Touring in Peloponnese: Sparta

Mount Taygetus in Peloponnese

 

9th stop: Sparta

In Greek mythology, Lacedaemon was a son of Zeus by the nymph Taygete. He married Sparta, the daughter of Eurotas, by whom he became the father of Amyclas, Eurydice, and Asine. He was king of the country which he named after himself, naming the capital after his wife. He was believed to have built the sanctuary of the Charites, which stood between Sparta and Amyclae, and to have given to those divinities the names of Cleta and Phaenna. A shrine was erected to him in the neighborhood of Therapne.

Taygetos mountain range, relief map

Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From around 650 BC it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.

Leonidas statue, SpartaYoung Spartans Exercising by Edgar Degas (1834-1917)Sparta was unique in ancient Greece for its social system and constitution, which completely focused on military training and excellence. Its inhabitants were classified as Spartiates (Spartan citizens, who enjoyed full rights), Mothakes (non-Spartan free men raised as Spartans), Perioikoi (free men), and Helots (state-owned serfs, enslaved non-Spartan local population). Spartan women enjoyed considerably more rights and equality to men than elsewhere in the classical world.

Sparta was the subject of fascination in its own day, as well as in the West following the revival of classical learning. Sparta continues to fascinate Western Culture; an admiration of Sparta is called laconophilia.

Geology

The Hellenic arcThe mountains of southern Europe that fringe the Mediterranean Sea and run generally in an east-west direction are of the folded type generated by collision of the northward-moving African Plate with the Eurasian Plate. The mountains of Italy and Greece are a combination of Folded Mountains and Fault-block mountains running in a northwest-southeast direction.

Mount Taygetus is a mountain range in the Peloponnese peninsula in Southern Greece. The name is one of the oldest recorded in Europe, appearing in the Odyssey.  Mount Taygetus is a limestone horst bordering the Eurotas Rift Valley. Below its eastern face is the Sparta fault, a normal fault striking perpendicular to the direction of extension. Footwall scarps are visible on the eastern side of Taygetus at the base of its spurs. They result from sudden slippages of the hanging wall in the direction of the dip, causing earthquakes. Single earthquakes result in 1-12 m of scarp. The maximum slippage has been 10-12 m in three increments. The earthquake of 464 BC, which levelled Sparta, resulted from a slippage of 3-4 m over a length of 20 km of the fault. The slip rate has been about 1 mm per year suggesting an average interval between earthquakes of 3000 years.

Things to do

hikingHiking at Mt Taygetus: The mountain is a popular hiking destination and is part of the European walking route E4. The view from the top includes most of the Evrotas valley and the Parnon range to the east, while the view towards the west includes Kalamata and the eastern half of Messenia. Most of the southwestern part of Arcadia can also be seen from the summit.

Sights

Hollow Lacedaemon. Site of the Menelaion, the shrine to Helen and Menelaus constructed anciently in the Bronze Age city that stood on the hill of Therapne on the left bank of the Eurotas River overlooking the future site of Dorian Sparta.Menelaion Archaeological Site: To reach the Menelaion, leave Sparta on the Geraki road, which crosses the Evrotas; then after 4.5km/3mi turn into a footpath which runs past a chapel of the Profitis Ilias and up Mount Therapne (500m/1,640ft). On top of the hill are the remains of the Menelaion, a heroon built in honor of Menelaos in the fifth century B.C. It stands on the site of a complex of Mycenaean buildings, excavated in 1973, which it has been suggested was the palace of Menelaos.
When excavated the temple contained votive offerings to Helen, which are on display in the Archeological Museum in Sparta. (open every weekday except Mondays)

Sparta Archeological Museum: The Archeological Museum of Sparta is housed in a neoclassical building in the center of town, on Dionysiou Dafnis Street. The museum contains finds from the digs at Sparta and other sites in the vicinity. (open every weekday except Mondays during the summer months)

The theater of ancient Sparta with Mt. Taygetus in the background.Sparta Acropolis: 500m/550yd north of the Leonidaion in Sparta is the low acropolis hill, on the south side of which is the Hellenistic theatre, rebuilt in Roman times. On the summit of the hill are the foundations of a temple of Athena built by Gitiadas in the sixth century B.C. This was a timber-framed mud-brick building on a stone base, known as the Chalkioikos from its facing of bronze plates. To the east is the 10th century three-aisled basilica of Agios Nikon, in which St Nikon was buried. The Agora, which lay to the south of the acropolis, has not been excavated, and most of the buildings mentioned by Pausanias cannot be identified. (always open)

Accommodation

Since the modern town of Sparti is really not something special from a “sceneric” point of view I have suggested some places outside Sparti town:

Hotel Pyrgos Mystra
3 Manousaki str. | Mystras, Sparta 23100, Greece – Hotel website
Pyrgos Hotel in Mystra village is a beautifully renovated villa, with an outdoor patio next to a grove of orange trees. There are lots of comfortable places to sit within the rooms, and outside on the patio. Your suite will be clean and very comfortable. The decor of the house is great with interesting furniture and decorations. The breakfast consists of lots of home made breads, pies, and cakes, with fresh local cheese, fruits, olives, etc. Very friendly hotel staff.

Ilaeira Mountain Resort
Toriza Village | Mt. Taygetos, Sparta 23100, Greece – Hotel website 
email: info@ilaeira-resort.gr – Tel: +302731035515
Cosy, stylish, and warm place to visit. Spacious and beautifully decorated rooms, clean and warm, with a fireplace ready for use. Healthy breakfast with local flavors. Gorgeous view and surroundings. The hotel is ideal to use as a base for visits and walks on the Taygetos mountain. Although the hotel seems isolated in the mountain, there are plently of sights nearby to visit. Mystras castle is 20 minutes by car and Monemvasia about 1 hour.  The lovely decoration in this place makes you feel like visiting the house of a relative rather than a hotel establishment.


Taleton Inn
Xirokampi, Faris Mnc. | Lakonia, Sparta 23054, Greece – Hotel website
New, warm and welcoming hotel which provides top level comfort in the interesting village of Xirocambi located about 15 minutes from Sparta. Reasonable rates for first class boutique hotel, which includes a good breakfast. Attention to detail is evident from the fireplaced lobby to the well appointed and quiet rooms. Helpful staff -front desk speaks perfect English – can suggest outings. Nice cafes and a couple of good restaurants in the village. Super hiking in the area, only a half hour drive to the ocean and the lovely town of Githeo. A great jumping off point for ineteresting outings. Mystras close by as well.

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