ON THE HISTORY OF TSINTZINA
myth and fact
the name “tsintzina”
Stages of village development (best estimate)
Early village times remain unknown. Questions without a clear answer
About when did first Tsintzina settlers appeared in the area
The exact location of first houses
other settlements around.
pre-historic periods, human presence in upper Mt. Parnon seems
unlikely. No remnants or tools were ever discovered. No evidence
either that until the end of the stone age, this part of Mt. Parnon
drew any significant populations. By contrast, its lower, western
Byzantine & Early Ottoman Period.
Evidence suggests a continuous habitation of the surrounding area
from the 9th century A.D. (see also “myth & fact”
St. Anargiroi Monastery (some 3 miles to the southwest) seems
initially built at that time.
The earliest known reference to Tsintzina –at least as location-
appears in a Byzantine Imperial Decree of 1292 or 1295 AD
In another Imperial Decree
of 1416, the penultimate Emperor Theodore II Paleologos, specifies
details about taxation levied on the people of Tsintzina and
other nearby villages.
First Tsintzina settlers most probably resided in the Baouti area,
on the village southwest. St. Vlassios seems the first village
church, dating back to –at least- the 16th century.
Village partial aerial view from the southwest. In the red box, St.
Vlassios chapel, presumed first village church
(picture courtesy: S. Tseleki).
virtually no official sources or references for the first stage of
the Ottoman occupation (1460-1688). For this period, there is
only a fresco inscription in the chapel of St. Vlassios, bearing a
date of 1611. The rehabilitation of nearby St. Anargiroi Monastery
is also recorded, between 1611 and 1622.
Picture 1: The
fresco inscription above the entrance of St. Vlassios chapel, with a
date of 1611
( courtesy of
Monastery seems to have played a vital role in the area. Several
Tsintzinians joined its monastic ranks over time and a few assumed
In one of the
few surviving Monastic manuscripts, we read of the ordination of
Deacon Nektarios from Tsintzina, on July 8th, 1753.3
The Venetian Interval of
1688-1715 and the Grimani Census.
invading Venetians defeated the Ottoman occupiers of Southern
Greece. In a 1700 census -administered by Peloponnesus Governor
General Francesco Grimani- Tsintzina counted a mere 144
is highly detailed both on people, animals and property. But the
figure of 144 Tsintzina could be an understatement. The impact of
late 17th century wars and a tacit avoidance –to minimize tax and
military implications- may not be ruled out.
The second Turkish occupation
reclaimed the area from the Venetians in 1715.
suggests that this time, the Tsakones16
residents of Mt. Parnon reached a compromise with the Ottoman Turks
against the Venetians. As a result, after the Ottoman re-conquest,
the area got substantial commercial privileges as a reward.
In the coming
years, the area –including Tsintzina- became quite affluent. Some
accounts suggest a significant population influx in Tsintzina after
the early 1700s. Settlers came mostly from nearby Tsakonian
villages. A few persons or families seem to have come from much
In the mid-1700s, the village
had a thriving production base. Textile processing (wool, linen
and cotton) and the construction of timber artifacts are well
documented. Relative village involvement in sheep farming and dairy
products trade is disputed.
Most of the timber and material
for textiles, was actually brought from outside. Processed final
products were traded mostly in the well-established markets of
Mistras (near Sparta) and Tegea (near Tripolis). This
pattern had resulted in some Tsintzinians settling already for good
in more faraway places.
Two French Travellers’
In late 17th
Century, two French travelers included Tsintzina in their Laconian
tour. Their travel memoirs were printed in Paris in the late 1670s.
attempted a crossing from Mistra -via Tsintzina- to Monemvassia. The
description of the first stage of this voyage is of “a continuous
crossing through forested mountains, small water streams, some lakes
but mostly, numerous granite rocks”.
distance from Mistras [one] stations to the village of Tsintzina.
Its residents habitually make a point of welcoming strangers, hoping
to extract something. They usually stand in an observation point to
discover strangers crossing, whom they call by the blow of a
sea-shell to let them know that there is a village hanging on some
On the French
text, territorial description and journey sequencing, often
correspond only vaguely to actual area details as seen today.
Presumably the account was written much later. In the meantime,
journey memories probably faded and the variety of locations
visited, obscured the accuracy of its recordings.
W. Leake’s 1806 Travel Notes on
On March 22nd 1806,
British Army Officer William Martin Leake approached Tsintzina from
the western valley entrance. He observed NW village hills as being
full of narrow strips of vineyards. Other cultivations he recorded
were wheat, barley, maize, rye and grapes.
Leake asserts that the village
was populated by “80 families, in possession of substantial land”.
Further that Tsintzinians possess land and huts near Sparta and many
flocks which at this time of year grazed on the warmer low lands,
especially in the Elos valley (a seaby village some 50
miles south of Tsintzina and about 10 miles eastward of the port of
picture courtesy of C. Kimionis, Chania Airclub (Jan. 2007)
Leake also recorded that
Tsintzinians extracted timber (mostly oak and elm) from some
70 miles afar, on south-central Mt. Taygetos forests. And that they
traded significantly in cheese and other milk-based products.
