambos, a small distance from Leonidio on the road towards the parent monastery.
2.Nunnery of Our Lady of Elona (Despina a 'Eona, in Tsakonian)
At a sharp turn in the asphalt paved road from Lenidio towards Kosmas at about the 17th km, through the gorge, the Nunnery of Our Lady comes into view as white as snow, perched high on the red, cavernous cliff, like an eagle nest provoking awe and admiration. The gate is easily approached by car, although one should cautiously descend the rock-hewn steps down cliff. To the left and right, the visitor is greeted by old, well preserved, orderly buildings. In front is the katholikon, a small basilica without wall paintings but full of offerings to the holy icon of Our Lady. The iconostasis is carved with exquisite skill. In the sanctuary there are glass showcases containing ecclesiastical treasures. From the small open space, the nuns� devout hands offer visitors Turkish delights, coffee, and the opportunity to admire the wild scenic view of the rugged landscape. The history of the nunnery is confirmed by written evidence dating back to about 1700.
3. Ayios Yeorgios �Dromeas�
It is one of the small ruined monasteries of S Cynuria, which can be found W of Kosmas towards Palaiochori, in an opening on the fir-covered slopes of Mt. Parnon. The only part standing is the katholikon, a basilica with a pitched roof and an apse in the sanctuary. In a modern inscription, one can read that the monastery was founded in 1592 and abandoned in 1843.
4. Monastery of the Archangel of Mouria (mulberry tree)
Half way from Palaiochori to Ayio Vassileios on a tree covered slope we can make out the ruins of the stronghold of the Monastery of the Archangel. The church, as is characteristic of many others found in Cynuria and other places, is an octagonal, domed, cruciform single-aisled structure. There are wall paintings, presumably damaged by the fire set by Ibrahim (Pasha). Written evidence exists dating from 1744 to 1834, when it is abandoned. Two bishops of the successive Metropolis of �Reondos Prastou�, Iakovos and Dionysios, are involved in the life of the monastery, an example of its role in the Cynurian life of the period.
5. The Monastery of Palaiopanayias Glyppias
The monastery a ruined structure with an upright katholikon, which is a basilica with an apse in the sanctuary, and the adjacent very high tower, is found on the road from Ayios Vassileios towards Platanaki, on the ruins of the ancient castle of the city of Glyppia. It is a place of intense ancient Greek presence, blessed by the toil of holy souls from 1806 to 1831, when it is abandoned.
6. Ayios Yeorgios (St. George) � The monastery dependency of the Monastery of Karyas � Tyros
This is an old, orderly dependency belonging to the Monastery of Karyas in Tyros, which functions in order to serve the monks and the cultivation of its fields. It is a snow�white, two-storey building with a long narrow basilica recently repaired. It is surrounded to the west by inaccessible cliffs, which open up further ahead, and provide a view of the Argolic Gulf and Spetses.
7. Ayios Yeorgios (St. George) of Endyssenas
The small monastery which can be found 7 km from Ayios Andreas cannot easily be seen from a distance since it is situated for safety purposes in a ravine of gigantic plane trees which offer shade and cool water. The monastery cells are ruinous. The church has been repaired with a pitched tiled roof and an apse in the sanctuary. Written evidence exists from 1792 up to 1833, when it is abandoned.
8. The Monastery Dependency of the Annunciation
To the E of Ayios Andreas at a distance of 1.5 km, the tower of the dependency of the Nunnery of Our Lady �Orthokosta� or �Artokosta� can be found. There are old buildings, some of which wholly preserve their original form whereas others are in ruins. The devout small church, dedicated to the Annunciation, is small and full of blackened wall paintings, an ideal place for prayers to Our Lady. The tall ageless tower, with the small iron door, the loopholes, the machicolations and windows overlooks the whole area. Plaques on the walls inform us that the abbot Isaiah renovated the monastery and the tower during 1714-15. In the winter it accommodates nuns of the Nunnery of Our Lady �Orthokosta�.
9. Nunnery of Our Lady �Orthokosta� or �Artokosta�
The nunnery �Artokosta� is the most ancient monastic centre of Tsakonia, one of the most important in Cynuria. It is situated on the road Ayios Andreas � Prastos. Just before the nunnery, to the right, in the gorge one can make out the ruins of the old monastery of �Kato Panayia� as it is referred to, a structure of the 12th century. Here was the icon of Our Lady �Artokosta�, a work, according to tradition, of the Evangelist Loukas. The icon, which bore dedications on its silver casing by Ioannis Katakouzinos 1380, and of the emperor Ioannis (John) VIII Palaiologos, is now found in Italy.
As we continue along the road through the cypresses, the modern, snow-white nunnery comes into view. The large, impressive nunnery, which is a complete monastic complex, was founded in 1617. Various successive structures, upper floors, basements, small towers, porches that worship the katholikon in the centre, surround it. The katholikon is of the domed cruciform type. The iconostasis is simple with icons of the most exquisite workmanship. In the sanctuary, ecclesiastical treasures and relics are preserved. On the floor of the church, there are many inscriptions that inform the visitor of the past, whereas in the library, there are significant documents and patriarchal sigils of the 18th century. In 1826, the nunnery was burned down by Ibrahim. The existing katholikon was erected in 1865 by masons from Leonidio.
It became a nunnery in 1982. The hospitable nuns, the cool surroundings and the crystal water of the well offer true relief to the weary visitor, as well as an unforgettable pilgrimage.
