UP TO 6 GUESTS
7 Days Private Tour: Argolida-Sparta-Mani-Olympia-Delphi & Meteora
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Unique Greek countryside private tour
- Corinth Canal
- The picturesque town of Nafplio
- Palamidi Castle – Bourtzi
- Ancient Sparta – Archaeological Sparta Museum
- Museum of The Olive
- Archaeological Site Mystras – Village of Mystras
- Kalamata – Kardamili – Areopoli
- Cave Glyfada (Dirou Cave)
- Messene Archaeological Site – Messene Museum
- Ancient Olympia
- Archaeological Museum Olympia
- Rio – Antirio Bridge
- Village of Delphi
- The Oracle of Delphi – Museum of Delphi
- Sanctuary Athena Pronea – Gymnasium
- The Monasteries of Meteora
- Kalambaka Village
- Thermopylae’s Battlefield – Leonidas statue
We will be starting off with a drive to the Corinth Canal following the shore of the western Athenian suburbs. Gliding along you will see some seaside villages and the island of Salamis. The island is the location of the historical naval battle between the Athenians and Persians (480 BCE).
Our first stop is the unbelievable labor of the Corinth Canal. It separates the Peloponnese Peninsula from the mainland and was completed in 1892. Don’t be afraid to walk across on the pedestrian bridge to admire the canal closer, (if you’re game) on some days bungee jumping is an option.
Later moving along the eastern coast of Peloponnese Peninsula we will land at Ancient Epidaurus. Located in a peaceful environment it was the sanctuary of god Asclepius, the god of Medicine. Epidaurus has the best-preserved ancient Greek theater (4th century BCE) proof of miracles ancient Greek minds could create. Even today the acoustics are astounding. You can climb up to the higher seats to test them or just to close your eyes and dream you attended an ancient Greek tragedy.
From here after a short drive, we will reach Mycenae the land in Homer’s tales. The excavation of this site changed everything we thought we knew about Mycenae. Dated back to the 2nd millennium BCE it represents the era of Achilles, Agamemnon, and Helen of Troy. In the site, you will stand in awe in front of the famous Lions Gate (the oldest architectural sculpture in Europe) but also the cyclopean walls, the burial circle A and the remains of Agamemnon’s Palace. There is a modern museum exhibiting the findings of the “City of Gold” to see as well. Close to leaving Mycenae, we will make a small stop at the treasury of Atreus, it is the best-preserved Tholos tomb and one of the finest examples of Mycenaean architecture.
Leaving antiquity behind we will travel towards a more recent history of Greece and to the city of Nafplion. It is regarded as the most scenic city and it functioned as the capital of Greece until 1834. This seaside city offers you an outstanding combination of fortresses and castles (Palamidi, Bourtzi), a huge port opened to the Aegean Sea and unique architecture. The old quarter of Nafplion reveals Venetian, neoclassical and oriental elements. After walking in the idyllic city we will stop for lunch at a traditional tavern by the sea. Later we will drive up to see the castle of Acronafplia for a panoramic view of Nafplio. As we will overnight here you will have the time to discover more points of interest on your own.
The next day will start with a drive (taking the highway) towards Mystras and Sparta. Enjoying the Greek landscape between hills and mountains on the way and we will pass the city of Tripolis.
On our arrival at Mystras, you will automatically understand why this location stands so unique within the Greek sites. Although referred to as the ghost city, fortified on a citadel, Mystras is one of the two locations in Greece that preserves not only medieval churches but also ordinary houses, mansions, and palaces of the Byzantine Empire (in combination with Frankish elements). As you walk through the site on the higher ground you will reach the citadel and enjoy a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. Then on your way down you will discover the palaces and royal courtyards. Even though Mystras is known as the ghost city most of the monasteries are still in use and the monks will gladly show you around their small devout society. Before heading out you will come across the chapel of St. Demetrios. On its floor, you will see a plaque depicting a two head eagle (the symbol of Byzantium). It was on this very plaque that Konstantine Palaiologos knelt before he was crowned the last emperor of the Byzantium, just imagine what the ceremony must have been like. Before visiting Sparta we will go to the small village of Mystras for lunch at a traditional tavern of course.
Continuing we will then spend the rest of our time in Sparta, the eternal rival city of the Athenian Democracy. Sparta revolved around a different cosmotheory for the normal ancient Greek standards. Initially recognised as the birth place of Helen of Troy and the Kingdom of Menelaus (in Mycenaean period), Sparta was the city of the two Kings, where a few aristocrats ruled and were organized as a purely military society. The city whose one soldier counted as ten soldiers from any other Greek city and of course the city where Leonidas and his 300 Spartans marched from to face the Persian army in Thermopylae (480 BCE).
Reaching Sparta we will visit the ancient citadel where to your amazement you will see of the ancient theater revealed gradually before of your very eyes. We will also pass in front of the stadium where the statue of King Leonidas stands marking the ending point of the Spartathlon race (Athens – Sparta 245,3 km). Then we will settle into our hotel.
Today we will be visiting the region of Mani and particularly Areopoli. Driving south we will be passing the coastal town of Gytheio the old port of Sparta, taking us to the southern coast of the Peloponnese Peninsula. Though it is a part of Greece that doesn’t count as a high tourist attraction, the location that represents a “Pure Greece” for this very reason. Driving deeper in the peninsula of Mani we will see quite a few small villages, these locations are unique and carry a proud part of Greek history. Mani played a key role in the war of independence, remaining free it helped the rest of Greece be liberated. On our way we will stop to see the Dirou Cave, a natural treasure full of stalagmites and stalactites, this cave is one of the most beautiful in the world. It measures a length of 15km full of openings and small lakes. Lastly, southbound again, we will reach the village of Areopoli. Areopoli is a village of the Mani countryside that was also never conquered by the Turks, therefore it holds onto the old traditional Greek look. Everything is made in the traditional light brown color.
After spending the night at Areopoli we will make our way to Ancient Olympia. Following the shoreline, we will pass by Stoupa, Kardamili and the city of Kalamata to reach the coastal road of the western Peloponnese. We will then be exposed to the Ionian sea. We will stop at the coastal city of Kalamata just to stretch our legs a bit then we will visit the archaeological site and the museum of ancient Messini.
Not many people know that Messini is one of the most important excavated cities in Greece. You will be able to see sanctuaries, public buildings, city walls, imposing villas and tombs. The uniqueness of the site is the fact that the city was never destroyed and it is located on an unspoiled site. Continuing we will depart for Ancient Olympia. Once we arrive we will have lunch and visit the site of one of the most important locations in the world, the birthplace of the Olympic Games the Sanctuary of Olympian Zeus. While walking through the site you will pass by the Gymnasium, the Palaistra, the workshop of Phidias, the Temple of Zeus and you will end up at the Stadium. Here every four years the Greeks honored their cities as they competed for glory and spiritual elevation. When we leave the sanctuary of Ancient Olympia you will have leisure time at a small Greek village to rest and enjoy the serenity.
In the morning we will pay a return visit to Ancient Olympia to see its museum. The museum is fascinating because it includes the famous statue “Hermes of Praxiteles” with its perfect analogies. Found within its walls are also tools that belonged to the talented Phidias himself, tools with which he managed to create one of the Seven Wonders of the World “the gold ivory statue of Zeus”.
