The Peloponnese peninsula is the southermost part of mainland Greece. The region has been the birthplace of the first great Greek civilization, the Mycenaean. Over the course of the centuries the area has been a crucial part of Greek history. The Greek War of Indipendence, that led to the birth of the first Hellenic Republic, began in the Peloponnese.
Due to such an history, today the peninsula has an impressive heritage. The ruins of the ancient civilizations are the perfect decoration to the stunning landscape of the region.
Along with some companions I decided to discover this amazing area in the best possible way. We rented a car in Thessaloniki, where we are currently based, and we hit the road. Here is the itinerary of our trip, which is quite easy to do even if based in Athens.
The Temple of Apollo in Delphi
The first two stops, Delphi and Thebes, are not in the region of the Peloponnese. Nevertheless, they are both worth a visit.
In Delphi we find the ruins of the ancient sanctuary of Apollo. Here lived Pythia, an oracle with the power to foresee the future. The legend tells us that Apollo established the oracle in this place after killing Python, a dragon-snake guilty of harassing his mother Leto. The oracle often intervened in political matters, which brought it great significance over the course of the centuries. With the Roman domination the site lost such a role, and slowly fell to ruin.
Ancient Greeks considered Delphi the center of the world. A stone monument, the “Omphalos” (the navel) marked the spot where two eagles, that Zeus released in the two opposite sides of the world, finally met. Thus making it the exact center of the world.
Today the ruins still enjoy the stunning view of Mount Parnassus. The Temple of Apollo, the theatre and the stadium are the best preserved and interesting landmarks of the site.
The archaeological museum of Thebes
Thebes was once one of the greates cities in Ancient Greece and a fierce rival to Athens. Today it is a rather small town, but its archaeological museum is worth your time. The exhibition has manly pieces coming from the Cadmea (from Cadmus, the founder of the city), the fortified citadel of ancient Thebes.
Finally in the Peloponnese: Ancient Corinth and Acrocorinth
Once passed the Isthmus of Corinth, that divides Mainland Greece from the Peloponnese, the next stop is the ancient city of Corinth. Due to its strategical position, close to the Isthmus, the city knew wealth and importance for centuries. The most impressive landmark among the ruins of the ancient city is definetely the Temple of Apollo.
Just a few kilometers away from Ancient Corinth is its Acropolis, Acrocorinth. It is a big monolithic rock, sacred to the goddess Aphrodite in ancient times. It was later fortified during the Bizantine period, and occupied by the Franks, the Venetians and the Ottoman Turks. Now it is one of the most important fortresses in Greece, with an amazing view over its surroundings.
Mycenae, the start of a great civilization
Around 1600 years before Christ Mycenae dominated most of Southern Greece. The ancient city gave birth to the so called “Mycenaen civilization”.According to the legend, the city was home to King Agamemnon, the famous leader of the Greek army during the Trojan War. The german Heinrich Schliemann began most of the excavation of the archaelogical site in 1874. Schliemann believed the Homeric myths to be true, and claimed to have found the tomb of Agamemnon himself. Unfortunately, it was never possible to prove the accuracy of the myths and Schliemann’s beliefs.
Epidaurus and its theatre
The city of Epidaurus was famous in ancient times for its Asclepion, the sanctuary of Asclepius, the god of medicine. It was the most famous healing place of the Classical world, which brought great prosperity to the city. Such wealth allowed the construction of great buildings like the Ancient Theatre. It is considered the most perfect ancient Greek theatre, and one of the best preserved. The acoustic of the place is truly amazing, and because of it the theatre is still sporadically used in modern times.
Nafplio, the first capital of modern Greece
Nafplio was the capital of the Hellenic Republic and later of the Kingdom of Greece, from 1821 until 1834. The town has been frequentely used for military purposes. Today its most important fortress, the Palamidi, offers an incredible view over the Old Town and the port. The Venetian influence is clear especially in the beatiful streets of the Old Town, decorated by numerous colorful flowers.
Lost in the woods: The Monastery of Timiou Prodromou
This amazing jewel is waiting for you hidden in the mountains close to the town of Megalopoli. The Monastery of Timiou Prodromou (St John the Baptist) is built on the root of a cliff on the left side of the ravine Lussius. The landscape is just impressive, and the place inspires a desire of peace and meditation. It is possible to reach it by car, but the best way is definetely a short hike in the nature. Starting from the ruins of the Ancient City of Gortys you can get to the Monastery in less than fourty minutes. A beautiful river and some friendly donkeys will make the way easier.
Sparta, following King Leonidas
Not much is left in Modern Sparta of the glory of the ancient city. Its acropolis is quite small, but the archaelogical museum can be worth a short visit. The statue of King Leonidas, the legendary leader of the 300 of the Thermopylae, attracts many visitors. Nevertheless, the place is quite small, and you may actually consider skipping it.
Mystras, land of monasteries
Mystras was the capital of the Byzantine province of Morea. It is located on Mount Taygetos, near Sparta. The site is now in ruins, and the only inhabitants are the nuns of its many monasteries. The ruins and the Monastery of Pantanassa are strikingly beautiful, and bigger than what expected. It takes at least half a day to visit the area.
Monemvasia, the fortified island
Monemvasia was the last stronghold of the Byzantine province of Morea until 1460, when its last Despot sold it to the Ottoman Sultan. The town is located on a small island in front of the east cost of the Peloponnese. Of great importance during most of the Byzantine period, today is is a popular tourist destination. The amazing beauty of the rocky island is undeniable. Escape from the overcrowded town and head to the upper part of the rock: the view will definetely be worth it.
The Mani Peninsula: Areopoli
After such a deep immersion into culture and nature you may feel like going for a swim. In that case, the Mani peninsula is the place for you. Of all the incredible places over the cost of the Peninsula we choose the town of Areopoli. Its small port (Limeni), with its crystal blue waters, will offer you the relief you are looking for.
The Peloponnese is a unique region and one would need way more time to explore all of its secrets. Nevertheless, we managed to find a good balance in the time of a week. Other important landmarks would deserve a visit, like Ancient Olympia. But of course, we are always ready to leave for the next trip.