The spirit of a place is more or less what the observer effect reflects upon it. This is especially true for the Peloponnese, where an uninterrupted human activity for millenia, has left the marks of man’s eternal struggle for survival and for understanding the world. Quite often in vain!
Introducing the Peloponnese (also Peloponnesos)
Peloponnesos means “Island of Pelops”. The name is derived from ancient Greek mythology, the legend of the hero Pelops who conquered the entire area. Inhabited since prehistoric times, the Peloponnese is home to Europe’s first major civilization (Mycenaean), the first Olympic Games (776 BC), six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, hundreds of archaeological sites, preserved traditional settlements and residential monasteries.
High mountains, gorges, rivers, valleys, peninsulas, plains, forests, shrublands, brushwood and olive groves make up an immense botanical paradise of unparalleled biodiversity.
A long and turbulent history
Peloponnesos was at the heart of ancient and classical Greek affairs and possessed some of its most powerful city-states. With endless mythical and historical references, every corner is connected with a story or myth.
Here was the setting for half of Hercules’ (Herakles’) labors and here occurred the events that precipitated the start of the Trojan war. The Peloponnesian War was the turning point towards decline of ancient Greek civilization.
The Peloponnese fell to the Romans in 146 BC, which evolved into the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire after 336 A.D. After the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the fourth crusade, Mystras near Sparta, became a cultural center of the Byzantine remnants until its final conquest in the 1460s by the Ottoman Turks.
The Ottomans held onto the region for four centuries, with the exception of a small portion, Mani. In 1821 the Peloponnese became the cradle of the Greek War of Independence which ultimately led to the creation of the modern state of Greece.
Peloponnese’s rugged and steep, mountainous terrain, makes its size much larger than it looks on the map. This varied terrain creates microclimates within short distances. You can spend a hot day at the beach during summer at 35°C (95°F) and then head up to a mountain village and sleep at a comfortable 15°C (59°F). And that’s about half an hour to 40 minutes drive!
This variation in landscape and climate affects every aspect of peoples’ lives. People adapted to their local microenvironment and external influences creating distinct customs and striking differences in architecture.
The romantique neoclassical buildings of Nafplion city, versus the rugged and threatening towers of Mani. The rich mansions of Leonidio, versus the minimalistic gortynian buildings.
You can also see the different layers of architecture blending together. Medieval walls on archaic basement, byzantine churches on top of Roman theaters.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Peloponnese
Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae
This famous temple to the god of healing and the sun was built towards the middle of the 5th century B.C. in the lonely heights of the Arcadian mountains. The temple, which has the oldest Corinthian capital yet found, combines the Archaic style and the serenity of the Doric style with some daring architectural features.
Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus
In a small valley in the Peloponnesus, the shrine of Asklepios, the god of medicine, developed out of a much earlier cult of Apollo (Maleatas), during the 6th century BC at the latest, as the official cult of the city state of Epidaurus. Its principal monuments, particularly the temple of Asklepios, the Tholos and the Theatre – considered one of the purest masterpieces of Greek architecture – date from the 4th century. The vast site, with its temples and hospital buildings devoted to its healing gods, provides valuable insight into the healing cults of Greek and Roman times.
Archaeological Site of Mystras
Mystras, the ‘wonder of the Morea’, was built as an amphitheatre around the fortress erected in 1249 by the prince of Achaia, William of Villehardouin. Reconquered by the Byzantines, then occupied by the Turks and the Venetians, the city was abandoned in 1832, leaving only the breathtaking medieval ruins, standing in a beautiful landscape.
Archaeological Site of Olympia
The site of Olympia, in a valley in the Peloponnesus, has been inhabited since prehistoric times. In the 10th century B.C., Olympia became a centre for the worship of Zeus. The Altis – the sanctuary to the gods – has one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces from the ancient Greek world. In addition to temples, there are the remains of all the sports structures erected for the Olympic Games, which were held in Olympia every four years beginning in 776 B.C.
Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns
The archaeological sites of Mycenae and Tiryns are the imposing ruins of the two greatest cities of the Mycenaean civilization, which dominated the eastern Mediterranean world from the 15th to the 12th century B.C. and played a vital role in the development of classical Greek culture. These two cities are indissolubly linked to the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey , which have influenced European art and literature for more than three millennia.
Quality experiences for the discerning traveler
Peloponnese is not an overly touristic place. In fact you can visit extremely beautiful areas without any tourists at all! With an average population density of 37 people per square km it is fairly underpopulated.
Only a few places attract foreign tourism. For the most part Peloponnesos attracts local tourism. The current economic crisis had an effect on this though. However, this may be good news for foreigner visitors since lodging prices went down.
Food is delicious, fresh and cheap. Tip: Just eat where the locals do!
Peloponnesus, produces a great variety of agricultural products and a number of protected designation of origin (PDO) products.
It’s close to Athens and all you need to explore it, is a car or a motorcycle. You can travel with a bicycle too, just be warned that there are too many long and steep uphills. There is a well developed asphalt road network with access to every little village. There is also a large network of dirt roads of varying conditions giving access to remote areas on the mountains and by the sea.
Walking, Trekking, Trails
There’s an ever growing network of mapped and signed paths of particular natural beauty and historical importance. Menalon Trail, a long mountain trail in Arcadia, conforms to the standards set by the European Ramblers Association for the certification of walking networks.
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