Then we will take off for Delphi, driving by the port of Patra (the western capital of Greece), we will reach the bridge (Charilaos Trikoupis) of Rio – Antirio that joins Peloponnese Peninsula to the Greek mainland. Regarded as a miracle of engineering, the bridge is one of the world’s longest multi-span, cable-stayed bridges and the longest of the fully suspended type.
Crossing the bridge we will notice Nafpaktos a small coastal town where we will stop for lunch at a traditional tavern. During lunch, you can gaze at the battlefield where the naval battle of Lepanto took place (in 1571) between the Ottoman Empire and the united western powers. Following we will drive up the slopes of Mt Parnassus, on our way you will have the opportunity to see the vast valley of olive trees representing the Greek olive sea.
Passing through the village of Delphi we will stop to visit the archaeological site. Delphi is one of the most important ancient Greek sanctuaries. It was dedicated to the god Apollo and people flocked here from all over Greece. It functioned as an oracle and was considered ‘the naval’ the center of the world. Delphi was and still is a symbol of Greek cultural unity. The scenic location allows you a view of the Greek mountains and two more sites the Gymnasium and the secondary sanctuary of Athena Pronea. In the site, you will visit the Temple of Apollo where Pythia spoke to the oracles, the theater, and the stadium.
After that, we will continue our drive to the mountainous village of Arachova to spend the night. Arachova is very close to a ski resort and a favorite with the locals. The village is full of traditional houses and shops many selling local products. You can walk through the village with its narrow pathways and shops on the central street having a breathtaking view of the mountains full of olive trees literally in front of you.
After spending the night at Arachova we will take a short drive to Delphi in order to visit its archaeological museum. While in the museum you will come gaze at the famous charioteer and Gold Ivory statues. After this, we will take lunch at the modern village of Delphi with a grand view of the Fokis mountains.
Our trip will continue with a country drive through the mountains, not taking the national highway, to enjoy the scenery. By this route, we will pass by the cities of Lamia, Trikala, and Karditsa to reach Kalambaka, a beautiful small city that is dominated by the Meteora Rocks standing upon it. Coming to the small town we will settle at the hotel and then drive up around the hills for an evening photo tour on the rocks under the Greek sunset. Then returning to Kalambaka you will have free time until the following day.
Today we’ll start in the morning for a visit to the monasteries and take a closer look at the holy rocks. On these rocks that are like suspended in the air (that’s what Meteora means) is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox Monasteries still in use. Meteora, a miracle of nature, combines natural beauty and cultural heritage a fact that makes them a unique destination between the world’s monuments. Having our lunch at Kalambaka we will start heading towards Athens.
Now just because our tour is coming to an end it doesn’t mean we will stop impressing you so on our way back we will meet Thermopylae’s and stop to see the actual battlefield. In the historical center of the site you will enjoy a 3D movie, traveling through the time you will feel the presence of all who heroically died for their freedom under a foreign conqueror. To wrap up the visit you will see the statue of King Leonidas standing right opposite Kolonos Hill where the persisting Spartans left their last breath.
Driving back to Athens after a week of some of the most splendid sites and countryside that Greece has to offer I am sure that we can both say that we have made new friends.
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.
- Fuel surcharge
- Local taxes
- Bottled water
- Licensed Tour guide on request (Additional cost)
Accommodation and breakfast
- Entrance Fees
- Personal expenses (drinks, meals, etc.)
- Airport Pick Up and drop-off (Additional cost)
ADMISSION FEES FOR SITES:
Summer Period: (1 April – 31 October)
Mycenae: 12€ (08:00 -20:00)
Epidaurus: 12€ (08:00- 20:00)
Palamidi Castle: 8€ (08:00- 20:00)
Mystras: 12€ (08:00- 20:00)
Ancient Sparta: free (10:00- 18:00, Tuesdays closed)
Museum Olive and Olive Oil: 4€ (10:00-18:00, Tuesdays closed)
Messene: 10€ (08:00- 20:00)
Ancient Olympia: 12€ (08:00- 20:00)
Delphi: 12€ (08:00- 20:00)
Meteora Monasteries: (3€ per monastery)
St. Stephen’s Nunnery 09:00 -13:30 and 15:30 –17:30 (Mondays closed)
Great Meteoron Monastery 09:00 –15:00 (Tuesdays closed)
Roussanou Monastery 09:00 -16:00 (Wednesdays closed)
Holy Trinity Monastery 09:00 -16:00 (Thursdays closed)
Varlaam Monastery 09:00 –16:00 (Fridays closed)
St. Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery 09:00 -17:00 (Fridays closed)
Thermopylae’s Historical Center: 3€ (09:00- 17:00)
Total: 91€ per person
Winter Period: (1 November – 31 March)
Mycenae: 6€ (08:00- 15:30)
Epidaurus: 6€ (08:00- 15:30)
Palamidi Castle: 4€ (08:30- 15:30)
Mystras: 6€ (08:00- 15:30)
Ancient Sparta: free (10:00- 15:00, Tuesdays closed)
Museum Olive and Olive Oil: 2€ (10:00- 17:00, Tuesdays closed)
Messene: 5€ (08:00- 15:30)
Ancient Olympia: 6€ (08:00- 15:00)
Delphi: 6€ (08:00- 15:30)
Meteora Monasteries: (3€ per monastery)
St. Stephen’s Nunnery 09:30 -13:00 and 15:00 –17:00 (Mondays closed)
Great Meteoron Monastery 09:00 –14:00 (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays closed)
Roussanou Monastery 09:00 -14:00 (Wednesdays closed)
Holy Trinity Monastery 10:00 -16:00 (Thursdays closed)
Varlaam Monastery 09:00 –15:00 (Thursdays, Fridays closed)
St. Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery 09:00 -15:00 (Fridays closed)
Thermopylae’s Historical Center: 3€ (09:00- 17:00)
Total: 50€ per person
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.
The famous Corinth Canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former an island. The canal is 6.4 kilometers in length and only 21.3 meters wide at its base. Earth cliffs flanking either side of the canal reach a maximum height of 63 meters. Aside from a few modest-sized cruise ships, the Corinth Canal is unserviceable to most modern ships. The Corinth Canal, though only completed in the late 19th century, was an idea and dream that dates back over 2000 thousand years.
Before it was built, ships sailing between the Aegean and Adriatic had to circumnavigate the Peloponnese adding about 185 nautical miles to their journey. The first to decide to dig the Corinth Canal was Periander, the tyrant of Corinth (602 BCE). Such a giant project was above the technical capabilities of ancient times so Periander carried out another great project, the diolkós, a stone road, on which the ships were transferred on wheeled platforms from one sea to the other.
Dimitrios Poliorkitis, king of Macedon (c. 300 BCE), was the second who tried, but his engineers insisted that if the seas where connected, the more northerly Adriatic, mistakenly thought to be higher, would flood the more southern Aegean. At the time, it was also thought that Poseidon, the god of the sea, opposed joining the Aegean and the Adriatic. The same fear also stopped Julius Caesar and Emperors Hadrian and Caligula. The most serious try was that of Emperor Nero (67 CE). He had 6,000 slaves for the job. He started the work himself, digging with a golden hoe, while music was played. However, he was killed before the work could be completed.
