Off the beaten track in the Northern Peloponnese, part 2

In the first part of our journey in northern Peloponnese, we had arrived at Mantineia, where the ancient ruins combined with the breathtaking scenery offered us an enchanting journey through the millennia. In this second part, we continue on winding roads through the magical plateau.

Northern Peloponnese: the magical plateau of Mantineia
Magical Mantineia

A remarkable sanctuary

In the heart of the mountain plateau lies a unique building with rather unusual architecture: the chapel of Agia Foteini, built during the 1970s. Its fascinating blend of Byzantine elements, ancient Greek architecture, and some modernist features makes it stand out as an odd monument in the middle of the high plateau.

Agia Foteini in Mantineia, exterior
The unique church of Agia Foteini, a fascinating mix of Byzantine, ancient Greek, and modernist elements, is located in the heart of Mantineia.
Agia Foteini in Mantineia, interior

The church was constructed using only recycled materials, which was unusual at the time it was built. The architect who led the work, Kostas Papatheodorou, considered this his life’s work and carefully oversaw every small detail.

Inside the church, there are icons and mosaics with motifs from both Christianity and Greek mythology. Here, saints are depicted as resembling ancient philosophers. Even the depictions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary have been given a more modern style than is customary in Orthodox iconography.

The Greek Church initially opposed these interventions, but the small church was eventually approved as an Orthodox temple. Today, Agia Foteini is a popular place for weddings and baptisms, appreciated for its unique architectural style and significant cultural value.

Kapsia Cave, a natural art gallery

After leaving the peculiar little church, we continue our journey through the mountain plateau of Mantineia, arriving at the relatively unknown Kapsia Cave. It is ranked as one of the ten most impressive caves in Greece and is admired for its unique and colorful stalactites and stalagmites. The cave system was discovered in 1887 by the French archaeologist Gustave Fougères and has since become a significant site for speleological research.

Stalactites of the Kapsia Cave
The unique stalactites of Kapsia Cave

The “Hall of Miracles” is particularly notable for its fantastic formations in strong red, yellow, and blue hues.

The Hall of Miracles in Kapsia Cave
The Hall of Miracles in Kapsia Cave

Inside the cave, human bone remains and pottery have been found, testifying to a catastrophic flood in the Middle Ages when people sought refuge in the cave but were trapped and drowned. Excavations have also unearthed traces of older artifacts, indicating a human presence dating back to the Late Stone Age.

archaeological finds that indicate human activity from prehistoric times.
Bone remains and pottery testify to human activity even from prehistoric times

High up in the mountains of Morea

We now head upwards, along winding serpentine roads, into the mountainous regions of Northern Peloponnese, with peaks over 6500 feet high. To the west rises the majestic Erymanthos, to the east the impressive Kyllini mountain range, and to the north the Aroaneia mountains, also called Helmos. Among dramatic slopes and deep, forested valleys, we encounter a different world of magnificent natural beauty and ancient history.

Moreas mountain range

Our destination is the springs of the Ladon River, celebrated as one of the most picturesque spots in the region. Crystal-clear water flows from these springs amidst lush greenery, creating an idyllic atmosphere. The river meanders through valleys filled with dense groves of plane trees, renowned for their exceptional natural beauty and the soothing sound of their pristine waters.

The ancient geographer and explorer Pausanias described Ladon as the most beautiful river on earth. Today, it is a popular destination for nature lovers and adventurers. Along the river, there are also several trout farms, where you can enjoy a meal beside the swift-flowing streams and absorb the area’s peaceful atmosphere.

German Fortifications from World War II

Artillery fortifications from World War II
An abandoned German artillery fortification from World War II, located in a strategic position, stands as a reminder of Greece’s turbulent past.

The German artillery fortifications from World War II appear here and there during our journey through the Northern Peloponnese, especially in strategically important locations. These remnants bear witness to a darker period in Greece’s history and remind us of the conflicts that have shaped the country. The decaying concrete bunkers and gun emplacements stand as silent witnesses to the war events that unfolded here. They give us insight into the geostrategic importance of these regions and remind us of the hardships the people endured during the days of war.

The vine of Pausanias

In the small village of Pagrati, just south of Ladon’s springs, we stop to view the legendary vine that Pausanias described as a remarkable phenomenon as early as 200 CE. Located in the municipality of Kalavryta, in Northern Peloponnese, this ancient vine is believed to be over 2,200 years old. Its total length is estimated to exceed 300 feet.

The vine of Pausanias

Over the centuries, the vine has grown tight together with other local plants and is now a protected natural monument. Although it doesn’t bear fruit, it blooms every spring and presents an impressive and rare sight. The vine’s twisted and gnarled branches spread across the large garden of the Agios Nikolaos church, making the place a unique and fascinating attraction to visit.

The Environment Museum of Stymphalia

After exploring many fascinating places on our journey in the Northern Peloponnese, we conclude our trip by visiting the outstanding Environment Museum at Lake Stymphalia. To get there, we once again travel on winding roads that cut through the incredibly beautiful landscape in the high mountain regions of the Corinth area.

On a plateau surrounded by majestic mountains lies the legendary Lake Stymphalia, famous for the heroic deed of Heracles in killing the man-eating Stymphalian birds. The Environment Museum lies like a hidden gem on the shores of the lake.

The museum offers a fantastic panoramic view of Lake Stymphalia
The museum offers a fantastic panoramic view of Lake Stymphalia

Lake Stymphalia is an important part of the region’s ecosystem and is included in the European network of protected areas, NATURA 2000. The Environmental Museum at Lake Stymphalia plays a crucial role in raising awareness about ecological balance and the need to protect the environment.

The Environment museum offers a fantastic panoramic view of Lake Stymphalia

The museum is divided into two main sections: the first focuses on the environment and presents the region’s unique geology, flora, and fauna. The second describes how these natural conditions have influenced human activities such as agriculture, fishing, and beekeeping over the years.

The building museum with its glass facade

The building, with its glass facade and panoramic view of the lake, harmonizes well with the surrounding landscape and offers a beautiful view of the whole area.

The museum uses various means of expression and audiovisual tools to enhance the visitor’s experience. One of the most impressive permanent exhibitions is a cross-section of the lake, where visitors can observe local plants and fish up close.

A permanent exhibitions with a cross-section of the lake

The Environment Museum opened in 2010 as part of The Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation – PIOP’s museum network, in collaboration with the EU and the Greek state. The network consists of seven different themed museums spread across Greece. Read more about the museum network here >>

A more detailed article about the museum, its exhibitions, and its significance to the region’s culture and environment you can find here:

The Environment Museum at lake Stymphalia

You can also download the museum guide as a PDF here>>

Our journey continues

This journey through the Northern Peloponnese has been a deep dive into authentic Greece, where every step revealed new layers of its natural and cultural heritage. We have walked along ancient roads, encountered traces of mythological gods and heroes, and marveled at the diversity of the landscape. From quiet lakes and hidden beaches to abandoned train stations and war fortifications, each place has told its own unique story.

We have not only explored physical places but also traveled through layers of time, where each epoch has left its mark on the landscape. We have tasted local wines, wandered through ancient ruins, and experienced natural sceneries that have inspired poets and scientists.

But this was just the beginning. In future posts, we will dive even deeper into each specific place we’ve described here and explore even more of the versatile Peloponnesian peninsula.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles on our blog>>

Go to the first part of the series Off the Beaten Path in Northern Peloponnese here>>

Selection of images from Part 1

Källor: Wikipedia
Pireus Bank Group Cultural Foundation

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