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Monastery of Panagia Gorgoepikoos of Nestani

LISTED monument under state protection by Article 3028/02 “For the protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage”.  



The monastery of Panagia Gorgoepikoos dominates the landscape east/southeast of the village of Nestani on Mount Goulas (1,160 metres), 980 metres above sea level and approximately fifteen kilometres from Tripoli. Mounts Ktenias, Artemisio, and Lyrkeio rise in the east with Mount Mainalo to the west; between them lies the territory of ancient Mantineia, which Homer calls “Μαντινέη ερατεινή”.

The village of Nestani is located below the monastery, on a plateau of the mountain. The road climbs towards the monastery, which can be accessed through two entrance gates: the arched gate of the storerooms and stables, at the top of an impressive recent stone staircase, in the west and the south gate. The space surrounding the rectangular building complex is empty. The buildings remain two-storied, despite later alterations and renovations. The upper stories contain the monks’ cells and guestrooms, whereas the ground floors and their porches are used for storage.

Strategically located, Mount Goulas hosts numerous hermitages and chapels scattered in its cavernous folds. East of the monastery, inside a cave at the foot of the mountain, are the ruins of a Byzantine church dedicated to the Transfiguration. The remains of buildings and fortification walls on a saddle of the steep mountain suggest the existence of a settlement.

Access to the church of the Transfiguration, which extends into the cave and towards the west, is difficult. Nowadays, only the semi-circular east apse and the beginning of the south wall are preserved. The north side was carved into the rock, which also served as a roof. A retaining wall with a cedar frame supports the west extension. The church was entirely decorated with wall paintings, now partially preserved.



Modern Nestani, a large village of the Mantineia province, was named after ancient Nestani in 1927. Its former name was Tsipiana, after a Byzantine toponym, as was the name of the castle on Mount Goulas. The monastery of Panagia Gorgoepikoos is perched on the slope of a tall, steep crag, which dominates the growths of Mount Mainalo that surround the famous Argon Field.

The epithet Gorgoepikoos derives from the Christian belief that the Virgin responds quickly (gorga) to their prayers. The monastery’s other epithet ton Tsipianon or Tsipianitissa, reflects the local toponym Tsipiana (or Kipiana). Diana Antonakatou and Takis Mavros claim that Kopiane was a Byzantine settlement that developed below and near the castle and survived until the Ottoman period. Kopiane was corrupted into Tsapion. Gustave Fougères relates it etymologically to the Albanian word tsip (aquavit), and Rigopoulos to the Albanian tsep (horn, pointed). The Kipiana castle is mentioned in the Aragonese Chronicle of the Morea (1393). It also appears in a 1467 list of Peloponnesian castles by Stefano Magno as the derelict “R. Zipiana”.



Originally a men’s monastery, Panagia Gorgoepikoos went through many phases: floruit, decline, destruction by the Venetians, Turks, and Albanians, contribution to the nation, operation of a ‘secret school’, protection of Christian populations during difficult times.

The monastery celebrates the Dormition of the Virgin of August 15, when pilgrims flock to its grounds. The town of Nestani celebrates the feast of Saint George at the top of Mount Goulas with rituals that recall pagan tradition. Songs and dances, youths in special costumes create an original celebration that echoes the ancient tradition of welcoming spring and the regeneration of the earth with its renewed vegetation and promise of abundance. On the way back from Goulas, the crowds pass through the monastery.

An inscribed marble plaque mentioning Xeni, a young woman who sought xenia (refuge) in the house of “her Lady Gorgoepikoi” and died in the monastery in 1749, is documentary evidence of the Christians’ respect for the Gorgoepikoos.



a. Important historical references to the monastery

1536: Codex 1917 of the National Library of Greece contains a report on the monastery’s property until the year 1536.

1594: Sigillion of Patriarch Jeremiah II

1700: According to a Venetian census, the monastery had “fifteen houses or cells, 320 vineyards, and fifteen pastures”.

1730: Turkish nobles from Tripoli seized the monastery. The monks addressed the Porte and secured their property by firman.

1796-1770: The monastery was burnt during the Greek uprising (Orlofika) and deserted. Gregory V renewed the sigillion of Jeremiah II.

1805: On his way to Argos through Tourniki, William Martin Leake reported that the monastery had twenty monks.

1805: The Patriarch of Constantinople Kallinikos threatened heavy ecclesiastical penalties on all monasteries, including Panagia Gorgoepikoos, that refused to pay their yearly contribution.