In the modern era, the first who thought seriously to carry out the project was Kapodistrias (c. 1830), the first governor of Greece after the liberation from the Ottoman Turks. But the budget, estimated at 40 million French francs, was too much for the Greek state. Finally, in 1869, the Parliament authorized the Government to grant a private company (Austrian General Etiene Tyrr) the privilege to construct the Canal of Corinth. Work began on Mar 29, 1882, but Tyrr’s capital of 30 million francs proved to be insufficient. The work was restarted in 1890, by a new Greek company (Andreas Syggros), with a capital of 5 million francs. The job was finally completed and regular use of the Canal started on Oct 28, 1893. Due to the canal’s narrowness, navigational problems and periodic closures to repair landslips from its steep walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic anticipated by its operators. It is now used mainly for tourist traffic. The bridge above is perfect for bungee jumping.
Located on the fertile Argolid plain of the east Peloponnese in Greece and blessed with a mild climate and natural springs, the sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus was an important sacred center in both ancient Greek and Roman times.
Epidaurus was named after the hero Epidauros, son of Apollo. Inhabited since Neolithic times, the first significant settlement was in the Mycenaean period. Fortifications, a theatre and tholos tombs have been excavated dating as early as the 15th century BCE, although it was in the 12th century BCE that Epidaurus Limera, with its harbor linking it to the Aegean trade network, particularly flourished.
Earlier regional worship of the deity Maleatas evolved into the later worship of Apollo, who was given similar attributes. However, it was Asclepius (also spelt Asklepios), whom the Epidaurians believed was born on the nearby Mt. Titthion, who took precedence from the 5th century BCE until Roman times in the 4th century CE. Credited with possessing great healing powers (learned from his father Apollo) and also those of prophecy, the god – as manifested in the sanctuary or Asklepieion – was visited from all over Greece by those seeking ease and remedies from their illnesses either by divine intervention or medicines administered by the priests. The sanctuary used the wealth gained from dedications of the worshipers to build an impressive complex of buildings and to sponsor major art projects to beautify the center. Indeed, many of the offerings given were works of art such as statues, pottery vessels, tripods, and even buildings.
At the height of the site’s importance in the 4th century BCE (370 – 250 BCE), major buildings included two monumental entrances (Propylaea); a large temple (380 – 375 BCE) with the typical 6×11 column Doric layout, containing a larger than life-size Chryselephantine statue of a seated Asclepius (by Thrasymedes) and with pediments displaying in statuary the Amazonomachy and the Siege of Troy; temples dedicated to Aphrodite (320 BCE), Artemis and Themis; a sacred fountain; the Thymele (360-330 BCE) – around marble building originally with 26 outer Doric columns, a 14 Corinthian columned cella and a mysterious underground labyrinth, perhaps containing snakes which were associated with Asclepius; the columned Abato (or Enkoimeterion) in which patients waited overnight for divine intervention and remedy; other temples, hot and cold bathhouses, stoas, stadium, palaistra and large gymnasium and a 6000 seat theatre (340 – 330 BCE). These latter sporting and artistic buildings were used in the Asklepieia festival, founded in the 5th century BCE and held every four years to celebrate theatre, sport, and music. The theatre, with 2nd century CE additions resulting in 55 tiers of seats and a capacity of perhaps 12,300 spectators, would become one of, if not the, largest theaters in antiquity. Other Roman additions to the site in the 2nd century included a temple of Hygieia, a large bath building and a small odeum.
The site was destroyed in 395 CE by the Goths and the Emperor Theodosius II definitively closed the site along with all other pagan sanctuaries in 426 CE. The site was abandoned once and for all following earthquakes in 522 and 551 CE. Excavations at the ancient site were first begun in 1881 CE by the Greek Archaeological Society and continue to the present day. Today, the magnificent theatre, renowned for its acoustics, is still in active use for performances in an annual traditional theatre festival.
Mycenae was a fortified late Bronze Age city located between two hills on the Argolis plain of the Peloponnese, Greece. The acropolis today dates from between the 14th and 13th century BCE when the Mycenaean civilization was at its peak of power, influence and artistic expression.
In Greek mythology the city was founded by Perseus, who gave the site its name either after his sword’s scabbard (mykes) fell to the ground and was regarded as a good omen or as he found a water spring near a mushroom (mykes). Perseus was the first king of the Perseid dynasty which ended with Eurytheus (instigator of Hercules’ famous twelve labors). The succeeding dynasty was the Atreids, whose first king, Atreus, is traditionally believed to have reigned around 1250 BCE. Atreus’ son Agamemnon is believed to have been not only king of Mycenae but of all of the Achaean Greeks and the leader of their expedition to Troy to recapture Helen. In Homer’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad, Mycenae (or Mykene) is described as a ‘well-founded citadel’, as ‘wide-wayed’ and as ‘golden Mycenae’, the latter supported by the recovery of over 15 kilograms of gold objects recovered from the shaft graves in the acropolis.
Situated on a rocky hill (40-50 m high) commanding the surrounding plain as far as the sea 15 km away, the site of Mycenae covered 30,000 square meters and has always been known throughout history. First excavations were begun by the Archaeological Society of Athens in 1841 and then continued by the famous Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 that discovered the magnificent treasures of Grave Circle A. The archaeological excavations have shown that the city has a much older history than traditional Greek literature described.
Even though the site was inhabited since Neolithic times, it is not until 2100 BCE that the first walls, pottery finds (including imports from the Cycladic islands) and pit and shaft graves with higher quality grave goods appear. These, collectively, suggest greater importance and prosperity in the settlement.
Since 1600 BCE there is evidence of an elite presence on the acropolis: high-quality pottery, wall paintings, shaft graves and an increase in the surrounding settlement with the construction of large tholos tombs. From the 14th century BCE the first large-scale palace complex is built (on three artificial terraces), so is the celebrated tholos tomb, the Treasury of Atreus, a monumental circular building with corbelled roof reaching a height of 13.5 m and 14.6 m in diameter and approached by a long walled and unroofed corridor 36 m long and 6m wide. Fortification walls, of large roughly worked stone blocks, surrounding the acropolis (of which the north wall is still visible today), flood management structures such as dams, roads, Linear B tablets and an increase in pottery imports (fitting well with theories of contemporary Mycenaean expansion in the Aegean) illustrate the culture was at its zenith.
The large palace structure built around a central hall or Megaron is typical of Mycenaean palaces. Other features included a secondary hall, many private rooms and a workshop complex. Decorated stonework and frescoes and a monumental entrance, the Lion Gate (a 3 m x 3 m square doorway with an 18-ton lintel topped by two 3 m high heraldic lions and a column altar), added to the overall splendor of the complex. The relationship between the palace and the surrounding settlement and between Mycenae and other towns in the Peloponnese is much discussed by scholars. Concrete archaeological evidence is lacking but it seems likely that the palace was a center of political, religious and commercial power. Certainly, high-value grave goods, administrative tablets, pottery imports and the presence of precious materials deposits such as bronze, gold, and ivory would suggest that the palace was, at the very least, the hub of a thriving trade network.