10. Monastery of Ayios Dhimitrios (Reontino)
Hidden in the gullies after the nunnery of Our Lady �Orthokosta� lies the old monastery of Ayios Dhimitrios (St Demetrius) �Reontinou�. The church is single naved, of the domed cross-in-square type and is covered with slate. Its wall paintings (1698) and the beautifully carved iconostasis bear witness to its past glory. The monastery flourished during the 18th century and was abandoned in 1834, as is the case with most of the small Cynurian monasteries. The monastery, which is a true hermitage in nature, is presently a dependency of the nunnery of �Artokosta�.
11. Ayios Ioannis (St John) the Baptist (eglistouri)
Enclosed in the gigantic cliff on the road leading from Ayios Andreas to Prastos is the snow-white church of St John the Baptist and the adjoining house-cell. The buildings of the hermitage have been externally repaired. The church preserves its wall paintings of the early18th century, which are of good technique, and follow the Cretan manner. It was abandoned in 1834.
12. Monastery of Ayios Nikolaos (St Nicholas) of Karya
The monastery of Ayios Nikolaos of �Karya� is found after the nunnery of �Artokosta�, on the left of the road to Prastos and near the medieval castle of �Orionta�. Its form reminds us of a typical monastery of Mount Athos, unique to the whole of monastic Cynuria. It is surrounded by cells and other auxiliary structures covered with slate from Mt Malevos. The covered balconies bow towards the katholikon which belongs to the tri-apsidal or Mount Athos architectural type. Inside it is full of wall paintings by Yeorgios Moschou (1638), a magnificent carved iconostasis and relics, which are found in the sanctuary. In the centre, the well-preserved double-headed eagle is visible (1734). The monastery is open throughout most of the year.
13. Monastery of Ayios Nikolaos (St Nicholas) � �Panteleimon Kontolinas�
A chapel of the beautiful mountainous village of Kastanitsa which in former times was the monastery of Ayios Nikolaos and Panteleimon Kontominas. It is logged in a scrub of a densely wooded area consisting of chestnut and fir. The only remaining structure is the church although not in its original state with its few wall paintings executed by Kyriakos Koulidas (1767). Its history is recorded between 1628 and 1834 when it is abandoned.
14. Loukous Nunnery
It is found on the road leading from Astros � Tripolis, four kilometres from Astros. Concerning its name �Loukou� there are many opinions, but one of the main ones is that it is derived from the Latin word 'Lucus' (= sacred grove with prey). It is built in a position with a panoramic view of the plain of Thyrea and the Argolic Gulf, next to the archaeological site of Eva.
The nunnery is surrounded by buildings with a small tower and cells. The church, dedicated to the Transfiguration, is of the domed cross-in-square type. It is of the 12th century with a remarkable reddish external appearance, based on a Christian church of the 5th century. It is four columned with a tessellated marble floor and wall paintings dating from the beginning of the 17th century when it flourished. Marble sculptures and architectural members built into the outer walls of the katholikon, as well as on the other monastery buildings, can easily be distinguished.
15. Monastery of the Dormition of Our Lady �Palaiopanayia�
The monastery of Our Lady, formerly known as Our Lady of Mercy is found on the first bends of the road Astros � Ayios Petros, to the left of the gorges of the opposite mountain side. The monastery itself retains its original character and is presently a nunnery. The church is a cross-in-square structure with four columns and an octagonal dome. It is a work of 1814. The first historic mention is in 1612 although others consider it to date from 1310.
16. The Holy Trinity of Meligou
The monastery of the Holy Trinity is to the left of the road Astros-Ayios Petros just after the archaeological site of �Elliniko�. It is a forgotten monasterial Cynurian structure. The levelled surrounding structures allow the massive church to appear from its hiding place. On the external tympanum of the dome, beautiful ceramic decorations and fragments of relief representations can be seen. Inside there is a tall dome that is supported on four piers and decorated with vernacular wall paintings of the 18th century. The monastery flourished in the 18th century and was abandoned in 1834. It is celebrated on Monday of the Pentecost (WHITSUNDAY) a celebration of the Holy Spirit.
17. Ayios Ioannis Theologos (the Theologian)
On the right of the provincial road from Astros to Ayios Petros, just before the settlement of �Handakia� the monastery of Ayios Ioannis the Theologian is located. The small surviving katholikon that remains standing among the levelled ruins is of the domed cross-in-square type. Inside one is impressed by the expressive secular wall paintings (1754) by the priest Koulida and his son from Ayios Ioannis. The monastery flourished during the end of the 18th century and was abandoned in 1834.
18. The Malevi Nunnery
It is built on the road leading from Astros to Ayios Petros surprising the passer-by, as it appears snow-white through the wood of cedars. It is the best known nunnery in Cynuria and attracts scores of pilgrims. The katholikon is a small, single naved, domed, cross-in square structure. What stands out in the whole nunnery is the newly built, very beautiful and ornate church of Our Lady. A unique treasure is the icon of Our Lady dating back to presumably 1360 as is said. During its history from the 17th century it experienced many catastrophes and subsequent restorations and played an important part in the Greek War of Independence.
19. Nunnery of Ayios Ioannis the Baptist
The nunnery is found near the village Perdikovrissi of Kastri in a landscape of particular natural beauty. Due to its inaccessible position, amid steep rocks, it was used as a base of operations against Ibrahim as well as a refuge from his raids. A later inscription informs the visitor of the nunnery�s historic presence, which begins in 1126. In other inscriptions, it appears to have been restored during the 18th century. The nunnery, which flourishes and still functions today, is dedicated to St. John the Baptist (the True Forerunner) and is celebrated on 29 August.