The road south towards Areopolis and the Deep Mani traverses a narrow plateau between a steep olive terraced incline towards the sea and the rising bulk of the Taygetus, Gaidourovouni - 'Donkey Mountain'. Strung along this road are a number of settlements. The first, Nomitsis, seems to barely deserves the appellation of village but its past importance can be judged by the old churches which line the road.

For a map of the whole area from Platsa to Langada - including Nomitsis - click here.

There is more of the village just above the main road and Kassis lists 24 churches in the area. In some of the early sources on Byzantine churches, such as Traquair, Nomitsis is called Koumani or often Koutiphari which is really a part of and the old name for Thalames another few hundred metres south. This string of villages are possibly located above the coast due to the threat of pirate attack. Evliya Celebi wrote in the 1670s that the villages were built near one another from fear of the kapetani of the gazis (Turkish soldiers) from the castles of Methoni, Koroni and Oran. The area was famous for its export of vallonia (Evliya calls it 'velanidia') from the oaks of that name, and later observers mention a thriving trade in wood for ships masts. Little of this obvious wealth of timber is evident today.

I was rather unfair to Nomitsis in my earlier comment on this page stating that it hardly deserved the appellation of village. In fact, after further investigation, there is a small warren of streets and houses above the main road. The main domed church in the platea (park here) is dedicated to Ag. Georgios with a high bell tower over the west door. It looks late 18th century and is locked though Kassis says it has paintings by Ilia Kouloufako from 1814. If one follows the street to the south you'll come to a small square in which is a fascinating building.

It looks modern with an upper floor over an arched covered area with railings around it. In the lower wall there are two iron doors rather like those of a furnace or kiln. Climb down into this undercroft and you'll see that there is a spring inside with a shallow pool of water. Not surprisingly the church above (yes it is a church) is dedicated to the Zoodokos Pigi - 'The Life Giving Spring'. The inside of the church is uninteresting, whitewashed with mass produced icons. With the spring at the church of the Anagyroi just down the road it is clear that another reason for the position of the line of villages along this slope from Pigi to Langada is the occurence of springs popping out through the geological strata.

Ag. Nikolaos - Nomitsis

To the NE of the main church in amongst the alleyways is a small raised open space which contains the domed church of Ag. Nikolaos which was at one time the main village church. The architecture and relatively crude masonry and the rather tapered cupola points to post Byzantine construction and it is partially decorated with frescoes from 1754 - quite possibly by one of the painters of the so called "School of Koutiphari'. The door is held shut by a piece of wire and inside it is a largish well lit space - the dome supported by squinches rather than columns.

Detail of The Last Judgement. Ag. Nikolaos - Nomitsis

There are paintings on the west wall (Crucifixion and partial Last Judgement) and the walls of the bema (scenes from Genesis above the Panagia) and the eastern area of the naos under the dome. The side walls of the western naos either were never painted or, as I suspect, whitewashed at a later date. There is a large red stain over much of the paintings on the north wall.

 

Frescoes Ag. Nikolaos Nomitsis. Left - the sea story of St. Nicholas. Right - The Annunciation

Even if I hadn't confirmed the name with a local lady it should be obvious that the church is named after Saint Nicholas of Myra (in present day southern Turkey - his episkopal church there still exists and is one of the tourist sites of that town - 'The Birthplace of Father Christmas' !) from the themes of the wallpaintings which include the sea stories with the saint in sailing ships relatively contemporaneous with the date of the paintings and the numerous mass produced icons of the saint.

Nomitsis - left - Panagia 'tou Kalarriti' and right - Sotiras & Analipsi

There are a number of small churches along the main road which though small sport tiny bell towers. The first. approaching from the north, is called the Panagia "tou Kalarriti" - the name either refers to the painter or to the family who built it. The paintings - it was unlocked - are typical of the 18th and early nineteenth century though the depiction of faces (everyone male or female have identical features) is special to this artist. He also obviously had a thing about horses. He couldn't paint them.

The strangely steed-less St. George and Dimitrios and Saints Konstantinos and Eleni. Panagia 'tou Kalarriti' - Nomitsis

Both military saints George and Dimitris are, unusually, on foot - if a wee bit bandy legged - and in the Crucifixion the Roman soldiers spearing and proffering the sponge to Christ appear to be dismounted. Although the style is generally rather naive there is a painting which, from the sophisticated depiction of perspective of a columned balcony is obviously copied from an Italian Renaissance painting. The bell tower is to the left of the door over a gateway. I was temporarily persuaded that there was another church to the north of this but it turned out to be a pig sty.

