Travel to 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.

Where is Sparta?

Sparta is in the region of Laconia, in the south-eastern Peloponnese. Ancient Sparta was built on the banks of the Evrotas River, the main river of Laconia, which provided it with a source of fresh water. The valley of the Evrotas is a natural fortress, bounded to the west by Mt. Taygetus (2407 m) and to the east by Mt. Parnon (1935 m). To the north, Laconia is separated from Arcadia by hilly uplands reaching 1000 m in altitude. These natural defenses worked to Sparta’s advantage and contributed to Sparta never having been sacked. Though landlocked, Sparta had a harbor, Gytheio, on the Laconian Gulf.

Mount Taygetus in Peloponnese
Mount Taygetus in Peloponnese

Ancient Sparta and the Spartans

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, Sparta
Leonidas statue, Sparta

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 Arc
The Hellenic Arc

The 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

hiking

Hiking 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)