Stunning Greek Monuments hidden in Arcadia Peloponnese
The Greek region Arcadia in the Peloponnese is scattered with Greek monuments. One of the monuments is the alleged “secret school“, which was housed in a remarkable Byzantine monastery hanging off the steep cliffs, about 200 m above the river bed of the Lousios River.
Are you planning a road trip in Greece? If you are interested in a road trip through the Peloponesse, we have made one, and you can read about it in our blogpost >> Road Trip Peloponnese.
The Secret School
Greek young boys who are prowling in the dark over ancient rock trails and along ravines with only the moon to show them some light. On their way to school in a distant place somewhere in the Arcadian mountains, in constant fear of not being caught by the Turks.
You can find several spots in Greece, mostly in remote monasteries, where during the four hundred years of Turkish occupation (1456 – 1827; Northern Greece even hundred years longer) secret schools existed.
One such place you can find hidden in the mountains of Arcadia, in the old monastery of Philosophos, dated 963.
Tradition says that in this monastery, young Greek boys were being educated in secret, by priests and monks, perfectly hidden from the Turks. Their study materials consisted mainly of the Bible and biblical texts.
According to many Greeks, the survival of the Greek nation is largely due to the secret schools, organized by the church. In this way, the Greek language, history, and religion were preserved, and young people were encouraged to resist the Turkish domination and struggle for liberation.
The Lousios Gorge
Driving into the forested mountains in the west of Arcadia in the Greek Peloponnese, you will reach the top of the many kilometers long Lousios Gorge. A ten kilometers long winding path between the mountain villages Stemnitsa and Dimitsana, leads you across a charming bridge over the crystal blue waters of the Lousios River to the “new” monastery of Philosophos (1691).
This monastery is called “new” because here two monasteries are called Philosophos. Signs along the road that say “κρυφό σχολείο” (which means secret school) will show you the way to the old monastery and the secret school that was housed in it.
The Path to the Old Monastery
A car will not bring you to the entrance of the old monastery and the secret school, you will have to go by foot, but it’s worth it. The path to the old monastery starts next to the new monastery.
Not far from the Philosophos Monastery, you will find the enchanting Medieval village of Karytaina, built high on a rock with a castle on top. We spent a day exploring Karytaina during our Peloponnese road trip. It’s one of those traditional Greek villages excelling in the beauty of its architecture, history, location, and views. Read more in my blogpost on Karytaina.
At least for half an hour you will struggle to make your way on falling and rising stairs, past cliffs and ravines until you will arrive at an almost invisible structure.
The color of the stones of the old monastery is entirely consistent with the color of the rocks in which it was built, and is therefore hardly visible. It has terribly fallen into decay, and it seems with the many lookout holes in the thick walls more like a fortress than a monastery.
Inside the Old Monastery of Philosophos
It is indeed a good hiding place, and from here you can look out over the impressive ravine. Opposite, also hanging off the cliffs, you can see the monastery of Prodromos.
The southern Peloponnese consists of three “legs”, of which the second one is called the Mani, which was until recently an isolated area, mainly accessible by sea. The Mani was known for its fierce family clans living in tower houses, and pirates. You can read more about our Mani Road Trip in the blogpost >> One Week in the Mysterious Mani.
Inside you will have to watch your step. The long corridor that leads to the upper chapel is on one side bordered by an old fortification wall and on the other side by a cliff and is narrow and rocky. The path is strewn with stones.
Looking up you only see high cliffs. Until you will reach the secret school, you will walk under arched gates and climb on the rock hewn stairs.
The space in which the secret school was housed is trimmed with gauze. Behind the mesh, between the icons, a desk is placed to emphasize the fame of the monastery as a secret school.
Famous Greek Painting
An idea of the atmosphere of the teaching at the secret school is provided by a painting. The famous Greek painting by Nikolaos Gyzis (1842 – 1901) shows a priest in a humble lit room with a book on his lap, sitting with some children gathered around him. The priest tells the children to listen carefully and they write his words down with a quill.
Hiking the Menalon Trail to the Monastery
Another way to vistit the old monastery of Philosophos and its secret school is by hiking through the Lousios Gorge. You can hike one of the best hiking trails in Europe, the Menalon Trail, a certified hiking trail that runs through the Lousios Gorge and passes from the old monastery.
Hiking the Menalon Trail you will pass many Greek monuments in the Arcadia region of the Peloponnese.