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Valtetsi: The Den of the Greek War of Independence Rebels

Valtetsi was the ideal headquarters for Theodoros Kolokotronis and the revolutionaries

Valtetsi Greek Independence
“The Battle at Valtetsi,” by Peter von Hess. Public Domain

Valtetsi is an isolated Peloponnesian village surrounded by three mountains, making it an ideal hiding place for the revolutionaries who fought in the Greek War of Independence.

Connected to other villages by three narrow paths that lead to the three mountains of the Arcadia region, Taygetus, Menalus and Parnon, it played a great role in the 1821 Revolution.

Valtetsi, perched at an altitude of 3,280 feet, became an ideal hiding place for the Greek revolutionaries. It was also the field of the first major victorious battle of the War of Independence.

For general Theodoros Kolokotronis, Valtetsi was the ideal place for his troops to hide and plan strategies to defeat the Ottoman enemy.

Valtetsi became the headquarters of the Greek revolutionary army. It was close to the capital of the Peloponnese, the heavily-defended Tripolitsa, which was the first target of the Greeks.

Tripolitsa was the military and administrative center of the entire Peloponnesian peninsula, fortified with thousands of troops and home to many thousands civilians, who were mostly Ottoman.

These factors led Kolokotronis to choose Valtetsi as the starting point for the attack against Tripolitsa (today’s Tripolis). It was ideally located, only 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) west of Tripolitsa.

It was not only the place, but the characteristics of the Valtetsiotes as well: they were known as warlike highlanders, as rough as the terrain of mountainous Arcadia itself.

Valtetsiotes had their own code of ethics, the result of a life in constant movement and constant war, against the Ottoman enemy and against the unforgiving elements.

The living conditions hardened Valtetsiotes and at the same time made them devoted Orthodox Christians who lived an austere life.

A typical family of Valtetsiotes were shepherds on constant move: The harsh winter forced them to take their herds to the Argolid plain from September until April.

And when it was not winter, they had to face their Ottoman conquerors. So when 1821 came, Valtetsi became an ideal hideaway for the Greek rebels and produced great warriors.

As for Valtetsiotes, they were among the bravest and fiercest fighters, such as general Mitros Petrovas and Konstantinos Filos, who fought at the two battles at Valtetsi.

The siege of Tripolitsa

On April 24 and May 12-13, 1821, a double battle took place at Valtetsi, which proved to be one of the most important, since it was the first great victory of the Greeks.

The victory at Valtetsi contributed decisively to the fall of Tripolitsa on September 23, as it revived the morale of the revolutionaries and caused serious losses to the Turks.

Theodoros Kolokotronis wrote in his “Memoirs:” “This date should be glorified for ever and ever because it marked the freedom of our homeland.”

In April of 1821, the Greek revolutionaries began the siege of Tripolitsa, with Kolokotronis correctly guessing that the Turks would try to break the siege.

So he decided to fortify the rebel camps on the hills west and southwest of the city. Greek camps were set up in Valtetsi, Chrysovitsi and Piana, on his initiative.

Kolokotronis, along with the Mavromichalis brothers, Anagnostaras, Panagiotis Giatrakos  and other chieftains, coordinated the three camps and carried out raids on Tripolitsa.

At the time, Ottoman forces under Hurshid Pasha had been ordered to go to Epirus to suppress the Ali Pasha army.

Upon hearing about the situation in the Peloponnese, Hurshid Pasha sent a Turkish force of 3,500 men under Kehaya-bey to strengthen Tripolitsa and quell the revolution.

Kehaya-Bey arrived in Valtetsi on the night of April 23 and attacked the guard, as half of them were near Lake Takka fighting the Ottomans.

The Turkish attack initially succeeded and most of the camp was set on fire, but the Greeks resisted fiercely.

At the most critical moment of the battle, reinforcements arrived, led by chieftain Dimitris  Plapoutas. Thus, the Turkish attack was weakened and the first battle in Valtetsi ended.

The second, and victorious, battle at Valtetsi

In the period between the first and the second battle, the camp was reorganized and refortified and its guard was reinforced with 1,000 warriors, led by Kyriakoulis Mavromichalis.

At the same time, observers were stationed on the hills around Tripolitsa with orders to facilitate communication by means of fires about the movements of the Turks.

One fire meant that the Ottomans were heading towards Levidi, two fires signified that they were going toward Valtetsi and three towards Vervaina. Thus, hill by hill, all the Greek units were notified and they rushed to aid at the area that was threatened.

Indeed, on the night of May 12, Kehaya-Bey with 12,000 men and siege cannons, left  Tripolitsa to go to Valtetsi once more.

About 2,300 Greek revolutionaries had gathered at the village and taken up positions. They had limited armaments and questionable fighting ability — but they believed in the cause.

The fierce battle lasted all day, with the Greeks holding their positions and the Turks held at bay. By the afternoon, reinforcements from the other camps started arriving.

The men of Plapoutas arrived from Chrysovitsi, while Kolokotronis came from Plans with 800 men and trapped the Turks in the crossfire. The fighting lasted into the night with both sides retaining their positions.

In the morning hours of May 13, Kolokotronis broke the Turkish siege and supplied the Greek fighters with food and ammunition. The same night, 400 men came from Vervaina.

In the morning, the battle continued with the intensity of the previous day. Attempts by the Turks to seize the bastions failed one after another.

Seeing the difficulty of seizing the bastions and upon hearing that more Greek reinforcements are arriving, the Ottomans started to retreat.

Encouraged by that, the Greeks came out of their bastions and started chasing the retreating Turks, killing as many as possible.

The enemy losses amounted to 514 dead and 635 wounded. The wounded were transported overnight to Tripolitsa.

The losses of the Greeks amounted to only four dead and 17 wounded. A great amount of military equipment also fell into the hands of the revolutionaries — enough to arm 4,000 men.

The battle of Valtetsi, which had lasted almost 23 hours, was the first major victory of the Greek War of Independence.

1821 Revolution
Kolokotronis’ Tree at Valtetsi. Credit: Haros Tegaios/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Valtetsi monuments

Kolokotronis was of course very fond of Valtetsi. One of the natural monuments of the village is the famous Kolokotronis platanus tree.

The “Historical Tree of Kolokotronis” is an old platanus located in the central square of the village where, according to legend, the general sat under its shade while planning the whole operation of the siege of Tripolitsa.

It is said that Kolokotronis gave special commands to each of his chieftains under this very tree. The legend further says that under the shade of this old platanus, the future of the whole of modern Greece was decided.

Kolokotronis was so fond of Valtetsi that in 1837, after the liberation of Greece, he ordered to build the Church of the Dormition of Theotokos (Virgin Mary) there.

Kolokotronis said that the church was dedicated to Her because of Her guidance throughout the whole Greek War of Independence .

The very same small chapel in which the revolutionaries prayed for Divine assistance prior to the Battle of Valtetsi is still there today as well.

The Valtetsi Folklore and Ethnological Museum is housed in the former home of local chieftain Stavros Tzavaras.

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