The region of Olympia and the Peloponnese in general may be home to some very large and impressive ancient structures, which leave visitors in awe with their magnitude and splendour. After a while, though, one does need to return to smaller-scale beauty and take in the wise economy of quiet village life the modestly sized village of Andritsaina is just the place to do that. Located at a mountainous landscape at the top of a hill, very close to the significant archaeological site of the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae, it is the ideal setting for a short, relaxing escape before descending to one of the larger nearby towns (Olympia, Kalamata, Sparta), which are no more than an hour's ride away.
The main square boasts the "Great Fountain", the first fountain in the Peloponnese built in 1724, while another famous fountain in the village runs through the trunk of an old plane tree. While roaming the cobbled streets, one has the chance to admire the colourful architectural elements which make Andritsaina so popular with visitors all year long, including quite a few old mansions and a very typical kafenio (Greek for coffee-shop). For those wishing to focus on history even far from the apparent antiquities, the beautiful neoclassical building of the Nikolopouleios Library houses a very interesting collection of books and manuscripts dating back to the 16th century AD, including documents related to the Greek War of Independence (1821).
More than anything, though, what a traveller should do while passing from Andritsaina is get carried away by the awe-inspiring natural beauty of the landscape. Its proximity to Alfeios, the longest river in the Peloponnese, ensures that wildlife here is second to none. With the added bonus of rafting along the river and climbing in the gorge, this short but quite essential stop has something for everyone!
A library full of rare books dating to the 16th century is probably one of the last places of interest one would expect to find in a picturesque village up in the mountains of the Peloponnese. The story of the library itself is no less surprising. In 1840, forty-seven crates of books left the 6th-floor apartment of 12 Rue Castillon, Paris; they were first shipped to Athens, then Nafplion, and finally loaded on donkeys for the journey to their final destination – Andritsaina. After being stored for 39 years at the church of Agia Varvara, they weremoved to the Library, located at the first floor of the School of Andritsaina, which was inaugurated in 1879. The collection already included precious first copies of rare books, with marginal notes and handwritten dedications by the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and members of the European nobility.Later additions include correspondence from king Otto of Greece, and other important documents drafted by the protagonists of the Greek Revolution or the political scene of the newly-established Hellenic Republic. Since 1998, the Library, now counting more than 40,000 volumes, has had its own home at a beautiful neo-classical building next to the historic Gymnasion (=secondary school) of Andritsaina.In 1963, 23 cast copies of the sculptures adorning the frieze of the Temple of Epicurean Apollo at Bassae were donated to the Library by the British Museum and have since been part of its permanent collection.
The Folklore Museum of Andritsaina
The Museum was created by local women in 1981 and housed at a stone mansion originally built in 1847. The 4,000 exhibits, organised over three floors, reflect everyday life and habits in Andritsaina from 1832 to 1932. The collection boasts numerous traditional costumes, meta-Byzantine icons, rare legal documents, paintings, and photos from 1850 onwards.