Andritsaina. Unknown cultural treasures in mountainous Elis
Andritsaina. An unknown cultural treasure
If you want to see an authentic settlement of mountainous Peloponnese, away from the tourist crowds and what they mean, Andritsaina is an ideal choice.
You can combine it with a visit to the neighbouring temple of Apollo Epikourios. This is what our hiking team did, as always under the guidance of Kostas. Since it’s the second most important temple of ancient Greece after the Parthenon, it’s imperative to visit it. And since you are there, it will be a shame not to see Andritsaina.
Both the temple of Apollo Epikourios and Andritsaina are today in Elis. Traditionally, however, their lands are Arcadian. Besides, the landscape is clearly Arcadian, wild and with high mountains.
Andritsaina lies on a green slope, on the western side of the Lykaion mountain. It was developed in the 13th century, during the Frankish rule. Indeed, it’s mentioned in the Chronicle of Morea. During the Greek Revolution, it played an important role. Therefore, in 1826 it was destroyed by the troops of Ibrahim.
According to tradition, Andritsaina was named after the wife of a Cretan shepherd named Andritsos or Andrikos. A ram led him to a source near a plane tree in Lykaion mountain. There he built an inn.
After Andrikos’s death, his widow Andrikaina continued to run the inn. From her name, which the locals pronounced “Andritsaina”, it was named “the Andritsaina inn”. When houses began to be built around the inn, the settlement took the woman’s name.
An open-air museum of traditional architecture
Andritsaina is of particular interest for two reasons. One is its architecture.
From afar it may disappoint you because many modern buildings have altered the settlement’s overall image. But don’t be fooled by it, because it will be your loss.
Walk through its streets and discover some of the most interesting traditional houses of mountainous Peloponnese. And moreover, you’ll see that they are very unusual.
Why are they unusual? Basically, they present the typical architecture of the whole area. Namely, the closed stone blocks with carved stones around the openings. Apart from this, however, they also have something else: the sahnisin, namely the wooden enclosed balconies that extend the habitable space on the floors. These structures are very common in northern Greece, but in the south, they are very rare.
And not only that. In fact, Andritsaina’s houses are even rarer. Because in northern Greece the sahnisin have a wooden frame filled with mud, straw or reeds and then they are whitewashed. Here, however, the sahnisin are made entirely of wood. Some have sheet metal lining.
In fact, only in Chania, Rethymno and some small islands can one see such structures in Greece. It’s a very rare architecture in this country, with its models mostly in Asia Minor. On the other hand, sheet metal lining is widely found in Lefkada.
This neoclassical house is an exception in Andritsaina
Nicolopouleios Library. A unique cultural treasure
We said that Andritsaina is of particular interest for two reasons. We have already spoken about one of them: its architecture. The other reason is the famous Nicolopouleios Library. It was founded in 1840 after a donation by the humanist Agathofron Nikolopoulos. He lived in Paris , but his parents were from Andritsaina.
The library’s collection includes rare manuscripts of the 16th and 17th centuries and rare books, Greek and foreign. Also important documents from the period of the Revolution and rich folklore material. Today, the library contains over 40,000 books.
Thanks to a movie you can see in the library, you’ll learn the founder’s story. He devoted all his fortune to the support of a homeland he never saw. Like many others, to whom Greece owes most of its cultural institutions.
So, Andritsaina, in many ways, offers an authentic picture of Greece of yesterday. Therefore, that’s why you should visit it.
About the author
Hello! I am Denis, an architect based in Athens, Greece. I teach history of art and architecture in higher education. That’s one passion of mine. The other one is hiking, in and out of town. If you follow me, I’ll share my discoveries with you.
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