UP TO 7 GUESTS
4 Days Private Tour: Arachova-Volos-Pelion
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Village of Delphi
The Oracle of Delphi – Museum of Delphi
Optional Parnassos ski Resort
Portaria Village – Centaurs’ Path
Thermopylae’s Battlefield – Leonidas statue
Setting off with a drive along the national highway heading towards northern Greece and coming across the plane of Theves and the city of Levadia. Soon after we will be on the slopes of Mount Parnassus before reaching the mythical Delphi.
Delphi was a famous sanctuary with a PanHellenic character dedicated to Apollo. It served as an oracle and was considered ‘the naval’ the center of the world. Today Delphi is a symbol of Greek cultural unity. The scenic location allows you to have a soothing view of the Greek mountains and two more interesting sites, the Gymnasium and the secondary sanctuary of Athena Pronea. Meanwhile at the site you will visit the temple of Apollo where Pytheia spoke to the oracles, the theater, and the stadium. While in the museum you will be able to see the famous charioteer and Gold Ivory statues. Leaving the site we will have lunch at the modern village of Delphi with a peaceful view of the mountains of Fokis. Before setting off we will stop at a point well known for its great view, you will see the Corinthian Sea, the port of Itea and the valley full of olive trees (olive sea).
Our next stop is going to be Arachova, Mykonos of the winter. It used to be a small, mountainous village. Nowadays it is the most cosmopolitan winter resort close to Athens. It is very close to a ski resort, made up of traditional houses and shops selling locally produced products. Walking through the village with its narrow, country streets and shops on the central street you will have a breathtaking view of the mountains full of olive trees literally in front of you. We will overnight here, but before that if weather allows we will drive to Parnassus Ski Resort to enjoy snow and, if you like, to ski.
The following day we will drive towards Mount Pelio. On our way, we stop at Portaria, one of the most significant tourist resorts in Greece. Visitors admire its natural beauties, like the «Centaurs’ path» and the cascade of Karavos, walk along the cobbled streets that are surrounded by yards with flowers in full bloom, enjoy the view over the gulf of Pagassitikos and visit the Byzantine churches and the old monasteries.
If you follow Greek Mythology you would probably be aware of the famous Centaurs, the strong men with the upper body of a man and the legs of a horse. The myth has it that they lived in the woods of the famous mountain of Pelio in Greece, wandering in the paths and finding shelter in large caves.
If you want to feel the mystery of the Centaurs then you have to walk the famous Path of the Centaurs in the popular village of Portaria. A path that leads you through the village of Portaria giving you amazing views of the forest and the small waterfalls.
We will end up at the city of Volos to overnight. It is a coastal city of the Pagasitic Gulf shaded by the beautiful Mt. Pelion dotted with its picturesque villages. Volos is located almost in the center of the Greek mainland, between Athens and Thessaloniki.
Volos is a beautiful city with an ancient and rich history but it is also a cultural, flourishing city, with intellectual creation that harmoniously incorporates the neoclassical with the modern. While in the city don’t miss out on the famous “tsipouradika” of Volos, the area where you will enjoy the standard tsipouro accompanied with wonderful seafood dishes. The city has over 350 tsipouradika.
We will drive up to Pilio, the legendary mountain towering above Volos. The mountain that, according to mythology, was the summer residence of the Olympian Gods and the land of the Centaurs. Pelio is considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of Greece. Full of small villages with unique architecture and great views.
Tsagkarada lies 500 m above sea level on the eastern side of Mt. Pelion, along a densely wooded area, looking out to the Aegean. Here, nature is dominant with chestnut and plane trees, being twisted around every single old and new construction of the sparsely-populated village. Treat yourself a cup of coffee at the central square of Agia Paraskevi, where the great Plane Tree counts a life of at least ten centuries.
Skiing, if weather permits, is also an option at Hania.
Following through for your last day you can spend the morning in Pelio, walk around the city of Volos. After that, we will start our relaxing drive back to Athens following the national highway with a small stop at Thermopylae to visit the place where Leonidas and his 300 died for freedom back in 480 BC.
Inclusions - Exclusions
Private Tours are personal and flexible just for you and your party.