1821: The monastery was repeatedly attacked, looted, and destroyed during the Greek War of Independence. Abbot Gregorios, a dedicated fighter, contributed significantly to the Greek cause. Together with other monks he fought under Panagiotis Arvalis, Sekeris, Dagres, and Ierotheos Athanasopoulos. He was killed in a battle against Ibrahim Pasha at Kynouria. Before 1821, the monastery had nine monks, three apprentices, and five servants with an income of 12,000 piasters and expenses of 8,000 piasters.

1825: Abbot Gregorios was killed on June 10. In his memoirs, Gennaios Kolokotronis reports that Demetrios Tsokris took refuge in the Tsipiana monastery with four hundred men.

1826: Ibrahim Pasha burnt the monastery and destroyed its aqueduct. The monks fled and did not return until 1836, according to Tassos Gritsopoulos. During that decade, however, the monastery probably continued to function, as suggested by the dispute between Abbot Paisios of the Tsipiana monastery and Abbot Gregorios Papageorgiou of the monastery of Agios Nikolaos Zongas near Argos, which was a dependency of the former. Abbot Praisios accused Abbot Gregorios of never accounting for his monastery or recognizing, he or his two subordinate monks, its dependency on the Tsipiana monastery.

16 June 1833: In a short report addressed to the prefect of Arkadia, Paisios, the monastery’s first abbot after Greek Independence, related the monastery’s history as he remembered it. He mentioned the monastery’s location below Goulas castle with its derelict houses and buildings, and claimed that the monastery held its stavropegial status longer than any other monastery in the region and that it was earlier than the Varson monastery. According to Paisios’s account, the monastery was burnt in the 1770 uprising, but was gradually restored and featured grand buildings by 1802. At the beginning of the Greek War of Independence, the besieged Turks fled Tripoli and attacked the monastery, where many inhabitants had taken refuge. In a subsequent attack the monastery was burnt and devastated. After the fall of Tripoli, the monks reorganized the monastery, which was again destroyed by the Egyptians. Intensive efforts for the monastery’s restoration began again after the end of the war.

1836: Another document of the General State Archives confirms the destruction caused by Ibrahim Pasha and the great earthquake of 1836.

1948: A budget estimate, now in the General State Archives, requested by the Prefecture of Arcadia and submitted by the Engineers officer Α. Momferatos provided a clear and detailed account of the damages caused by a downpour in February 1948. The document includes an informative plan with an important annotation by Momferatos: “The church is of the Byzantine period and well-preserved, but the cells are later and poorly constructed.”

The monastery became a nunnery in 1970. 

b. Date

The city was derelict when Pausanias visited Nestani (refered to as Nostian or Nostean in his Arkadika) in AD 170. Today, on the hill of Panigyristra stand the ruins of the gate in the Pelasgian walls of the acropolis that protected the city long before the establishment of Kipiana on the same spot and Mouchli directly opposite. The Byzantines built a castle atop Mount Goulas in 1296, after they abandoned Nykli, the Byzantine castle of Tegea. According to Nikolaos Moutsopoulos, the church of the Dormition of the Virgin was founded in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century as a parish church of Tsipiana, the town that developed around the castle. The similarities in the dimensions and architectural features between this church and the extra muros church of the Dormition at Mouchli confirm this hypothesis.

The earliest document refering to the monastery of Gorgoepikoos of Tsipiana is a synodical act issued by the Patriarch of Constantinople Ioannis Kalekas in 1340, now in the Mount Athos archive. The act regards a dispute between the archbishoprics of Lakedaimon and Palaion Patron over the bishopric of Amykles. The synodical court was held in the monastery of Gorgoepikoos of Tsiapiana, which not only existed but flourished at that time.

The monastery’s most important written document, now Codex 1917 in the National Library of Greece, is entitled Ecclesiastical and Political Law. Its first nine pages contain chronographical annotations, which provide information on the monastery’s history and the Ottoman period. These annotations by apprentice monk Stavros date from 1678, but many were copied from an earlier manuscript. The manuscript existed before Stavros’s time and contains annotations concerning real estate dating from 1536 onwards.

The monastic landholdings were first recorded in 1536. According to its real estate record, the monastery, which was established before the Ottoman period, acquired vast tracts of land during the first century of Ottoman rule through Christian donations and purchases. The record mentions the construction of a monastic dependency at Mega Dentro, Kamari, in 1592, as well as the construction of various other cells and churches, including the church of Agia Photeini behind the mountain and another church on the mountaintop under Abbot Joasaph. This suggests that the monastery flourished in the sixteenth and probably the seventeenth centuries.

