The Lousios Gorge has been inhabited for centuries by hermits in caves and monks. Two monasteries remain open to visitors: Philosophou and Prodromo. Pausanias described the Lousios as the place where Zeus was bathed as an infant. Lousios in Greek means “wash.” He claimed it was the coldest river in the world. It flows through an impressive gorge, with red limestone cliffs, rising to 100m above the river. The plant life in early spring is spectacular.
Leaving the parking lot at the Gortynia parking lot, windmills stand tall. The hiker first comes across the Church of St. Andreas. It has wall paintings of Angels that are similar to Mystra. The church was built upon the ruins of a large Roman building that was constructed on an ancient Greek building. As a traveler keeps hiking, the 4th century ruins of Gortys appear. It was a healing center with a bath house. A circular construction was a dry sauna. The Philosophou monastery is widely known across Greece and abroad. During the Ottoman period, it had a famous School, from which came eminent men. The Philosophou monastery is located approximately 4km south of Dimitsana. It has built on the roots of a tall cliff, 200m above the bed of the Lousios Gorge.
The location was chosen by John Lampardopoulos of Dimitsana, chief secretary of Emperor Nicephorus Fokas. He became a monk at the end of his life. He was an excellent, educated philosopher. In 964 AD, he founded the monastery under a patriarchal sigillium (jurisdiction). The sigillium survives in the Dimitsana library. Today it is called Old Philosophou and Secret School.
Many of the bishops and the Teachers were educated in this glorious monastery. Historians view it as a spiritual hotbed of enslaved Hellenism. Seven Patriarchs, including the martyred Patriarch Gregory V and seventy bishops, were educated here.
The School of the Philosophou monastery was equipped with a rich collection of books and manuscripts.
Written documents were transferred to the Dimitsana School. Many documents were destroyed during the upheaval of the 1821 Revolution and the monastery’s dissolution in 1834. Two important 12th century manuscripts, the complete works of M. Kingdom and the Gospel of Vlachomanoli, in which the secret organization “Filiki Eteria” swore their oaths, survive in the National Library of Greece in Athens.
At that time, the Venetians ruled the Peloponnese. They were allowed more freedom to build churches. The “New Philosophou” monastery was founded, about 300m north of the old in 1691, under abbot Anthimos. The new temple is shaped in a cruciform basilica supported by four domes. The wooden iconostasis is elegant.
The Dimitsana School was founded in 1764 by Dimitsana monks Gerasimos Gouna and Agapios Leonardos. In 1816, the New Philosophou monastery united with Dimitsana School to strengthen the monastery’s income. In 1834, it was closed and the property was sold to the church fund. New Philosophou has resumed an active life as a monastery in 2000 with 11 followers.
It is a highly traveled tourist spot. The resumption of the monastery’s religious life shows the historical importance of perpetuating the religious life of an exceptional monastery.
The Prodromou monastery, dedicated to John the Baptist, is the most visually stunning with its stone building and wooden balconies overhanging the cliffside. Its foundation dates back to 1167. It was a rich establishment originally. The monastery was accidentally dissolved in 1834.
All it relics and records were carted off in 16 mules. The monks rebuilt the monastery’s wealth through hard work, building mills and keeping livestock. The church is dug into the cliffside with 16th century frescoes and balconies. The old wooden door leading into the monastery is riddled with bullet holes that bear witness to the April 16, 1779, attack by Albanian troops under Ottoman command. At the time, the monastery was full of women and children, but for some unknown reason the attack failed.
Spring is the best time to appreciate the natural beauty and extraordinary monasteries of the Lousios Gorge. The Lousios Gorge photos were provided by Despina Siolas, Md. /Ph.D. Dr. John G. Siolas’ research was based on primary Greek documents.
- Bostock, Andrew, “Greece: The Peloponnese”, (Bradt Travel Guides Ltd: UK, 2013), p. 191.
- Theoharis, Giorgios Pan., “Moni Philosophou, Krifo Scholio”, (Giorgios Pan Theoharis Publication, Athens ,2000), p. 50.
- Siolas, John G., Ph.D., “MONI PHILOSOPHOU AND THE SCHOOL OF DIMITSANAS”.
- Theoharis, Giorgios Pan., “Moni Philosophou, Krifo Scholio”, (Giorgios Pan Theoharis Publication, Athens ,2000), prologue.
- Bostock, Andrew, “Greece: The Peloponnese”, (Bradt Travel Guides Ltd: UK, 2013), p. 194-95.