- Professional Drivers with Deep knowledge of history. [Not licensed to accompany you in any site.]
- Hotel pickup and drop-off
- Guaranteed to skip the long lines / Tickets are NOT included.
- Bottled water
- Licensed Tour guide on request (Additional cost)
- Accommodation and breakfast (according to your booking)
- Entrance Fees
- Personal expenses (drinks, meals, etc.)
- Airport Pick Up and drop-off (Additional cost)
ADMISSION FEES FOR SITES
(1 November – 31 March): 9€ per person
Delphi: 6€ (08:00- 15:30)
Thermopylae’s Historical Center: 3€ (09:00- 17:00)
Free admission days:
- 6 March (in memory of Melina Mercouri)
- 18 April (International Monuments Day)
- 18 May (International Museums Day)
- The last weekend of September annually (European Heritage Days)
- Every first Sunday from November 1st to March 3rd
- 28 October
- 1 January: closed
- 25 March: closed
- 1 May: closed
- Easter Sunday: closed
- 25 December: closed
- 26 December: closed
Free admission for:
- Escorting teachers during the visits of schools and institutions of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary education and of military schools.
- Members of Societies and Associations of Friends of Museums and Archaeological Sites throughout Greece with the demonstration of certified membership card
- Members of the ICOM-ICOMOS
- Persons possessing a free admission card
- The employees of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Archaeological Receipts Fund, upon presentation of their service ID card.
- The official guests of the Greek government, with the approval of the General Director of Antiquities.
- Young people, under the age of 18, after demonstrating the Identity Card or passport to confirm the age.
Reduced admission for:
- Greek citizens and citizens of other Member – States of the European Union who are over 65 years old, upon presentation of their ID card or passport for verification of their age and country of origin.
- Holders of a solidarity card
- Holders of a valid unemployment card.
- Large families’ parents of children up to 23 yrs old, or up to 25 yrs old (on military service/studying), or child with disabilities regardless the age, having a certified pass of large families, certification from the Large Family Association or a family status certificate issued by the Municipality
- Persons with disabilities (67 % or over) and one escort, upon presentation of the certification of disability issued by the Ministry of Health or a medical certification from a public hospital, where the disability and the percentage of disability are clearly stated.
- Single-parent families with minors, upon presentation of a family status certificate issued by the Municipality. In the case of divorced parents, only the parent holding custody of the children
- The police officers of the Department of Antiquity Smuggling of the Directorate of Security
- Tourist guides upon presentation of their professional ID card.
- University students and students at Technological Educational Institutes or equivalent schools from countries outside the EU by showing their student ID.
Delphi was an important ancient Greek religious sanctuary sacred to the god Apollo. Located on Mt. Parnassus near the Gulf of Corinth, the sanctuary was home to the famous oracle of Apollo which gave cryptic predictions and guidance to both city-states and individuals. In addition, Delphi was also home to the PanHellenic Pythian Games.
MYTHOLOGY & ORIGINS:
The site was first settled in Mycenaean times in the late Bronze Age (1500-1100 BCE) but took on its religious significance from around 800 BCE. The original name of the sanctuary was Pytho after the snake which Apollo was believed to have killed there. Offerings at the site from this period include small clay statues (the earliest), bronze figurines, and richly decorated bronze tripods.
Delphi was also considered the center of the world, for in Greek mythology Zeus released two eagles, one to the east and another to the west, and Delphi was the point at which they met after encircling the world. This fact was represented by the omphalos (or navel); a dome-shaped stone that stood outside Apollo’s temple and which also marked the spot where Apollo killed the Python.
The oracle of Apollo at Delphi was famed throughout the Greek world and even beyond. The oracle – the Pythia or priestess – would answer questions put to her by visitors wishing to be guided in their future actions. The whole process was a lengthy one, usually taking up a whole day and only carried out on specific days of the year. First, the priestess would perform various actions of purification such as washing in the nearby Castalian Spring, burning laurel leaves and drinking holy water. Next an animal – usually a goat – was sacrificed. The party seeking advice would then offer a pelanos – a sort of pie – before being allowed into the inner temple where the priestess resided and gave her pronouncements, possibly in a drug or natural gas-induced state of ecstasy.
