“Exploring the Peloponnese” is Peter Sommer Travels’ second scheduled tour in Greece in 2018. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog, following last year's precedents in Crete and the Dodecanese. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
If you like the kind of literature that presents the past as a vast conspiracy, you might be aware of the phrase 'Et in Arcadia ego' - 'I, too, am an Arcadia', a reference to the central mountainous region of the Peloponnese, its bucolic splendour and a sense of an unspoilt rural life, the 'I' being death. It comes to us from the Roman poet Virgil and it is meant to be a reflection on how the realities of life, especially its finality, apply everywhere. Arcadia is chosen as the location because it was seen by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a region especially clear of (then-)modern corruption.
Arcadia is still special and still beautiful. It is still an untouched mountainous region of strange settlements and copious forests and occasional fields. Today, it is not just a literary trope, but a very real region of mountains, upland valleys, gorges and perching villages, an area that is geographically central, but socially, economically and in other terms remote. It is the core of the Peloponnese. We and our guests have spent last night and this one in a superb hotel in the mountain village/town of Dimitsana, set just above the gorge of the Lousios River, which we hear flowing every time we open our windows or enter our balconies.
Today was entirely given to exploring the mountain country of Arcadia. Our two main visits were the monastery of Agios Ioannis Prodromos (Saint John the Baptist) and the Temple of Apollo Epikourios, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site. The Classical temple, the second-best preserved in Greece, is greatly important and currently undergoing a very complex consolidation project and I promise I will write about it here before long.
That said, the Prodromos monastery was certainly today's highlight. Approached by a 20-minute cliffside walk, it is one of those mad places that only faith can explain. The local monks place its beginnings in the 12th century, but observation suggests a 15th or 16th century origin at the earliest. Whatever its age, the complex was built as a literal cliffhanger, hidden most efficiently from hostile and prying eyes. This way an entire monastery, with its central chapel, its monks' cells, refectory and other supporting structures, is fitted into the hollow of an overhanging cliff. The place is just extraordinary, overwhelming, violent and quiet at the same time. In spite of its extreme location, the monastery of Agios Ioannis Prodromos breathes peace and serenity at every step. It also offers hospitality to visitors, in the form of coffee and sweets.
Tomorrow, we will descend to the coast and see one of the most important Bronze Age monuments in Greece: Tiryns.