The next written document refering to the Gorgoepikoos monastery is a 1594 patriarchal sigillion. The evidence provided by the sigillion leads to the following conclusions: (i) The Gorgoepikoos monastery on Mount Goulas was always stavropegial (a cross sent by the Partiarch of Constantinople was built into its foundations) and listed as such in a patriarchal register. (ii) It was abandoned around 1460 after the Turkish conquest of the Peloponnese, then renovated, and had fifteen monks “long before” the issuing of this sigillion (no specific date is given). (iii) After Theodosios, Bishop of Amykles, confirmed the monastery’s stavropegial status, a second confirmation sigillion was issued. (iv) That sigillion was lost and the Patriarchate issued another (no specific date provided) probably between 1460 and 1594. (v) Joasaph and his retinue visited the Patriarchate requesting the renewal of the monastery’s stavropegial status in 1594. A fourth sigillion was issued in response to this request. The need to renew the patriarchal privilege arose again much later, and a fifth sigillion was issued by Patriarch Gregory V in March 1798.

The 1594 sigillion issued for the Gorgoepikoos monastery and that issued the same year for the monastery of Agios Nikolaos Varson are almost identical. Both mention that they replaced a previous sigillion that had been damaged. It is possible that some adversity, a possible earthquake, raid, or death, disrupted the life of the two neighbouring monasteries.

The monastery is said to have been established in 1030 or 1080. The castle is considered later (probably 1296). Built on a site that features remains dating from the Archaic to the Early Christian period, the monastery naturally continues a long tradition of worship. According to Ernst Curtius, the Christian church succeeded an ancient temple, possible of Demeter. Reused antique sculptures indicate the existence of a sanctuary of Artemis nearby.

Both local tradition and scholarship consider the monasteries of Agios Nikolaos Varson and Gorgoepikoos as more or less contemporary, the latter probably established less that a half century after the former, in approximately 1080. An inscribed plaque built into the west wall of the Varson monastery’s katholikon, next to the entrance door, reports that according to tradition, this monastery was built in 1030. The inscription, which dates from a later period, is based on unknown evidence. It must be noted, however, that in a short report submitted to the Prefect of Arcadia in 1833, Abbot Paisios of the Gorgoepikoos monastery, relates the monastery held its stavropegial status longer than any other monastery in the region and that it was older than the Varson monastery.



Dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin, the katholikon (main church) of the monastery of Panagia Gorgoepikoos is an unusual three-nave domed basilica of the so-called Orientalizing type. Inside, the church has one pair of columns, three east-facing apses (sanctuary, prothesis, and diakonikon) built close to the bedrock, and barrel-vaulted side naves. A similar set up of the apses against the rock surface can be seen in the church of the Dormition at Mouchli. The Gorgoepikoos katholikon also resembles the small derelict church of the Virgin at Goudi after its reconstruction in the seventeenth century. The central nave is 2.07 metres wide and the side naves one metre wide. Inside the sanctuary apse is a rock-hewn niche in lieu of a window. The entrance door on the west wall connects the nave with the more recent narthex. A trap door in the church’s southwest corner opens into a barrel-vaulted crypt, 5.44 metres long and 2.30 metres wide. According to tradition this crypt was used for curing the mentally ill by isolation.

Two doors on either side of the church lead into two adjacent chapels. The chapel of the Three Hierarchs, an irregular trapezoidal, barrel-vaulted space, is on the left. On the right is the rectangular (3.09 × 4.45 metres), barrel-vaulted chapel of Agios Charalampos. A masonry bench, 0.76 metres high, lines the width of this chapel. 0.27 metres above the bench is the opening of a crypt that communicates with another barrel-vaulted crypt located above the chapel. Both crypts were built during the Ottoman period for storing goods and hiding people. The two chapels and the narthex have altered the church’s original form.



Whether built into walls or scattered around the courtyard, the epigraphical and architectural material preserved in the Gorgoepikoos monastery provides evidence for historical continuity in the region. Ancient funerary stelai were used as building material in different places, as were the marble head from a woman’s statue and two marble objects, one of which depicts a schematic human figure, that were built into a wall of the second-storey cell and are visible from the monastery’s north entrance.

