The Peloponnese is that large peninsular that makes up the southernmost part of mainland Greece. Beautiful beaches on a coast that is in places smooth and sandy, while rugged and rocky elsewhere, contrast markedly with inland mountains and forests. Situated in this region are a number of Greece’s most important ancient sites, including Corinth, Epidaurus and Mycenae. Many amazing Medieval monuments, dramatic castles and fortresses simple Byzantine churches compliment a striking natural landscape. More recently, in March of 1821 inhabitants of this area declared war on the Ottomans, thus starting the Greek War of Independence that lasted until July of 1832.
Well known for its 5th century Temple of Apollo Epicurius, the remote archaeological site of Bassae was the first site in Greece to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Even though it is one of the better preserved ancient temples in Greece and certainly worth a visit, visitors to the site will find that the temple is now covered with a protective, large white tent. Inside the temple was decorated with a spectacular marble frieze, the so-called Bassae Frieze, which is on display in London at the British Museum.
From at least the 4th century BC, Corinth was one of the most important cities in ancient Greece. During Roman times the city was the provincial capital of Greece, but was destroyed by earthquake in the 4th century AD. Corinth was rebuilt by the Byzantines, and substantial walls still stand where they once protected the settlement on the citadel overlooking Corinth – Acrocorinth. Artefacts recovered from numerous excavations in the area are on display in the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth.
Epidaurus was an ancient city that developed around the shrine of Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine. From the 6th century BC onwards it became a vast city with many shrines and hospitals. Although an ancient healing sanctuary, today Epidaurus better known for its 4th century BC theatre. This particular theatre is considered to be one of the masterpieces of Greek architecture, given its exceptional acoustics that enable whispers on the stage to be heard throughout the 14,000 strong audience. [UNESCO Website]
During the second millennium BC, Mycenae was a major centre and gives its name to the Mycenean period of Greek prehistory. The archaeological site is made up of a triangular, fortified acropolis surrounded by substantial walls of which the Lion Gate is a part. Below the citadel and beyond the fortifications are the funerary structures this prehistoric site is so well known for – such as the tholos tombs. The most impressive of these is the highly decorated ‘Treasure of Atreus’ – which is accessible to the public.
On the northern slopes of Mount Taygetos is the fortified town of Mystras. Founded in 1249 by the Franks, a few years later it became a important Byzantine settlement. The last emperor of Byzantium, Constantine XI Palaeologos, was crowned here in 1448. There is much to see here, including a number of Byzantine churches, two monasteries, the palaces of the Mystras Despots as well as many urban buildings. Not to be missed is the 13th century Frankish castle with its well-preserved walls and towers.
A number of monuments and features survive from the different ages of the ancient capital city of Sparta, including an acropolis with a temple, a theatre, Roman shops and a Byzantine basilica. In the centre of modern-day Sparta is the Archaeological Museum of Sparta, which houses archaeological collections from the various monuments from the ancient city of Sparta, including the Acropolis, and other archaeological sites in the area, from the Neolithic to the Roman period. Photo © Κούμαρης Νικόλαος