The first palace was destroyed in the late 13th century, probably by an earthquake and then (rather poorly) repaired. A monumental staircase, the North Gate, and a ramp were added to the acropolis and the walls were extended to include the Persia spring within the fortifications. The spring was named after the city’s mythological founder and was reached by an impressive corbelled tunnel (or syrinx) with 86 steps leading down 18m to the water source. It is argued by some scholars that these architectural additions are evidence for a preoccupation with security and possible invasion. This second palace was also destroyed, this time with signs of fire. Some rebuilding did occur and pottery finds suggest a degree of prosperity returned briefly before another fire ended the occupation of the site until a brief revival in Hellenistic times. With the decline of Mycenae, Argos became the dominant power in the region. Reasons for the demise of Mycenae and the Mycenaean civilization are much debated with suggestions including natural disasters, over-population, internal social and political unrest or invasion from foreign tribes.
The city of Nafplio was the first capital of the modern Greek state. Named after Nafplios, son of Poseidon, and home of Palamidis, their local hero of the Trojan war and supposedly the inventor of weights and measures, lighthouses, the first Greek alphabet and the father of the Sophists. The small city-state made the mistake of allying with Sparta in the second Messenian War (685 – 688 BCE) and was destroyed by Damokratis the king of Argos.
Because of the strength of the fort that sits above the bay, the town of Nafplio became an important strategic and commercial center to the Byzantines from around the sixth century AD. In 1203 Leon Sgouros, ruler of the city, conquered Argos and Corinth, and Larissa to the north, though it failed to successfully conquer Athens after a siege in 1204.
With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, the Franks, with the help of the Venetians captured the city and nearly destroyed the fortress in the process. In the treaty, the defenders of the city were given the eastern side of the city, called Romeiko and allowed to follow their customs, while the Franks controlled the Akronafplia, which was most of the city at the time. The Franks controlled the city for 200 years and then sold it to the Venetians. The Venetians continued the fortification of the upper town and completed their work in 1470. That same year they built a fort on the small island in the center of the harbor called the Bourtzi. To close the harbor the fort was linked by chains and the town was known as Porto Cadenza, meaning Port of Chains. During this period people flocked to the safety of the fortified city in fear of the Turks and forced the expansion of the city into the lagoon between the sea and the walls of the Akronafplia. The new additions to the city were surrounded with walls and many major buildings were erected including the Church of Saint George. But these new walls didn’t matter because in the treaty with Suleiman the First, Nafplio was handed over to the Turks who controlled the city for 100 years and made it the primary import/export center for mainland Greece.
In 1686 the Turks surrendered the city to a combined force of Venetians, Germans and Poles, lead by Vice Admiral Morozini and this began the second period of Venetian rule in which massive repairs were made to the fortress and the city including the construction of the fortress in Palamidi. When the Peloponessos falls to the Venetians, Nafplio becomes the capital. But after just thirty years the Turks once again take control of the city, almost totally destroying it, looting it and killing almost all its defenders. Most of the survivors chose to leave and the city while the Turks built mosques, baths, and homes in the eastern style which can still be seen.
In April of 1821 Greek chieftains and Philhellenes surrounded the city of Nafplio and liberated it from the Turks under the leadership of Theodore Kolokotronis. Nafplio became the center of activities that would result in the formation of Modern Greece. In 1823 it becomes the capital of the state which is then recognized by the world powers (England, France and Russia) in 1827.
In January of 1828, Ioannis Kapodistrias is recognized as the first governor and arrives in Nafplion. In 1831 King Otto is chosen as the first King of Greece but a month later Kapodistrias is murdered in the Church of Agios Spiridon.
In 1833 King Otto arrives amid great fanfare to the city of Nafplio where he remains until 1834 when the capital of Greece is moved to Athens.
In 1862 there is a rebellion in Nafplio against the monarchy. A siege by the royal army follows. The rebels are given amnesty in 1862. In 1834 Kolokotronis is jailed in the Palamidi fortress. After the capital moves to Athens, the city of Nafplio becomes of less importance. But it still continues to attract visitors to this very day because its history is virtually the history of modern Greece and because every occupying power has left its mark.
The city of Nafplio is like a living museum. It’s also as lively as any city in Greece.
The town of Mystras was founded in the 13th century, after the conquest of Constantinople by the Crusades. The Franks dominated Morea, the area is known today as the Peloponnese and Prince William II Villehardouin built a fortress on the top of the mountain Mystras (alias Mytzithras). In 1259, Villehardouin was captured on the battlefield of Pelagonia by Michael VIII Paleologos, a Byzantine emperor, that set him free in exchange for the castles of Monemvasia and Mystras.
The town thus becomes a Byzantine area and gets influenced by the Byzantine architecture and artwork. Since then, Mystras became an important military center and the inhabitants of the neighboring areas started building their homes on the slope of Mystras, seeking security. Although the original area was protected by walls, the increasing number of houses made it necessary to build more walls to enclose new clusters of houses. This fact explains the walls that Mystras hosts until this very day, which constitutes a great attraction for visitors. The first wall was called Chora and the second one Kato Chora. The cathedral of Sparta was also re-established in Mystras. As a result, these movements gave importance to the city that became the capital of Moreas between the mid-14th and mid-15th centuries. Mystras had a permanent lord that ruled for indefinite terms and
had the title of Despot. Along time, Mystras became the capital of the famous Despotate of Moreas. From this point on, its history continues with plenty of fights against foreign invaders, including Franks, Slavs, Turks, and Albanians.
The first Despot of Mystras was Emmanuel Kantakouzenos, who ruled from 1348 to 1380. Matthew Kantakouzenos (1380-1383) and Demetrios Kantankouzenos (1383-1384) were the following Despots. Then, Theodor I Paleologos ruled until 1407. During this period, the prosperity of Mystras reached a high level. In fact, the Neoplatonist philosopher George Gemistos Plethon (1355-1452) founded a philosophic school there in 1400. Theodore II ruled from 1407 to 1443. His younger brother, Constantinos Paleologos, ruled Mystras from 1443 to 1449 and then became the last emperor of the Byzantine Empire. After the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, his younger brother Demetrius surrendered the castle to them in 1460.
Under Turkish occupation, Mystras gradually started to decline. In 1687, the Venetians conquered the area but the Turks gained it back. The inhabitants made many courageous efforts to free their city from the Turks but with no result. In 1825, the Albanian Turks slaughtered the population and destroyed the area, which was later abandoned. Finally, it was set free a few years later and formed part of the first Greek state.
In 1831, King Otto founded the new city of Sparta (9 km away) and this resulted in the final decline and abandonment of Mystras. Most families moved to Sparta and others to New Mystras, a small village built in the countryside. In 1952, the remaining properties were expropriated and the city started to be appreciated as one of the most interesting Greek archaeological sites. In 1989, the old town of Mystras was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sparta was a warrior society in ancient Greece that reached the height of its power after defeating rival city-state Athens in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE). Spartan culture was centered on loyalty to the state and military service. At age 7, Spartan boys entered a rigorous state-sponsored education, military training, and socialization program. Known as the Agoge, the system emphasized duty, discipline, and endurance. Although Spartan women were not active in the military, they were educated and enjoyed more status and freedom than other Greek women. Because Spartan men were professional soldiers, all manual labor was done by a slave class, the Helots. Despite their military power, the Spartan’s dominance was short-lived: In 371 BCE, they were defeated by Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra, and their empire went into a long period of decline.