Inside the katholikon, the Early Christian capitals that crown the two columns attest human occupation of the site during this period. Part of a marble epistyle is built into the wall between the prothesis and the sanctuary apse of the chapel of the Three Hierarchs, and part of a marble cornice (?) in the south wall of the later narthex. An Early Christian pilaster capital, decorated with a row of relief reed leaves, rests in the monastery’s courtyard. A fragmentary column serves as a base for the altar. Its capital, 0.95 metres tall, shaped like a truncated eight-sided pyramid, has relief decoration: two relief bands on the echinus and a guilloche pattern enclosing rather clumsy rosettes, crosses, and other geometric motifs from the Byzantine repertoire, executed with a compass, on the rectangular abacus.

Two more architectural elements were reused as railings on the staircase leading from the north to the katholikon’s upper level and the residential building’s second storey: a monolithic column on the lower step and an octagonal colonnette on the top step. The colonnette, which stands on a small pillar of approximately the same height, features similar vegetal motifs and guilloche patterns as the capital mentioned above, as well as a later inscription that reads: “Made in July 1916”.



West of the narthex is a relief with pedimental crowning piece and palmettes, inscribed ΕΥΙΠΠΑ ΧΑΙΡΕ (Hail Euippas). At the narthex’s entrance, below the belfry, another stele is inscribed ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΙ ΧΑΙΡΕ (Hail Apollo). A fragmentary inscription on a stele reused upside down as the narthex door’s right doorjamb reads:



Above the door of a cell adjacent to the abbot’s quarters is a built-in marble plaque, which relates that this west wing was renovated in 1747. According to Moutsopoulos, it reads: Δ Ν Λ  Β ΕΤΟς Ο ΔΑΜΑΝΟC | † ΑΨΜΖ[=1747] ΩΚΟΔΟΜΙ | ΗΓΟΥΜΕ [(Μ)]  ΕΒΟΝΤΟΣ- | ΚΑΜΟΥ ΕΠΙ ΙΚΟΥ ΤΟΥ | Ησαιου. Antonakatou and Mavros, however, claimed that the inscription is unreadable and that there may be two inscriptions, carved one on top of the other.

An octagonal colonnette features four animal heads on the corners of the diagonals and relief decoration of interconnected circles and lozenges on all sides but one, which is inscribed: † ΝΕΟ|ΦΙΤΟΥ | ΙΕΡΟ|(ΜΟΝΑ)ΧΟΥ (ΚΑΙ) | ΚΑΘ|ΗΓΟΥ|ΜΕΝ|ΟΥ ΤΗ | ΤΙΑΥ|ΤΗΙ Μ|ΟΝΗ | ΜΝΗC|ΘΗΤ|Ι Χ(Ρ ΙΣΤ)Ε | ΕΝ Ο|ΡΑ ΚΑ|ΤΑΔΙ|ΚΗC (Christ, remember Neophytos, monk and abbot in this monastery, at the time of doom). Moutsopoulos published a photograph taken in the monastery’s courtyard, in which the colonnette is topped by a capital. The capital is still there, but the colonnette was reused in a recently built fountain inside the courtyard. Moutsopoulos compares the inscription on the colonnette with one mentioned by Georgios Lampakis in 1885, but not located since: † ΙΑΚO|ΒΟΥ Ι|ΕΡΟ|ΜΟΝ|AΧΟΥ | ΤΟΥ ΕΛ|ΑΤΟΜ|ΙCΑΝ|ΤΟC | ΤΑY|ΤΑC| TOYTOY M|NHCT|ΙΘΗ|ΤΙ Χ(ΡΙCT)E | EN O|PA KA|TAΔΙ|ΚHC (Christ, remember Iakovos at the time of doom).



The iconographic program of the main church is divided into horizontal registers. The purely decorative lower register was entirely re-plastered at a later period and now features imitation-marble panels (green with an off-white frame). Directly above the floor, the walls were touched up with oil paint, probably because of wear. The narrower second register depicts busts of saints, and the third register scenes from the martyrdom of saints. The two subsequent registers contain scenes from the lives of the Virgin (below) and Christ (above). Red bands separated the scenes on all four registers. The arches connecting the katholikon’s columns are also painted with full-figure saints holding their attributes. Christ Pantokrator surrounded by angels occupies the vault of the central nave, and the Virgin Platytera decorates the prothesis.