Perhaps the most famous consultant of the Delphic oracle was Croesus, the fabulously rich King of Lydia who, when faced with a war against the Persians, asked the oracle’s advice. The oracle stated that if Croesus went to war then a great empire would surely fall. Reassured by this, the king took on the mighty Cyrus. However, the Lydians were overpowered at Sardis and it was the Lydian empire which fell, a lesson that the oracle could easily be misinterpreted by the unwise or over-confident.
Delphi, as with the other major religious sites of Olympia, Nemea, and Isthmia, held games to honor various gods of the Greek religion. The Pythian Games of Delphi began sometime between 591 and 585 BCE and were initially held every eight years, with the only event being a musical competition where solo singers accompanied themselves on a kithara to sing a hymn to Apollo. Later, more musical contests and athletic events were added to the program, and the games were held every four years with only the Olympic Games being more important. The principal prize for victors in the games was a crown of laurel or bay leaves.
The site and games were managed by the independent Delphic amphictiony – a council with representatives from various nearby city-states – which asked for taxes, collected offerings, invested in construction programs, and even organized military campaigns in the Four Sacred Wars, fought to remedy sacrilegious acts against Apollo committed by the states of Crisa, Phocis, and Amphissa.
The first temple in the area was built in the 7th century BCE and was a replacement for less substantial buildings of worship which had stood before it. The focal point of the sanctuary, the Doric temple of Apollo, was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 548 BCE. A second temple, again Doric in style, was completed in 510 BCE. Measuring some 60 by 24 meters, the facade had six columns whilst the sides had 15. This temple was destroyed by an earthquake in 373 BCE and was replaced by a similarly sized temple in 330 BCE. This was constructed with poros stone coated in stucco. Marble sculpture was also added as decoration along with Persian shields taken at the Battle of Marathon. This is the temple which survives, although only partially, today.
Other notable constructions were the theatre (with capacity for 5,000 spectators), temples to Athena (4th century BCE), a tholos with 13 Doric columns ( 580 BCE), stoas, a stadium (with capacity for 7,000 spectators), and around 20 treasuries, which were constructed to house the votive offerings and dedications from city-states all over Greece. Similarly, monuments were also erected to commemorate military victories and other important events. For example, the Spartan general Lysander erected a monument to celebrate his victory over Athens at Aegospotami. Other notable monuments were the great bronze Bull of Corcyra (580 BCE), the ten statues of the kings of Argos (369 BCE), a gold four-horse chariot offered by Rhodes, and a huge bronze statue of the Trojan Horse offered by the Argives (413 BCE). Lining the sacred way, from the sanctuary gate up to the temple of Apollo, the visitor must have been greatly impressed by the artistic and literal wealth on display. Alas, in most cases, only the monumental pedestals survive of these great statues, silent witnesses to lost grandeur.
In 480 BCE the Persians attacked the sanctuary and in 279 BCE the sanctuary was attacked again, this time by the Gauls. During the 3rd century BCE, the site came under the control of the Aitolian League. In 191 BCE Delphi passed into Roman hands; however, the sanctuary and the games continued to be culturally important in Roman times, in particular under Hadrian. The decree by Theodosius in 393 CE to close all pagan sanctuaries resulted in Delphi’s gradual decline. A Christian community dwelt at the site for several centuries until its final abandonment in the 7th century CE.
The site was ‘rediscovered’ with the first modern excavations being carried out in 1880 CE by a team of French archaeologists. Notable finds were splendid metope sculptures from the treasury of the Athenians (490 BCE) and the Siphnians (525 BCE) depicting scenes from Greek mythology. In addition, a bronze charioteer in the severe style (480-460 BCE), the marble Sphinx of the Naxians (560 BCE), the twin marble archaic statues – the kouroi of Argos (580 BCE) and the richly decorated omphalos stone (330 BCE) – all survive as testimony to the cultural and artistic wealth that Delphi had once enjoyed.
According to the ancient Greek mythology, Mount Pelion took its name from the mythical king Peleus, father of Achilles, and it was the homeland of Centaurs, they were mythical creatures half-man and half-horse. In fact, it was the centaur Chiron who became the tutor and guardian of Jason until he grew up. Pelion is also the region where the Olympian gods had chosen for their summer holidays.
