Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Sparta
Sparta View slideshowSparta, chief town of Laconia, lies in the fertile Evrótas plain, which is enclosed between the Taygetos range (2,404m/7,888ft) and Mt Párnon (1,937m/6,355ft) and bounded on the south by the sea.
The street was re-founded on the ancient site in 1834 by King Otto, with streets laid out at right angles around a large central square.The subjugation of the original pre-Greek population of this area by Mycenaean Greeks is reflected in the myth of Hyakinthos, who was killed by Apollo during a discus-throwing contest. The story of the Mycenaean period (second millennium B.C.) also finds expression in the myths of Leda, the Dioskouroi (Kastor and Polydeukes/Pollux), and Menelaos and Helen. King Menelaos, who like his brother Agamemnon belonged to the Trojan War generation, was later revered in the Menelaion. The last Mycenaean king was Tisamenos, son of Orestes.A new epoch began when the Dorians arrived, established the four villages of Pitane, Limnai, Mesoa and Kynosoura about 950 B.C. and divided up the conquered territory among the Spartiates. When Amyklai, which had remained a Mycenaean stronghold, also fell to Sparta about 800 B.C. the characteristic Spartan dual monarchy came into being, with one king continuing the line of Dorian tribal leaders, the other that of the kings of Amyklai. In addition to the two kings Sparta had a Council of Elders (Gerousia) and five ephors, who were elected annually. It developed into a military state, in which art was not entirely disregarded (as the finds made at Olympia and Dodóna show) but played a less important role than in Athens. Thus Thucydides could write: "If Sparta became desolate and only the temples and the foundations of its public buildings were left, posterity would be unable to accept its fame as the true measure of its power." The Spartan ideal was incorporated in the lawgiver Lykourgos (eighth century B.C.) and in Leonidas and his 300 Spartans who fell at Thermopylai in 480 B.C.In a succession of wars (740-720, 660, 464-459 B.C.) Sparta subjugated Messenia, to the west of Taygetos. Its decline began with a severe earthquake in 464 B.C. which killed all its young men, and it received a further blow in the defeat of a Spartan army by the Thebans under Epameinondas at Leuktra in 371 B.C. The first defensive walls were built round the town about 200 B.C. Under the Roman Empire Sparta enjoyed a revival of prosperity, but it was devastated by the Herulians in A.D. 267 and by Alaric's Visigoths in 395. In the seventh century Slavs established themselves in the region. In the 10th century it was evangelised by St Nikon Metanoeite, who was buried on the acropolis hill at Sparta.In the 13th century Sparta was replaced by the newly founded town of Mistra.
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.
Address: Dionysiou Dafnis Street, 23100 Spárti, Greece
Just off Leonidas Street, on the north side of the town, is the so-called Leonidaion, a building of unknown function: the tomb of Leonidas was elsewhere, to the west of the acropolis.
Sanctuary of Artemis Orthía (Closed for Restoration)
Between the road to Trípoli and the Evrótas, just outside Sparta on right, is the sanctuary of Artemis Orthía, so named because the cult image was found standing upright. According to Pausanias the image was brought from Tauris by Iphigeneia and Orestes. In this sanctuary Spartan boys were flogged as part of their initiation into manhood. There was a sixth century temple (foundations preserved) built over an earlier eighth century structure, with altars for burnt offerings. During the Roman period tiers of seats were built round the sanctuary to accommodate spectators of the ritual flogging.
Mistra View slideshow
The old village of Mistra, standing on a hill high above the modern village, is an excellent and comprehensive example of a late Byzantine period town.
To reach the Menelaion, leave Sparta on the Geráki road, which crosses the Evrótas; then in 4.5km/3mi turn into a footpath which runs past a chapel of the Profítis Ilías and up Mt 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.The temple contained votive offerings to Helen, which are on display in the Archeological Museum in Sparta.
Geráki, a quiet little town occupying the site of ancient Geronthrai, lies in an impressive setting in a high valley in the Párnon range, 41km/ 25mi southeast of Sparta. From its heyday in Byzantine times, under the rule of the Despots of Mistra, Geráki preserves many churches and chapels, the most notable of which is Áyios Ioánnis. On the way up to the Frankish castle (an hour's walk, first southeast, then to the left beyond the cemetery) are a number of other churches, including the 12th century Ayía Paraskeví.
Geráki Castle, one of the numerous Crusader castles in the Peloponnese, was built by Guy de Nivellet in 1234 on a commanding hill (500m/1,640ft). A vaulted passage leads through the battlemented walls into the castle. The chapel, a three-aisled basilica, is excellently preserved. The altar bears Guy de Nivellet's coat of arms. On the iconostasis is an icon of the church's patron, St George, on whose feast-day a service is still celebrated here.
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