Arcadia, The Land of Myths
Is it the geography of the region or the random events that would render Arcadia the Utopian Land for the Renaissance artists? There is no certain response, but it does not matter at all; Arcadia will always be the land of the Myths.The soil of Arcadia always hosted a great number of historical events, monuments and personalities who played a major role in the ancient and Modern Greek history. We explore three of its great landmarks in this article.
Ancient Mantineia was one of the capital cities of Arcadia, together with Tegea, a fortified city under the protection of Poseidon. Travelers and geographers of the antiquity such as Pausanias and Strabo mention Mantineia in their works as a technologically developed city (the dam outside the walls was a miracle of warfare technology) as well as a place where temples and impressive public buildings used to stand. Mantineia is also famous for two major battles that marked the Classical World in 418 and 362 BCE.
Apart from the rich history of the city there is something else that makes Mantineia an attractive destination: the landscape around its archaeological site. The astonishing scenery consists of vineyards, apple trees, small rocky hills and a “wall” of wooded mountains around the grassy valley. The ancient ruins of Mantineia have the rare privilege of not having been destroyed or covered by subsequent settlements in an intact Mediterranean environment.
Do you believe in miracles? The church of Saint Theodora of Vasta in Arcadia is beyond human logic. The local villagers believe it is a miracle, the scientists doubt it, and the pilgrims just come to admire how seventeen trees can grow from the roof of a ramshackle chapel.
The “problem” started when a young Byzantine girl living in the area around the 11th c. A.D. was executed after a machination. The girl declared her innocence by addressing an invocation to God: “Let my body become a church, my blood a river, and my hair the forest”. A thousand years after her death, one may conclude that her prayer was heard; St. Theodora’s church still stands on the place where the young Theodora was killed. There are 17 trees growing from the roof, but no roots can be seen and no cracks in the wall. Is it a miracle or an unexplained natural phenomenon? No one can really say…
Born in Messenia and raised in Arcadia, Theodoros Kolokotronis (1770-1843) is undoubtedly the symbol of the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830), the man who embodied totally the battle cry “Liberty or Death”. Αt the age of ten, Theodoros lost his father in a conflict with Ottoman soldiers an incident that marked his soul forever.
Kolokotronis acquired a high military experience by servicing as a warrior-bandit (klepht) against the Turks on the mountains of Morea (Peloponnese), and later as an officer in the British army of Zakynthos.
The Greek Revolution found Kolokotronis in Morea organizing the irregular Greek rebels in a more effective army. He was already 51 years old, an old man for the 19th c. standards, and among his comrades he was famous with the nickname “The Elder of Morea”.
Despite his age the Greek commander was unstoppable and in 1822 at the Battle of Dervenakia inflected great damage to the Ottoman army and prestige. The years followed the initial Greek successful attempts against their tyrants were stormy; civil war, political conflicts and restricted victories for the rebels almost led Kolokotronis to execution by his own compatriots.
Finally logic prevailed and Kolokotronis was appointed commander in chief for the Greek forces until the end of the victorious struggle against the Ottoman Empire.
After the liberation many ex-rebels found themselves in a high position or in the margin of the new society. “The Elder of Morea” died tranquil and acknowledged by his fellow countrymen in the age of 73.