Sparta, also known as Lacedaemon, was an ancient Greek city-state located primarily in the present-day region of southern Greece called Laconia. The population of Sparta consisted of three main groups: the Spartans, or Spartiates, who were full citizens the Helots, or serfs/slaves; and the Perioeci, who were neither slaves nor citizens. The Perioeci, whose name means “dwellers-around,” worked as craftsmen and traders, and built weapons for the Spartans.
Did You Know?
The word “spartan” means self-restrained, simple, frugal and austere. The word “laconic”, meaning pithy and concise, is derived from the Spartans, who prized brevity of speech.
All healthy male Spartan citizens participated in the compulsory state-sponsored education system, the Agoge, which emphasized obedience, endurance, courage, and self-control. Spartan men devoted their lives to military service and lived communally well into adulthood. A Spartan was taught that loyalty to the state came before everything else, including one’s family.
The Helots, whose name means “captives,” were fellow Greeks, originally from Laconia and Messenia, who had been conquered by the Spartans and turned into slaves. The Spartan’s way of life would not have been possible without the Helots, who handled all the day-to-day tasks and unskilled labor required to keep society functioning: They were farmers, domestic servants, nurses and military attendants.
Spartans, who were outnumbered by the Helots, often treated them brutally and oppressively in an effort to prevent uprisings. Spartans would humiliate the Helots by doing such things as forcing them to get drunk on wine and then watch them make fools of themselves in public. (This practice was also intended to demonstrate to young people how an adult Spartan should never act, as self-control was a prized trait.) Methods of mistreatment could be far more extreme: Spartans were allowed to kill Helots for being too smart or too fit, among other reasons.
THE SPARTAN MILITARY:
Unlike Greek city-states such as Athens, a center for the arts, learning, and philosophy, Sparta was centered on a warrior culture. Male Spartan citizens were allowed only one occupation: solider. Indoctrination into this lifestyle began early. Spartan boys started their military training at age 7 when they left home and entered the Agoge. The boys lived communally under austere conditions. They were subjected to continual physical, competitions (which could involve violence), given meager rations and expected to become skilled at stealing food, among other survival skills.
The teenage boys who demonstrated the most leadership potential were selected for participation in the Crypteia, which acted as a secret police force whose primary goal was to terrorize the general Helot population and murder those who were troublemakers. At age 20, Spartan males became full-time soldiers and remained on active duty until age 60.
The Spartans’ constant military drilling and discipline made them skilled at the ancient Greek style of fighting in a phalanx formation. In the phalanx, the army worked as a unit in a close, deep formation, and made coordinated mass maneuvers. No one soldier was considered superior to another. Going into battle, a Spartan soldier, or hoplite, wore a large bronze helmet, breastplate and ankle guards, and carried a round shield made of bronze and wood, a long spear and sword. Spartan warriors were also known for their long hair and red cloaks.
SPARTAN WOMEN AND MARRIAGE:
Spartan women had a reputation for being independent-minded and enjoyed more freedom and power than their counterparts throughout ancient Greece. While they played no role in the military, female Spartans often received a formal education, although separate from boys and not at boarding schools. In part to attract mates, females engaged in athletic competitions, including javelin-throwing and wrestling, and also sang and danced competitively. As adults, Spartan women were allowed to own and manage the property. Additionally, they were typically unencumbered by domestic responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning and making clothing, tasks which were handled by the helots.
Marriage was important to Spartans, as the state put pressure on people to have male children who would grow up to become citizen-warriors and replace those who died in battle. Men who delayed marriage were publicly shamed, while those who fathered multiple sons could be rewarded.
In preparation for marriage, Spartan women had their heads shaved; they kept their hair short after they wed. Married couples typically lived apart, as men under the age of 30 were required to continue residing in communal barracks. In order to see their wives during this time, husbands had to sneak away at night.
DECLINE OF THE SPARTANS:
In 371 BCE, Sparta suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Thebans at the Battle of Lefktra. In a further blow, late the following year, the Theban general Epaminondas (418 – 362 BCE) led an invasion into Spartan territory and oversaw the liberation of the Messenian Helots, who had been enslaved by the Spartans for several centuries. The Spartans would continue to exist, although as a second-rate power in a long period of decline. In 1834, Otto (1815-67), the king of Greece, ordered the founding of the modern-day town of Spartan at the site of ancient Sparta.
Mani is located in the southernmost part of the Peloponnese peninsula and part of the prefecture of Laconia. It is almost like another country with its own customs, architecture, and code of honor. In fortified towns with their characteristic Maniot towers, shadowed against the clear sky it is easy to see why the Maniots or Maniates as we call them are considered the true heirs of the ancient Spartans known as the Lacedaemonians. Areopoli, originally named Tsirova, is the capital Mani, but it was re-named by King Othon, the first king of modern Greece. He changed it to “the town of Ares», god of war, showing his appreciation to the people of this area for their valor during the War of Independence. It has an austere look with plenty of towers and churches. In the charming town, you will travel back through time, walking on cobblestone streets and seeing impressive tower houses (which were for ages they were bases for fighters and bunkers). Dominating the main square, Plateia Athanaton (meaning The Immortal’s Square), is a statue of PetroBey Mavromihalis also known as Petros Mavromichalis, the last Bey of Mani. On the 17th of March 1821, he proclaimed Mani’s insurrection against the Ottoman Empire. Now Areopoli has grown into a flourishing town. Its tower houses, constructed with field stones, are distinct from the traditional blue and white buildings that characterize many Greek villages.
Places of interest:
The Church of Taxiarhon (17th century) in the town center has a medieval look and beautiful frescoes. It was here outside the church, that the people of Mani led by PetroBeis Mavromihalis had their weapons blessed and embarked on the Struggle for Independence, liberating Kalamata on March 23rd March 1821. Ag. Iannis Prodromos – Areopoli. View from west and Jonah and the Whale from the altar
The Church of Ag. Iannis Prodromos (John the Baptist). This is a post-Byzantine edifice with mid-18th-century wall paintings – recognizably similar to many other examples of ‘The School of Koutiphari’ painters such as Nikolaos of Nomitisis and Anagnostes of Langada who were painting in the 1750s and 1760s.
Pikoulakis Tower has three storeys, with a strong, two- storey tower-house. The complex is a typical example of the fortified residences in the area. It consists of a defense tower and residential quarters situated around a small central courtyard. It was previously owned by the prominent Poulakis family. Here, in 1826, a few elderly Maniots routed the Hagarene troops of the Egyptian Ibrahim; then the Maniot women, armed only with scythes, drove them to the sea at Diros.
The Kapetanakou Tower dates back to 1865 and is a typical example of traditional Mani architecture it has been restored as a traditional guesthouse.
