An area symbolic of the bucolic life, and which until recent centuries, inspired writers, poets and artists.
According to mythology, Pan,the goat-legged son of Hermes and god of fertility, was of Arcadian descent and had his own sanctuary in Lykosoura, where the nymph Erato interpreted the oracles. It was here that he chased Syrinx, the young daughter of the Ladonas River, who became scared and asked Zeus to save her. He did so by turning her into reeds. Pan, full of remorse for breaking the body of the object of his desire with his own hands, joined the reeds together to make a set of pipes, which he kept with him forever, and bear his name to this day, ‘Pan pipes’.
Another myth tells of the famous heroine Atalanta, who grew up in Arcadia, raised by bears and hunters. Beautiful, tough and an unrivalled hunter, it was she who inflicted the death blow to the Calydonian Boar, whose carcass was then kept at the temple of Athena Alea in Arcadian Tegea.
However, the most sacred place in Arcadia, was Mount Lykaio, where Zeus struck Lycaon, the son of Pelasgus, with a bolt of lightning. Lykaio means ‘he who shines’, and it was there that the people built an altar to Zeus to appease him.
In this fresh mountain landscape, Arcadia gave birth to the myths that personified nature and her various expressions.
Passing from myth into ancient history, the visitor has the chance to see many settlements and monuments, such as the archaeological sites of Ancient Gortyna, Ancient Mantineia, and Ancient Tegea, the Archaeological Museum of Lykosoura at the archaeological site dedicated to the goddess Despoina, as well as the palace of Herod Atticus. The most iconic among these is the Temple of Apollo Epicurus, which was the first monument from Greek classical antiquity to be included amongst UNESCO’s World Heritage Monuments.
The Arcadians are mentioned as taking part in the Trojan War with 60 ships, led by the king of Tegea, Agapenor. But Arcadia does not have just ancient monuments. Byzantium and the Frankish occupation left behind many ruins, of early Christian basilicas and impressive castles (Akova, Karytaina, Mouchlio, Paralio Astros). During the Ottoman occupation, many great Byzantine and Post-Byzantine monasteries and churches were destroyed. Many, however, survived. The Filosofos Monastery in Dimitsana, the Kalteza Monastery on the border with Laconia, the Monastery of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos near Stemnitsa, the old and new Monasteries of Kalami in Atsilochos, the church of Aghios Andreas in Gortyna, the Monastery of Kalami and many more, were spiritual centres that rallied the Greeks and kept the faith alive.
Arcadia’s landscape varies, depending on the altitude and the distance from the sea. With a cold continental climate, harsh winters and frequent snowfall in mountain areas, the weather has benefited the development of winter tourism and attracts the arrival of many visitors to the ski centre in the Mainalo Range, which dominates the centre of the Peloponnese and the Regional Unit of Arcadia. Easily accessible by an excellent road, it is now a popular destination, with 80 000 visitors each year and a reasonably-priced entrance fee.
At warmer times, other activities are organised here, such as mountain biking, paragliding, hiking, etc., with the aim of fully exploiting the natural beauty of the Mainalo Range throughout the year.
Arcadia has four basic urban centres: Tripolis, the seat of the Region of the Peloponnese, Astros, Leonidio and Megalopoli. It also has many picturesque villages: the well-known Vytina, near the Mainalo Ski Centre, with exceptional tourist facilities and amazing local products; Dimitsana, with the Ecclesiastical Museum and the one-of-a-kind Waterpower Museum; Karytaina, Kamenitsa, Levidi, Kastanitsa, Stemnitsa, which has the only school for silver and goldsmiths in Greece, and many more.
Tripolis is the largest city and the capital of Arcadia, with a population of 46 910, and it works as a base for touring the nearer mountain settlements. The city houses the Archaeological Museum in a building by Ernst Ziller, as well as the War Museum of Tripoli, with its relics and reminders of the struggles of the Greeks at various stages of modern history.
Heading towards the shores of Arcadia, the visitor will enjoy Astros, which is located in the southeastern part of the Regional Unit, on a flat area near the coast of the Argolic Gulf, 44 kilometres southeast of Tripolis, with a population of 10 380 and a significant history. The town is dominated by the Archaeological Museum, with exhibits from the palace of Herod Atticus (2nd Century CE), which is short distance from Paralio Astros, next to the celebrated Monastery of Loukous (1117 CE).
Leonidos, with its impressive red rock, is a plains town, a traditional settlement in the southeastern part of Arcadia, built on the shores of the Myrtoan Sea, below Mount Parnonas, and lies 93 kilometres from Tripolis.
Megalopolis, with 11 030 residents, is a semi-mountainous town to the west of the Unit, 34 kilometres southwest of Tripolis. It is known for the Public Power Company’s plant located there. In the surrounding area, there are many archaeological sites and Byzantine churches, as well as the ancient theatre of Megalopolis.
A great way of discovering Arcadia and making the transition from civilisation to the wonders of nature, is to take part in activities out in the heart of nature, such as mountain biking around Tripoli and its villages, as well as hiking along easy or not-so-easy footpaths, or rafting, kayaking, hydrospeeding (wearing fins and holding onto just a board), monocrafting (in a one-seater inflatable craft) and abseiling (crossing the gorges with special ropes) on the Alfeios, Lousios and Erymanthos rivers. One of the most important attractions in the area, in Ladonas, is the hydroelectric dam on the river and the manmade lake covering 6 000 stremmata, with the medieval bridge known as the Lady’s Bridge, visible only during the summer months.
Among the most important natural attractions in Arcadia are the protected gorge of the Lousios River, the Parnonas Gorges, covered with Syrian juniper (unique in Europe), the Lepidas Gorge, Lake Taka and the Kapsia Cave, one of the ten most significant caves in the whole of Greece.
The transition from action to pleasure occurs on the Mantineiako Plain, on an expanse of 7 000 stremmata, where an especially popular variety of Moschofilero is grown, one of the most aromatic of Greek wines. Established in 1971 as a Protected Designation of Origin, Mantineia produces wines of a Designation of Origin of Superior Quality in the villages of Steno, Agiorgitika, Partheni, Neochori, Milia, Artemisio, Pikerni, Sanga, Nestani Kapsia and Simiades. Here, the visitor can go from visiting well-known wineries to visiting monuments of archaeological and religious interest, such as the largest pre-historic furnace ever excavated, the Monastery of Aghios Nikolaos Varson from the 11th century, the Monastery of Panagia Gorgoepikoos, with its celebrated icon of the Virgin by Luke the Evangelist.
With famous national festivals honouring the liberation of the country from the Ottomans, such as the liberation of Tripolitsa, the Exit of Papaflessas, celebrated in Dyrrachi, and the Battle of Valtestsi – as well as seasonal festivals honouring local products and traditions (the Chestnut Festival in Kastanitsa, the Tegea Trade Fair, the markets organised by the women of Karytaina, the Panhellenic Folk Singing Competition in Langadia, the Night of the Balloons at Easter, the Tsakonia Festival in Leonidio and the Summer of Culture in the Municipality of Tripoli), Arcadia has a variety of activities to offer the visitor throughout the year.