Stemnitsa (view photos), a beautiful town in Arcadia is built on the slopes of Mt. Menalon. It disappears from history in the mid 15th century until the 16th century, when we have the first written accounts of it. From the 18th century on, with the increase in its population, Stemnitsa became an important market town, a «chora» as it was called, and at the same time saw a remarkable cultural, artistic and economic development.
Greek independence and Stemnitsa
Along with its neighboring towns in the province of Cortyna, Stemnitsa played an important role in the struggle for Greek independence. Characteristic of the regard in which Stemnitsa was held, is the address made to its people by the Gortyna-born Theodoros Deliyiannis, the then prime minister: «off all the Greeks the Peloponnesians are the most intelligent; of the Peloponnesians, the Arcadians; of the Arcadians, the Gortinians and of the Gortinians, the Stemnitsians».
Stemnitsa’s prosperity continued throughout the 19th century.
However, its decline started as early as the first decades of the 20th century, due to large-scale emigration and migration to urban centers. The old «chora» Stemnitsa, with its 3.000 inhabitants is sparsely populate today, but has kept alive its rich history.
The original Greek name of Stemnitsa is Ypsus. Το discover the beginning of its history, one must look far back through the ages to that ancient Greek mythology whose roots are to be found in prehistoric times. So, according to mythology, King Lycaon, whom Zeus in a rage had transformed into a wolf, had fifty sons and one daughter. Each of his sons founded a town in the area, naming it after himself and Ypsus was founded by the son of that name.
Its history follows the great moments of Greece without, in ancient times, playing a leading role in events.
Ypsus, its original name
The first Byzantine monuments in Ypsus date back to around the 6th century A.D. Consequently, it is considered certain that from that time on the area was inhabited by Christian farmers and craftsmen. These craftsmen toured the Southern Peloponnese practicing their craft, resulting in the ultimate migration of many inhabitants of Ypsus to more fertile areas.
The renaming of Ypsus to Stemnitsa occurred in A.D. 746, a year of plague in the Peloponnese. The devastation of the region’s population and the intense demographic problem that followed, led the emperor in Constantinople, Constantine V, to allow the peaceful resettlement of Slavs from the North in the Peloponnese.
The new settlers took up animal husbandry and agriculture and, naturally, gave the places they lived in names descriptive of their topography. So, the area around Ypsus became Stemnitsa, which means a wooded place.
The «kastro» (or fortress), as it is still called tοday, bears witness to the passing of the Franks and was the conqueror’s stronghold. The Greeks and the Hellenized S1avs despised the Franks and looked for any opportunity to rise up against them. Stemnitsa was one of the twenty-two fiefs that made up the barony of the Frankish nob1eman Hugode Bruyer.
Α vast number of monuments testify to the fact that Stemnitsa flourished during the Turkish occupation. Its location high up in the mountains encouraged prominent Greek fami1ies from other regions to seek refuge there to escape the Turkish yoke. This 1ed to Stemnitsa developing into one of the major trade and craft centres of the Peloponnese.
The casting of church bells was a craft that was passed on from father to son in Stemnitsa. Bell makers, candlestick makers, gold and silver smiths practiced the most important crafts of the area, along with cand1e makers, tinsmiths and cobb1ers…
Towards the end of the 17th century the Greek School of Stemnitsa was founded with a library containing thousands of volumes. The School made a major contribution to the cultural development of the area.
Stemnitsa suffered greatly at the hands of the invaders after the failure of the Orlov Rising in 1770. The attacks by Albanian irregulars did not leave Stemnitsa untouched. On the contrary a great deal of damage was caused, but the inhabitants, who hid in the monastery of St. John the Baptist, were miraculously saved.
The fight for independence
However, Stemnitsa’s name was destined to be linked with that of the national hero and protagonist of the 1821 revolution, Theodoros Kolokotronis. Already, by 1802, whenever he was in danger from the Turks, «the old man of Morea», as he was called, would take refuge in his beloved Stemnitsa. In the War of Independence it became his centre of operations, and it is there that he sought comfort for his grief after the 1oss of his son.
The national uprising of 1821 found the Stemnitsians ready at -arms. On the 25th March all those able to bear arms formed a-unit, led by Constantine Alexandropoulos, George, Basilis and Dimitris Roilos and under the command of Kolokotronis, which took part in the siege of Karitena.
Two months after the struggle began Stemnitsa was elected by the Assembly of Kaltetzes as the seat of the first Peloponnesian Senate, thus coming into the forefront of history.
Stemnitsa or Ypsus: both names tell us about topography and local history. Α corner of mountain Arcadia with monuments that can unfold before the eyes of the modern-day visitor the adventures of the Greek people from Homeric times until today…
Source: Stemnitsa Folk Museum