Mavromihalis Tower. The house of the famous Beys Mavromihalis.This four-storey tower is surrounded by a large building complex and a tall enclosure, making it a real fortress. It is the largest edifice of the area and for many years it served as a school.
One of the most beautiful caves in the world is located on the west coast of Laconia’s Peninsula, at Diros Bay, nature with incomparable art and patience has carved a miracle beyond imagination. Bright white stalactites and stalagmites creating a unique spectacle that takes your breath away!
The Diros Caves are actually three separate caves: Vlyhada (or Glyphada) which is the only accessible one, Alepotrypa and Katafygi. Many Paleolithic and Neolithic artifacts were found in the caves, quite a few of which are in display in the museum. This drove to the conclusion that these caves were one of the earliest inhabited places in Greece.
From around 1900, the locals knew of the caves, but nobody could have imagined the miracle was hiding inside. It was only in 1949 that John and Anna Petrochilos, founders of the Greek Speleological Society, began to explore the caves systematically. These caves began to form before hundreds of thousands of years. Understand that the stalactites and stalagmites beneath the water were formed when the sea level was lower than it is now and some of them are found 71 meters underwater. Inside the cave have been found fossilized bones of lions, panthers, hyenas, ferrets, deer and the largest reservoir of hippos in Europe. The human presence is proved by the potteries found near the natural entrance.
Glyphada or Vlyhada
The cave owes its name to the brackish waters of this area, which are called Vlicha = Vlichada. However, from many, it is mentioned as Glyfada by paraphrasing the word Vlichada. The natural entrance to the cave is very close to the sea surface and its diameter is only half a meter. Previously, the cave had other entrances, which gradually disappeared. By 1960, they had explored and mapped 1600 meters of the cave and now the known length is more than 14 km! The cave Vlychada cave was first opened to the public in 1967 when ESO completed the installation work, which had started six years earlier. The decoration of the cave is caused by the water penetrating into the cracks of limestone and causes its erosion. The precipitation of dissolved calcium carbonate creates, very slowly, stalactites and stalagmites. In 1970 the first underwater exploration began and is continued until now. Its temperature fluctuates from 16°C to 20°C. The temperature of the water is around 12°C. Passages of about 5000m have been explored while its total extent is 33.400sq.rn. In its interior fossils of animals have been discovered that existed 2 million years ago. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful lake caves in the world.
It is situated 200m east of Glyphada and was discovered in 1958. It was also explored by Mr. and Mrs. Petrochilos. The finds provide evidence of life in the cave 6.000 years ago many of which are exhibited in the “Stone Age Museum” of Diros situated at the entrance of the cave. The extent of the cave is 6.500sqm, 600sqm of which consists of land and the rest is covered by the water of an underground river. The average temperature of the cave is 19°C and of the water 18°C.
Kataphygi: It is located 500m on the left side of the road that leads to the former two caves. It has an area of 2.700sqm whereas the length of its passages is 700m.
Before this city was built there was a very small village on the site, called Ithomi, named after the mountain it’s was built on. At this time there was an acropolis on the mountain top, where an old church now stands. But the inhabitants were driven out or enslaved after the Spartan invasion. Messene was founded in 740BCE by the Theban general Epaminondas when he freed the area of Spartan rule. It is one of the rare sites that were never completely destroyed or built over. Messene was a real city it has sanctuaries, public buildings, tombs, houses, and fortifications. The city was very well planned all the buildings had the same direction, east to west and all the roads were north to south, making up an urban grid known as the Hippodameion System.
The first small excavation began in 1831 by a French group. The Greek Archaeological Society began excavations of the public buildings in 1895 under Themistocles Sofoulis. Then George Economou was in charge of the digs in 1909 and in 1925. But it wasn’t till 1957 under Anastasios Orlandos, that excavations were done on a regular basis, (every summer). In 1986 the Society put Professor of Archaeology Petros Themelis in charge. Altogether they have made some incredible finds bringing to life the buildings that Pausanias saw and described when he visited the city in (155-160 AD)
The circular wall surrounding Messene is 9 km long and 7 to 9 m high. It is made entirely of stone and was regularly reinforced. The stone is bulging and rough, not a straight cut, flat surface to show strength. It had 30 two-story squared and rounded guard towers, barracks and two monumental gates, the Arcadian Gate and the Laconian Gate. The best-preserved part is on both sides of the Arcadian Gate, this gate is so wide that even trucks can pass through. On the floor of the gate, there is a small mosaic pig. This was a symbol of Dimitra, of fertility, of life; it was put here by the artist to symbolize the rebirth of the area.
The theater which dates back to the Hellenistic Period was reconstructed in the years of the Emperors Augustus Tiberius and in the mid-2nd century AD, by the wealthy Roman family named Saithidas but in Early Christian times, many parts of the theater were used to build the churches. The theater is one of the largest in the ancient world. It seated 12,000 people. It is not built against a hill as most were, so they had to build a semi-circular surrounding which had two walls with dirt in-between them to hold it up. Near the stage, there was running water, and we can still hear the water today. In the front seats, there are two thrones (originally there were six of them) for priests and important city officials. The priest would wash his hands and then go to the altar where offerings we placed before the play started. The stage was the first with mobile scenes which were pulled on wheels on the grooves in carved on the floor. There was also a skinothiki with a platform. The stage had an opening of 40 m. and is in the Roman style while the rest is Hellenic. In Roman Times the place of the Orchestra was used for gladiator fighting.
This is one of the best-preserved in all of Greece and unique because it is the only combined Stadium and Gymnasium. In ancient Greece the Gymnasium wasn’t a place you worked out, it was a school. From inscriptions, we know that it was founded in the 3rd century BCE. Inside the stadium some of the seats are white. These seats are new and put in to complete the seating. On the high left side of the seating, reading the letters on the side of the steps while coming down we read the name ‘Nikiratus’. These seats were bought from the city in the name of Tiberius Claudius Nikiratus to seat his family and friends. But we see letters on other steps too, graffiti in bold, large uneven letters. We know these are from Roman Times because Greek writing was smaller, neat and uniform in size, more discrete. These are of a more brutal time of gladiators and animal fights.
In Roman times the south side of the “horseshoe» stadium was closed off to give it an oval shape cutting off the Hellenic part, turning the stadium into an arena. The stadium was surrounded by Doric halls that belonged to the gymnasium and to the west of this was the Palaestra. These 3 covered halls were in the shape of the Greek letter Pi. The northern hall was a double one so it had an inner and outer row of columns. The east and west ones were single. Many statues were found in the west hall. These can be seen in the museum. The most impressive is Herms of Messinia. He is 207cm high and a replica of the 4thcentury BCE Herms. The only difference is in the face. The artist used the face of a Messinian youth who had died. These halls were where the students worked out or had lessons in heatwaves or harsh winter. In the gymnasium, the courses were Arithmatic, Literature, Geometry, and Music. During recess, the boys played games. They played naughts and crosses and dice games, these games and names have been found carved into the stones of its propylaea. There are also columns full of names. These are the school rosters; on the bottom of some lists is the word ΤΡΟΦΙΜΟΣ and a name. The Trofimos was a freed slave who cooked for and served the students. All the students were of the elite class and only free men and landowners could send their boys here.