Just a few km from Volos is Sesklo, an area where many archaeological excavations took place. The remains that were discovered there belong to a well-organized settlement. Walls, houses, and tombs from the 7th century BCE and other remains from the middle and the modern Neolithic era have been found. From 2,500 to 1,200 BCE, there was a settlement where the town of Volos is located today. This settlement was Iolcos, the homeland of Jason, and had an important port. Southwest, there was another maritime town, Alos, close to the present-day town of Almyros. At the beginning of the historical period, Iolcos started to decline. The port of Alos, important during the Persian Wars, also lost its importance in the 4th century BCE. After Philip V of Macedonia arrived, the port of Pyrasus became the commercial center of the region.
In 293 BCE, King Demetrius Poliorcetes founded a new town, Demetriada. This town flourished in the Roman times but it was just an unimportant provincial town during the Byzantine Empire. All through the history of Pelion, it was constantly invaded by foreign nations, such as the Goths (in 396 AD) and the Huns (in 539-540 AD). To protect the area, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian fortified the towns of Thessaly. At the same time, the Byzantine Castle of Volos was constructed on the ruins of the ancient town of Iolcos. During Medieval times, Pelion also accepted pirate raids from the sea, which is why many villages are constructed on hill slopes with view to the sea and most mansions of Pelion had a fortifying architecture. After the occupation of Constantinople by the crusaders in 1204, the Venetians occupied the region of Pelion. Later in 1393, Pelion went under the Turkish occupation. During the years of the Greek Revolution, the famous clergyman and scholar Anthimos Gazis tried to raise the national spirit of Pelion and lead it to independence. Pelion declared its participation in the Greek Revolution under Captain Kyriakos Basdekis, on the 7th of May 1821. But the Turkish army stopped the revolutionary movement of Pelion in a bloodbath. The second attempt of liberation was stopped again in March 1854. Pelion eventually won its independence in 1881, when the whole of Thessaly was integrated to the Greek State.
Thermopylae is a mountain pass near the sea in northern Greece which was the site of several battles in antiquity, the most famous being that between Persians and Greeks in August 480 BCE. Despite being greatly inferior in numbers, the Greeks held the narrow pass for three days with Spartan King Leonidas fighting a last-ditch defense with a small force of Spartans and other Greek hoplites. Ultimately the Persians took control of the pass, but the heroic defeat of Leonidas would assume legendary proportions for later generations of Greeks, and within a year the Persian invasion would be repulsed at the battles of Salamis and Plataea.
CONTEXT: THE PERSIAN WARS
By the first years of the 5th century BCE, Persia, under the rule of Darius (r. 522-486 BCE), was already expanding into mainland Europe and had subjugated Thrace and Macedonia. Next, in king Darius’ sights were Athens and the rest of Greece. Just why Greece was craved by Persia is unclear. Wealth and resources seem an unlikely motive; other more plausible suggestions include the need to increase the prestige of the king at home or to quell once and for all a collection of potentially troublesome rebel states on the western border of the empire.
Whatever the exact motives, in 491 BCE Darius sent envoys to call for the Greeks’ submission to Persian rule. The Greeks sent a no-nonsense reply by executing the envoys, and Athens and Sparta promised to form an alliance for the defense of Greece. Darius’ response to this diplomatic outrage was to launch a naval force of 600 ships and 25,000 men to attack the Cyclades and Euboea, leaving the Persians just one step away from the rest of Greece. In 490 BCE Greek forces led by Athens met the Persians in battle at Marathon and defeated the invaders. The battle would take on mythical status amongst the Greeks, but in reality, it was merely the opening overture of a long war with several other battles making up the principal acts. Persia, with the largest empire in the world, was vastly superior in men and resources and now these would be fully utilized for a full-scale attack.
In 486 BCE Xerxes became king upon the death of Darius and massive preparations for an invasion was made. Depots of equipment and supplies were laid, a canal dug at Chalkidike, and boat bridges built across the Hellespont to facilitate the movement of troops. Greece was about to face its greatest ever threat, and even the oracle at Delphi ominously advised the Athenians to ‘fly to the world’s end’.
