©: S.N.A., 2007


1.   timeline
2.     references
3.     short descriptions
4.     myth and fact
5.     the name “tsintzina”
6.     family info
7.     annex




Part I: Village Origins



Stages of village development (best estimate)

Early village times remain unknown. Questions without a clear answer include:

  • About when did first Tsintzina settlers appeared in the area
  • Their profession.
  • The exact location of first houses
  • Likely other settlements around.

In 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 slopes did.

Byzantine & Early Ottoman Period.

Evidence suggests a continuous habitation of the surrounding area from the 9th century A.D. (see also “myth & fact” below).

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 6,7. 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).

There are 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 Elias Constantakis)

St. Anargiroi Monastery seems to have played a vital role in the area. Several Tsintzinians joined its monastic ranks over time and a few assumed senior positions.

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.

In 1688, 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 souls.

This census 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.  

Part II: Village Consolidation

The second Turkish occupation (1715-1821).

The Ottomans reclaimed the area from the Venetians in 1715.

Evidence 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 further apart.

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’ Tsintzina Memoirs

In late 17th Century, two French travelers included Tsintzina in their Laconian tour. Their travel memoirs were printed in Paris in the late 1670s. 

The French 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”.  

“A day’s 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 rock”.

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 Tsintzina.

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 Gytheio).   

Aerial 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 the way.  

Below: Reconstructing Leake’s & the French Travellers’ routes to Tsintzina:

In 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 Koutsogiannena hill.

A New Central Church for a Rapidly Growing Village.

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

“…by Providence 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 Ottomans

Various Greek Revolution Flags under which Tsintzinians fought in 1821-29:

- Left, the “Friendly Society” flag with the initials “Freedom or Death”.
- Center, Capt. Zacharias of Varvitsa (a nearby village) tri-color flag: Red for blood, White  for freedom, Black for death, as in the horizontal inscription.
- Right: Gen. Theodore Kolokotronis flag (known in the West as “St. Michael’s Cross”).   

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 the battlefield.

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 rank.

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.

Two Revolutionary 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 local inhabitants.    

These fortifications4 -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 raids:

- 1. Three-storey wall on the lower cave (where St. John’s chapel is).
- 2, 3. Ceiling-through walls on the upper & left (probably auxiliary) caves.

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 families.

Rapid Socio-Economic 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 1838.

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 were added.

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 follow.

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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