The Lousios Gorge has been inhabited for centuries by hermits in caves and monks. Two monasteries remain open to visitors, Philosophou and Prodromo. Pausanias described the Lousios as the place where Zeus was bathed as an infant. Lousios in Greek means “wash”. He claimed it was the coldest river in the world. It flows through an impressive gorge, with red limestone cliffs, rising to 100m above the river.
The plant life in early spring is spectacular. The river’s power was harnessed by watermills up to the 20th century. The cliffs provide home to hermits and monks in caves and cliffs hugging monasteries. The gorge is accessible with dirt roads. It is still mostly reachable by paths. The Lousios Gorge epitomizes an Arcadian dream of peace and contentment with Nature. Stemnitsa and Dimitsana are beautiful Arcadian mountain settlements above the gorge.1
Leaving the parking lot at the Gortynia parking lot, windmills are seen. The hiker first comes across the Church of St. Andreas. It has wall paintings of Angels that are similar to Mystra. The church was built upon the ruins of a large Roman building that was constructed on an ancient Greek building. St. Andrea’s origin is not known exactly. In a church book, it is written that it began in 1587 or the 11th century. The church belongs to the jurisdiction of the Monastery of Prodromou.2
As a person continues hiking, the 4th century ruins of Gortys appear. It was a healing center with a bath house. A circular construction was a dry sauna. The city walls are on the hills above.
“The area around the Lousios is rich in monasteries. They remained isolated and unmolested during centuries of war. The first inhabitants were probably hermits, who used the caves as shelter. Over time the hermits formed the modern day monasteries. They are living communities, not museums that stretch back to the Middle Ages.
“The Philosophou monastery is widely known all over Greece and abroad. During the Ottoman period, it had a famous School, from which came eminent men. The Philosophou’s Monastery is located 4,000 m, approximately south of Dimitsana. It has built on the roots of a tall cliff, 200 meters above the bed of the Lousios Gorge. Below is a deep ravine formed by river erosion. Lush vegetation and rare natural beauty are seen. A little further south is the Prodromou Monastery operating today, at the root of a tall cliff with a panoramic view. This excellent location was chosen for old monastic practice.
The location was chosen by John Lampardopoulos of Dimitsana, chief secretary of Emperor Nicephorus Fokas. He became a monk at the end of his life. He was an excellent, educated philosopher. In 964 A.D, he founded the monastery under a patriarchal sigillium (jurisdiction). The sigillium survives in the Dimitsana library. Exact copies are certified by Patriarch Kirill in 1624. The hermitage is one of the first cross-type churches with beautiful murals.
The monastery is called today Old Philosophou and Secret School. The first name is because the founder was probably a professor of philosophy in Istanbul or scholar monk. The second name “Secret School” because according to tradition a Greek school operated during the Ottoman period.
Many of the bishops and the Teachers were educated in this glorious monastery. Historians view it as a spiritual hotbed of enslaved Hellenism. Seven Patriarchs, including the martyred Patriarch Gregory V and seventy bishops were educated here. Many educated Hellenes became teachers, preachers, clerics and etc.
The School of the Monastery Philosophou was equipped with a rich collection of books and manuscripts. Written documents were transferred to the Dimitsana School. Many documents were destroyed during the upheaval of the 1821 Revolution and the dissolution of the monastery in 1834. Two important 12th century manuscripts, the complete works of M. Kingdom and the Gospel of Vlachomanoli, in which the secret organization, “Filiki Eteria” swore their oaths survive in the National Library of Greece in Athens.
Until 1691 the monastery Philosophou continued to flourish and to illuminate the enslaved people with Hellenic education, because of its remote location. In time the monastery acquired wealth by property donated by believers. This is the “Old Philosophou” Monastery.
At that time the Venetians ruled the Peloponnese. They were allowed more freedom to build churches. The “New Philosophou” monastery was founded, about 300 meters north of the old in the year 1691, under abbot Anthimos. The new temple is shaped in a cruciform basilica supported by four domes. The imagery is magnificent and breathtaking. The wooden iconostasis is elegant.
A hostel was built opposite the new temple for the needs of teachers and students. The School of “Old Philosophou” was transferred here in 1691, operating till 1794. The new School of Dimitsana was established continuing Hellenic education in 1691. Here, the School continued to function until 1764 continuing the glorious tradition.
The School Dimitsana was founded in 1764 by the Dimitsana monks Gerasimos Gouna and Agapios Leonardos. They were educated in Smyrna, basing their curriculum on these schools. During this period the schools of the enslaved Greeks increased…….poor students had free tuition. In 1816 the monastery of Neo Philosophou united with Dimitsana School to strengthen the income of the monastery. Patriarchal letters from Bishop Germanos of Patras and Patriarch Gregory E of Constantinople supported the school. Meanwhile, Neo Philosophou declined, with the lack of monks. In 1834 it was closed and property was sold to the church fund.”4 The Neo Philosophou has resumed an active life as a monastery in 2000 with 11 followers. It is a highly travelled tourist spot. The resumption of the monastery’s religious life shows the historical importance of perpetuating the religious life of an exceptional monastery.”5
The monastery of Prodromou, dedicated to John the Baptist, is the most visually stunning with its stone building and wooden balconies overhanging the cliffside. Its foundation dates back to 1167. It was originally a rich establishment. The monastery was accidentally dissolved in 1834. All it relics and records were carted off in 16 mules. The monks rebuilt the monastery’s wealth through hard work, building mills and keeping livestock. The church is dug into the Cliffside with 16th century frescoes and balconies. The old wooden door that leads into the monastery is riddled with bullet holes that bear witness to the April 16, 1779 attack by Albanian troops under the Ottoman command. At the time, the monastery was full of women and children, but for some unknown reasons the attack failed.6
Spring is the best time to appreciate the natural beauty and extraordinary monasteries of the Lousios Gorge. The photos of the Lousios Gorge were provided by Despina Siolas, Md. /Ph.D. Dr. John G. Siolas research was based on primary Greek documents.
- Bostock, Andrew, “Greece: The Peloponnese”, (Bradt Travel Guides Ltd: UK, 2013), p. 191.
- Theoharis, Giorgios Pan., “Moni Philosophou, Krifo Scholio”, (Giorgios Pan Theoharis Publication, Athens ,2000), p. 50.
- Siolas, John G., Ph.D., “MONI PHILOSOPHOU AND THE SCHOOL OF DIMITSANAS”.
- Theoharis, Giorgios Pan., “Moni Philosophou, Krifo Scholio”, (Giorgios Pan Theoharis Publication, Athens ,2000), prologue.
- Bostock, Andrew, “Greece: The Peloponnese”, (Bradt Travel Guides Ltd: UK, 2013), p. 194-95.