THE PASS OF THERMOPYLAE
When news of the invading force reached Greece, the initial Greek reaction was to send a force of 10,000 hoplites to hold position at the valley of Tempē near Mt. Olympos, but these withdrew when the massive size of the invading army was revealed. Then after much discussion and compromise between Greek city-states, suspicious of each other’s motives, a joint army of between 6,000 and 7,000 men was sent to defend the pass at Thermopylae through which the Persians must enter to access mainland Greece. The Greek forces included 300 Spartans and their helots with 2,120 Arcadians, 1,000 Lokrians, 1,000 Phokians, 700 Thespians, 400 Corinthians, 400 Thebans, 200 men from Phleious, and 80 Mycenaeans.
The relatively small size of the defending force has been explained as reluctance by some Greek city-states to commit troops so far north, and/or due to religious motives, for it was the period of the sacred games at Olympia and the most important Spartan religious festival, the Karneia, and no fighting was permitted during these events. Indeed, for this very reason, the Spartans had arrived too late at the earlier battle of Marathon. Therefore, the Spartans, widely credited as being the best fighters in Greece and the only city-state with a professional army, contributed only a small advance force of 300 hoplites (from an estimated 8,000 available) to the Greek defensive force, these few being chosen from men with male heirs.
In addition to the land forces, the Greek city-states sent a fleet of trireme warships which held position off the coast of Artemision (or Artemesium) on the northern coast of Euboea, 40 nautical miles from Thermopylae. The Greeks would amass over 300 triremes and perhaps their main purpose was to prevent the Persian fleet sailing down the inland coast of Lokris and Boeotia.
The pass of Thermopylae, located 150 km north of Athens was an excellent choice for defense with steep mountains running down into the sea leaving only a narrow marshy area along the coast. The pass had also been fortified by the local Phokians who built a defensive wall running from the so-called Middle Gate down to the sea. The wall was in a state of ruin, but the Spartans made the best repairs they could in the circumstances. It was here, then, in a 15-meter wide gap with a sheer cliff protecting their left flank and the sea on their right that the Greeks chose to make a stand against the invading army. Having somewhere in the region of 80,000 troops at his disposal, the Persian king, who led the invasion in person, first waited four days in an expectation that the Greeks would flee in panic. When the Greeks held their position, Xerxes once again sent envoys to offer the defenders the last chance to surrender without bloodshed if the Greeks would only lay down their arms. Leonidas’ bullish response to Xerxes request was ‘molōn label’ or ‘come and get them’ and so battle commenced.
HOPLITES VS ARCHERS
The two opposing armies were essentially representative of the two approaches to Classical warfare – the Persians favoured long-range assault using archers followed up with a cavalry charge, whilst the Greeks favoured heavily-armoured hoplites, arranged in a densely packed formation called the phalanx, with each man carrying a heavy round bronze shield and fighting at close quarters using spears and swords. The Persian infantry carried a lightweight (often crescent-shaped) wicker shield and was armed with a long dagger or battleax, a short spear, and composite bow. The Persian forces also included the Immortals, an elite force of 10,000 who were probably better protected with armor and armed with spears. The Persian cavalry was armed as the foot soldiers, with a bow and an additional two javelins for throwing and thrusting. Cavalry, usually operating on the flanks of the main battle, were used to mop up opposing infantry put in disarray after they had been subjected to repeated showers from the archers. Although the Persians had enjoyed the upper hand in previous contests during the recent Ionian revolt, the terrain at Thermopylae would better suit the Greek approach to warfare.
Although the Persian tactic of rapidly firing vast numbers of arrows into the enemy must have been an awesome sight, the lightness of the arrows meant that they were largely ineffective against the bronze-armored hoplites. Indeed, Spartan indifference is epitomised by Dieneces, who, when told that the Persian arrows would be so dense as to darken the sun, replied that in that case, the Spartans would have the pleasure of fighting in the shade. At close quarters, the longer spears, heavier swords, better armor, and rigid discipline of the phalanx formation meant that the Greek hoplites would have all of the advantages, and in the narrow confines of the terrain, the Persians would struggle to make their vastly superior numbers count.