Given Leake’s position in the
British Army, his remarks seem a good deal more accurate and
professional than the French accounts of the 1670s. Leake however
crossed the area rather quickly. He relied for help with his
muletrain of supplies from local guides and paid-up workers.
Therefore it is difficult to assess the extent his remarks are the
product of careful inquiry, or more of casual chat with locals along
Below: Reconstructing Leake’s & the French Travellers’ routes to
this 1945 aerial, the forest has not yet covered the Tsintzina
fields (abandoned mostly in the late 1950s). No car roads are
visible as the first one (reconstructed in the blue line) was
completed in 1956.
Leake’s initially southbound track (yellow arrows) gave him a
clear site of the large Gonkena wheat fields, abeam & on his right
(brown color). Later, with the village at sight, he could
observe the large vineyard area (green) on the slopes of
A New Central Church for a Rapidly
Two months after Leake’s March
1806 visit, the village main church was completed. The building is
unusually large and tall. The Ottomans would not normally permit
religious structures of this size for occupied Christians.
It seems the church itself was
not built from scratch. Rather, a smaller chapel on location was
probably enlarged. A cemetery did exist at the time just off,
underneath the old village school square. The Tsintzina burial site
was later moved to St. Nicholas chapel, as it is today.
Tsintzinians worked with zeal
for the completion of the church. Its construction was supervised
directly by His Eminence, Iacovos, the Tsintzinian-born bishop of
Reon (the diocese Tsintzina belonged, based on Prastos town).
On the church cornerstone we also read that Iacovos, who
happened to be a local, shaped the measures of the building,
supervising from beginning to end, by word, deed and funding…”
Above: Two-page spread of the village central church of the
Assumption (Koimisis) of Theotokos, as it appeared on a recent issue
of a Greek travel magazine
On bishop Iacovos’ last will
and testament of 1812, we have the first written account of the
Monastery of Kelli on the Tsintzina NW perimeter. This monastery was
dissolved a few years later, in the 1840s. Later, king Otto signed a
Decree of donating a plot that used to belong to the Monastery,
adjacent to the main village church, for the purpose of creating the
village school (a building completed in 1891, closed in the early
1950s and converted to a hotel in 1967).
The 1821 Revolution Against the
Greek Revolution Flags under which Tsintzinians fought in 1821-29:
Left, the “Friendly Society” flag with the initials “Freedom or
- Center, Capt. Zacharias of Varvitsa (a nearby village) tri-color
flag: Red for blood, White for freedom, Black for death, as in the
- Right: Gen. Theodore Kolokotronis flag (known in the West as “St.
Tsintzinians appear to have
joined the revolution spontaneously and en mass, right from
its start. Early Greek successes had liberated all adjacent
territory by autumn 1821. After the successful conquest of Tripolis,
revolutionaries proceeded to forming local administrations.
Such developments allowed
Tsintzinians swiftly to claim ex-Turkish lands in the plains to the
east of the Sparta valley. In the process, civil strife broke out
with villagers from nearby Varvitsa in 1822. The quarrel was solved
via intervention from the central revolutionary Greek
administration, then based in Nafplion and Tsintzinians returned to
Another bloody instance
occurred much later, in 1828. Tsintzinians clashed over land claims
with villagers from Geraki (a village some 8 miles to the East of
Zoupena). The battle was lost by the Gerakites who were
forced to concede the Tsilia estate to the Tsintzinians.
It appears that, in 1823,
Tsintzinians decided to form a solid battle unit, instead of joining
units here and there. Nicholas Gerasimos was chosen as their overall
commander after an open vote. This was accepted by Greek
revolutionary army officials and Gerasimos was given an army officer
Between 1821 and 1827 -when
Ottoman Turks and allies were largely defeated in the area-
Tsintzinians fought in battles all over the Peloponnese, including
Corinth, Argos, Kalamata, Navarino, Patras. They also participated
in the monumental conquest of Tripolis (then Turkish capital of
the Peloponnese) and in the epic battle of Dervenakia in 1822.
There, a few thousand Turkish troops sent in from Northern Greece as
reinforcements were trapped in mountain terrain and crushed by Greek
forces under Gen. Kolokotronis.
Commanders under whom Tsintzinians fought at various battles.
Left, General Kolokotronis, the “Chief of Staff” of the
Revolutionary Army (portrait).
- Center, Kolokotronis at the famous battle of Dervenakia (where
Tsintzinians fought too)
- Right: Nikitas (Nikitaras) Stamatelopoulos, in a way “Commander”
of the greater Lakonia and Arkadia area (including Tsintzina).
Kolokotronis himself visited
Tsintzina at least once, in 1825. It was during the catastrophic
raids of Ibrahim Pasha, a Turkish ally from Egypt. Ibrahim arrived
in the Peloponnese with a significant Egyptian army unit to aid the
ailing Turkish forces. In a short while, he had reclaimed most of
earlier Greek gains. Kolokotronis and some of his officers stayed in
the mountain range between Argos and Tsintzina, where they regrouped
and expedited against Ibrahim’s troops.
