The guards of Taygetos mountain

By on December 11th    /    Culture, Peloponessus    /    1 Comment   /   show comments


The sun was shining outside the window and spread the light  on the balcony with the  marble corbels. There was a huge pine tree under my window and in the distance I could see  the sea shining, the  cape of Malea and Kythera island, far at the skyline. I woke up in the “Chestnut.” That was the name of the room, at  the guesthouse “Geodi”,  located in an unknown hamlet called Arna, on Taygetos Mountain. In Peloponnesus.


Άρνα, Ταΰγετος, Λακωνία


 The slopes rise smoothly with many ravines. Arna - like the other neighboring villages – was built here, far away from the sea, because of the fear of pirates. Those villages are known as Bardounochoria. A name that comes from the centuries of Frankish occupation of Peloponnesus.  Guards were put at  the peaks and the passes of the area (probably from the Byzantine period) to control the territory. From the Latin world bardia, ie guard, came out the name Bardounochoria for Arna and the nearby villages.

History just wrote very few  about this unknown side of the Laconian land and its guards. There is much information for the Giatrakos family – who are the great clan of Arna, hailing from the Medici of Florence. They were famous doctors and the most famous of them was a chief medical officer of Theordore  Kolokotronis  (the Greek general in the 1821 revolution against the Turks). We also know about the fearless chieftain Panayotaros  Venetsanakos, from Kastania village. We also know about the wild Tourkompardouniotes (Turks who lived in the area and mostly at the castle of Bardounia) who made the Christians of the neighborhood suffer a lot.


Άρνα, Ταΰγετος, Λακωνία


There are few ancient places around  and all we know is that the area is located on the antiquated passages connecting the Laconia region with the Messinia region. The most popular of which was the famous “royal road” that connected the ancient Arkina (an ancient city lost in the woods between the villages Sparta and Gola) with Messinia. The road passed by the magnificent Vassiliki Forest that preserves today the name of the ancient road (Vassiliki means royal).

We cooled down under  the huge pane tree at the square of Arna. People say It is the largest plane in Greece. With more than 13 meters in diameter the tree is a real giant!. Beside the tree the fountain of Ftialina was  gargling (Ftialina was the wife of a Turk named Tzeremes, which was once the owner of the area). The fountain has nice decoration with marble, donated by the “Association of the Arna immigrants in Brooklyn»  at 1922. Coaches full of immigrants were  leaving from Arna postwar . They were spread at the seven corners of the globe. Mostly in the US.


Άρνα, Ταΰγετος, Λακωνία


We drove further north from Arna village, we passed the Vassiliki forest , the beautiful Gorani village and we reached the Monastery of Gola, located in a splendid valley with firs and pines. The view at the slopes of Mount Taygetos was truly magnificent. The peak of the mountain – Prophet Elias – is a naked stone pyramid with the other, lower  peaks around: people in Laconia had always been watching  five peaks and  that is why they call Taygetos mountain Pentadaktylos till nowadays (Pentadaktylos means Five Fingered!). The monastery was quiet and very tidy, it had a beautiful stone church, fortified walls and a few monks… Landscapes with gray stone were stretched over forests buzzing from the northern wind. 


Άρνα, Ταΰγετος, Λακωνία


Down the stream, a path lead us  through the darkness of the forest, to Koumousta village. We quenched  our thirst at the frozen fountain in the village’s square. The square was neat – like many of the houses of the village. We munched a bunch of grapes and a few sweet figs sitting on a stone bench and then we left.

A large green ravine separates Arna from the other villages. In the background the ancient Sminos river flows the very same water in which the ancient travel writer Pausanias quenched his thirst, when he passed from here. Above the cliffs we could see  a bunch of hamlets:  Agios Nikolaos with the castle of Bardounia,  Selegkoudi, the beautiful Kastania . Higher the chapel of  Virgin  Mary the Giatrissa (the Healer) looked  like a wild fortress. The view from there across Laconia and Messinia is mouth dropping…

We followed the dirt road to the north, that drove us through the forest of Vasiliki, that smelled  pine and fir: the forest grow back after the devastating fire of 1916. Once a classic vacations’ destination (especially for patients with lungs problems),  the forest keeps still quite a few old shacks. We stopped in front of the church of St. Panteleimon. Some guys had just parked their car. Once, inside the coolness of the forest with the towering pines, people with sensitive lungs came to get well. Today?

- “Hey guys, do you have any cigarette?” one of them  asked me?

I smiled and gave them some from my photographer’s packet…


Άρνα, Ταΰγετος, Λακωνία


Where am I?

Arna is located on the southeastern slopes of Mount Taygetos. The best way to get there is drive through Sparta. You follow the way from Sparta to Gythio and after 18 km you turn to the west to the villages of Potamia and Gorani. Arna is 14 km away from Gorani village.  




One Comment 1 Comment

  1. Ray Dobson
    Jan 23, 2016

    Thanks for your entry. I have just been reading “The Lost Throne” by Chris Kuzneski What a load of absolute rubbish. An insult to the people of the Taygestos Mountains.

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