On the first day Xerxes sent his Median and Kissian troops, and after their failure to clear the pass, the elite Immortals entered the battle but in the brutal close-quarter fighting, the Greeks held firm. The Greek tactic of simulating a disorganized retreat and then turning on the enemy in the phalanx formation also worked well, lessening the threat from Persian arrows and perhaps the hoplites surprised the Persians with their disciplined mobility, a benefit of being a professionally trained army.
The second day followed the pattern of the first, and the Greek forces still held the pass. However, an unscrupulous traitor was about to tip the balance in favor of the invaders. Ephialtes, son of Eurydemos, a local shepherd from Trachis, seeking reward from Xerxes, informed the Persians of an alternative route –the Anopaia path– which would allow them to avoid the majority of the enemy forces and attack their southern flank. Leonidas had stationed the contingent of Phokian troops to guard this vital point but they, thinking themselves the primary target of this new development, withdrew to a higher defensive position when the Immortals attacked. This suited the Persians as they could now continue unobstructed along the mountain path and arrive behind the main Greek force. With their position now seemingly hopeless, and before their retreat was cut off completely, the bulk of the Greek forces were ordered to withdraw by Leonidas.
The Spartan king, on the third day of the battle, rallied his small force – the survivors from the original Spartan 300, 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans – and made a rearguard stand to defend the pass to the last man in the hope of delaying the Persians progress, in order to allow the rest of the Greek force to retreat or also possibly to await relief from a larger Greek force. Early in the morning, the hoplites once more met the enemy, but this time Xerxes could attack from both front and rear and planned to do so but, in the event, the Immortals behind the Greeks were late on arrival. Leonidas moved his troops to the widest part of the pass to utilize all of his men at once, and in the ensuing clash, the Spartan king was killed. His comrades then fought fiercely to recover the body of the fallen king. Meanwhile, the Immortals now entered the fray behind the Greeks who retreated to a high mound behind the Phokian wall. Perhaps at this point, the Theban contingent may have surrendered (although this is disputed amongst scholars). The remaining hoplites now trapped and without their inspirational king, were subjected to a barrage of Persian arrows until no man was left standing. After the battle, Xerxes ordered that Leonidas’ head is put on a stake and displayed on the battlefield. As Herodotus claims in his account of the battle in book VII of The Histories, the Oracle at Delphi had been proved right when she proclaimed that either Sparta or one of her kings must fall.
Meanwhile, at Artemision, the Persians were battling the elements rather than the Greeks, as they lost 400 triremes in a storm off the coast of Magnesia and more in the second storm off Euboea. When the two fleets finally met, the Greeks fought late in the day and therefore limited the duration of each skirmish which diminished the numerical advantage held by the Persians. The result of the battle was, however, indecisive and on news of Leonidas’ defeat, the fleet withdrew to Salamis.
The battle of Thermopylae, and particularly the Spartans’ role in it, soon acquired mythical status amongst the Greeks. Free men, in respect of their own laws, had sacrificed themselves in order to defend their way of life against foreign aggression. As Simonedes’ epitaph at the site of the fallen stated: ‘Go tell the Spartans, you who read: We took their orders and here lie dead’.
A glorious defeat maybe, but the fact remained that the way was now clear for Xerxes to push on into mainland Greece. The Greeks, though, were far from finished, and despite many states now turning over to the Persians and Athens itself being sacked, a Greek army led by Leonidas’ brother Kleombrotos began to build a defensive wall near Corinth. Winter halted the land campaign, though, and at Salamis, the Greek fleet maneuvered the Persians into shallow waters and won a resounding victory. Xerxes returned home to his palace at Sousa and left the gifted general Mardonius in charge of the invasion. After a series of political negotiations, it became clear that the Persians would not gain victory through diplomacy and the two armies met at Plataea on August 479 BCE. The Greeks, fielding the largest hoplite army ever seen, won the battle and finally ended Xerxes’ ambitions in Greece.
As an interesting footnote: the important strategic position of Thermopylae meant that it was once more the scene of battle in 279 BCE when the Greeks faced invading Gauls, in 191 BCE when a Roman army defeated Antiochus III, and even as recent as 1941 CE when Allied New Zealand forces clashed with those of Germany.
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