Although not entirely clear, it
appears that the main Egyptian army did not -or was unsuccessful
to- expedite against the village itself. In September 1825, a
strong Egyptian force in search of food supplies was pushed back
after sustaining casualties, some 10 miles to the South West (off
the village of Vassara). On another raid, two separate Turco-Egyptian
units on a mopping-up operation from the South, appear to have
merged in Tsintzina before crossing Northeastwards. This is
consistent with verbal tradition that on skirmishes around Tsintzina
some of Ibrahim’s forces were killed by defending locals.
Tsintzinian Christos Andritsakis in particular, was said to have
successfully engaged at least one soldier below Psito, with
his bare hands.
During the Ibrahim raids,
Tsintzinians fortified St. John’s chapel with a strong wall. The
cave (including a separate, smaller one overhead), was turned
into a three-floor high “fortress” incorporating several gun-holes
and a water reservoir. Its strategic location on a steep cliff
overlooking the village, made it a safe shelter for most of the
-on a chapel which on some accounts dates back to at least the 14th
century- were supervised by P. Economou and completed in 1826.
They still stand today as they originally were.
Below: 1826 fortifications at St. John’s Caves, during the Ibrahim
Three-storey wall on the lower cave (where St. John’s chapel is).
- 2, 3. Ceiling-through walls on the upper & left (probably
In 1844, about forty-five
Tsintzinians are honored by the Greek government for their war
effort by an award of the “Iron Cross” and the “Copper Cross” for
one officer. In this list we read names from virtually all village
Change Follows Independence.
In the first few years after
Independence from the Ottoman Turks in 1929, Tsintzinians
consolidated their earlier settlements of Zoupena and Goritsa, some
20 miles to the South. The area of Zoupena was particularly fertile
and suitable for olive growth, a notable nutritional shortage in the
mountain fields of Tsintzina. It appears that stronger and richer
families from Tsintzina (in particular the Koumoutzis and
Gerasimos, including their “clan-allied” familes of, for instance
Farmakis and Giannoukos ), were successful in securing a
dispropportionally large share of the best land around Zoupena and
Laina. Poorer Tsintzinian families, including recent migrants from
nearby villages, went to the much inferior lands around Goritsa,
which was mostly suitable for grazing and not particularly fertile
for agricultural use. Through a consistent effort, Goritsotes
managed swiftly to turn these kritsopia to numerous strips
where wheat and olives became a new source of wealth.
With King Otto’s 1835
administrative reforms, Goritsa and Zoupena –largely part time
settlements at the time- were incorporated into Dimos
Therapnon. Tsintzina, with a recorded population of 1,021 formed
separately the Dimos Parnonos. Nicholas Koumoutzis was
probably its first Mayor, as seen on a timber permit with a date of
The 1841 census recorded a
Tsintzina population of 1,344 which had risen to 1,532 by 1861.
Neigboring Agrianoi & Zarafona
villages formed Dimos Kroniou. This arrangement was
short-lived. All three above “Dimoi” merged to Dimos Therapnon in
1840 with a then census of some 3,750 people.
It appears that by 1844,
Tsintzinians had abandoned the village as yearlong residence. They
had firmly decided to reside in Goritsa and Zoupena between October
and June, much as it happened since and until the 1980s. The Goritsa
parish was officially incorporated in 1851. The foundation stone for
the grand Goritsa church –a sizeable renaissance building bearing
strong similarities with the Sparta, Tripolis and Athens cathedrals,
being also about the same size- was laid in 1854. The building
itself was completed in 1861 and some years later the two belfries
By the 1850s, the migration
current to Egypt was well under way. It was more than facilitated by
the catastrophic vendetta which raged mostly in Zoupena. The
vendetta concerned the old “aristocratic” family of Koumoutzis and
the Gerasimos family.
The Koumoutzis family was
perhaps the most prominent and well established to date. It held
center-stage in village affairs and a considerable amount of
political authority, dating back to -some say- the pre-Turkish
conquest era. On the other hand, the Gerasimos family had gain
significant military clout during the revolutionary period. Since
then, they had benefited mostly with a tacit alliance of Nicholas
Gerasimos with the influential Giatrakos family of Laconia.
The exact cause of the vendetta
is unknown. It lasted for several years and resulted in at least a
few violent incidents and a substantial exodus from Zoupena. The
village itself remained largely divided, as some families sided with
the Koumoutzis and some with the Gerasimos.
In 1873, Christos Tsakonas, a
Zoupena Tsintzinian who had already migrated to Egypt, attempted to
move to America. Upon arrival in New York, he became impressed by
the New World. Two years later, he was already established
well-enough to return to Greece and persuade other villagers to
This, since 1875, a steady
annual migration trickle begins from Tsintzina to America. It soon
spills over to the greater Sparta area and by the 1890s, has already
reached an extent which alerted the Greek government to try
–unsuccessfully- to stem the tide. Before the turn of the century,
Tsintzinian Americans amounted to several hundred and had become
particularly well established, mainly in the Midwest and mostly on
the fruit trade and later, on the candy and ice-cream business.
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