During the 2nd century AD, the city was at its peak the Saithidas family funded the reconstruction of the stadium. So the family mausoleum was put on the far south side looking into the stadium. This memorial was a four-column Doric prostyle temple. Pausanias tells us that the man they honored so much was a lifelong Messinian high priest and Elladarchis of the public of Achaia (in Roman Times). West of the western hall there is another tomb, one with the ramp, on the grounds of its entrance in the Ionic eaves are the names of the dead men and women who have been honored. Inside were 8 cist graves, two by two around a square tray. The building was square 4.66mx4.66m with a conical roof. On the roof was a Corinthian column with bronze work on it (which has been saved). This type of monument is not typical of the Hellenic Period. There is another tomb. It is a peioschimo monument. On its east side, it had friezes with a series of animals and then detached a lion eating a deer. This tomb was sealed with a stone door (like the Macedonian tombs). Inside seven cist graves were found along with funeral gifts and gold jewelry.
THE WATER SOURCE OF ARISONE
Between the theatre and the agora, a large water source was found. And Pausanias tells us that it was the Source of Arsione. Arsione was the daughter of the mythical king of Messenia Leucippus and the mother of Asclepius. The water here originated from the source Klepsidra. The source had three tanks, the longest one was 40 m long and it was in front of a retaining wall between the wall and the tank was a small portico with Ionic half-columns. A semi-circular podium right in the middle of the tank carried a group of bronze statues. The other 2 tanks were lower and placed on either side of the paved patio. The source was built in three stages. Its first building stage (late 3rd century BCE) the source was enclosed with Doric columns. These were removed in the second stage (1st century) but the final repairs and remodeling came in the years of Emperor Diocletian (284-305ΑD). The early Christians who also used the source built a watermill in the early 6th century AD.
In the Roman Era, the aristocrats liked to live close to the theatres and that’s what they did in Messene. In the villas found, of the late Roman Period, beautiful mosaic floors have been found. Some have geometrical shapes, another has the name of its (renowned of the time) artist, but the most special is what we think is the house of Saithidas (4th century AD). One floor is framed with ivy leaves (which celebrate Dyonisos) with a frame of geometrical shapes and then a young Dyonisos (in eastern style dress) with the female figure of Ariadne. There is also a smaller figure to the left, kissing the god’s hand this is the house owner.
The ancient agora was huge, it had the temples of Messina and Ascplepius but also temples of Poseidon, Zeus, and Aphrodite as Pausanias tells us. Here we have the roman bathes with little terracotta columns. A clay floor lay over these and the bathes were heated by fire lit under the floor. This method is called hypocaust. The Arora was full of people it was for walking, displays, and entertainment. It had frescos and conches with statues. But it was also a business and government area; on the east edge are three marble tables which are in very good condition. These were for the merchant control. Each table had different sized cavities, one for wine one for oil and one for cereals. Traders were checked at least once a year and the punishment for shopkeepers who cheated their customers was harsh.
Pausanias tells us that the Asclepion was a museum of statues and was not just for the sick. It had over 140 bases for bronze statues. It is a large almost square area (71.91x 66.67m) with 4 internal halls of Corinthian columns opening to the central open-air courtyard. On the east of this are 3 buildings, the first on the corner, is the small, roofed, theater like ekklisia, the propylion and the Synedrion which also has a hall of archives. The ekklistirion was a long structure with 2 entrances and a semi-circular orchestra which seated 800 people. It was also a theater but only for religious plays. It had beautiful colored mosaic tiles covering the 21m stage and the foreground had 3 openings. Standing on the stage you would have been able to see the temple of Zeus Ithamoda on the mountain top, where the old monastery now stands. But it also had a political character making the city more democratic. Today the ekklistirion is used for cultural events. On the north side of the courtyard is the temple of the Asclepius, with its large alters. The outside was 13.67×27.94m on a 3 step krepis and was 9m high. The cella, the pronaos, and the opisthodomos were made of local limestone but the colonnade was coated in sandstone. On its east side is a ramped entrance.
THE TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS
The temple of Artemis is covered because some parts of it are made of sandstone. In the center of the temple is the podium of the statue of the goddess Wise Artemis. Pausanias tells us that it was the work of Damofondas. It is interesting that in the sikos were a seiries of statues on pedestals about 10 of them. To the right is the alms chest for wishes and favors from the goddess. It had a strong stainless steel cover with 2 locks, one on each side, and a slit to put the coins in.
EARLY BYZANTINE BASILIKA
Even though there had been Christians here, in Messene, since the 3rd century AD, this Early-Byzantine Basilica wasn’t built till the late 7th-early 8th century AD when their population became stronger. There were at least 2 basilicas in the agora and at least 40 Christian tombs have been found. The whole area from the church to the theater was a cemetery. On this basilica there is an inscription read ‘the work of Isidos’ and we know from Pausanias that a temple of Isis was nearby. To make this church, material not only from the temple but from other buildings were used too, especially from the theater. Much of the theaters seating were used here. The church seems to have been reconstructed at some time, we don’t know when, but we do know that a Christian population continued here till the 15th century.
In the Hierothision there was an ancient tripod here which Homer refers to as ‘apyroi’ which means without fire. This was a building that housed the statues of all 12 Olympian gods. But there was also a bronze statue of Epaminondas, the Theban general who freed the land from Spartas rule and founded the city. All the Statues were of equal size which shows us just how important Epaminondas was and how much they honored him.
Many other buildings have been found in the city. One of these is a sculptor’s workshop. It was a large workshop because it had apprentices. In it was found a pit full of rejected body pieces. The workshop dates back to the time of Augustus, which is also the time of the replicas and portraits.
ZEUS ITHOMATA- ACROPOLIS
Continuing up the mountain, on the ancient road, there was a limestone quarry. The road has marks from the heavy carts that carried the stones. And further up where the old monastery (dedicated to the Virgin) stands was the acropolis. The whole mountain was dedicated to Zeus Ithomata, from where it gets its name. The Messenians believed that Zeus was born and brought up here. So naturally on the mountain top was the great temple of Zeus. On the side of the old monastery, built into the wall is a large base of a bronze tripod. This would have had 3 bronze legs which had lion’s feet and on top was a bronze cauldron the tripod dates back to the early stages of the temple about the 8th century BCE, way before the founding of the city.
The acropolis played a great part in the 1st Messenian-Spartan War (7th century BCE) where the Messenians lost after a heroic siege and again in the 6th century BC. In 465 BC however, an earthquake hit Sparta and the Messinian slaves found the opportunity to revolt. The revolt is the 3rd Messenian -Spartan War. After the Spartans won again they made the Messenians sign a treaty in 459 BCE. Under the terms of this treaty, the defeated Messenians would be free to go but, only if they, and their entire families, agreed to leave Peloponnese. During Frankish times, the acropolis was reconstructed into a fort, and named Castle Voulkanou and in 1358 it was given to Nerio the 1st Astagoli, Prince of Achaia.
This is a small museum which houses some of the finds of the site. It is built on land donated to the Archaeological Society of Greece by homogenous D. Lazaridis.