Because of repeated restorations and re-paintings, the katholikon’s wall paintings have been significantly altered. A typical example of these interventions is the figure of Christ Pantokrator, now completely repainted, unlike the surrounding angels, which maintain their original aspect. The lower parts of the sanctuary, prothesis, and diakonikon are decorated with modern wall paintings.



Inside the katholikon, next to the templon icon of the Dormition, is an icon of the Virgin Gorgoepikoos and Child inscribed: ΧΡΥΣΑΦΙΟΥ ΠΑΡΑ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΝΙΕΡΩΤΑΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΕΥΡΥΣΘΕΝΗΣ ΚΥΡΙΟΥ ΚΥΡΙΟΥ ΕΥΡΥΣΘΕΝΗΣ ΠΡΩΗΝ (Created by the master Athanasios Moukas in 1818 with funds provided by the most holy abbot Gabriel and by Chrysaphios…).

Particularly noteworthy is small icon traditionally attributed to the evangelist Luke and dubbed Kopsokephali, with silver revetment paid for by Abbot Gregorios, according to the dedicatory inscription: Μ-Ρ 1854 | ΓΟΡΓΟΕΠΗΚΟΥΗ ΤΣΙΠΙΑΝΑ | Η ΟΠΟΙΑ ΕΙΚΟΝΑ | ΑΣΗΜΟΘΙΚΕΕ ΣΜΑΛΤΩΘΗ | ΔΙΑΕΞΟΔΩΝ ΤΗΣ ΜΟΝΗΣ | ΗΓΟΥΜΕΝΕΒΟΝΤΟΣ ΕΜΟΥ ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟΥ | ΙΕΡΟΜΟΝΑΧΟΥ | ΠΑΠΑΓΕ | ΩΡΓΗ | ΑΔΟΥΕΚ | Μ-Ι-Σ | ΠΑΝΑΟΤΕ ΚΟΝ ΠΑΡΑΣΚΕΒΑΣ | *ΔΧΡ* (This icon of the Gorgoepikoos at Tsipiana was covered with silver and decorated with funds provided by the monastery while I, the monk Gregorios Papageorgis, was abbot).

The monastery also has a silver cross with multi-coloured gems and three gold-embroidered panels: (a) an Epitaphios; (b) a panel with a religious scene inscribed ΙΣ ΧΣ -ΑΧΟΗ΄(1678). ΥΠΑΡΧΕΙ ΤΗΣ ΘΕΟΤΟΚΟΥ ΤΗΣ ΓΟΡΓΟΕΠΗΚΟΟΥ – ΔΕΗΣΙΣ ΤΟΥ ΔΟΥΛΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΘΥ ΓΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΙΕΡΟΜΟΝΑΧΟΥ (Jesus Christ – 1678. Of the Theotokos Gorgoepikoos. Prayer of God’s servant Gabriel the monk); and (c) another panel inscribed ΓΑΒΡΙΗΛ ΙΕΡΟΜΟΝΑΧΟΥ Ο ΚΣ ΕΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣΕΝ ΚΑΙ ΓΑΡ ΕΣΤΕΡΕΩΣΕΝ ΤΗΝ ΟΙ ΤΗΣ ΓΟΡΓΟΕΠΗΚΟΟΥ (Of Gabriel the monk. The Lord reigned and thus founded the Gorgoepikoos).

The monastery donated several precious ecclesiastical objects to the Christian Archaeological Society, currently on display there: a carved wood bread bin, a red silk aer (red silk cover for sanctified offerings), a chalice cover, and an epitrachilio (stole) woven with gold.

The monastery’s relics include the skull of Osios Prokopios of Dekapolis, relics of Saints Nektarios, Paraskevi, Charalampos, John Chrysostome, and Panteleemon, a piece of the Holy Cross, a carved wood cross donated by Saint Catherine of Russia, and a carved wooden pendant of Patriarch Gregory V.



Two partially preserved manuscript pages of a parchment Gospel, dating from the late eleventh or early twelfth centuries, were found in the monastery’s archive. The musical annotations of both pages have faded. The monastery’s library possesses the patriarchal sigillion of Gregory V (1798), which mentions the 1594 sigillion, now in the National Library of France, that renewed monastery’s stavropegial status and the three previous sigillia. It also has decorative monastic seals dating from 1580-1853, 1853-1869, 1860, 1869 to the present, sultan’s firmans, manuscripts, offerings by abbots and monks, and lists of monks, among other objects.



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