At a narrowing of the road just after the turn up into the village is the church of Sotiras and Analipsi up some steps and through a small wrought iron gate. This has a rather odd small tower dated 1696 attached to it which betrays some western influences (the Venetians were in charge of Mani at the time) and reminded me more of northern european 17th century monumental gravestones than the normal Maniat belltower. The church is locked but is reputedly the home of some wallpaintings dated to 1704.

After this small kink in the road, which also narrows it to dangerous proportions, three churches demand your attention. The first, as one approaches from the north, is just below the road on the seaward side in the olive groves. The small church of the Ipapanti (The Presentation of Christ) is in a dilapidated condition. It is reached by clambering down the stone wall and on every occasion I've visited was unlocked - the door hanging off its hinges. The state of the church is tumbledown and although there are few extant paintings inside the exterior architecture would seem to cry out for at least some restoration. Inside it is damp and apart from a graphic Christ rising from the grave in the north niche of the apse little remains on either the walls of the tiny naos or on the surfaces of the templon. Kassis dates them to the early 18th century.

Nomitsis - Ipapanti

The plaster rendering on the exterior walls makes it difficult to assess the original building materials and therefore the date of this church, though Rogan classifies it as post Byzantine and there is a date on the walls of 1709. The church has been restored somewhat in the last few years.

Nomitsis, Church of the Anargyroi

Some 50 metres further along the road on the eastern side is the church of Ag. Anargyroi. This has been described in some books as the "Penitent Ones", but this is better translated as "the penniless ones". As Anargyroi means 'without silver' and describes SS. Cosmas & Damian, twins, who gave their medical skills to the poor for free. This church appears to be joined to the village well - something which could be related to ancient beliefs when wells and springs had other significance. This is probably 13th century Byzantine and quite unusual in its architectural style in that the domed roof covers the whole of the square church, there being no attempt to create a separate naos and apse and therefore no internal supporting columns. On the four visits I have made it has been locked twice and on the last three occasions was open - if locked try asking in the taverna opposite. There is a high window on the south side which gives a view into the church and allows ingress for the delightful house martins who build their nest in the church.

Nomitsis Ag. Anargyroi - View from NW and Last Supper

The inside is practically square the dome rising gently. There is a stone templon and a variety of frescoes the oldest of which are of the medieval period although the state of repair is extremely poor. There are much faded depictions of military saints in medieval Byzantine armour, a hardly discernible Crucifixion above the door and other fragmentary remains. Ag. Georgios is spearing a coiled and scaled serpent/dragon.

Ag. Anagyroi - Military Saint & Saint George and a Taxiarch (Archangel) on horseback

On the templon there are some medieval relief carvings and a strange beast crawling up the left hand side of the middle doorway which defies precise identification but which looks like an otter.

Nomitsis, church of Metamorphoses - for some unknown reason the tree disappeared a few years ago

Just beyond the edge of the village (and therefore strictly speaking in Thalames although Traquair calls this whole area as far as Langada - Koutiphari - its old name) on the left hand side of the road and slightly raised above it is the Church of the Metamorphosis. This cross in square church is dated to the 11th century and according to Megaw has one of the earliest domes in Mani. The church is nowadays used as a funeral chapel and has been left open as long as I can remember - however - as of June 2006, a new door has been inserted and unfortunately locked. Above the door is a niche with a flaking painting of the church's saint. Although the frescoes are definitely later than the church structure and possibly even as late as the second half of the 16th century (according to Drandrakis), they are dreadfully faded. If they are from the 16th century they are rare in Mani where there are few extant paintings from this period.

More strikingly the church is blessed with early medieval carvings on the templon and the four supporting internal columns. The capitals of these are carved marble and have a series of motifs ranging from the common ancient and Byzantine depiction of acanthus leaves to a variety of animals both wild and domestic and sometimes fantastical. It is thought that these carvings were originally from another, now disappeared, church and that a number of churches in Platsa also have marble carvings from this unidentified building. Kastania also has two churches, Ag. Petros and the Evangelistria decorated with similar carved capitals. Rogan points out that the local Mani marble is not good for carving so that most of the materials and quite possibly the finished sculpted pieces were imported to the area.

Metamorphoses, west facade and medieval capital

Although this selection of churches should keep the average church seeker occupied in Nomitsis for a fair few happy hours there are 24 churches listed by Kassis in and around the village.

For a sketch map of the whole area from Platsa to Langada - including Nomitsis click here.

On to Thalames