The history of Olympia is strongly connected to the Olympic Games. Historical records indicate that the games began in 776 BCE as a local festival to honor god Zeus. However, along the centuries, these games gained more and more popularity and all city-states of Greece would send their finest men to participate in the games. This event was so important for the ancient world that even all warfare would stop for a month so that the towns would send their best youths to participate in the games. This athletic festival occurred every four years and lasted for five days, including wrestling, chariot and horse racing, the pentathlon (discus throwing, javelin throwing, long jump, running and pancratium).
However, the athletes would stay for 1 or 2 months before the games in Olympia to train in the Palaestra. Before the games, the high priestess of Olympia marked the beginning of the games lighting the Olympic flame. Also, offerings and ceremonies in the temple of Zeus and the temple of Hera were practiced to ask for the favor of the gods. The games would take place in the stadium and people would watch them from the hills around it. All athletes were male and would take part in the games in total nudity. Women were forbidden under the penalty of death to part take in the games or even watch them as a spectator. The only woman who could watch the games, and in fact from a privileged spot, was the priestess of the temple of Demeter in Olympia.
There were no seats for the spectators and all people regardless of their social state would sit on the ground. The Hellanodikae, a body of priests, were responsible to name the winners. The reward of the winning athletes was a crown made from a wild olive tree, which was enough to honor him, his family and his city for decades. In fact, it was such an honor to be an Olympic winner that their town even pulled down a part of their city walls, as the town would be protected by the winner. At the same time, the political personalities from different parts of Greece took advantage of the games to make speeches and try to resolve differences against each other. The games were also a good opportunity for traders to make business deals. Unfortunately, in 393 AD, the Olympic Games were suspended by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius, as it was considered a pagan custom. It was the time when Christianity was the dominant religion of the Byzantine Empire and everything connected to the ancient Greek spirit was considered pagan. Thus the games were stopped, the temples of Olympia were turned into churches and important statues, among which the golden statue of Zeus, a miracle of the ancient world, was transferred to Constantinople.
The revival of the Olympic Games in the modern era was an idea of the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894 and only two years later, in 1896, the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens, at the renovated Panathenaic Stadium. Since then, the games take place every 4 years in a different place in the world every time.
The name Nafpaktos derives from nafs which means boat in ancient Greek. The privileged location of Nafpaktos not only benefited the shipbuilding activity but located so close to the Peloponnese made it a nice spot to have control over the western side of the Corinthian bay. During the Peloponnesian War in 455 BCE, Nafpaktos became a chief naval station.
In Medieval times, in spite of the many earthquakes, it also worked as one of the most important ports in the area, as it served as a connection between Europe and the Holy Land. Nafpaktos also became one of the most important ports of the Byzantine fleet and it was used as a proper station for diplomatic communications to the West and at the same time to Constantinople. Then, in 1204, Nafpaktos was captured by the Venetians and was recorded as Lepanto on their documents, a name that became very famous after the Battle of Lepanto, an important point in the history of Nafpaktos. In the 13th century, the city was ceded to Michael Doukas Komnenos. During this same century, he offered Nafpaktos to Philip of Taras, the fiance of his daughter as a marriage dowry. The following century, the control of the city passed to the Ottomans. In 1407, Nafpaktos fell under the Venetians again who repaired the old Byzantine walls and fortified the port with a strong castle in order to create a safe station. The Ottomans finally invaded the city in 1499. In October of 1571, the legendary Battle of Lepanto took place between the Ottomans and Europeans, leading to the victory of the Europeans. According to historians, this battle marked the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Among the soldiers to participate in this fight was Miguel de Cervantes, the famous writer who was fighting in the Spanish fleet that time and in fact, he lost his left arm in the battle. His statue is found today at the port of Nafpaktos. Many fights followed to set the town free.
Nafpaktos had an important contribution to the Greek War of Independence and many heroes operated there in fact, the statue of Anemogiannis, a Freedom fighter, stands today at the port of Nafpaktos. Finally, in 1829, Nafpaktos earned its freedom and became part of the first Greek State.
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. Οfferings 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 which 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 porous 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.
Meteora is an exquisite complex that consists of huge dark stone pillars rising outside Trikala, near the mountains of Pindos. The monasteries that sit on top of these rocks make up the second most important monastic community in Greece, after Mount Athos in Halkidiki. Out of the thirty monasteries that were founded throughout the centuries, only six of them are active today.
The history of Meteora goes back to many millenniums. Theories on the creation of this natural phenomenon are associated with the geological movements that occurred over several geological periods. Scientists believe that these pillars were formed about 60 million years ago, during the Tertiary Period. At the time, the area was covered by sea but a series of earth movements caused the seabed to withdraw. The mountains left were continuously hit by strong winds and waves, which, in combination with extreme weather conditions, affected their shape, leaving us with pillars composed of sandstone and conglomerate. In the Byzantine times, monks had the inspiration to construct monasteries on top of these rocks so that they would be closer to god.
The foundation of Meteora monasteries began around the 11th century. In the 12th century, the first ascetic state was officially formed and established a church to the Mother our Lord as their worshiping center. Activities of this church were not only related to worshiping God, but hermits used these occasions to discuss their problems and exchange ideas relating their ascetic life there. In the 14th century, Saint Athanasios established the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Jesus and named this huge rock Meteoro, which means hanged from nowhere. This monastery is also known as the Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron, the largest of all monasteries.
For many centuries, the monks used scaffolds for climbing the rocks and getting supplies. As years passed, this method was followed by the use of nets with hooks and rope ladders. Sometimes a basket was used, which was pulled up by the monks. Wooden ladders of 40 meters long were also one of the essential tools for accessing the monasteries. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, Meteora was at its prime with the arrival of many monks from other monasteries or people who wanted to lead an ascetic life in this divine environment. However, the prosperity of Meteora during that time started to fade away after the 17th century mainly due to the raids of thieves and conquerors. These caused many monasteries to be abandoned or destructed. Today, only 6 monasteries operate with a handful of monks each. The only nunnery (female monastery) is the Monastery of Agios Stefanos.
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.
THE PERSIAN WARS
By the first years of the 5th century BCE, Persia, under the rule of Darius (522-486 BCE), was already expanding into mainland Europe and had subjugated Thrace and Macedonia. Next in Κing 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 Greek’s 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 were made. Depots of equipment and supplies were laid, a canal dug at Chalkidiki, 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 a 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 that held position off the coast of Artemision (or Artemisium) 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 the 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 lave’ or ‘come and gets them’ and so battle commenced.
HOPLITES VS ARCHERS
The two opposing armies were essentially representative of the two approaches to Classical warfare – the Persians favored long-range assault using archers followed up with a cavalry charge, whilst the Greeks favored heavily-armored 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 were armed with a long dagger or battle-ax, 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 were 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 epitomized 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 be put on a stake and displayed at 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 a 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 Spartan’s role in it, soon acquired mythical status amongst the Greeks. Free men, in defiance of their own laws, had sacrificed themselves in order to defend their way of life against foreign aggression. As Simonides’ 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 in 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 when Allied New Zealand forces clashed with those of Germany.
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