Karytaina (Καρύταινα), with a long history lost in the mediaeval years, is a hidden treasure in the centre of mountainous Arcadia in the Peloponnese (Greece). Although mountainous Arcadia is generally a favourite weekend getaway for Athenians, Karytaina, 20 km from Stemnitsa (Στεμνίτσα) and 20 km from Megalopolis (Μεγαλόπολις), remains relatively unknown to most and constitutes a unique and historic destination.
Also, Karytaina has been listed as a protected traditional settlement. But it is its unique townscape and the surrounding landscape that have earned Karytaina the moniker “Greek Toledo”.
According to the prevailing theory, the name of the village is a corruption of the name of the ancient city of Gortyna (Γόρτυνα). The name initially became Kortyna (Κόρτυνα), and over time it became Karytaina.
Read our article: Ancient Gortyna – The lost city of Arcadia
THE HISTORY OF KARYTAINA
The recorded history of Karytaina begins in the 13th century, where it is presented for the first time under its current name. During the Frankish period, it was the seat of the Briel or Bruyères family barony. It will play an important role in this period, mainly after the construction of its castle by Geoffrey of Briel. For a century, it would belong to the Franks, then to the Byzantines, until the Ottomans finally prevailed throughout the Peloponnese.
During the period of the Greek Revolution of 1821, it was an important stronghold and refuge for many civilians. The leader of the revolution, Theodoros Kolokotronis, used Karytaina as a garrison and repaired the castle.
THE VILLAGE OF KARYTAINA
The village of Karytaina strongly preserves the colour of the mediaeval castle state. The settlement spreads in front of and around the rock where the castle is built and is surrounded by beautiful nature. With cobblestones, narrow alleys, imposing stone houses, and impressive towers, a stroll through the village is sure to hold many pleasant surprises. Between the houses, a sign marks a series of ruins as one of the first schools founded by Ioannis Kapodistrias. On the outskirts of the village, the impressive Tower House of Levendaina (Πύργος της Λεβένταινας), is reminiscent of Tuscan towers. The Tower now houses a museum that hosts various periodic exhibitions.
THE CHURCHES OF KARYTAINA
In the village is the church of Agios Nikolaos (Άγιος Νικόλαος), which was erected at the beginning of the 13th century and is one of the most important monuments of the post-Byzantine era in the wider area. The temple inside has many frescoes of exceptional artistic and historical value.
Also important are the church of Zoodochos Pigi (Ζωοδόχος Πηγή) from the 14th–15th century and the church of Agios Georgios (Άγιος Γεώργιος). While the church of Evangelistria (Ευαγγελίστρια) certainly stands out with its impressively high bell tower, which is regarded a characteristic symbol of the village.
THE CASTLE OF KARYTAINA
The Castle of Karytaina (Κάστρο της Καρύταινας) is undoubtedly the most important attraction in the village. The path to the castle begins a few metres from the church of the Zoodochos Pigi, and there are signs directing you to the top. Entering the castle from the gate, there is a large square courtyard. Around it, there are ruins of towers, rooms, and tanks. In contrast, the perimeter walls are preserved in excellent condition. Kolokotronis lived inside the castle during his stay in Karytaina and built the church of Panagia (Παναγία) there. But the main reason for anyone to go up to the castle is the unique 360-degree panoramic view that takes your breath away. It is undoubtedly a unique travel experience.
THE BRIDGE OF KARYTAINA
However, one should not leave the village without visiting its historic Stone Bridge of Karytaina (Πέτρινο Γεφύρι Καρύταινας). On the road that connects Karytaina with Andritsaina, under the impressive modern bridge that crosses the river Alfeios, this unique bridge lies hidden. The bridge is also known as “The Bridge of the 5000 Drachmas” because it was depicted on the most famous Drachma banknote along with Theodoros Kolokotronis.
According to local tradition, the bridge was originally built by the lord of Karytaina, Geoffrey of Briel. In fact, the myth states that in order to succeed in building the bridge, he buried his wife in its foundations. During the Byzantine period, the bridge was rebuilt, and the chapel of Gennisis tis Theotokou (Γέννησης της Θεοτόκου) was added to one of its arches.
The bridge today has a total length of 50 metres and five arches. Of these, only three are saved, as the central part of the bridge was blown up during the Civil War. The part of the old bridge that is missing has been replaced by a wooden section.
First of all, the small grocery store and pasta workshop Ta zymarika tis Kyriakis (Τα ζυμαρικά της Κυριακής) is one of the reasons to visit the village. This shop is a small gourmet paradise. Their handmade traditional pasta is really excellent and of amazing quality. At the same time, here you will find a very good selection of various other products from producers in the surrounding area.
Also, The Kastro (Το Κάστρο) tavern in the centre of the village is an excellent choice for food. It has a pleasant indoor hall for the winter but also a balcony with a unique view when the weather permits. His kitchen prepares traditional Greek cuisine and various grilled meats.
Karytaina is a unique and relatively unknown mountain village that deserves to be discovered. Many people know about it, but ultimately few have visited it. It is certainly worth discovering and getting to know its unique history, its important mediaeval buildings, and its beautiful location.
Breathe in the clean mountain air, close your eyes, and you will be transported to the Peloponnese of the heroic past and magical tales.