Agios Nikolaos Sintza: The monastery emerging from an imposing cave in Arcadia

Monastery of Sintza at Arcadia

The image of Agios Nikolaos Sintzas is truly imposing for anyone who sees it for the first time, even from afar.

Perched at an altitude of 500 metres, in a rather difficult area of ​​Parnon, filled with steep and reddish-tinged rocks, the historic monastery of Arcadia looks as if it emerges from the natural cave where it has been formed.

Agios Nikolaos Sintzas is one of the most important religious attractions of Kynouria. Perhaps it is not widely known, however, those who have explored Leonidio and its surroundings have heard of it – and there are many stopped by either for a look or to light a candle inside.

For many, in fact, it is considered one of the most impressive monasteries we have in Greece, paralleling the monastery of Kipina in Pindos or Panagia Hozoviotissa of Amorgos.

In addition, of course, the monastery also enjoys a fantastic view of the fertile plain of Leonidio - the so-called "Garden of Dionysus", which stretches from the capital of Tsakonia to the sea.

So it's worth planning a spring trip here or maybe spending Easter in Leonidio, so you can enjoy this natural landscape at its best.

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The history, traditions and special attractions of the monastery

The foundation of the monastery is lost in time, however traditions abound about the cave where it was built, which are directly connected to its name - "Sintza".

Sintza in the distinct dialect of Tsakonia means fig tree - a reference that takes us to the ancient myths about the god Dionysus, who is said to have been raised there by his aunt and princess of Thebes, Ino, planting along the way and a fig tree.

In fact, it is no coincidence that the monastery, although dedicated to Agios Nikolaos, also honours the memory of Agios Dionysios on October 3. It is also characteristic that they do not only celebrate him in December, but also at the collection of the relics of Agios Nikolaos (May 9).

Of course, above the lintel of the entrance there is a plaque with the date 1783. However, we believe that this indicates the renovation that took place at the time in the monastery's catholicon and not its original construction.

After all, our available sources go back even further, to 1622, when we have the first written reference to Sintzas, in a church text. However, we believe that the monastery is even older.

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The cave where it was built has been inhabited since the end of the Neolithic Age, while even today visitors can still see a tomb from Roman times, carved into a rock very close to the monastery. There is also another tomb nearby, with a French inscription which speaks of a Christopher.

We therefore assume that this is a French monk who came to the Peloponnese during the years of the Frankish rule, so, accordingly, we date the establishment of the monastery to the period between 1200-1300.

The catholicon was built at the beginning of the 17th century in a small courtyard and, in terms of the architectural type, it is cruciform inscribed in an octagonal dome, with a semicircular narthex.

Inside, in fact, it was full of hagiographies by the Arcadian craftsmen Panagiotis & Kyriakos Koulidas, which unfortunately did not survive.

However, the impressive wood-carved iconostasis is preserved, where there are also icons from the 17th century. The most characteristic among them is the one with the rare subject of the Dormition of Saint Nikolaos, which dates back to 1767.

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Next to the catholicon there is a small chapel dedicated to Agios Dionysios, while to the east are the hermitages, formed in shallow caves. The two-story bell tower before the forecourt stands out, as well as the library, where handwritten gospels, decorated with designs, are housed.

Note, finally, that the main entrance to the monastery is on its south side.

The monastery was founded as a men's monastery, but from 1953 it was converted into a women's monastery. Until 1828, it also had a large property in olive groves, mills and vineyards, but by 1834 it had lost a significant part of it, having contributed a lot to the construction of schools.

Agios Nikolaos Sintzas

How to get to Agios Nikolaos Sintzas

Located in the western part of the Leonidio plain, Agios Nikolaos Sintzas is very easily accessible from the famous Arcadian town. In fact, in addition to driving, you can also come on foot if you are a hiking lover – the route is easy, even for beginners, but requires you to be in good physical condition.

By car, you approach the monastery via the provincial road (starting from the district of Koilasos of Leonidio), after 6 kilometres. There are also relevant signs to guide you, so there is no risk of getting lost on the road.

If you want to go on foot, again, you will follow the smooth dirt road that leads to the rocks of Parnon. Estimate that it will take you around 1.5 hours to reach the monastery (and more to come back).

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